grapevine
November 15th, 2011

SPECIALS U.K. TOUR 2011 by Sir Horace Gentleman

Back from Brussels, a few days off and into rehearsals in London with the string section. Ah yes, the string section. When this was first mentioned a year or so ago I was sceptical to say the least. We had a rehearsal earlier in the year to try them out and I must admit it didn’t sound half bad. Brad`s plan was for them to play the ‘synthetic strings’ parts on Friday Night/Saturday Morning and Do Nothing also the high shrieking bits on the chorus of Ghost Town which we thought was missing on our version of it. This evolved to them playing the ‘Ahh Ahh’ bits on Stereotypes, doubling the brass parts on Man at C&A and the descending figure at the end of the verses on International Jet Set. They also ended up playing on You’re Wondering Now too.
Ellie plays violin, her sister Laura plays viola and Jess (not related) plays cello. They are all top flight professional musos and they know Tim (trombone) and talk about rallentandos, bar numbers, third crotchet on the left and stuff like that. Despite all that they seem pleased to be here and are looking forward, as we are, to seeing what it looks like and hearing what it sounds like.
Three days of London rehearsals are followed by two days of production rehearsals at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall where we start the tour with two nights of shows there on Tuesday October 11 and Wednesday October 12.
The pre-production days are hell to be honest. We play our tunes so that the lighting people can get their cues and so that the visuals we are using can be properly aligned to the music. Our planned projection onto a screen in front of the stage is scrapped in favour of it being projected onto the backdrop, the band coming on towards the end of the slide show. Judging when to come on turns into a hilarious episode where no-one in the crew seems to know what they are doing and we have to do the whole thing about four times.Terry revels in the chaos of it all. I have rarely seen him be so funny. So, here we are, Specials U.K. Tour 2011. 15 shows in 23 days.

Tuesday 11th. October

Wolverhampton Civic Hall 1

Being a Coventry based, home loving sort of man, I’ve been commuting to Wolverhampton from home. Gives me time to focus on the way and unwind on the way back. I’ve been picking up Neville and Trevor, his oppo, as well.
We have two support bands on this trip, By The Rivers, a young white reggae band from Leicester and The Stone Foundation, an authentic mod/soul outfit, also from The Midlands - big on the scooter circuit I’m given to understand.
I reckon with all the stuff, crew, support bands and so on, there are around 60 people on the road. I know our touring party is 48 people strong. There are 2 crew buses, three trucks and the Abbey Road guys in their mobile studio ex-post office van and merchandising as well. It’s the biggest Specials operation so far, so there’s a lot riding on these shows. So, showtime and to say that I was nervous would be an understatement but if you’re a regular reader you’ll know I’m always nervous.
The introduction works all right and we bang into Gangsters. It is soon obvious that we have entered into what Brad justly describes as a World of Pain. The p.a. is far too powerful for the room and bass frequencies flood the stage. It sounds like we’re playing in a room where jet engines are being tested at the same time. The performance does not have the finesse of the recent European shows but to be honest, Brad and I are playing on ‘autopilot’. The strings sound good though and I thought the new numbers were played well. To be honest I was glad to get it over with. I think my nerves got the better of me tonight.

Wednesday 12th October

Wolverhampton Civic Hall 2

Got to the venue a bit earlier so that Brad and I could work on our stage sound. Marcos and Rabbit (You must know our front-of-house sound engineer and monitor guy by now!) have taken a lot of the sub-bass out of the p.a. (We don’t need it in a ‘small’ venue like this one!) and Brad is a lot happier than last night. Me too as it goes. A different type of nervous tension tonight for some reason but as always, there’s nothing I can do about it.
The Persuaders theme song starts up and the slide-show with its’ images of the past 30 years comes up and on we go. Neville steps into his spotlight and grabs his michrophone. ‘Bernie Rhodes Knows Don’t Hargue’. You know the rest. The gig is a blinder. As good as any of the European shows. Lynval dedicates Message To You to two young lads who were sitting our side of the barrier. Terry invites them onto the stage and they stand there, as we play the song around them, 3,000 people singing along. I reckon they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives. Brad and I played like demons. We were ‘back on form’.

Friday 14th October

Manchester Apollo 1

Thursday was a day off. I went back to Coventry and how I spent my day is absolutely none of your business! Friday sees Neville, Trevor and I on the 12:31 train to Manchester. We play 2 nights here at the Apollo, a venue we first appeared at in August 1978 when we were opening for The Clash. We headlined here a year later with Madness and The Selecter and again, thirty years later in 2009. I find myself a cold bunker-like room in the attic of the vast concrete old theatre and await show time. The girls (string section) are next door and making a lot of noise. It’s all i-pod docks and curling tongs. They sound like they’re having fun.
Still nervous but it’s 9 o clock…showtime. The show seems to lose momentum about 15 minutes in. There’s a group of slower tunes (Blank Expression,Too Hot and Doesn’t Make It Alright) that slow everything down a little too early for my liking. The string section songs are politely received too.
International Jet Set is obviously not a rude boy crowd pleaser but there again, it wasn’t supposed to be. This is something I’ve noticed and we’ve talked about…The Two Specials. There’s the ‘first album’ band, all Doc Martens, tonic suits and Ben Shermans. Long Shot Kick De Bucket and 200 skinheads on stage. Then there’s the ‘2nd album/Ghost Town’ band which was a lot more studious, musically. The band that people associate with is not the second incarnation. There aren’t too many fans turning up to see The Specials wearing Zoot suits, berets and sporting goatee beards. The Manchester Skinhead Moonstompers don’t get the party they expected. It’s a difficult problem. Are we a tribute act to ourselves.. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen,The World’s greatest Specials tribute band…..The Specials!!’ Or do we become this ‘Heritage Act’ which gives us a certain room to maneuver, creatively. (I’m sure that’s not how you spell maneuver!).
All these thoughts filter through as we play through the show. Neville hams it up big time during Stupid Marriage and Terry is his terse self as he leaves the stage for Concrete Jungle ‘I’m off to see the last 5 minutes of Grand Designs - and see if Paul’s got that roof on.’) Stand-up beckons.
Ghost Town is tremendous but there is an audible groan as we start to play You’re Wondering Now, our last song. I get the impression that tomorrow the facebook conversations will be about the songs we didn’t play, rather than the ones we did. I leave the Apollo with Neville, Trevor and Brad and am back at the hotel and tucked up in bed by midnight. Honestly!

Saturday 15th October

Manchester Apollo 2

Breakfast is a noisy affair at the Malmaison. Voodoo Chile (Slight return) is not my ideal sound track to a Full English. In fact I consider it kind of sacrilegious. It’s indicative of the lowered status of music, even. Something as incendiary as Jimi Hendrix’s finest hour being relegated to elevator music is almost emasculating. It casts an interesting light on what we are doing.
The morning is spent walking around a very busy Manchester. There is an anti-banking demonstration in a nearby square and policemen (and very tough-looking security guards) outside the nearby Barclays Bank. Aston Villa play Manchester City and there are lots of police escorting football-types around the city. ‘Vibrant’ becomes ‘edgy’. I’m from Coventry, a smaller city which these days doesn’t have a football team. Lynval is visiting relatives in Leeds and Terry is at Anfield watching his revered Manchester United draw one-all against Liverpool, so our soundcheck is a somewhat depleted affair.
Showtime and for some reason, I’m not as nervous. It always amazes me how each show develops a life of its own. Tonight has a lot more energy than last night but is somehow more relaxed (if that makes sense!). We miss out Pearl’s Cafe (again) which I am not happy about. Courage mes braves!
Ghost Town is great. I am so happy that we have finally nailed it. I never thought we did the song justice in 2009 but the string section and some work in the bass and drum department have given it the majesty it deserves. I am able to meet up with guests after the show. A gentleman from Leicester, one of Drew’s (saxophone) buddies wants to make Rod and I a guitar each, for nothing. Well, a photo endorsing his work. I’m tempted…but how many bass guitars do I need? I get to meet Craig Gannon, a buddy of Terry’s and 2nd guitarist in The Smiths for a while. Nice bloke. After we get dropped off at the hotel, Andy, our runner who has been shuttling us backwards and forwards from the hotel to the gig for the past two days, says ‘Thanks, It’s been a real pleasure working for you guys. You’re real gentlemen‘. Cool. So are you Andy, so are you.

Sunday 16th October

Hull Arena

I have to wait 40 minutes for breakfast and am forced to listen to Lynryd
Skynryd (?) during the process. Come on Malmaison, you can do better than that. Especially at those prices.
Despite all the ‘About as interesting as a Sunday afternoon in Hull‘ references I’m looking forward to this one. They don’t do too many shows here, Hull not being renowned as a bastion of rock and roll and I’m hoping the crowd will be up for a good time. They usually are though, aren’t they.
The venue is an ice rink. It is freezing. The crew are all anoraks, gloves and wooly hats. The ice is covered by wooden boards, obviously, but that doesn’t make it warm by any means. Backstage facilities are spartan to say the least but it’s warm in catering and there are some friendly faces. One of our three trucks is being driven by Gareth who comes from Coventry, Allesley Park even. He was an an electrical apprentice at Jaguar, Browns Lane, where Roddy’s dad used to work. When it closed he was made redundant and ended up driving rock and roll trucks. Nice kid. Showtime and it’s a bit warmer. The show hasn’t sold out but you could have fooled me, looking out at the sea of faces, some of whom I recognize. Willo and Mike Cornwell from Specials 2 are there as is superfan Terry who is up at the front stage right, grinning. Like a lot of people tonight. The show is great. Terry (Hall) stays on stage for Concrete Jungle and sings along with Roddy, making it sound a lot more powerful. There’s even a fight over on stage right during A Message To You, a message that fell on deaf ears then… For our second encore we put Guns of Navarone in before Little Bitch, making it a 3-song encore with You’re Wondering Now. Hull gets the most ‘value for money’ show so far. Afterwards we hustle back onto our bus and head back to the disastrously-kitchened rock and roll elevator music palace that is Manchester’s Malmaison hotel.
(They were playing Steve Miller when we got back at 1:30)

Monday 17th October

Travel Day. Manchester - Glasgow

A private jet, you ask?
Helicopters even?
A fleet of limousines?
A luxury coach?
Wrong!
Network Rail a do it!
Well, a cramped but not unfriendly little train to Preston and then a Virgin express to Glasgow. The tickets cost £139 each and there are 10 of us in the party. That’s nearly £1400. Neville and I consider this to be an enormous sum but cheaper than a helicopter I suppose. A slightly changed set list is suggested and approved. We’ll bring Rat Race up the set, also Pearl’s cafe and move Do Nothing so it comes after Stereotype. It should make the set work a little better. We kind of take over the waiting room/cafe in Preston station for a while which is not without its comedic moments. On the train I finish reading Pauline Black’s autobiography which Roddy has lent me. The stuff about her finding her birth parents was interesting.
We reach a rain-swept Glasgow in the early evening and head for…The Glasgow Malmaison. I trust the kitchen is better organised than their Manchester counterpart. The taxi driver who takes us there says it’s a pity we’re playing on the same night that Rangers play Liverpool. Football one, Specials, nil. Was it ever thus?

Tuesday 18th October

Glasgow S.E.C.C.

The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (I always wondered what S.E.C.C. stood for) is basically the N.E.C. (National exhibition Centre) but in Scotland. A collection of vast cavernous sheds that house…. exhibitions; The Clothes Show: WWF Wrestling and visiting bands like The Foo Fighters but not The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, cos they play stadiums. Like I said it is a big vacuous rectangular room with the stage along one of the larger sides and bars along the shorter sides. We could (I suppose) have done two nights at the Academy, which is where we played last time we were here, but that’s by the by. We’re here at the rather impersonal S.E.C.C. The dressing rooms are about 100 yards from the stage and everyone seems to travel by fork lift truck. Neville is beset by his perennial problem of knees that don’t work and sits out the soundcheck in front of Marcos’s sound desk in a wheelchair.
A very fetching young physiotherapist will visit him later and revtalise his lower limbs. Perform a miracle even.
There is one factor in this evenings show I have neglected to mention and that is that Glasgow audiences are totally fucking mental. Showtime and I feel like I’m 25 again. The crowd sing their hearts out, bless em. Every song, even International Jet Set, which is rapidly becoming my favourite tune of the show. Roddy seems in a bad mood for some reason, probably pissed off at having to get up at 8 a.m. tomorrow for the Coventry posse’s flight back to Birmingham. A few people comment that this was the best gig on the tour so far. Thank you Glasgow and goodnight. Could we do 2 nights at The Academy next time… Please?

Friday 21st October

Nottingham Arena

Flight from Glasgow to Birmingham for the Coventry posse. We met the singer from The Stone Foundation’s mum at Glasgow airport. Hilarity ensued, Neville on top form. Incorrigible. Picked up in Brum by ‘Uncle‘ Sam Harris and I was home just after lunch. Result. Two days off.
Friday and we’re picked up in ‘the last van in the garage’ by Faisal, Sammy’s buddy. (Sam couldn’t do the run as he was driving The Beat to Southampton).
We’re at the Nottingham Arena by 3.30 in time to hang around for half an hour before we do a soundcheck. The gig is another huge enormo-dome. A far cry from Rock City, where we played on our last visit to the city in 2009.
The gig’s capacity, according to our itinerary, is 6,500. It sounds horrendous on stage but the crew says it sounds great out front. Well, they would, wouldn’t they.
Six and a half thousand people make a lot of noise you know. Showtime and they are all up for it. The place is full of people and all of a sudden a huge cavernous concrete sports hall becomes a great dance hall. Roddy is in a bad mood again and spits and snarls through the show, dropping more than a few notes. I think he may have had too much to drink. It does not dampen the audiences enthusiasm and the response is fantastic. I had real doubts as to whether we could successfully play these larger venues but the evidence points to the fact we can. After the show, a perfect gig is made even more perfect by meeting This Is England director Shane Meadows. He is a star struck as I am. Top bloke.

Saturday 22nd October

Travel Day Nottingham - Plymouth

A restless night, punctuated by the shrieks of late night revellers is followed by a sleepy breakfast. (Scrambled eggs on toast) A posh coach arrives and takes us from Nottingham to Plymouth. We stop a couple of times. It is boring. Get into Plymouth at around 5.30 All the crew are at the hotel too.
There is a wedding going on (Sam and Christina’s). I’m really tempted to get my suit out and wander in. ‘Hi, yeah, I work with Sam’s dad. You probably don’t recognise me with the suit on. Who are you?’ Twenty or so years ago I’d have been more than up for it but I end up at Pizza Express (Chicken pancetta salad) and am back in the hotel by 7.30. It’s the start of a three-in-a-row tomorrow.
Sunday 23rd October

Plymouth Pavilion

120bpm bass drums from the Wetherspoons down the road keep me awake until the place closes at 2.30 but the rest of the night is peaceful. After breakfast I watch a still-drunk blonde woman attempt to walk up the hill outside the hotel. She keeps bumping into the railings, standing still for a few moments, flicking her hair back attempting to reassure anyone looking at her that she really is in charge of her faculties before stumbling a few more steps up the hill.
I’m met at the gig by my buddy Andy Pearson, bass player of no small renown, having worked with The Toasters for two years, a stretch with Neville’s band and currently playing in The Beat (Ranking Roger’s version)
After a cacophonous soundcheck we talk bass-related drivel for a couple of hours before it’s time to get nervous for tonight’s show.
The reason Roddy has been spitting and snarling through the past few shows is because Terry has started singing Concrete Jungle. It was always agreed that Rod would sing it and he has since the band reformed. Terry had brought up the subject a few months ago that we should re-visit it. Rod would never stand centre-stage to sing it and it looked visually awkward. I would take Terry’s mich for the choruses. The upshot of all this is that in Hull, Terry stayed on stage and, much to everyone’s surprise, sang Concrete Jungle with Rod. It sounded great, the extra voice gave the song a lot more power but it put Roddy’s nose out of joint. This hasn’t helped and has ratcheted up the tension. There now exists the band…and Roddy which is sad.
All this does not stop 3,750 fans having a ball when the band starts up at 9.00p.m. It is a great gig. A little fast in my opinion, but full of power. Lynval finds two 11-12 year-old lads to bring onto the stage for A Message To You and they both pogo(?) along to the tune. A terrific evening. Concrete Jungle never sounded as powerful.

Monday 24th October

Centaur Ballroom, Cheltenham Racecourse

11‘o’clock departure from Plymouth and a 4-hour trek to Cheltenham in our Ellisons coach. Corporate Hospitality as it says on the side of the bus. We disembark outside a small hotel in a quiet Cheltenham cul-de-sac and I have just enough time to cut myself shaving before we get back on the bus to go to the gig, a sizeable ballroom attached to Cheltenham’s famous racecourse. At the end of soundcheck, Terry asks Marcos ‘Can you get it any louder?’ I would have thought he would be used to our engine-testing-shed pre-gig routine by now. Dinner is gorgeous; lamb stew. For some inexplicable reason, I am not nervous this evening. I have no idea why - perhaps I have finally expended my body’s supply of adrenaline or finally achieved some Bhuddist -like state without realizing it.
We take to the stage at 9 to be greeted by a 3,000 - strong audience, most of whom are quite sedate. As far as I could gather, the venue does not generally host rock shows and this is something of a first for Metropolis, our promoters.
We play with no less vim and vigor than we usually do but the response, compared to Manchester or Glasgow is quite tame. Things do go a little awry on stage however. I drop a few notes on Dawning Of A New Era, Lynval messes up the intro to It’s Up To You and Nev kind of loses the talk-over bit in the middle. Terry comes over to me and says ‘This will be remembered as The Evening Of Mistakes’. He ain’t wrong there. I start playing Pearl’s Cafe when everyone else is starting Hey Little Rich Girl. I don’t think anyone noticed (unless of course you bought that evening’s live c.d.!) The audience are quite hard work this evening despite there being a sizeable Coventry contingent. I discuss all this with the Metropolis guys after the show and we reach the conclusion that the majority of the crowd do not know how to behave as an audience, if that makes sense. It’s the downside of playing somewhere that doesn’t have a regular concert venue I suppose. I’m not complaining, the show had some great moments and the audience were singing fit to burst by the time we got to Message To You, Nite Klub and Too Much Too Young. Perhaps expecting a ‘Glasgow’ every night is aiming a little too high. After the concert I meet John, who was a Cheltenham skinhead and attended the fateful Whitcombe Lodge show back in 1979 where the Coventry Skins, under the pretext of ‘following’ The Specials resoundly whupped their Cheltenham counterparts. I have a dim recollection of the show. John was reasonably philosophical about it. ‘It didn’t matter, cos a fortnight later the Cov skins got stuffed by Chelsea’ Honour restored.

Tuesday 25th October

Brighton Arena

The bus leaves at the unearthly hour of 10.17 and we wend our way south through the Gloucestershire countryside to make the M4 Eastbound. Then its round the M25 (surprisingly easily!) and down the M23 which gets us into Brighton bright and early. Well, half past two but anything for a bit of alliteration eh! I am starting to get grindingly (?) tired. This is the third show in a row for us boys, most of whom are nearer 60 than 50. My elbows have started to hurt for some reason but the rest of me is pretty good. After the soundcheck it’s back to the age-old dilemma. Do I sleep or do I eat? I eat.
(Baked Salmon with risotto rice) then rest my weary bones until showtime.
The Brighton crowd seem strangely reserved, hardly a murmur during the intro slide-show. Perhaps they were thinking. Anyhow, by the time we get to Monkey Man, it’s business as usual. Brad plays a little slower this evening… thank goodness and the show relaxes into a nice groove. A bit too nice really, we seem to lack a bit of vim this evening. A scrap breaks out at the front up by Neville towards the end of the show which dampens things down for me. That hasn’t happened for a long time….just one guy losing it. Terry is acerbic as ever, ‘Finished have we, girls? I was like that after my first pint’. Never argue with a man with a michrophone. First encore Ghost Town absolutely rocks It sounds fantastic these days. Second encore, Little Bitch is a tad slower and better for it as far as my wrists and fingers are concerned anyway.
After the show I visit with some friends and am approached by Kevin, who has come all the way from Argentina to see us. ‘Can I take a photo with you?’ he asks, after he has given me a copy of his band’s c.d. (Los Aggrotones if you are interested) A photo? - I ought to buy you a bloody camera! Argentina!
Amazing. After only about half an hour of ‘catching up’ I’m whisked away to the coach to find everyone is waiting for me to depart for London. That’s a first! A couple of hours later and we disembark outside the swanky new St. Pancras hotel. I can now count the shows we have left on the fingers of one hand.

Thursday 27th October

B.I.C.C. Bournemouth

Day off in London on the 26th. Lovely. It has come to my notice that this day off has come in the middle of two three-day runs. So that’s six gigs in seven days (with the day off in the middle) That’s quite a punishing schedule for us old-timers. Come to think of it, it’s a punishing schedule for anybody!!
Anyway, coach from swanky St. Pancras to Bournemouth, where it is belting down with rain. Nothing is more miserable than an English seaside resort, off season, in the rain. Blackpool was the same in 2009. We reach our hotel at 2.30. I get to my room and lie on the bed. A split second later it is 3.30 and time to leave for the venue. I clamber onto the bus and realise I’ve left my tour pass behind. I’m still half asleep when we get to the gig. Soundcheck is kind of perfunctory and after some beef bourginion I’m back asleep in the dressing room. It’s that stage of the tour. The tiredness is cumulative. I have to work on nervous energy and coffee. Back in the day this was when I’d start taking drugs. There are four shows left and it’s starting to feel like an uphill struggle. Luckily the vibe in the band is pretty good. Terry is traveling independently - in a rather nice Merc as it goes - I think visiting a football match is involved.
Showtime and I must admit to feeling relaxed and confident although I have no reason why. Just as well as the show gets off to a rollicking start and rollicks along a little too quickly for my liking. In my experience, when drummers get tired they play faster. Either that or I’m tired and haven’t the energy to play them at the tempo that Brad sets up. Terry said he had problems keeping up with the drums. All this is lost on the crowd who have a great time. Stewart Rennie, a Specials 2 stalwart and trumpet player with Orange Street, who are based down here says the gig was as good as the one in Glasgow. After the show I’m able to show my 12-year old nephew around back stage - load out - 3 trucks - 2 buses - dressing rooms - meet the band - blah blah blah. I think he was impressed.

Friday 28th October

Cardiff Indoor Arena

Breakfast in Bournemouth finishes at 9.30 so it’s a struggle to fall out of bed at half past 8 but the shower, (when it decided to get hot) revives me. One full English later and I have nearly two hours to wait before we depart for Cardiff.
I’m soon fast asleep again. Boy, am I tired. The coach we have is nice but you can’t lie down in it like you can on a crew bus. (Nikolaj, the horns and the strings are on one of the crew buses along with our regular crew. They’re getting tired too but I think that has a lot to do with staying up late. Bus life does that to you). So…it is a group of Zombies who disembark at the hotel in Cardiff. Luckily the gig is only 300 yards up the road so I walk up there for a 4p.m. soundcheck. The gap between soundcheck and showtime is filled with eating some ham that I thought was fish (don’t ask) and a massage from a guy called Dyfri, who usually works for the cardiff rugby team. He has tickets to see The Stone Roses next year. Best of luck. Ellie (violin) has bumped into a muso buddy in town who is playing that evening at the nearby St. Davids hall. She blags three tickets and the string section go off to see the first part of a concert of works by Mahler, Schonberg and Brahms before returning to the C.I.A. in time for Stereotypes and Man at C&A. Chalk and cheese? Frying pan to fire? Sublime to ridiculous?
My tiredness disappears as I walk on stage. Well, it would, wouldn’t it. Seven and a half thousand Welsh Specials fans leave me with little choice. Brad is superb this evening. The groove is just…there and playing with him is an utter joy. All the songs are amazing. The crowd is amazing. They sing the loudest Nite Klub 3rd verse yet on this trip. Being Welsh I suppose. What a fantastic gig. Coventry tomorrow and I’ll get to spend 2 nights in my own bed. Heaven.

Saturday 29th October

Jaguar Hall, Ricoh Arena, Coventry

Oh Radisson Blu, I love you! Breakfast on a weekend finishes at 11! I can sleep in. And I do. Lovely. I feel rested for the first time in quite a few days. Coach from Cardiff to Coventry and we pull into the Rich at around half two.
I am somewhat concerned by the fact that there’s a funfair on the car park across the road from the venue. So where are 10,000 people going to park this evening? Welcome to Coventry. Soundcheck, catering, hang around, usual stuff. First support tonight is from The Tones, a local up and coming pop outfit - who do well considering it’s a pretty hardcore 2-tone crowd. The Stone Foundation pull out all the stops tonight and play what I reckon was their best performance to date. They have really risen to the challenge of this tour, as have By The Rivers. There have been no ego clashes that can make backstage a difficult place. The same goes for the crew. We have been really blessed to have some great people working for us. It’s going to be sad when the whole thing finishes. Meanwhile, showtime draws near and Brad, Roddy and I are whisked through the foyer from our side-stage dressing room up to some executive suite where Neville, Terry and Lynval are to have our photo taken for the people who run the venue. I hate doing this. I like to focus and find my own space before a show but the whole thing goes off painlessly. There’s a collection of Coventry Usual Suspects in the foyer, all waiting to be let into the show. Their sense of entitlement pisses me off. Some of my ‘real‘ friends have approached me for guest tickets and I’ve had to turn them down. We’ve cut down on guest allocations this trip so to see faces from the past acting like they’re Paris Hilton does not cut it with me. It’s easy to see why ‘famous‘ people buy secluded mansions and employ minders. They have no choice if they want to stay sane.
All this is consigned to the dustbin as Neville grabs his spotlit mich and bellows ‘Bernie Rhodes Knows Don’t Hargue’. From where I’m standing the view is amazing. This is why I’m in this group. This is why I have the best job in the world. The security staff at the front have a busy time of it, pulling out fans who have fainted or have just had enough. The swirling mass of bodies (not exactly a mosh pit) looks pretty scary at times but the atmosphere is one of pure celebration. I know I say this every time but it was a cracking gig. Perhaps just a bit more cracking than usual because of its location and the fact that it’s the largest crowd to date. Even Terry, who is usually somewhat ambivalent to anything Coventry-related, rises to the occasion. Before Friday Night/Saturday Morning he says ‘This song is for two places that shaped me, Sidney Stringer (his old secondary school) and The Parsons Nose’ (a city centre chippy). There is a big shindig upstairs afterwards and I get to meet friends, relatives and fans. Roddy’s younger daughter had her purse stolen from out of her handbag despite Lynval’s exhortation to the audience to be mindful of pickpockets. (I never heard of any other incidents of theft during the show). The main complaint of the evening was of the totally inadequate bar. People were waiting for 45 minutes to get a drink. As I said, welcome to Coventry. I meet up with Ivan, who has come from Malta to see the show. He plays bass in a Maltese ska band (?) but had never heard of Sly & Robbie. Some education is needed here. My wife and I end up driving him back to his bed and breakfast address. He flies back to Malta on Sunday. Nice bloke.
I have met a lot of nice people on this tour. I finally get to spend the night in my own bed but my recent hotel experiences have put things into perspective. We need a new mattress.

Monday 31st October

Brixton Academy London

Train to London, Check into hotel. Van (driven by super-runner Darren) to Brixton. I know everyone goes on about what a great venue The Academy is but I’m afraid I detest it. More for the booming sound than the tiny dressing rooms. The catering area is bedlam. Sam and Lucy are trying to feed 60-plus people in a space not dissimilar to my spare bedroom. I’ll come back later. Terry is not good. His bi-polar condition gets him like that sometimes. that and some less-than-favourable comments from Roddy-related facebook pages.
The situation with Rod has deteriorated over the past few days and there is once more a lot of tension before the show. Soundcheck was a fraught affair.
The show is sold out and there are 5,000 people expecting The Specials to be on top form. Tonight, The Specials get away with it by the skin of their teeth, in my opinion. I know Lynval is of the same opinion. Terry was fine during the performance, funny even, it being Halloween, but the ‘edge’ on stage was not a positive one. It affected my performance. I made a couple of mistakes that I’ve never made before, real gaffes. (If you bought the live double c.d. you’ll have noticed them for sure) You’ll also hear Roddy and Lynval bickering in front of 5,000 people…..not good. Neville however saves the day, delivering one of his ‘even more larger than life’ performances. In fairness, the people I meet afterwards did not pick up on any of this and remarks like ‘great gig’, ‘amazing performance‘ and ‘incredible show‘ are bandied about freely. I thought it was the worst gig of the tour.

Thursday 3rd November

Alexandra Palace London

My two days off in London are spent more-or-less comatose. The cumulative effect of all the European dates, these U.K. shows and the stresses and strains that have accompanied them have knackered me. I’m hoping that lying low for a couple of days will be enough to recharge my batteries for the last hurrah.
The Ally Pally (Sorry, but that’s what everyone calls it) was not built with rock and roll in mind, but you should know about the acoustic properties of large empty indoor buildings by now. ‘It’ll sound fine when there’s people in here’.
Marcos said he’d rather we played three nights at Brixton. Thanks Marcos. Makes me feel a whole lot better. The reason we chose this venue was we wanted a North London gig as opposed to our ‘usual‘ Brixton haunt, which is really difficult to get home from if you live any where North of Colindale.
Anyway, we chose it and that’s where we’re playing whether we (and you) like it or not. It‘s the last concert of this tour and the vibe is wierd. Everyone is a little crest-fallen but too macho to say it. Drum tech Paul Parker’s band The Bleeps open the show and do half an hour of extreme noise terror to bewildered 2-tone fans. Look good on their c.v. anyway.
Showtime and The Specials take to the boards. It looks like The Ricoh but with good architecture. The show is an absolute blinder. Almost as good as Glasgow. I am so relieved. Brixton on Monday was all edgy and bickering but tonight was fantastic. Quite emotional actually. Just before the last verse on Nite Klub, Terry says ‘I’d like to thank four people who have helped make all this possible, Nikolaj, Jon, Tim and Drew’. It’s a lump in the eye, tear in the throat moment and endorsed by everyone else on stage. As a special treat, the audience get a breakneck speed version of Guns Of Navarone before our breakneck speed version of Little Bitch. You’re Wondering Now, played at a more sedate pace, closes the show. Everyone is singing and clapping along.
Absolutely brilliant.
Hugs and handshakes all round backstage and its time for the aftershow. Some more Maltese guys (Ivan’s buddies - you remember - Coventry!) are there, as is Lynval’s wife and niece who have flown in from Seattle to see the show. I make a tour of the guys from Stone Foundation and By The Rivers. Both bands have risen to the challenge of these big venues and have acquitted themselves admirably. I hope we have been able to give them the ‘leg up‘ they need. I remind them of when The Specials opened for The Clash in 1978. We get a van back to the hotel and eventually I’m asleep. The next day it’s a train back to Coventry and I’m sitting on my settee by 1.30 with a cup of tea. The silence was deafening!