We came for three old men - but also got introduced to a young lady. The night the Specials played in Hamburg for the fourth time.
Though we didn't get treated to the great The Tuts as a support band like on the UK Tour dates, the substitute was more then just ok. Because when Saffiyah Khan played the decks lit in red on a small spot on stage, it was a confirmation that she would perform "Ten Commandments" later tonight, the highlight of "Encore" the latest album by The Specials.
But for now she was sort of the support act for herself. Her set featured ska and reggae classics by the Maytals and the Pioneers when she made a sudden turn to the Clash, Sleaford Mods and - wait for it - Sham 69 to end her slot.
And for the first time this evening everybody shouted along „...they will never be divided“. Little did we know then that her selection showed the influences we should witness further on.
The family reunites
20 Minutes later the show starts: "Warning, Warning Nuclear Attack“ introduces us to a powerful version of "The Man at C&A“. So here they are: Horace, Terry and Lynval backed up by two men on brass, a new guitar guy, a bearded man on keys and a big mighty drummer with a deep, deep voice.
For us in Hamburg this was kind of family gathering. Everyone over 50 with musical style and taste was in the audience*. No wonder then that the gig was sold out in a few weeks - half a year ago. So everywhere you looked you found familiar faces, some of which are not "on the scene" anymore. For this event even pensioners threw away their wheeled walker and danced and sang and smiled.
And it was a night of fun - but for an "oldie band"** that wasn't enough. So just like they did with the new album that even reached No.1 in Britain they came back strong. And with songs about Brexit, politicians, brutes and capitalism they proved once again that you do not have to sing silly love songs with a constant smile to succeed. Something that is fairly absent in the charts worldwide.
So should i bore you with the tracklist? You all know those tunes, otherwise you wouldn't have read this far. I was very happy when we all sang "It doesn't make it alright" as a powerful statement against racism, homophobia and other forms of populist politics. Well they left out "Enjoy yourself" which they still played in London. But what the heck. Cause it mattered more what they did play. And that was a trip through all three albums plus single tracks.
Only here for sentimental reasons? Tough sh*t
So this could have been a purely sentimental evening. But it wasn't. Cause when Saffiyah Khan turned up on stage again to give us her "Ten Commandments" she tore the place apart. She didn't just recreate her track with the band - she shouted, screamed, danced - really worked the track in a way, that the studio version just can't catch. Think Poly Styrene, Rhonda Dakar, Ari Up - this was an update with a clear punk attitude. The kind of what the Specials always had - not the copycat style of those 'punk rock bands' of today. And i am sure i wasn't the only one who has fallen in love tonight. (Be reasonable, Martin). Now if only that Record Store Day 7" Release would feature a live version on the A-Side too***. (Or is anybody "planning a bootleg ep"?)
When it was time for us to say goodbye we all sang out hearts out to "You're wondering now" which The Specials borrowed form Andy & Joey way back then - before being pushed out by the bouncers of the venue. So what next? Another album by The Specials - but how to follow an encore? Or should we rather look forward to records featuring Saffiyah Khan? We all know we will do both.
On a sadder note, i was reminded that when i saw The Specials for the first time in Hamburg in January 1980 a few days before my 17 birthday, i was slightly dragged along by a friend of mine. And he was right on all accounts. That gig in the "Hamburger Markthalle" was one of the very best gigs i have ever attended. The last time The Specials visited Hamburg in 2011 we were together once again at the "Große Freiheit" - just like today. And he would have been here. But sadly "Toni" is no longer with us. Thank you, brother wherever you may be.
*) Not forgetting a few younger cats and - of course - our dear friends from Britain.
**) It was called the 40th anniversary tour.
***) The B-Side of that 45 is a live version of ""Your're wondering now" with Amy Winehouse while the A-Side features the regular studio version of "Ten Commandments" wit