Photo by John Coles

If you wandered along the seafront on this bright October day you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Quadrophenia reunion for all the extras or the national This Is England convention. Instead everyone had donned their shiniest boots, dusted off their reddest braces and polished their heads for The Specials who were appearing for their always celebrated Brighton leg of the tour. As a bonus, we didn’t hear one person shout ‘Bellboy’ as they walked past The Marriot (maybe they only shout it at Sting himself, or maybe that’s just ‘Bellend’).

Unfortunately we didn’t catch any of the opening band By The Rivers but we did manage to catch all of the subsequent band, Stone Foundation. They worked the growing crowd well, but throughout the whole set they came across as the sum of their influences, and nothing more. Alright, some people actually take Paul Weller seriously still, and we must pity and treat these people with patience and understanding, so I won’t be too harsh. Having said all that, despite their rather derivative style, they pulled off an entertaining set and their front man must have slept well after all that jumping about.

Reviewing a band that existed almost primarily as a backlash to the decade before you were born always presents a challenge. Obviously I hate Thatcher (milk, and public money, snatcher) as much as the next reasonable man, but I never lived through it and so watching a crowd of skinheads in their acid washed jeans spewing bile and with the level of booing normally reserved for the Two Minutes Hate for the opening slide show was slightly surreal. Not that I’m criticising it at all.

A quick aside – these Abbey Road live recordings of gigs – what do people think? I spent £20 on one from LCD Soundsystem/Hot Chip last year, and I think I’ve played it twice. Live albums are great, but do you really need one from the gig you were at? Not so sure myself...

Starting on ‘Gangsters’, The Specials soon demonstrated why they’re known as one of the best live bands on the circuit. Mosh pit at the front already bouncing at full capacity, they took to the stage with such presence and energy that it was impossible to take your eyes off them. Roddy climbing onto the speaker stack one side, Neville risking his knees to get the crowd going and Lynval dancing as he does instantly engaged every person in the room. From where we were seated right in the gods people were up on their feet and down to the barriers within seconds and dancing.

With the band hitting full pace with ‘Do The Dog’ and ‘Dawning Of A New Era’ it got pretty heavy in the crowd, with at least 6 people taken over the mojo already. But still, it was a party atmosphere and this party was getting heavy, helped by the bands’ relentless opening. After the third track they paused momentarily for someone to throw a pair of tights on stage, which prompted Terry Hall in his own inimitable way to proclaim – “I see someone’s been to Primark today. Make it classy or don’t bother.” After a rather excitable ‘Monkey Man’ the crowd seemed to settle a bit at last, and so did the band. That’s not to say they weren’t as entertaining – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band make a venue this size seem so intimate before – but because of the drop in tempo and rigorous touring schedule the band became calmer.

And the rest of the gig continued in a similar fashion. There was the minimal interaction alongside the parade of hits and the dancing crowd but at no point did it become monotonous. The only bit that felt out of place was Terry Hall’s solo moment – for ‘International Jet Setters’ the band was all behind Hall for most of it while Terry had the stage to himself, which was a bit odd.

After two encores that was it – The Specials had played their hearts out to one of their spiritual homes, and the audience loved every minute. Given they’ve been around for so long it’s great to see them play such an energetic and impassioned set. Rumours are that there are rifts in the band and that this could be their last tour – let’s hope it’s not the end.