By Francesca Frankis, Music Editor
In the second and final show presented by Colston Hall last week, 'pioneers of the politcally charged anthem' The Specials, returned to Bristol for the first time in three decades.
In 1981 The Specials reached number in the UK charts with their influential single ‘Ghost Town’. The record painted them as kind of pioneers of the politically charged anthem within popular music. When widespread rioting broke out across the country in response to rising unemployment and the out of favour Thatcher led government, The Specials cried out for the people ‘No job to be found in the country, can’t go on no more, the people getting angry’. A few decades later and The Specials performance at Lloyd’s Amphitheatre followed the same highly politicised tune, with an adoring crowd looking up from below, dancing along in the rain.
The stage was decorated with placards and banners painted with punchy slogans like ‘Only bad people need guns’ and ‘Right wrongs’. ‘Man at C&A’ kicked off their set, a cinematic and gloomy track that tackles the issue of international nuclear power. Terry Hall was as powerful as ever in his singing voice as he cried out over the rhythmically complex guitar, ‘And I don't have a say in the war games that they play’. In between songs, Hall renounced today’s politicians, and people below rallied him on, launching drinks into the air as the funky first verse of ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ sauntered out of the speakers. Inevitably the crowd shouted out with Hall as the wobbly keyboard part bobbed up and down between the melody. The accented off beat rhythms and walking bass line weave together to deliver an archetypal Ska revival track.
The Specials made their way through some tracks from their latest album Encore, including ‘Vote for me’ and ‘We Sell Hope’. Activist Saffiyah Khan was brought out onto stage to perform over an ominous instrumental backing track in the song ’10 Commandments’. Khan has been close with the band since being pictured standing up to a far right EDL member a couple of years back and being invited to one of their shows. Her performance included powerful words like ‘Thou may catcall me on the street, But thou should take note that I'll catcall you right back’. It seemed like a symbolic act of passing on the torch of political activism to the next generation.
Celebrated anthem ‘A Message to You Rudy’ was next on their set. Brassy and punchy trombone decorated over a powerful kick from the drum, it implored waves of movement around the Harbourside. Lynval Golding strummed out his zappy guitar part with a beaming smile across his face as the crowd watched on in adoration. In true encore fashion, The Specials left ‘Ghost Town’ right until the very end. The eery instrumental was heightened by the weather, which made the track’s political sentiment even more striking. Whilst The Specials recent record proved that musically, the band are still as capable as ever, consequentially their exceptional gig on Friday night illustrated that their fervour for social change also remains forever the same.