Return of the rude boy

Dave Woodhall talks to two tone legend Nevile Staple.

I know you’re having trouble with your knees thanks to decades of jumping off PAs. How are they holding up?

“It’s been going good touring around, the knees are holding up. If someone had told me years ago all that jumping around would be causing a problem now I’d have told them to get lost. We never listen, do we? I was in the moment and when you’re in the moment you just do it.”

You also suffer from epilepsy. How are you coping with live shows and the lighting?

“I found out about it when I was with the Specials. My wife Sugary found out about it. She wasn’t even there but she knew. Now it’s fine but when the Specials were doing all those big shows with lights like Blackpool you don’t realise it until it starts. To be honest I didn’t know what it was but Sugary knew. She was in England, I was in Europe and she knew what it was. The guys in the Specials didn’t have a clue.”

Women know best. Men don’t know what’s wrong with them but women know.

“You’re right there. You say you don’t need to go to the doctor and the women say, ‘Go. You need to go’.”

And onto music. How’s the tour going?

“It’s going pretty well. I’m really enjoying it more and more. The band I’ve got now is the best I’ve ever had. They’re brilliant players, I can start something half a bar through and they just know and follow it, they’re brilliant. Being on tour has given me another lease of life because it’s not just another number from the Specials, it’s not just me, Neville Staple from the Specials, it’s these guys behind me, my wife. They’re brilliant, they’re there with me.”

The From The Specials album that you recorded in 2021. The first couple of tracks especially sound so original. They’ve got that bouncy, happy sound like the original ska in the sixties.

“Yeah, it’s got the vibe. You don’t go out and do a song like this, it just comes to you and it seems just right. A lot of people say the Specials weren’t ska but it was our interpretation. I grew up listening to ska in England and then punk so we put our stamp on it. That’s what we grew up liking, we put an English spin on it, which at that time was punk.”

You’ve said that toasting was like the Jamaican equivalent of a newspaper.

“It is. Listen to the Specials first album and you’ll hear me toasting. All that was straight off my head because in Jamaica you told the story to people who couldn’t get newspapers. All my toasting on the record was made up from what was going on. I just did one take, two takes, I made it up. Punk was more in your face but I grew up listening to ska and bluebeat, that was how I came across. That’s where ska came from, giving the news. Punk did the same thing.”

Do you have any contact with any of the Specials now?

“I speak to Jerry now and again, I see Roddy a bit. I don’t see Horace. Lynval’s in Seattle. We’ve all gone our own separate ways. After Terry died I didn’t really see them, I was in Barbados when he died and I didn’t get time to go back. I wanted to go but I couldn’t get there.”

And sadly, Terry was only one of a few contemporaries who have died recently.

“Ranking Roger, Brian Travers, Everett Morton. The other one who nobody seems to mention is Rico. He was a big part of the Specials and nobody ever seems to mention him. He needs to be recognised more and now he’s not recognised because he was one of the original Jamaican ska players. That’s why he was brought into the band, because he was an original.

“My wife Sugary brings a lot of ska artists over. She puts on Skamouth twice a year, she brings the originals over but a lot of them are dying off now. She’s say she’s bringing someone over and I’ll be ‘Really? Wow!’. These guys touched me when I was growing up and she tells me they’re saying the same about me, the original rude boy. It’s weird.”

Until then you have your own tour. What are you playing there?

“I have to do the hits. If I don’t I get complaints; ‘Play Monkey Man! Play Ghost Town!’. You have to give them the old songs, that’s what they want to hear. If you’ve got new songs play some of them but don’t over kill it. They love to hear the hits, the old stuff. Even the kids, you get them saying they grew up with the music their dads played. I’m the one person who was in that band and I’m keeping the flag going for Fun Boy Three and the Specials”

Fun Boy Three. There’s another band who were ground breaking. They did one video where the singers are men and the musicians are women, which was a complete role reversal for that time.

“Yes. I remember that one. It wasn’t a thought process, we just did it but I know what you mean. We went on tour with the girls and that was different.”

On this tour you’ve got AC30 and Lobster supporting.

“AC30 have supported us a few times and always go down well. Lobster are a new band to me but I’m checking them out. I like to see new support bands; I haven’t seen them but i will check them out.”

Then there’s all the festivals you do.

“I really enjoy that. You get the young kids who can’t get into the evening gigs and they’re singing and dancing. We cover a lot of age groups.”

I’ve seen you at a few but it seems that as the country’s getting like Ghost Town the festival scene is getting more joyous, particularly the ones where you get the punks and skins, scooter boys, all the people who used to be at each other’s throats and now they’re the most polite audiences you can hope for.

“The country is getting worse isn’t it? But when you go to Skamouth we have all different types of crowd and everybody gets on. The festival’s getting bigger because people know that regardless of what you’re into or how you dress there’s no trouble and you can enjoy yourself. That’s what I like at all these places. And Rebellion in Blackpool with all the punks. I love that one.”

But it’s no surprise. Ska might have come from Jamaica but it’s become one of Britain’s biggest musical exports and you were the main reason why it’s like that.

“Definitely, and it’s still going on.”

Neville Staple, the original rude boy.

“I get people saying ‘You’re not the original rude boy, the originals were from the Bob Marley days and the original bluebeat days’. My dad would say to me, ‘Hey bwoy, stop being so rude. Why you so rude?’ That’s were it came from for me, my daddy used to call me the rude boy so it’s carried on. Even now I say to my grandkids, ‘Stop being so rude.’ So when people say you’re not the original rude boy they have to know how it came to me.”

Neville Staple, From The Specials, is playing Square One Venue, Inside The Hub at Coventry University on Saturday 2nd December.