1979 had been a stunning year for both the Specials and the Selecter: between them they had put three singles into the Top Ten, while the former group had lobbed their debut album up the charts, where it eventually landed in the Top Five. Quite a feat considering their joint debut single had only been released in late April, at which time the Selecter was a band in name only. In the autumn, the two groups, with first Madness and then Dexy's Midnight Runners in tow, embarked on the 40-date Two Tone Tour, which was so successful that a batch of new shows were added at the end. Amidst them came the music establishment's seal of approval, a show at London's Paris Theatre recorded for Radio 1's Live in Concert series.
The audience was selected -- listeners wrote in for tickets in hopes of being offered some for the band they wanted to see; there were no guarantees, and thus the crowd assembled wasn't necessarily made up of the groups' biggest fans. This and jittery nerves probably account for the strain heard in both bands' sound. It's particularly noticeable with the Specials, since fans had the Too Much Too Young EP to compare it with the following month. That 45, recorded in late November, caught the group at their most exuberant; here they're at their most vehement, slashing their way across the songs, Terry Hall spitting out the lyrics, aggressively backed by Neville Staple. It's a ferocious performance, grounded in a barely contained fury with none of the joie de vivre of the EP. Of course, the EP's five songs included four covers, and most of the tracks here are originals, a bitter bunch one and all, from "Blank Expression" through "Concrete Jungle," into the anger of "Nite Klub," and onto the vehement condemnations of "Too Young" itself.
The Selecter's set is less savage, but Pauline Black makes up for it with her scathing tongue. As a rule, a singer doesn't endear herself to a crowd by announcing she'd rather be elsewhere. So, there's little love lost here between the audience and the band, and although the group powers through its set, there's no joy either. To add insult to injury, the entire set here was present on the band's debut album in February, and although two of these songs were released as B-sides, there's not a sole A-side within.
But even if this is not a fair representation of either band's on-stage might and charisma, it still is what the entire island was treated to via the radio broadcast. And besides, even in a foul mood, the groups' power is undeniable.