An Interview with Neville Staple of The Specials

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Image credit: NME Magazine

2 Tone Ska will always hold a special place in the heart of Ska and Jamaican Roots music fans everywhere. There isn’t any more of an iconic 2 Tone ska group than the renowned Specials.

One piece of this magical amalgam of Ska and punky New Wave goodness was singer Neville Staple. Neville has been keeping the spirit and nature of Ska, Rocksteady, and 2 Tone alive through his dynamite solo career.

VWmusic was beyond elated for this virtual sit-down of sorts with Neville. Below we discussed his amazing new solo album, what Second Wave Ska means to him, and his involvement with the Third Wave Ska scene.

Joe:
These last few years have been a trying time for everyone around the world. What have you been doing to stay sane throughout all this craziness?

Neville:
We had about 21 months with no proper shows. That’s the longest amount of time since I started my career without a show. I still love the live shows so, it was really tough when they stopped happening. At least I have a brilliant manager and band so, I managed to get lots of other projects done. I also got some talks and seminars done as well as recording and production of a large amount of new material. The material included some 2 Tone and music documentaries for BBC TV, Radio, and ITV. Additionally, I did some film soundtrack work and some new singles. And, of course, this exciting new album. We also did a lot of online video/radio DJ performances and sold new merchandise designs online. It was pretty busy but still not the same as being on the road and performing at gigs.

Joe:
What effect and legacy do you think 2 Tone and Second Wave has had on music in general?

Neville:
The First Wave will always be massive for serious Ska music lovers. But I must say, the legacy of our 2 Tone Ska (aka Second Wave of Ska) is still such a massive movement. We travel the world touring. We still embrace the style, the message, the look, and the united approach. The fans are all still there. Along with them are the fun, high-stomping beats that mix up Punk and Ska/Reggae. I was a part of the 3rd wave that swept L.A. and the U.S. during the 90s, touring across The States and beyond. I was helping some of the new bands on the scene get their foot into the industry and the 2nd Wave was the pivotal ingredient always. The style, the checkered imagery, the lyrical awareness, and the fun we had. Those things were coming from the 2nd Wave influence. It just felt like we were bringing in the 2nd Wave Part 2.

Joe:
At VWmusic, we feel like there has been a “fourth wave” of Ska taking place over the past handful of years. It may not be commercial but it’s there. What are your feelings regarding that statement?

Neville:
I can see that, but if I am honest, from my point of view, it has never gone away. It has just dipped in and out of the mainstream. I kind of like that it still has a bit of a subculture and niche following. That makes it way cooler.

Image credit: Coventry Telegraph

Joe:
Live shows have been steadily picking back up. Have you and your band been touring? Do you think the way touring and live shows are done has been permanently changed because of the pandemic? For better or for worse?

Neville:
I think it has all been pretty messed up, to be honest. The worst time ever. I really hope things return to a better place where artists, venues, and festivals can prosper again. It has been a tough ride for so many especially with all the changes over the years to the music industry. It has to be one of the most difficult industries to make plans with. We need to have live performances where you can be a part of a night out with like-minded people. Be able to enjoy the vibes, while stomping and singing along. That’s the best. We are so glad to be back out there and have been touring relentlessly since Spring 2021. As I said, that was after 21 months with no proper shows. We had around 100 shows postponed. We really missed the fans. I just hope things stay on the up and up or the damage will definitely be permanent. In some ways it already is.

Joe:
What made you decide to go to California in the 90s to work with all those now-legendary third wave Ska acts? What was the experience like?

Neville:
Those guys were excited and full of energy. They really understood the 2 Tone message. They just got it. It was brilliant to work with them. They showed me a lot of respect too and helped me feel at home. I was there for so many years touring all over the US and it was my 2nd home. My label is based there (Cleopatra Records) and I have a lot of family there too. I can’t believe that I can’t get a visa to come back right now. I don’t even know why. There’s a huge fanbase asking for my return. The City of Los Angeles even presented all of us (The Specials original members) with a proclamation for “The Specials Day” (which will be the 29th of May every year now). Yet, I couldn’t even come and get my awarded certificate. Anyway, my beautiful wife and manager, Sugary Staple is working on it for me. The fans have been begging for my return, so we need to make it happen.

Joe:
Tell us a little about this new album, From The Specials And Beyond.

Neville:
It is a celebration of my journey with 2 Tone and music in general through the years. Each song has a special meaning, that relates to my life or the lives of those around me. The songs will make you want to sing along or dance. The lyrics will be relatable to everyone. Sugary wrote and co-produced the album including the new material. We invited each member of the band to do some writing too. The result is brilliant! You can really feel the mix of styles in the songs, but it all gelled well together. It has a fun and danceable 2 Tone way about it. I am really proud of this album and the reviews have been really great so far.

Image credit: CQAF

Joe:
What was the impetus for re-recording some of the classic Specials songs? What approach did you take when re-recording them?

Neville:
I was always going to do a special 12-inch mix of “Ghost Town” to celebrate 40 years since the song was recorded. I had the lead vocals on that one and it was our biggest hit. That was in 1981. This version was done with the band the same way we do it live now. It is where I celebrate all the great work of each band member. I wanted to put that into the song. One of my other lead vocals signature songs was “Monkey Man.” As a tribute to losing Toots Hibbert, it made sense to do an extended mix to celebrate his greatness. He called me “Mr. Specials” and thanked me personally for making the 2 Tone version of “Monkey Man” my own. Toots said, “giving it a new energy and vibe that is copied all the world over, even more than my [Toots] original version!” (in his own words).

The cover of “Housewives Choice” was selected by good friend and iconic Ska artist, Derrick Morgan. “Housewives Choice” is an original 60s Ska classic. Our fans asked for our short Ska-tipped version of “Stand By Me” to be on the album. We performed it first during the first UK lockdown, and they begged us to do a full-length version for the album.

Joe:
We noticed you had some all-star guests on many of the album’s new compositions, including Derrick Morgan, Clint Eastwood, Gary Shail, and Neol Davies. How was working with them? How did they end up recording with you on this album?

Neville:
Eastwood is a long-time friend of mine. We used to hang out in the 80s and have always got on. He was looking to do some new stuff, so we invited him to get back in the swing of it with us. He’s still got that nice easy listening style, so it worked so well.

Gary Shail is a good friend of Sugary’s. I think they met through their acting work and her Skamouth Festival. At the festival, he does Quadrophenia appearances with others from the film. He’s a great guy with top talent and a down-to-earth savviness.

Neol Davies lives locally and is a good friend. He is one of the best guitar players in 2 Tone. He occasionally tours with us as well.

Derrick Morgan is a super close friend and is like family. We have spent a lot of time with him in Jamaica. He usually comes to perform for Sugary at the festival she runs twice a year. It is in the UK and is called Skamouth Festival. When he heard our recorded version of “When I Call Your Name” (Stranger & Pat’s classic from the Rude Rebels Album), he said he would be honored if we did one of his duet songs too. Sugary suggested he choose the song and perform on it with us. He loved the idea and gave it a gold seal of approval. It made one of her dreams come true.

Joe:
We discussed the new album but is there anything else on the horizon, musically or otherwise, we should know about?

Neville:

We will follow up our “Celebrate With You” music video with some more videos for the album. We will also be recording some soundtracks. We have a production company working on various film and TV projects with us. There will be a big 40 Years of “Ghost Town” tour across the UK, Europe, and South America. If we can get the agreement to come back to the US, we will do a massive tour there as well.

Image credit: Northern Soul

Interested in learning more about the work of Neville Staple? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Records, Roots & Ramblings, by Joe O’Brien, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/records-roots-ramblings-archives/

About Post Author

Joe O'Brien

Joe has always been a huge music fan. Growing up on Long Island, NY, USA, Joe did chores and dumpster dove for bottles with his best friend Andrew to trade bottles for money to buy vinyl. Joe is a Registered Nurse in the ER by day, and a life-long music lover by night. Having been an avid consumer of all things music since he was a child, Joe’s diverse collection of over 3,000 vinyl albums, plus several hundred tapes and CDs, tells the story of a man who simply loves music. Joe’s goal is to write about what he is most passionate about and share new and exciting music. Joe lives on Long Island, NY with his beloved dog Scarlett.
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