Neville Staple has had an incredible career in the music industry. During his time with The Specials, they achieved eight top ten singles including two number ones. He then had another bite of the cherry with six top twenty singles with Fun Boy Three. We chat to the 'Original Rude Boy' ahead of his show at Metronome next month...
Jamaican-born Neville came to the UK when he was five years old. His start in the music industry began in his teens when he set up the Jah Baddis Sound System and would regularly play at Holyhead youth club in Coventry where he met Jerry Dammers.
He was originally a roadie and sound tech for The Specials, then known as the Coventry Automatics but took to the stage at a gig supporting the Clash and brought the toasting skills he had honed at Jah Baddis to the mix and joined the group as a performer. Shortly after, Terry Hall joined the band, they changed their name to The Specials, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Neville, what can a Nottingham audience expect from a Neville Staple gig?
Just joining in fun, enjoy singing along. It’s a party feeling, a party vibe. When you come along, we get everybody involved. It’s just fun.
It is a constant problem for bands that have such a long history. How do you find the balance between just performing the hits that the crowd love, with the desire, as an artist, to share your new material?
Got to give them what they want and what they want is the old hits. So, we give them what they want. I do slip in a few new ones, but we don’t put loads in, we just mix them in and we balance it out. If we put in too much new stuff we get pulled out, so we give them what they want and that’s the hits.
The band you have assembled is incredibly tight and includes members with some solid Ska pedigree. Sax player Drew Stansall joined The Specials on the reunion tours and has also worked with legends such as Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan and Rico Rodriguez. Keyboard player Joe Atkinson and Bass player Sledge have played with The Selector and Bad Manners whilst Drummer Matty Bane has been with Bad Manners for over ten years. Is finding such talented players for the band easy?
It is quite easy actually. I’ve known the guys for a long time though their other bands, so they know when I need a drummer or a bass player or whatever. Because they have seen us play live before I think that kind of draws them in. They were excited when they seen us so it was quite easy to get the guys. I’ll tell you what - they are bloody brilliant!
I can’t disagree. I’ve seen The Specials perform a few times and have been blown away each time. The last time was at the Rebellion Punk Festival in Blackpool. The link and influence of punk on The Specials is well known. You have toured with the Clash, The Dammed and UK Subs in the past. Despite that, I was still struck with just how loved you were by a hardcore punk festival crowd. In the middle of a lineup that included Subhumans, Anti Nowhere League and The Exploited, you guys went down an absolute storm. There were over 3,000 spikey haired, studded leather clad punks, all singing along and chanting Rude Boy! Rude Boy! with not a single pork pie hat to be seen.
I love Rebellion. Oh my god!
We always go down well, and as I was saying before, once they see us enjoying ourselves, and getting into it, it’s just that vibe that we give. Its hard to explain really but Rebellion we love it.
I do love doing festivals, and it’s mainly because you get youngsters coming to the them. They can’t come into the normal venues, but festivals it’s just great to see the youngsters singing along you know.
I was recently at the 2 Tone Village in Coventry for the launch of Daniel Rachel’s new book ‘Too Much Too Young’. As part of the launch there was a viewing of the 1980 BBC Arena documentary ‘Rudies Come Back or The Rise and Rise of 2Tone’ It showed some very young looking members of The Specials being in front of the camera for the first time. Watching it, I wondered if the young Neville Staple saw the arrival of a BBC TV crew a significant point in the success story The Specials?
In them days we’d just started, and when things were happening around you, you didn’t really pay attention because you’re just being yourself. We just done what we done and the cameras were just there. Adrian Thrills from NME did it, and we knew him from before so it was all just really casual.
There were no real major steps really. It was all just a gradual process. I got into music from sound system. I was just doing it ’cos I loved the music. When it took off, it was still just all about the music.
It started to get bigger and bigger and bigger and we started playing shows with a big audiences, even then I didn’t think ‘oh wow we are great’. Even then, it didn’t dawn on you. You just don’t think like that.
You don’t think let’s do it this way because we wanna be stars Nothing like that. It just happened. It’s weird.
As well as featuring in Daniel Rachel’s book, you wrote about your life in your own 2009 book, ‘Original Rude Boy – A Life of Crime and Music’. You discuss the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of your personality: the public persona and the creature of the streets. A decade or so later, now you are a married man, do you still struggle with this aspect of your personality?
I’ve mellowed so much. I’m like how I was, all the way through, but I have mellowed out. I guess when it hits you, you know being on TV or whatever, it kind of gives you a little bump because you’re not used to it but then, after a while, you get used to it and it’s just normal. But I’ve never seen myself as this big pop star. I’m just myself. I’m walking around the shops in Cov. and people wave across ‘Hi Neville’ just like the old times before the group.
Straight after The Specials split, you formed Fun Boy 3 with Terry Hall and Lynval Golding. Even now, your current setlist often includes some Fun Boy 3 songs - sometimes with a ska twist. Can you tell us a bit about that?
It’s good you’re talking about Fun Boy 3. No one hardly mentions Fun Boy 3 to me. It’s like all I ever get asked about is Specials Specials Specials but I really enjoyed the Fun Boy 3 and that’s why I like to include some.
We’ve just released a new complete box set which is great! There was some discussions about a reunion a few times but it didn’t work.
We didn’t know what we were going to do after The Specials split. We just knew we wanted to work together. There was no masterplan.
Who are some of the nicest people you've met in the industry?
It would be the old Jamaicans. My wife Sugary, does Skamouth twice a year and brings over the old Jamaican legends over.
Because I used to play their songs on the sound system and she is the one that brings them over, and I’m like oh yeah I would love to meet them, and Sugary tells me that they are saying the same thing about me ‘I want to meet the Rude Boy’ it’s really weird.
I used to love playing their records when I was fifteen or sixteen and then I’m getting to meet them now and I’m like oh great and there saying the same thing - that they want to meet me!
It’s the ten year anniversary of Skamouth this year. That how long Sugary has been doing it. Next year we will have Derrick Morgan, Winston Francis Bad Manners and us of course!
Your wife Sugary is also a member of the band. I heard a rumour that when she was young she used to have posters of you on her bedroom wall. Sugary - is this true?
[Sugary:] Yes it is! Neville was my pin up. I used to fight for wall space with my sister as we shared a bedroom but Neville always won.
We met during the period of The Specials re-union tour 2009/2010. He came to DJ at Hackney where I’m from and he chased me down, and I ran away. He tracked me down a few weeks later and we’ve been together ever since.
Sugary has just released a new EP Going Home. How has it been to work together as a couple?
For this one it’s Sugary mainly, I put a few bits in. She did all the production. It can’t be all Neville Neville Neville. She worked with me on the last album, writing and stuff but this one she has done it all herself. We will be spending Christmas with family and enjoying a break in Barbados before hitting the road again for more gigs in 2024.
Someone asked me when I was going to retire and I said ‘what’s that?’ You know. This is what I do. Maybe I don’t jump around like I used to when I was a young kid, but I just enjoy it too much to stop. I enjoy being on stage, and I just enjoy seeing people enjoying themselves and I just like the excitement and the energy I get from that.
Neville Staple and his band from The Specials will perform at Metronome on 8 December 2023
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