The Specials, with Sleaford Mods and The Scenes LIVE @ The Roundhouse 14.11.14


I arrive at The Roundhouse earlier than I normally would for the average gig, but then this is no average gig. This is one of the most important bands of the last century, The Specials. The band who changed the face of music forever, a key player in the 2tone movement and ambassadors for equality and social change. Along with The Specials are two more, pretty great, bands; so it’s important not to miss a minute.

I am greeted by the reverb-soaked tones of The Scenes – a Finnish psych rock outfit. A group of misfits, all with their own individual characteristics, the band blast out waves of ‘rock jazz’ – a sound as unique and discordant as the boys themselves seem. As frontman, Konsta Koivisto, hyperactively writhes around at the front of the stage, oozing his distinctive nasal vocals and ethereal vibes, an extremely chilled out (verging on lethargic) drummer effortlessly taps away whilst floppy haired, grunge-inspired guitarists deliver raucous riffs as they nod to the beat. A welcome air of eccentricity fills the room, and these Finnish lads prove they’re not your average band. Whilst the clashing notes and angst-laden cries may not be to everyone’s taste, The Scenes certainly can’t be accused of being ‘boring’ or merely emulating their peers: they’re unique, brave and unmatched in their vigorous attack of the sonic cacophony they create.

Another completely unmatched and unique outfit follow: Sleaford Mods. One of the most exciting new bands around at the moment, I have been waiting to see this Notts pair for a long time. Having finally been able leave their day jobs to focus entirely on this project, Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn have clearly been making waves of late with their crude, succinct poetry and lyrically astute comments on the disillusioned state of society. What a perfect way to precede the legendary Specials…

As the pair take to the stage, equipped with no more than a laptop and a bottle of water, those who haven’t seen them before may be apprehensive as to what to expect. But, the minute the grinning, Rambo t-shirted Fearn and somewhat intimidating presence of Williamson begin, the whole crowd are instantly drawn in. It’s impossible not to be.

Raging through tracks such as ‘Middleman’, ‘Jolly Fucker’. ‘Tiswas’ and ‘Jobseeker’, Williamson blasts out each sardonic offering with witty cynicisms, ironic criticisms and bold statements, as Fearn keeps the bass-heavy electro backing track going throughout. As Williamson paces the stage, completely uninhibited and admirably brash, he eloquently ‘rants’ about subjects ranging from “St George’s flag twats”, UKIP and MBEs  to dirty toilets and benefits, depicting the bleak state of society with more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, but mostly just genuine, exasperated, cathartic rage. Sleaford Mods fill the room with a united sense of empowerment and passion, as we all listen with intent to what Williamson has to say.

It is one of the most engrossing and breathtaking sets I’ve ever seen, and I honestly didn’t think it was possible to be so completely mesmerised by two men on stage with a laptop. But Sleaford Mods’ wit-filled social commentary, throbbing beats, spot on intent and unique presence turns out to be the perfect combination. An overwhelmingly refreshing outburst of  eloquent, poetic rage – that most are too cowardly to express – at a time when we need it the most.

As The Specials make their entrance, I’m filled with an extreme sense of overbearing excitement – I am finally in the presence of this band who have accompanied me through life since day one. As those first three, instantly recognisable, chords of ‘Ghost Town’ are greeted by huge booming cheers, I am instantly reminded of skanking around the house with my dad. And, as the trombone bellows and Hall’s unmistakable vocals ooze from the stage, the band exude as much energy and enthusiasm as I can imagine they did thirty years ago.

As each classic hit drifts from the stage, every single member of the jam-packed Roundhouse chants along and the room is filled with a sea of  heads bouncing up and down: a clear aura of nostalgia and happiness oozing from each and every one of us. Upon hearing those legendary songs such as ‘Friday Night’, ‘Do Nothing’ and ‘Rat Race’, it is impossible not to smile, sing along, cheer and agree with the unifying, empowering sentiment that is key to what The Specials are about.

“We’ve got to teach the young people to skank!” Lynval Golding heartily urges the crowd. I actually already know, having been attending ska gigs for the last fifteen years, but unfortunately my back is preventing me tonight (the irony being I’m the youngest person there and have a bad back…).  Just in case I feel a sudden wave of energy, however, the vigorously energetic keyboardist gives us a lesson in skanking: swinging his arms from side to side, he bounces up and down to the beat, showcasing a huge beard and even bigger charisma.

As yet another legendary milestone of music, ‘Gangsters’, blasts out from the stage, the unrelenting energy and radiance from the band continues: as Lynval and Horace rush from side to side, swapping places and bounding across the stage, impassioned lyrics flow from everyone’s lips and Steve Craddock delivers unrelenting impressive riffs.

After hits such as ‘Too Much Too Young’ and the unmistakable syncopated beats of ‘Message To You, Rudi’ come to end, the band disappear briefly before returning for a welcome encore. As the ska classic ‘Guns Of Navarone’ is greeted with booming cheers and a sea of sweaty, skanking bodies, it is evident that – despite over thirty years in the business – The Specials have still got it. Their songs are every bit as relevant as the day they were first recorded, their resonance a necessity in today’s social climate.

My one gripe with the night  is that I was repeatedly asked “What’s a young lady like you doing here?” Despite being female and under the age of forty, what I am doing here is enjoying one of my favourite bands: The Specials were, and are, one of the most important bands of the last century and should be enjoyed by each and every one of us, whatever our age or gender. A fantastic, life affirming (despite the back) set – thank you to the most special of bands.

Mari Lane


Mari Lane

Mari Lane

Editor, London. Likes: Kathleen Hanna, 6Music, live music in the sunshine. Dislikes: Sexism, pineapples, the misuse of apostrophes.