The Specials’ Encore tour graced the grand stage of Troxy, and our Politics and Current Affairs editor Maeve Schaffer was in the audience.
Ska music was always a huge part of my growing up; memories of my dad’s embarrassing dancing to Madness have always been held close to my heart. So when I was given the opportunity to attend The Specials tour at Troxy, London I seized the chance to see a band that shaped a movement. The band was formed in Coventry in the seventies, and infused ska with reggae, punk, and politics to produce hits like ‘Ghost town’ and ‘A Message to You Rudy’. The audience was a mixed bag of fedoras and mod style alongside young people there for the classics, and I was so excited to be a part of it.
Walking into the foyer of Troxy was a feast for the eyes, the building oozed art deco extravagance. It felt as though we’d stepped back in time to the 1930s, the grand sweeping staircase looming before us, lit up by the glorious stained glass light fixtures above. The atmosphere was electric, a buzz filled the air as revellers filled the standing area ready to revert back to the 70s. Drinks were flowing, albeit ridiculously overpriced, and every stagehand that stepped onto the stage only added to the immense anticipation we all felt.
As the music for the support act began to play, my expectations remained pretty low. I’d never heard of Pete Williams, and while my research had told me he was Dexy’s Midnight Runners alum, I wasn’t entirely sure what to assume his set would be. However, I can confidently say I was utterly blown away by his nostalgic yet incredibly beautiful sound. His voice was rich and filled the venue with his poetic lyrics. Williams has criminally low listens on Spotify, but if you are a fan of Paul Weller and The Jam (or even if you aren’t) give his music a listen. I’ve been listening to ‘Black’ on repeat since we left the venue.
As The Specials’ stage was being set, the crowd had a lively buzz as the support’s phenomenal set hung in the air, strangers conversed, and life was normal again. Lights went down, Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter – the original members – walked onto the stage and the crowd went wild. The first song of their set was a little disappointing. ‘Freedom Highway’, a cover, was typically political and fit The Specials’ progressive bill to set the tone for the rest of the evening, but it didn’t get the crowd going. The audience wasn’t gripped until the second song (a fan favourite) ‘Rat Race’, and dancing spread across the crowd like a wave. Once the revellers responded, the knees were well and truly up.
I couldn’t fault the sound whatsoever; the brass instruments were incredible and completely encompassed the room and the bass was loud enough that you could feel it in your whole body, particularly meaningful with such powerful political messages sung and spoken throughout the show. The music was loud and commanding, and the crowd was loving it.
Politics reigned supreme for The Specials along this tour. The set was a mixed bag of the old classics and songs about racism and divisions in the world. The band cried out for people to register to vote and announced their new album Protest Songs. Original band member Lynval Golding opened up about the carpal tunnel syndrome in his hands which prevented him from playing guitar on the tour, however, it could not stop him from pushing his powerful messages to the crowd. The image of his fist in the air as everyone sang the lyrics to ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ pushing us to ‘stand up for [our] rights’ will stay with me for a long time. It only proved to me that the politics they stood for in the 70s, while fascists and antifascists would brawl in the crowds of their gigs, is still just as relevant today. The Specials’ politics are just as important as ever, and the crowd loved it.
The classics were of course some of the best moments of the evening. ‘A Message to You Rudy’ got even the seated audience up on their feet, and ‘Gangsters’ had the room filled with glee. While we were some of the youngest there, for those two hours it didn’t matter: everyone was young and it was a joy to watch the people in the room relive their youth. People who love ska music truly LOVE ska music, and it made the night so incredibly enjoyable. I eventually noticed that there were barely any phones recording, the fans who attended their gigs in the 70s and 80s wouldn’t have had their phones out then so why would they now? As a collective, we were living in the moment. Everyone had the same politics, the same love for the music, and the same dad dancing. There were no divisions, and it was brilliant.
The show ended with Ghost Town (another fan favourite) and as I watched people trickle out, I had a huge grin on my face. It was a fantastic night and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.