The Specials + Hanni El-Khatib + Pocket Billiards @ Belsonic Festival, Custom House Square, Belfast, 27/08/2011
(review & photos copyright Joe Donnelly)
Well here we are a summer saturday night out amongst Belfasts lost tribe of 40 something (and the rest) weetabix men. You might think retro punk gigs are bad for crimes against fashion , jeez! there were some sad looking specimens in this audience trying to skank back the years. There was one guy I was talking to who had unbelievably travelled all the way from Canada for tonights show , and he was behaving like a right royal pain in the butt ( and he certainly wasn't the only one). I can't figure out the reason why tonight will be the first time I've ever seen 'The Specials' live, I honestly haven't a clue because I've always liked them. Roddy ( Byers) Radiation showed very good taste by turning up in a small Holywood (County Down) bar to check out Belfasts own greaser kings 'The Sabrejets' the night before this gig .
We arrived late as usual and the party had already started , I know virtually nothing about 'Pocket Billiards' but they had almost finished their set when $$ and me strolled into the slippery courtyard . From what I could see their very brassy take on the rocksteady ska sound was going down extremely well ,and had the crowd were on their dancing feet . As for the bands punk influences ,I couldn't see it past their drummers very impressive oi oi mohawk hairdo.
In the end we only caught their final two songs with the last one being a jaunty wee number called 'Belfast City' ( or something like that!),which got a loud cheer for the crowd pleasing title alone .'Pocket Billiards' were not really made for a ska philistine like me and I wasn't catching any punk attitude from them at all, plus two songs really isn't enough to be judging anyone by. But I doubt I'll be checking them out again in the very near future, though this audience certainly appreciated what they did . I supose it just wasn't for me, the drummer must use some pretty effective industrial strength hairspray ,because his skyscraper sculpted mohican stayed errect (oo-err! missus lol) until the end of the show.
Strange one this , I'd never heard of this LA duo Hanni El-Khatib before this gigs support bands were announced by the media ,
I didn't know what to expect from them , but one thing I do know is I wasn't expecting a weird rockabilly NY no wave, 60s garagepunk sound mash up taking influences from PJ Harvey ,The Cramps, The White Stripes ,The Dolls, Talking Heads etc etc along the way, and do you know what weird as it was I liked what I heard in parts . Unfortunately for Hanni El-Khatib they were onstage for far too long and they went down like the proverbial lead balloon with an audience who were only here for one band and it definitely wasn't Hanni El-Khatib ,and they let them know it.
Chants of 'Specials! Specials! Specials! were being heard throughout their set of arty angular tunes from an increasingly restless and liquored audience and the frontman was looking both distressed and pissed off by this hostile audience reaction to his band .The end couldn't come soon enough for them and they left the stage quietly disappointed and they'll probably be remembering this gig in Belfast for the rest of their days for all the wrong reasions . Personally I thought they weren't that bad, I quite liked Hanni El-Khatib.
They kept us waiting & waiting and even their hardcore fans were getting fed up , your tolerance level watching their road crew testing intstruments and 1,2,3ing into mics wears off very quickly. Then at 10.15pm precisely (I know because I was clock watching my life pass by) the lights went down and with no fanfare John Bradbury took his seat behind his drum kit and the by now pickled weetabix men went crazy,and for around an hour and a half the beer bellies disappeared and they were magically transported back to the late 70s / early 80s allover again .
'Do the dog' was a great song to start with ,I was in the second row from the front when it kicked off and by the end of the song I was about 8 rows back . The pushing and shoving was feirce but great fun at the same time. The band looked in fine shape and you'll be glad to know chain smoking 'Terry Hall' is still as dry and dour looking as he ever was .
The happy vibe emanating from the crowd was contagious , even though the place was packed with aging skinheads (male pattern baldness is a bitch) .There was no threat of violence what-so-ever ,and the 22 song setlist was excellent . Even though I was never 'The Specials' number one fan I surprised myself by how many of their songs (including the lp tracks) that I knew the words too ,all of which I was able to shake a leg and sing along with.
Half way through the show I decided I'd had enough of being flung from one side to the other and then back and forwad ,so $$ & me made our way out of the centre pit and headed towards relative safety at the stage left-side. We found a great spot from where we could watch the remainder of the show, though $$ made frequent forays back into the pit ("oh to be young again!) .
There wasn't a lot of communcation between the band and the fans ,but there was some very funny moments usually supplied by an always straight faced Terry Hall. Contrary to his sour faced demeanor he is a very sharp & witty character. The glaring fact that the majority of those 22 classic songs haven't aged a bit was hard to ignore and they are sadly as relevant today as they were when first released 30 odd years ago.
This was a fantastic show , met some old friends and we really enjoyed ourselves .
We missed 'The Specials' comeback show last time when they played St Georges Market a couple of years ago ,so happily thats been put right now!. Note to the event promoter ,the venue absolutely stinks of stale spilled beer and the bogs are a disaster zone lol.
As we were leaving I was surprised to see they were selling autographed pre-booked and pre-paid for copies of tonights show at the merch stand literally minutes after it had finished and all yours for £20.00 a skull , the tickets were expensive enough so I think they know where they can stick the double cd .
'The Specials' had nothing to prove on this return visit and could maybe accused of operating in cruise control mode, but there's no denying their Belsonic 2011 / Belfast show was excellent.
Joe Donnelly Belfast 29.8.11.
Belsonic / Belfast 28.8.11.
Do the dog
Dawning of a new era
It's up to you
It doesn't make it alright
Hey little rich girl
Friday Night Saturday Morning
Man at C&A
A message to you
Too much Too young
You're wondering now.