LIVE: The Specials – Rochester Castle, Kent, 09/07/2022

A Message to You Medway!

Running since 2007, Rochester Castle Concerts is a series of gigs set across four successive evenings in the shadow of a near 1,000-year-old Norman keep. The event has brought the likes of Status Quo, Jools Holland, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, UB40, Craig David, and The Libertines to the Kentish idyll over the preceding 15 years, and closing out the festivities this year – which had included sets from The Human League, Al McKay’s Earth Wind and Fire Experience, and James Blunt – was something truly special indeed.

The Specials’ importance cannot be understated. Their unionising effect on a deeply fractured Britain, manifest in working class youth embracing Jamaican rude boy culture, did much to heal deep divisions as their pioneering of UK ska through a 2 tone mantra built decisively from the embers of Trojan Records. And of course, their legacy as timeless songwriters, delivered through an effortless cool, make The Specials a rare and covetable entity.

Tonight’s support comes from The Beat – a treat in itself – and with their indelible hit ‘Mirror in The Bathroom’ still echoing in the air, all original members of The Specials take to the stage, sans drummer John Bradbury who sadly passed in 2015 at the age of 62. The first half of tonight’s set includes only a smattering of their former selves, and instead focuses mostly on cuts from last year’s Protest Songs and 2019’s Encore, their first new material with vocalist Terry Hall since 1981’s timeless ‘Ghost Town’. Their more recent work doesn’t land as well as the grooves of yesteryear with the skinheads in the crowd, but they haven’t had as long to mature and were still greeted amiably if not altogether raucously.

Guest vocalist Hannah Hu – complete with Fred Perry fringe – did much to elevate these new offerings it should be said, and she also applied a refreshing dynamic to older material; for it was, of course, in the triumphant refrains of ‘Monkey Man’, ‘Too Much Too Young’, and ‘A Message To You Rudi’ that the throng of 2 toned rude boys in Rochester got their money’s worth (at least what was left of it, after forfeiting £7 a pint at the bar).

In a county where three in five people voted to leave the European Union, perhaps The Specials’ enduring messages of accord could well be heeded tonight.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.