John Peel used to tell a story of when he first met The Beat at a University gig where he was doing a PA. The Beat wowed the crowd so much that they did their whole set again as an encore. Chatting to the band after he found out that hed been paid more than they had for the evening and so swapped cheques with them. For years afterwards the kids wouldnt let me change the car because Ranking Roger had sat in the passenger seat.
Well thirty years on, Ranking Roger, resplendent in his dreadlocks, can still get the crowd jumping. Dave Wakeling has been replaced with Rogers son, Ranking Junior and the two put on a great show, running across the stage in opposite directions and synchronised dancing on the spot. I saw them last year at Glastonbury but as ever, its so much better up close and sweaty.
For me though, support act Neville Staples stole the show. The lights dimmed and WARNING, WARNING – NUCLEAR ATTACK! came over the PA and the place went nuts to a brace of Specials songs of the highest quality. Gangsters, Guns of Navarone, Rat Race (Pointing at Lee and Sledge for the ..Youve got a PhD line), Nite Klub, A message to you Rudy and my personal favourite of the night Doesnt Make It Alright. glorious stuff. That debut Specials LP is a work of genius. For my 40th I asked people to send photos of themselves with their favourite LP and I chose this one.
The crowd was a good natured 40-something bunch who all had nostalgia fuelled smiley faces, moshing and skanking with our spectacles in their hands for fear of them flying off into the crowd. There was one horrible bastard in the crowd though who was just at the back of the moshpit viciously pushing and hitting people. He did it a few times to me and Sledge and at first you just dance your way through the crowd to escape but when it happened to me again I managed to accidentally stamp on his ankle which calmed him down a bit.
I never got to see the Specials in their heyday partly because you were either punk/indie or mod/ska back then (daft, as The Specials had first made their name supporting The Clash) and partly because they split up in 81 before I truly got into my gig going stride. I got to see Neville play with the Fun Boy Three at the Hacienda in 83 but it wasnt quite the same.
He finished his set with Ghost Town the track which Damon Albarn said, at 13, captured his imagination: I owe it all to that song. Im still inspired by it and it continues to inform everything I do. What else can you saya top, top evening.