Coming home on the tube last night, a tad elephant’s, my pal Rob and I became engaged in polite conversation with two young(er) women sat opposite. “Whaddyerthinkoftheconcert?” poured Rob to the friendlier and certainly heavier of the two girls? “Apslootelybrillant” I burped, before she had a chance to reply. We’d been to see The Specials at Brixton Academy and, even in the cold light of a hangover, I can confirm that they were indeed apslootelybillant. The girl smiled to herself then said “Yeah, really good mate, but really odd.”
“Odd???”—I could hear some of the remaining hair on Rob’s head bristling.
“Yeah, quite funny really— we had seats upstairs in the circle and as we looked down all we could see was the light shining off the back of all the blokes’ heads down below. And when they brought down that disco ball for Nightclub it was hilarious!”.
Our bubble of euphoria had been burst by a prick of realism. The girls, who I guess would have been in nappies the last time The Specials had a hit single, had never seen so many old, balding men in one place before. The very fact we were still calling it a concert was a dead give-away to our ages. The last time Brixton had seen so many overweight men with cropped hair, jumping up and down in synch would have been her Majesty’s Finest Police Force arrested a casual bystander during the riots in the 80s. They would have have been kitted out with riot shields and truncheons, not harringtons, and underneath their stomping feet would have been a young black guy, not plastic beakers half-full of warm beer, but it’d be close enough.
I’d left the “gig” (see what I did there?) earlier and waited for Rob to exit. I thought I’d spotted him fifteen times before he actually came out— everyone looked the same— skinhead, sideburns, t-shirt, jacket—no matter the gender. The uniformity was occasionally punctuated by a pair of braces or a pork pie hat, but it really was Fat Bald Boy Day in South London.
A group of us had met up in a pub earlier in the evening, and the pattern had been set early: Harringtons, Two-Tone badges, Fred Perry‘s, staypress, bald heads. I stood out like a sore thumb (or a bald head) as I managed to wear none of these (though I was wearing Doc Martens—the only things from the time that still fit me). Oh,and a growing Pate.
The excitement around the table was palpable. “Oh I hope they play Little Bitch“, “Is Rico still alive?”, “Is that an orignal Ben Sherman?” we were like giggling schoolgirls waiting for a Boyzone concert” (took me six minutes, just then, to think of a contemporary band—bet someone will write and tell me they no longer exist). My Ben Sherman’s have long-since become dusters, my staypress will cut me in half no longer, my Harrington was ripped off my back in a car park in Erith in 1980 when a skinhead tried to rip my head off for looking at him in a funny way. But the boys did look the business and the memories flowed, along with the Guinness.
The odd celeb was spotted— Phil Jupitus was seen going in the VIP’s entrance, and he certainly wasn’t getting into anything under a 40inch waist, and a drunk, borderline-aggressive bloke spent half the night following me around, convinced he’d spotted Ricky Gervais. I have one of those faces that is often mistaken for, variously, a copper, a bouncer, Ray Winstone (lots of street cred) and David Brent (absolutely none). One way or another, whoever I’m mistaken for, there’s always someone who wants to knock my block off. I’m like Dennis Waterman in The Sweeney: if there’s a right-hander to walk onto, me and my hooter usually oblige.
So a terrific night was had by all and as the masses of very sweaty, smelly and drunk 40-somethings made their way home there was a collective satisfaction that we had seen something very Special indeed and, for two hours, we had at least tried to re-live a time when we could dance the whole way through Monkey Man without stopping every other verse to catch our breath. There’ll be a lot of sore backs and sore heads in London this morning.
As Rob and I parted company at Blackheath Station he walked up the hill singing Enjoy Yourself to (and at) anyone who would listen. For my part, I moon-stomped through the station car park giving my own rendition of Too Much Too Young. Forgot every other word, but then it did come out a very long time ago.