Review: The Specials, 40th Anniversary World Tour, York Barbican, May 9

WHEN The Specials last played York Barbican in autumn 2016, that June's Brexit vote had yet to spread its toxic malaise and divisive malevolence.

The Coventry ska veterans returned on Thursday with the tragi-farce in full torrent, their first studio album in almost 39 years hitting both the top spot and the political nail on the head. Everything that bugged them in 1979 still does, from racism to dead-end jobs, neglected youths to crass politics, hence the rude re-awakening of the Rude Boys' renaissance on the aptly named Encore: more of the same, because more of the same still prevails. For Margaret Thatcher, read Theresa May's Government.

The personnel may have changed from Gangsters days, but not the rituals of a Specials show: a sold-out gathering, a DJ set, "Rude Boys" chants from the terraces (and the balcony above); a "nuclear alert" siren to herald their arrival. Only three founders remain: driving force and energiser Lynval Golding is still there on guitar, so is Pop Art painter Horace Panter on bass, and, last on, melancholic, misanthropic frontman Terry Hall, although Hall spends time out of the spotlight too, walking the stage environs, settling behind a mixing desk to supply dub effects.

The set-up remains seven strong, the founder three joined by Ocean Colour Scene's Steve Craddock on guitar, plus the obligatory trombone and trumpet and percussion with punch. Behind them are a collage of sloganeering placards, from Save James Brown to The Television Will Not Be Revolutionized (one for Gil Scott Heron fans); Listen To Sly and The Family Stone to Resist; Fake Bombs to Save Music; Non-Judgement Day Is Coming to We Sell Hope (the title of Encore's closing track). In other words, humour stands arm in arm with the anger, the call to action.

Back on the live circuit since 2008, The Specials are much more than a "heritage act", but are canny enough to top-load the set with big hitters Man At C&A, Rat Race and Do Nothing before Encore's stand-out, Vote For Me, stands up to be counted.

They chose well from Encore: Golding "dedicating" the anti-racist Embarrassed By You to Tommy Robinson; The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum), re-appropriated from Fun Boy Three, hitting home anew in Brexit Broken Britain; Blam Blam Fever, trigger happy, and activist and Specials collaborator Saffiyah Khan giving an on-point feminist twist to Prince Buster's 10 Commandments.

Amid the scarred Ska songs of working-class life, proper politics and bigoted Britain, out of nowhere Hall enquired whether York was in North Yorkshire or Yorkshire, not the most pressing question of our times, but there was still that familiar bark and vulture's gloom to his voice, from a singalong Nightclub to Too Much Too Young, and onwards to an encore of an extended Ghost Town and kicking-out time anthem You're Wondering Now. Still The Specials, still special.

Charles Hutchinson