The Specials roll back the years on 40th anniversary tour - Newcastle gig reviewed

Terry Hall of The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.
Terry Hall of The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

Has it really been 40 years since those heady days of Two Tone, when The Specials spearheaded the ska revival that swept the charts in 1979?

Whereas Madness were the jokers in the pack, The Specials threw a more political punch, with songs of unemployment, social deprivation, racism and everyday life for the working classes. They were tough times and it was no wonder that singer Terry Hall never smiled.

Horace Panter of The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

Horace Panter of The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

For one fleeting moment, four decades later, 2,000 fans packed the sold-out O2 Academy on a Saturday night to relive those times, and The Specials - still fronted Terry Hall and joined by original members Lynval Golding on guitar and Horace Panter on bass, looking a little older and wiser - were leading the celebration.

The current tour marks something of a double celebration. Not only is it their 40th anniversary tour, it also highlights their latest album Encore, their first recordings with Terry Hall since Ghost Town in 1981, which hit the top of the album charts on its release.

With a stage set decked out in hand-made protest signs and snappy statements, The Specials launched straight into Man At C&A and Rat Race with barely a moment to catch their breath.

Hall led from the front in his own understated way while Golding, looking ever so dapper in two tone jacket and trilby hat, took every opportunity to skank with the best of them.

Lynval Golding of The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

Lynval Golding of The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

This was not just a celebration of the past but one looking to the future too, so well over half of the new album was aired over the course of the evening including 10 Commandments featuring guest vocalist Saffiyah Khan and Vote For Me, a barbed attack on the political classes and a rather apt song coming so soon after the recent local government elections.

The Lunatics, a wonderful reworking of Hall and Golding's Fun Boy Three hit, worked so well, with the harmony vocals bridging the gap between old and new.

Of course, no matter how good the new songs are the crowd spring to life at the slightest hint of a classic.

A Message To You Rudy brought a collective sigh on hearing the opening note and the spaghetti western brass of Stereotype had the crowd bouncing, but that was just the prelude for the mini riot that broke out during the closing salvo of Monkey Man, Gangsters and Too Much Too Young.

Terry Hall of The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

Terry Hall of The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

With all members upfront for a rearranged Breaking Point from the new album for the first encore before one of the finest singles of the '80s, Ghost Town, still thrilling, haunting and ever so evocative to this very day and Skatalites cover You're Wondering Now brought the celebration to an end. After 40 years, The Specials have still got it.

The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.

The Specials performing on their 40th anniversary tour at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Mick Burgess.