The Specials' rapport has Blackpool Winter Gardens bouncing

The sprung dance-floor of the Empress Ballroom got a proper workout as The Specials had Blackpool Winter Gardens bouncing.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 9:16 am
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 9:47 am

Die-hard, grizzled fans of the Two-Tone Ska sound plus a healthy sprinkling of younger fans, got full value from the superb acoustics of the ballroom venue, singing along raucously to the band's big hits like they were back in the dark days of the early 80s when Thatcher's Britain was a grim place to live if you were young and out of work.

And now, with another hard-right Tory regime in office, the worry of climate catastrophe replacing imminent nuclear annihilation, and racism still a divisive issue in Britain, the band's nuanced political sensibilities were as relevant as ever as they toured ahead of their new album out next month - Protest Songs 1924-2012.

The three original Specials, Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter were ably supported by a rock-steady band featuring Steve Cradock, guitarist from ocean Colour Scene and superb trombone from Tim Smart.

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Lynval Golding as lively as ever as The Specials rocked the Empress Ballroom at Blackpool Winter Gardens

Panter's excellent bass-playing giving a steel pulse to the songs, driving them on, and hopping around the stage like a teenager despite his years, Golding's cheerful rabble-rousing and Hall's reassuringly dead-pan delivery of the lyrics, could have been straight out of their heyday 40 years ago.

The set was a mix of covers from the forthcoming album such as Freedom Highway which opened the show and classic hits such as Rat Race which followed it.

A superb Do Nothing and Friday Night, Saturday Morning were followed by the likes of Man at C&A and Breaking Point before the ever-capable Steve Cradock accompanied Lynval Golding with a stripped-down version Bob Marley's Get up Stand Up, one of the protest songs from the new album.

Golding, lively throughout the night, did the classic proud with touching reverence and at its end gave a nod to his Jamaican roots with a witty, "Me Done".

The inimitable Terry Hall

The rest of the band, which also featured Golding's son Stan Samuel on guitar, returned to give a ominous but timely cover of the Fun Boy Three classic, The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum).

A Message to You Rudy had the audience bouncing again, singing along lustily. Do the Dog, the timeless Gangsters and the raucous Monkey Man ended the set.

There was no way the band could get away without playing Ghost Town and they duly returned with an atmospheric version of the hit which dissolved into a echoing dub-reggae finish.

The last song of the night was a sing-a-long, cover version of Andy And Joey's, You're Wondering Now, with the ever-unsmiling Terry Hall teasing the audience about their vocal prowess, revealing the special rapport that this band and their fans have had for decades. The new album Protest Songs 1924-2012 is out on October 1, and no doubt the Specials will be as relevant as they ever were.

The Specials in full flow

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Consumate musicians, Steve Cradock, left, and Horace Panter
Lynval Golding gets the crowd going