The Specials, O2 Academy, Newcastle

I NEVER saw The Specials back in the day, so was determined not to miss them on this 30th anniversary tour.

And, like the rest of the 2,000-strong sell-out crowd, it was a night I will remember for a long time.

Coventry's finest showed just why they're so - well, special - and those present at this opening night should think themselves privileged.

Were you at the gig? What did you think?

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Many of the headlines surrounding the tour have been about founder member Jerry Dammers' refusal to take part: well, it's his loss.

This wasn't so much a reunion as a celebration of a band rightly regarded as one of the best and most influential British groups of all time.

The Two Tone legends were so good, and so tight, it's hard to believe it's 28 years since the original line-up disintegrated in acrimony.

They exceeded all my expectations, and then some, and it seems entirely appropriate they should make their comeback with the country in recession.

After all, the sense of despair, boredom and hopelessness addressed in their songs is something a whole new generation is having to get used to, just like 1979.

Most bets were off when they opened not with Gangsters, but with album tracks Do The Dog and (Dawning Of A) New Era, before throwing in the debut single three songs in.

I haven't felt anywhere bounce so much since the big stand at Old Trafford during the 1998 FA Cup semi-final, when Alan Shearer sent Newcastle on their way to their first Wembley final for 22 years.

Hits and classic album tracks followed thick and fast in a perfectly-paced set, with the band getting the whole place skanking before calming it down with a slower number.

Rat Race and Monkey Man - "this one's for the bouncers!" - were followed by Blank Expression; Too Hot, Doesn't Make It Alright and Concrete Jungle by Friday Night, Saturday Morning.

Vocalists Terry Hall and Neville Staple were chalk and cheese, taciturn and effervescent, guitarists Lynval Golding and Roddy Byers bounced around like men half their age, and the rhythm section of Horace Panter and John Bradbury maintained a relentless ska beat.

Hall - a man not known for his positivity - seemed genuinely moved at the reception given to a band who split up before a good chunk of the audience were even born, and even managed a couple of jokes.

It was that same audience who hijacked Nite Klub, one of the best songs of the night, singing back every word while the band played on, awestruck.

A Message To You Rudy, Little Bitch and the closing Ghost Town were greeted like the classics they are, and Too Much Too Young signalled the start of an exultant encore.

When they followed it with a rapturously-received Skinhead Symphony and Enjoy Yourself you knew you had witnessed something very special indeed.