The Specials at Hammersmith Apollo, London, 24 November 2009 – Gig Review and Setlist

November 25, 2009

Gig/Concert: The Specials 30th Anniversary Tour
Venue: HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London, UK
Date: 24 November 2009
Headliners: The Specials
In one word: Legendary

It’s 7pm on a Tuesday night and I’m in a bar in Hammersmith, just around the corner from the Apollo, surrounded by fat men in their 40’s all clad in pork pie hats, skinhead haircuts and Fred Perry polos. It can only mean one thing, I’m off to witness what has been said to be the comeback of the year – The Specials are in town.

I was introduced to The Specials music courtesy of Ms Amy Winehouse, by listening to her brilliant versions of “Monkey Man”, “Hey Little Rich Girl” and “You’re Wondering Now”, I was curious to find out more so I raided my parent’s CD collection and grew to love the mixture of ska and punk that made up the sound of The Specials. I never thought I’d get to see them play live, but after thirty years apart, minus keyboardist Jerry Dammers, they are back.

As 9:30 approached, the venue was hot, steamy and the sound of dub, reggae and ska gave an air of anticipation. The curtain rose, the crowed roared and a white curtain with seven mysterious silhouettes appeared to the sound of “Enjoy Yourself”, it made the hairs on my neck stand on end.

The white curtain drew and the band tore into “Do The Dog”. It made the whole audience dance, not just those at the front, but the whole hall was dancing from start to finish.

The pace of the show as frenetic, Neville Staple is 54, he didn’t stop for one breath all night and all the band members are in their fifties, but this was the fastest pace show I have ever witnessed. The songs sounded amazing live, better and even more passionate than on record.

Thirty years ago The Specials helped educate Britain’s youths against the racial policies of the National Front, the bands lyrics still have relevance today prompting Roddy Radiation to change the lyrics of “Concrete Jungle'” from ‘Being chased by the National Front’ to ‘Being chased by the BNP’, with the tour coinciding with right-wing British National Party leader Nick Griffin’s appearance on BBC 1’s Question Time.

Further into the set, famously glum and Manchester United fan frontman Terry Hall was in fine form and nearly cracked a smile! This followed his announcement of ‘the best day of his fucking life’, not because of his joy of being on stage in front of adoring fans and playing fantastic songs, no, Liverpool FC have been knocked out of the Champions League! His other main gripe of the evening was David Gray and his ‘amazingly bobbly head’, this caused Hall to rant further and call him a ‘See You Next Tuesday’ – if anyone could shed any light on this please email me or leave a comment, I am very eager to know!!

I recently read an interview in UK music magazine The Word which spreads light on the reasons on original keyboardist Jerry Dammers not to returning to his position. It has been said that Dammers wanted to re-arrange The Specials’ songs as ‘slowed down jazz’. Jerry Dammers denies this but I was at the Love Music Hate Racism Carnival 2008 in Victoria Park in London and late in the day, Dammers took to the stage he performed his version ‘Ghost Town’ and the version was slower than the original version, featured multiple vocalists and a choir, it was basically self-indulgent crap! The atmosphere and the drama of the original was totally lost, those songs cannot be tampered with and tonight The Specials kept them alive with a frenetic performance.

Three years ago I went to the Apollo to see a boy band. Yes, a boy band, but following my musical epiphany – thank you Arctic Monkeys – I left the Apollo soaked in sweat and beer this time after seeing one of the most iconic bands of the past 50 years, and oh my how they were Special.

© Lauren Towner


The Specials played:
‘Do The Dog’
‘(Dawning Of A) New Era’
‘It’s Up To You’
‘Monkey Man’
‘Rat Race’
‘Hey, Little Rich Girl’
‘Blank Expression’
‘Doesn’t Make It Alright’
‘Stupid Marriage’
‘Concrete Jungle’
‘Friday Night Saturday Morning’
‘Man At C&A’
‘A Message To You Rudy’
‘Do Nothing’
‘Little Bitch’
‘Nite Klub’
‘Too Much Too Young’
‘Enjoy Yourself’

Encore 1 :
‘Ghost Town’
‘Guns Of Navarone’
Encore 2:
‘You’re Wondering Now

Related Links:
The Specials – Official Website


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