The Specials serve up a politically charged set at Gunnersville Festival 2019
The first day of Gunnersville was a nostalgic celebration of cult British indie bands and singers. Today has an equally British theme, but it is a festivity of old and new British guitar-based acts, climaxing with seminal two-tone outfit The Specials.
The Blinders begin proceedings, but are dogged by technical issues for the first half of the set, most notable with opener ICB Blues in which frontman Thomas Haywood’s vocals are out of sync with the band. Even punk-stomping new song 40 Days and 40 Nights is thwarted as there is no guitar for the first half of the track. Though the band do not triumph in the face of adversity, they carry on regardless and the set is revitalised by the bluesy, Doors-esque feel of Ramona Flowers and the politically-charged roar of Et Tu and Brutus. Please note: this band is a far more exciting spectacle and should not be judged on this performance alone.
The second act, General Roots, attract a notably larger crowd, owed predominantly to the audience’s clear penchant for reggae-based sounds. All sound issues are cleared up for them, but the set is a slow-burner, largely because of the dub-heavy tracks which open their half-hour setlist. By the time the energy starts to rise with the up-tempo, ska-influenced number Virgo Moon and the cool reggae groove of Stroke of Luck (complete with an impressive guitar solo from Joe Price) though, their set is finished and the impression is not as impactful as it could have been.
Support for The Specials comes from Britpop veterans Ocean Colour Scene. They rely predominantly on tracks from Mosley Shoals and Marchin’ Already during this set, which is, ultimately, what the crowd want. The anthemic Profit in Peace is an early highlight of their hour set, with Simon Fowler allowing the crowd to take over vocal duties as they bellow the chorus with enough force to lift the roof of the tent off. There is a mid-set lull of acoustic-driven, Small Faces-esque numbers which numb you into endurance as you wait for them to “play the better ones’”. And, my word, their last three songs (The Riverboat Song, Hundred Mile High City and The Day We Caught the Train) are a great way to end their set, as proven by the rapturous applause and cheers that greet the band as they take a deferential bow.
The headliners, however, provide so many highlights that it’s impossible to choose from them; unfortunately, not all are for the right reasons.
Terry Hall is the famous face of the band, but it is the ever-ebullient Lynval Golding, resplendent in a two-tone striped blazer and porkpie hat, who boisterously kicks off proceedings by shouting “Warning! Warning!” as the band rumble into Man at C&A. Especially for this tour, the band are backed by set decorations of various protest placards as a reminder of their political roots, which is suitably buttressed by Golding’s mid-song interactions where he dedicates Fun Boy Three’s The Lunatics to Boris Johnson and implores the crowd not to vote for those “two idiots” (Johnson and Corbyn, FYI) when a general election comes up.
Politics is an integrally powerful feature of the songs tonight, but the ones from Encore do not hit the audience with the powerful punch they have on the album, most likely because their followers just want the old stuff, sadly. Even more disappointing is when Saffiyah Khan joins the band for the droll, spoken-word brilliance of Ten Commandments and is uncomfortably groped by a drunken audience member as she walks through the crowd.
It unnecessarily sours what should have been a wondrous evening. When, for instance, the opening harmonica squeals of A Message To You Rudy are played, there is a euphoric roar and communal skank amongst the crowd, and Nite Klub (comically introduced by the dour Terry Hall with the question, “Hey Kids, do you like to go disco?” in a suitably ironic German accent) has everybody jubilantly pogo-ing and chanting the words to the chorus, as does their superb, sped-up cover of Monkey Man.
Even though their double encore includes Ghost Town, the classic sounds wispy rather than haunting. But, upon reflection, it seems to serve as a metaphor for the day: nostalgia can be joyous to behold, but it should not override the importance of modern sounds and issues which are as pertinent as those of the past.
Photos: Virginie Viche
For further information and future events visit The Specials’s website here.
Watch the video for Vote For Me here: