After a triumphant 18-date UK tour in 2016, Two Tone legends The Specials were back with a mega-open air concert a stone’s throw from their Coventry home turf, at the NEC, Birmingham on a balmy bank holiday weekend Friday evening in May. More than 6,000 fans gave the boys a rousing reception at the concert, held by the lake on the NEC complex, outside the Genting Arena .
It was a case of double delight tonight, when first on to the stage were Jamaican reggae legend Toots & The Maytals, among the main influences of The Specials and probably all of the Two Tone label’s roster. Reggae got soul tonight, and the classic “Monkey Man”, covered by Amy Winehouse and many others, prompted some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Not long back on stage after a few years enforced absence, after some moron at a US festival threw a 1.74 litre bottle of vodka from the crowd which hit Toots aka Frederick “Toots” Hibbert in the head and caused him serious injury. He slowly recovered after a three year period without performing, and was back on stage in June last year (2106) for the giant Coachella Festival in the States. Tonight sounding mighty.
Last year, The Specials’ toured the UK for the first time in two years and it sadly the first time the band had been on the road without drummer John “Brad” Bradbury, after he passed away the previous December. They were sure he would have wanted them to carry on, so they toured in October and November 2016. No dates in Coventry back then, but Nottingham, Leicester and Wolverhampton were the triple Midlands’ shows.
Terry Hall’s vocals sounding as strong as they ever have. Jerry Dammers not with this line-up, of course, nor part of the 30th anniversary reformation and tour, which featured six of the seven original members. The original band band split 36 years ago (in a Top of the Pops dressing room in 1981) after a string of hit singles and albums. This line-up have been touring the US and elsewhere since they re-formed in 2009, to sell-out crowds everywhere they go.
Toots & The Maytals
All Photos: Jason Sheldon
Words: Simon Redley