Gig review: The Specials at Millennium Square, Leeds

The Specials. Picture: Mark Bickerdike
The Specials. Picture: Mark Bickerdike
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The music of The Specials may be almost four decades old but in another era of social fragmentation and horrific terrorist attacks their songs still have much to say.

In this most tragic of weeks, guitarist and singer Lynval Golding chooses to address one track in particular from their powerful, thought-provoking set at Millennium Square in Leeds to the events at Manchester Arena six nights earlier.

“What happened in Manchester was a life-changing event for some people. What I want to ask is why?” he says before leading the ten-piece band into the song of the same name, whose impassioned plea for racial tolerance continues to resonate.

To emphasise the point they follow it with Doesn’t Make It Alright, whose lines condemning hatred and violence (“It’s the worst excuse in the world/And it, it doesn’t make it alright”) seem equally pertinent and deeply poignant.

Throughout a set that begins with a magnificent version of Ghost Town, whose eerieness is enhanced by the addition of violin and cello, the band are in fine form.

In among the hits – Do Nothing, Stereotypes, Rat Race – are B-sides and album tracks such as Friday Night, Saturday Morning and Man at C&A which stand up just as well.

By Nite Klub the mood is one of communal celebration and the fast ska punk tempo is maintained with (Dawning of) A New Era and a raucous Do The Dog.

Gangsters, Concrete Jungle and A Message To You, Rudy shine with the melodic pull and lyrical insight of old.

“This song was written especially for us by Mr Toots Hibbert,” says Golding, referencing the ska great who was their support act for this show, by way of introduction to the party anthem Monkey Man before they wind up the set with Too Much Too Young and the unfettered Enjoy Yourself.

Before they encore with the ageless ska standard Guns of Navarone Golding has a political point to make. “Do you know what happened in 1979?” he asks. “They voted Margaret Thatcher into power. Please don’t do it again with [Theresa] May.”

Lead singer Terry Hall closes the evening with a simple, heartfelt note of gratitude to the 7,000-strong Leeds audience. “It’s been a really s*** week,” he notes, “but thank you very much for coming out.”

As The Specials play out to the strains of You’re Wondering Now this is one show you really don’t want to end.

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