Page last updated at 09:29 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 10:29 UK

The Specials tour turns back time

The Specials at Newcastle Academy
The sound of The Specials is as relevant as it was three decades ago

By Doug Morris
BBC Newcastle

Legendary ska band The Specials have returned to the stage, 30 years after their first success, kicking off their reunion tour at Newcastle Academy.

For an hour and a half or so, narrow your eyes and forget about the budget and the mortgage, and it could be 1981 again.

A recession in full swing, a nation troubled by binge drinking and fears of knife crime, with The Specials providing an incendiary soundtrack for the youth of the nation.

OK, the youth have grown up a bit, the men have lost a bit of hair and expanded round the midriff. But the generation of '79 had the big night out they've waited so long for, and they weren't going to waste it.

The Specials
Terry Hall (right) is back on board - but band founder Jerry Dammers is not

They were treated to the first live performance by six of the seven members of the band since that hot, riotous summer of 1981.

Any anxiety about whether the band were up to it was swiftly pushed to one side with the set opener, Do The Dog, which got the punks, mods, rockers and skinheads off their heels and onto the balls of their feet, where they stayed for the next 90 minutes.

The tonic-suited band ripped the years away as they tore up Dawning of a New Era and the single that first crackled out of the John Peel show late at night on Radio 1 - Gangsters.

The intensity of the band was matched by the reaction of the capacity rude boy/girl crowd, word perfect, wrapped in an evening of mutual respect and a wonder of why it's taken so long.

The set missed little from those short, intense years, when The Specials turned the music scene on its head.

While this night was all about having a good time, the cutting social commentary for which they were noted is as valid as ever - from Ghost Town to Concrete Jungle via Doesn't Make It Alright.

The Specials
The Specials had hits like Ghost Town and Do Nothing from 1979-81

While the advance publicity played up the missing musical genius of Jerry Dammers, on the night there was little worry about who was on the keyboards, no concerns about splits in the original band.

It's easy to make too much of such matters, even though it would obviously be better with him there. His absence might be a problem for making music in the future, but this was a night out and one that so many thought they would never have.

This was the generation who, as riots kicked off to the sound of Ghost Town in 1981, were wondering whether they would get a job and what shape the world was taking.

In 2009, on the night of the budget, when we were told about the worst recession since goodness knows when, they are probably worried about keeping their jobs, wondering whether their children will be able to get one and trying to hang on to the roof over their heads.

The Specials helped to cheer us through it all 30 years ago, so why not now. Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.

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