On 8th April 2017, after a counter-demonstration outside Birmingham Library, Saffiyah Khan went viral. A photograph of her coolly staring down a ranting English Defence League goon was shared round the world. The Specials t‑shirt she was wearing also brought her to the attention of the veteran ska band. Recognising a kindred spirit – defiant, uncompromising, anti-racist – they offered Khan concert tickets. Next came a writing and vocal gig on their first new album in two decades, Encore, followed by a slot on their tour.
As bass player Horace Panter said: “Most young people don’t think about politics, but Saffiyah really is at the cutting edge of something. She is doing [all this], whereas the majority of people her age have got their heads stuck in their mobile phone, taking selfies.” Not entirely true, but Khan is of a politically-active generation, intent, as she put it, on “saving public areas such as libraries, schools and health services”. We enlisted the activist, model and photographer to document The Specials’ current European tour. Too much too young? No such thing.
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “The catering on tour can brighten up your whole day. This chef and her vegetables definitely did.”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “Steve (band manager) tucking into some scran backstage, looking frightened. People don’t appreciate surprise flash while they eat.”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “The venue was right in the middle of the Reeperbahn, the red light district. This coincidence developed further the next day in Amsterdam, and to a suspicious level when our next hotel in Paris was between two sex shops.”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “This venue is rich in character and history. The club beneath it, Kaiserkeller was the location of an iconic early Beatles 40 day run from 4/10/1960, where they were expected to play 6/7hrs every night of the week. Back when the posters had to say ‘Beatles-England-Liverpool’”.
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “The view from the front door. I walked 10 mins away to FC St. Pauli which is the local football club internationally renowned for its anti-racist stance and its extensive work with refugees. I bought some scarves – that feature in other photos – for my pals back home. Pilgrimage complete.”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “Nikolaj Larsen (keyboards, accordions and everything in-between), pre-show repping the custom tour kit. He and Horace duck-taped ‘immigrant’ on the back of this shirt one night. On his right, Nick (keyboard tech).”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “Left, Steve Cradock (guitar and fellow Brummy), right, Horace Panter (bassist and creator of the stage art featured in background). The stage design was meticulously hand painted and organised by Horace and Terry to look like protest placards.”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “Left, Tim Smart (trombone), right, Pablo Mandelson (trumpet). Looking excited pre-show.”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “Lynval Golding behind the curtain, pre-show, with notorious enthusiasm. Behind, Mike (tour manager) not looking as enthused, but happy on the inside I’m sure.”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “Kenrick Rowe behind the curtain, pre-show.”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “Lynval Golding being led to the encore in the dark. His eyesight isn’t great but you would never guess when he’s on stage.”
Hamburg @ Grossefreiheit 36: “After the show, Tim, Pablo, Lynval getting bevvied.”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “This is what most mornings look like. The crew is busy from when the venue opens (around 11am), moving all kit/instruments/merch from the van on the right driven by the darling Tim Hopwood (pictured below). Our tour bus is on the left.”
Amsterdam @ paradiso: “Tim – van driver extraordinaire/all round top lad/chairman of the Duck Liberation Front (pictured below).”
Amsterdam Day off: “Various members (both vegan and pet-duck-owners) found a common disgust at the presentation of grilled whole ducks in windows of restaurants. We formed the Duck Liberation Front. Complete with salute. Top left: Marina (monitor engineer), top middle: Josh (guitar tech), top right: Tim (van driver), bottom left: Jess (reprobate),bottom right: James (assistant to TM and SM).”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “Lynval Golding shredding. As yet I’m still unclear whether it was weird to be in the crowd after I perform every night. Hey, they’re one of my favourite bands, imagine getting free tickets to their gigs every night. I have no cool.”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “By the time I finish my DJ set, perform my song and have a dance in the crowd, I feel a lot like this lady’s eyes.”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “Hanging out with the bins of paradise, face like a slapped arse.”
Amsterdam day off: “All the crew and some friends in a punk bar.”
Amsterdam day off: “Bike, check, windmill, check, mid-fart, unconfirmed.”
Amsterdam day off: “When in Rome.”
Amsterdam day off: “A close mate, Jess, came to hang out for the three days we were in Amsterdam. She stage invaded from the crowd during my DJ set. Jess is trouble.”
Amsterdam day off: “On Tony the bus driver’s tour bus.”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “@luxuriousthomas was the tour videographer.”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “Me, glowing red, doing my song. Terry on the dub.”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “Lynval jacket Golding.”
Amsterdam @ Paradiso: “How I feel when I get to the bus after two days of gigs and being silly in Amsterdam, about to leave for Paris overnight.”
Saffiyah is represented by Elite London.