Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Utterly OT: Dear Terry Hall

Dear Terry Hall,

I'm assuming you're not a regular reader of love german books, although you never know. But hey, I need to vent and this is as good a place as any.

I just got back from seeing The Specials live in Berlin. It wasn't the first time - I saw a slightly different line-up (without you) in 1994 and then I saw a combo calling themselves The Special Beat in 1995. OK, I was significantly younger then than now, and my capacity for unclouded enthusiasm was larger. Regular readers, however, will know that I'm still capable of getting excited about things I like.

The Specials are one of the things I like. Your records got me through sixth-form college - I remember Hey Little Rich Girl and Little Bitch being pretty important to me on an everyday coping with other people level. And you're probably the band I like best that non-music-nerd people have actually heard of. I always play you when I DJ, which I admit is only once a year for a bunch of other translators, but you always go down well.

So you can imagine I was looking forward to seeing The Specials in this line-up, with you at the front. And musically, as far as I could tell from the second row, you were on pretty good form. I noticed your dig at the sound guys at the beginning, but let me give you a wee tip: it's like when women think their hair looks shit - no one else can ever tell. And OK, I admit that once you pointed it out, I did notice your mic was too quiet. But they put it right after that, for God's sake.

So there was absolutely no discernible reason for you to emit your evil mood vibes all the way through the entire gig. Maybe no one else noticed, but that muttered "good question" after the line "What am I doing here?" in Nite Klub - that was cynical and disrespectful to your audience. The gig had to be rescheduled and moved to a larger venue because it sold so many tickets. The place was packed to the rafters with an extremely friendly and enthusiastic crowd, who sang along to everything except – strangely, one of my favourites – Friday Night and Saturday Morning.

Lynval Golding was hamming it up for all he was worth at the front, as was Neville Staple on the other side. But I saw Neville at a guest appearance last Easter in London, and even though he was putting on a brave face tonight you could tell your sulky performance was pulling him down, because in London he was a complete and utter star and stole the show. And it was him who saved tonight for me, because after your cursory one-song encore, after the disappointed crowd booed and threw their empty plastic glasses at the stage in the hundreds once the lights had gone up, it was Neville Staple who came back on and thanked us for coming and thanked our mums and dads for letting us come out and led us in a tuneless audience rendition of Guns of Navarone. Which may not have sounded like high art to you, but it was fun and we needed it.

So maybe you're not a natural performer. Maybe you're going through some kind of major psychological crisis and the world is a dark and lonely place for you. But we all paid for our tickets and our babysitters and our smart new outfits, and I'd say any other performer with a dash of respect for their fans would have made an effort to give us something back. None of us are getting any younger, but can I just say that when I last saw The Specials they played four encores. And let me add that I saw the incredible Susan Cadogan this summer, whose venue in Berlin was a hell of a step down from yours, and who's a good decade older than yourself, and who doesn't make a great deal of money out of royalties or merchandise. And the show she put on here was brimming over with a vitality and - dare I say it - love for her music that left us all reeling, and which I didn't spot a single ounce of in your lacklustre, grumpy performance.

You probably don't know how important The Specials were in the formation of an anti-racist ska scene in Berlin after the Wall came down, and maybe you don't care. You influenced a whole generation of bands and they influenced a whole generation of audiences. So perhaps the sight of all those fists in the air during Doesn't Make It Allright should have given you pause for thought. Because that wasn't necessarily a natural direction for things to take among young working-class East Berliners, and all too many of them chose a different path.

Anyway, enjoy your after-show party. The people from Fred Perry got all sorts of authentic-looking dancers in and plied them with drinks in one of Berlin's nicest venues, but I had to leave before the band got there. It's a school night and I have bills to pay. As do you, no doubt.


X.Trapnel said...


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