The Specials Bring Ska To Exeter

by Taylor William-Hill

I was absolutely elated to find out that had I managed to nab tickets to see The Specials – again! I thoroughly enjoyed watching them in my hometown Wolverhampton back in 2014, when the legendary Sleaford Mods supported them (check them out, by the way). This year, they have toured again and us students at the University of Exeter were lucky enough to have the historically acclaimed band to grace our atmospheric Great Hall. I, on the other hand, was graced with the opportunity to ‘get my skank on’ once again.

As exuberant as I was feeling, I didn’t expect to turn up to the gig and feel anything different or indistinguishable from the gig back in 2014. Well, I was wrong, naturally. They were fantastic once again. I believe I was still in high school when I saw them last; it was around then that I was only just beginning to embrace the ethos and complexity of live performance, especially with bands with such a large personnel like The Specials. It’s impressive to see a band of such stature perform such a competent recital with a fan-favourite repertoire (aside from my favourite: Hey Little Rich Girl – where was it?!). It was wonderful to see that some of the spines of the band still remained, namely Terry Hall, Horace Panter and Lynval Golding (Ruuuuuuuude Boy!); it would have been ace to have seen returns from Dammers and Staple, but that seems unlikely, sadly. What surprised me immensely and got me more excited than it should have, was to learn that Gary Powell from The Libertines was drumming for the band.

Walking into the Great Hall, I was struck with a sense of a familiarity from 2014: the audience was generally older than the average student, which one would expect seeing a band that dates back to the 1970s. It’s great to see the generation of then and now conversing as one singular entity – which is the magical phenomena when it comes to gigs: age is forgotten about completely. Fred Perry, Harrington Jackets, Doc Martins, Pork Pie Hats and a load of Two Tone; the audience was aptly dressed for the occasion and it really recaptured and rekindled the spirit of what ska gigs must have been like in the late 70s and early 80s.

The lights begin to dim, the crowd roar and then, through the masquerading smoke, The Specials make their appearance pretty much bang-on time. I immediately know what was coming next: Ghost Town, the traditional and appropriately chosen (because of the smoke on-stage – and Terry Hall’s solemn glare) song to start the show. Ghost Town doesn’t necessarily start as a song to galvanise the audience, with its haunting opening chords and brass melodies; instead, it works perfectly to entice the audience and hold them by a string for the next hour and forty-five minutes. That C diminished chord gets me every single time.

A few classics later and Golding asks us what we’ve wanted to hear all night: “Are you ready to start skanking?” – oh wait, we hadn’t started already? That’s when the tempo raised and Rat Race was eventually played. My +1 who was only vaguely familiar with ska music prior the gig was enjoying it as much as myself and everybody else; he was not incongruous with the music, or the people enjoying the music. This is the beauty of ska: everybody finds a way to just get lost in it. To complete an almost-perfect set (seriously, where was Hey Little Rich Girl?) the band finished up their encore with Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think), to which my friend and I looked at each other, thinking ‘yeah, we really did have a great time’. The Specials were a fete to behold once again, I am already ready for round three.