The Specials + Pete Williams @ O2 Academy, Birmingham, UK – 16th September 2021

Review and Photography by Robert Barrett

Whenever you go to see the Specials expect the following three things, pork pie hats, checkered shirts with suspenders and a lot of former skinheads. I hadn’t even got to the que at the O2 Academy before I ticked off all three. The Coventry legends were in town touring new album “Protest Songs” along with bringing all the classic ska hits the pork pie hat brigade were looking forward to.

Pete Williams

Opening the show was Pete Williams and his band. Formally a key player in classic bands such as Dexy’s Midnight Runners and The Bureau he had taken the plunge into a solo act in 2012 and brought with him a wealth of material. A natural bandleader and performer his vintage rock and roll sound really reminded me of Richard Hawley, in fact I’m pretty he had nicked Richard’s harmonica player, who came out to rip some scorching solos throughout. Country inspired foot stomper “Black” ended the successful support set, a perfect warm up for the main show.

By the time The Special’s arrived enough beer had been consumed to fill Birmingham canal as plastic cups littered the floor. You can tell the band understand the crowds they draw as they struck a perfect balance between the newer tracks from both “Encore” and “Protest Songs” with the classics. “Rat Race” and “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” had every spare space in the room full of people skanking their hearts out.

For me the highlight was the cuts from new album “Protest Songs”. Lynval Golding’s performance of the Bob Marley classic “Get Up, Stand Up” backed only by guitar was a soulful stirring moment. Terry Hall then came back to the stage for a crowd-pleasing Fun Boy Three track “The Lunatics (Have taken Over the Asylum)”.

It would be hard pressed to find a better two encore tracks than “Ghost Town” and “You’re Wondering Now” with its chants of “this is end” the echoing round the venue long after they left the stage. The Specials proved they can evolve their sound without sacrificing all the songs people want to hear, and they seem to still be having fun on stage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s