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A Specials occasion for Neville?

Former singer in band that gave us Ghost Town, Too Much Too Young and Gangsters, is set to celebrate 40 years in the music business

17 January, 2019 — By Róisín Gadelrab

Neville Staple and his band will be at The Garage on January 26. PHOTO: JOHN COLES

WHEN ska and 2-Tone hit its heyday in the mid-70s, it had something to say.

As former singer with The Specials and long-time leading figure of the genre, Neville Staple says: “The way we brought ska to the mainstream was by mixing Jamaican music with the English style, which at the time was punk.

“The movement helped to transcend and defuse racial tensions in Thatcher-era Britain. The actual black and white-chequered imagery of 2-Tone has become almost as famous as the music itself.”

He added: “I remember the massive reactions to hit songs like Ghost Town, Too Much Too Young and Gangsters, and fans still write to me about my rugged, energetic and fun stage presence.”

Now, Neville is not so sure that today’s music plays the same role: “When I look back and think to the stuff The Specials used to sing about, it’s made a full circle, come right back round. You’ve got knife crime, shops are closing down, it’s like the same thing recurring again. I’m optimistic but it always changes – there’s no jobs, more homeless now, I’ve never seen so much homeless in my life.”

More modern music, he says, doesn’t seem concerned with these matters.

“It’s not the same – R&B, hip-hop, it’s not saying what’s happening around us. With 2-Tone we sing what’s around us and what affects us. The new music now, they don’t do that at all.”

Content with his many projects, Neville and his wife Sugary are still writing songs with a message.

He says: “We’re still doing the same kind of feel – ska, mixing with up-to-date stuff like rock, punk, it’s just the same kind of vein we’re going in, talking about similar stuff we can’t say the same stuff because it’s changing, but we are playing and talking about this stuff. It’s the same things we’re going through right now and the same thing we’re writing about.”

In a very loose calculation of the emergence of the scene, The Neville Staple Band, Roddy Radiation & The Skabilly Rebels and The Beat Goes Bang (featuring Everett Morton) will come together for the 40th Anniversary of Ska and 2-Tone Celebration Concert (as well as 40 years of Neville Staple’s career) at The Garage on January 26.

The line-up could have been a little different, Neville says. Having left The Specials in 2012, he has left the door open for them to join the anniversary line-up.

The Neville Staple Band

“I’ve mentioned it so the fans could, at least for the 40th, see the majority of the band together, but they haven’t got back to me so I guess that’s a no. It’s fine because we’re doing our own thing. Good luck to them doing their own stuff. I can’t wait for it.”

Neville’s colourful past is well known, trailed by the title of his book, Original Rude Boy: From Borstal To The Specials, in which he recalls early days in Camden with The Clash.

“I love Camden,” he says. “I used to live there when The Specials started making it.

“When The Specials first started, we rehearsed with The Clash where the market is now. It was just an old stables so we used to sleep overnight there. It was a right dump but in them days just to try and get through we’d have to come down London, rehearse, we didn’t have anywhere to stay.

“Bernie Rhodes (then manager of The Clash and The Specials) put us up in this rehearsal place. It was a bit of a dump but the music carried us through, when you’re young as well so… We used to rehearse in the same place, we had the same manager and we went on tour together.

“We used to hang out with Joe strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. They were energetic onstage, giving it the attitude because in them times you had to [fight] against the system and we were doing the same thing and it kind of blended when we used to do live shows together, so we learned something off them and I’m sure they learned something off us.”

His best stories, he says, are in his book. In the meantime, Neville and Sugary have been busy. They write, produce and tour together in what he describes as a beautiful relationship.

“One minute I might say something, she’ll make up something on top of that, we work off each other, and bounce off each other.

“It’s quite good actually. Some people say, ‘oh it must be horrible’, but she gives me a little spur on, gives me more confidence, because I’ve been doing this such a long time I just love it, and to have someone next to me who I love and can portray the same thing as I’m into, that’s fantastic.

“It’s great working with her – we write, produce, do everything together. We do work well together, it’s beautiful.”

The couple co-wrote latest album Rude Rebels, which has been well-received.

“It was fun doing that but we’re still working on something else to come, but that’s hush-hush,” says Neville, and he is determined to make it count.

“We’re saying something positive, not just a throwaway pop song or R&B. That’s how I am, that’s how I grew up, everything around me, I like to talk about it. It’s very important because it reaches people you wouldn’t think it would reach, so it’s very important.”

Since his grandson Fidel was fatally stabbed last September, Neville and Sugary have been raising awareness of knife crime issues, speaking about it in gigs and touring schools and other groups to address the issues.

Now in his 60s, Neville’s enthusiasm shows no sign of waning. “I can’t wait for the 40th anniversary,” he adds.

“We’re going to get some of the old 2-Tone stuff, some of my new stuff, mix it up, have a great time and really going to give it a good go.

“I want to keep doing this as long as I can, that’s how much I love it. As long as I can keep on doing what I’ve been doing, I won’t be stopping.”

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