The Specials in The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on November 3rd 2014
Back in ’67, Dandy Livingstone’s A Message To You, Rudy came with a warning to the rude boys of Kingston, those sharply dressed but violently predisposed youths that the song addressed – “You’re growing older each day/ You want to think of your future/ Or you might wind up in jail.”
Over ten years later the song’s lyrics still carried the message to the English youths who adopted rude boy fashion and culture when the ska revival and 2Tone movement was in full swing in ’79. Tonight, ubiquitous chants of “Rude Boy! Rude Boy! Rude Boy!” punctuate the songs through The Specials’ selection in The Olympia despite guitarist Lynval Golding’s good-humoured attempt to get the crowd to heed the song’s warnings “about why you shouldn’t be a rude boy…that’s a serious message.”
The band’s latest reunion has met with almost universal goodwill despite the fact that founding member and keyboard player Jerry Dammers has had no involvement. A full complement of the original band, minus Dammers, was some consolation to that first flush of comeback nostalgia a few years back, but tonight there’s not just one, but three glaring omissions from the line-up.
Dammers is replaced by an organ player; unobtrusive save for when the instrument’s most iconic lines are most needed – the night’s opener Ghost Town, or an admittedly fantastic Man At C&A. Toaster, dancer and all round rabble-rouser Neville Staple left the band in 2012 due to “health concerns”. And where’s guitarist Roddy Radiation? He’s in rude health, we hope, in advance of his scheduled guest appearance with the Neville Staple band at the weekend, as well as outings with his own Skabilly Rebels. In Roddy’s place is Steve Craddock, Ocean Colour Scene guitarist and longstanding Paul Weller foil. Craddock is a fine player, here cementing his status as dependable sideman, but it could be anyone placed up there to emulate Radiation’s licks.
Singer Terry Hall’s perennially bored look is almost as much a part of The Specials’ image as the suited Walt Jabsco figure that adorned their record sleeves. It’s hard to know these days if this is hangdoggedly affected, or if he is really beaten down by the pointlessness of all this. Bassist Horace Panter spends most of his time on the drum riser with John Bradbury or beside him in the darkness, springing forth every now and then to take centre stage or to join Golding to dispense that distinctive popping bassline of Nite Klub. Golding (a spritely 63, not 87 as Hall claims), meanwhile, is the life and soul, sparring with Craddock on the song’s mid-section while Hall sardonically breaks into Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.
“There’s one thing I just do not understand” says Golding. “Swahili!” quips Hall, but Golding is building up to the double whammy of anti-racism songs Why? and Doesn’t Make It Alright, the latter seeing the crowd harmonise with the band at the coda. As with their last visit when it felt like the balcony of The Olympia was going to break clean away from its housing, the place is hopping for the majority of the set. “I told you we’d saved the best for Dublin” shouts Lynval before a triumphant Guns Of Navarone, and a post-encore Hall then reappears to espouse the song’s merits – “it gives me a chance to masturbate backstage.”
The setlist can’t be faulted, and how could it? The Specials wrote some of the defining songs of an era, and their impact – both politically and for old-fashioned on-yer-feet skanking power – is undiminished. There’s just something lacking here. There’s two-thirds of Fun Boy Three and one quarter of Ocean Colour Scene playing to an audience that needs no winning over. Hall gets the last word of the night – “Love, love, love” – and it’s certainly flowing towards the stage, measured in roars and moving feet. You just get the feeling that the band isn’t feeling it the same way.