Category Archives: Interview

NEVILLE STAPLE

LEGENDARY FRONTMAN OF THE SPECIALS, FUN BOY THREE AND SPECIAL BEAT – AND ALSO KNOWN AS THE ORIGINAL RUDE BOY – NEVILLE STAPLE IS CREDITED WITH CHANGING THE FACE OF POP MUSIC NOT JUST ONCE, BUT TWICE…

Staple is modestly celebrating his major contribution to music during 2019 – the 40th anniversary year of the Two Tone movement – including by taking The Neville Staple Band out on the road in the coming weeks, alongside Derry’s punk power-pop legends The Undertones. In his hometown Coventry – the birthplace of Two Tone – Staple works with schools, charities, the university and youth groups, providing talks, music lesson guest-tuition and fund-raising activities. Following a family tragedy in 2019 he is also an advocate of the anti-knife crime movement. We talk about his life in this new interview...

 

IT’S EASY TO SEE, WHEN YOU’RE ON STAGE, THAT MUSIC STILL MEANS A LOT TO YOU, AND THE NEVILLE STAPLE BAND IS SUCH A STRONG OUTLET FOR THAT… FOR A LITTLE WHILE YOU WERE PART OF THE RECENT REUNION – SO HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO THE SPECIALS FOR YOU?
This band is a family. Everyone looks out for each other, everyone looks out for everyone else. I’ve been ripped off in the past, but this time it’s not like that. My wife – Sugary – onstage and offstage she is 100% a lifesaver. She’s a Godsend. She manages the band, and it’s all a good thing. She has totally changed my life, and working with this band is the best experience I’ve had in music. 

YOU’RE HEADING OUT ON TOUR VERY SOON – THE NEVILLE STAPLE BAND AND THE UNDERTONES… THAT’S QUITE A BILL! IS THE UNDERTONES A BAND THAT PARTICULARLY MEANS SOMETHING TO YOU?

Yes, it is a good bill. The Undertones is a great band – I used to love The Undertones, as well as the other punk bands. I used to listen to ska, and then punk came along and I got into that as well. I used to listen to it, and then we got the opportunity to play with The Clash. They were the first sort of punky band I got to know. 

IN A WAY THERE WERE SIMILARITIES – THE FUSION OF MUSICAL CULTURES…
Yeah. With us Jerry [Dammers] and us mixed the ska with the punk thing that was happening. I think it gelled together really well. 

THE SPECIALS WAS KIND OF DANCE MUSIC – BUT IT WASN’T DANCING FOR DANCING’S SAKE…
Exactly, exactly. I mean, you could move though! Then you’d think “Oh, that’s what they’re saying”… You’d hear that raunchy punk thing, the raunchy ska thing, and – yeah – you can definitely bop to it. And then after a little while when the music has gone still, you realise what it is that we were saying… 

… MUSIC WITH A MESSAGE… 

Yeah. I was just about to say that with The Specials, we had something to say. It wasn’t just “rah rah rah” with a beat, y’know? The Specials was writing and singing about what was happening round by us. And we were all saying the same thing. Both bands, The Specials and The Clash. Anti-government, anti-establishment. Standing up. It was all that… So punk was the same thing as us: “We don’t like it because the government have done this… or the government have not done that”… Anti-establishment. We were true to young kids, and to what was going on. The Specials and punk, the music was a little bit different but I think we was all the same – giving a message. 

AS YOU SAID, THE SPECIALS WROTE AND SANG ABOUT WHAT WAS GOING ON IMMEDIATELY AROUND YOU… SO I GUESS IN A WAY YOU WERE JOURNALISTS, REPORTING ON THE STATE OF THE COUNTRY FOR YOUR LISTENERS…
Yes. And the music papers at the time – the NME and all that – they had something to say as well, like punk and ska did. They didn’t go ahead and interview a band that weren’t saying too much… I mean, you’d get them doing a little interview with them, maybe, but not much. They didn’t talk about them as much as they used to interview, or put the live spotlight on, all the punk and ska bands. That’s ‘cos we were actually saying something relevant. 

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT A SONG SUCH AS GHOST TOWN, WHICH REPORTS ON SOME PRETTY HEAVY IDEAS… I ALWAYS FELT THAT THE SPECIALS WERE MASTERS OF MAKING PEOPLE FEEL GOOD WHILE THEY FELT BAD…
Well there you go. Yeah. GHOST TOWN was a big song about what was happening in the country but you didn’t really think about what was happening until you thought about the words, ’til you heard the words. You might be dancing to it but after a while you realise what it’s about and the message comes right through. 

I WAS LISTENING TO YOUR 2017 SOLO ALBUM THE RETURN OF JUDGE ROUGHNECK THIS MORNING… LISTENING TO THAT AND YOUR OTHER MOST RECENT WORK IT’S REALLY OBVIOUS YOU FEEL THAT THERE ARE STILL THINGS TO SAY – EVEN FORTY YEARS ON…
It is, yes. There are things to say. When you’re making a record it just comes to you – it’s natural. You want to say what’s going on around you. There’s some light tracks where you can just be boppin’, but most of it is saying something. The next album, the one after THE RETURN OF JUDGE ROUGHNECK, is called RUDE REBELS – and that is saying a lot what is happening as well. Me and my wife wrote that one. That one, as well, is more conscious lyrics. 

I THINK THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WOULD NOT EXPECT THAT – PEOPLE WHO WOULD FIND IT UNUSUAL THAT A MUSICIAN IN HIS SIXTIES MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY… BUT I THINK IT’S AS RELEVANT AS SAYING SOMETHING WHEN YOU’RE IN YOUR TWENTIES. IN SOME CASES MAYBE MORE SO?
Yeah, I think so. And it’s a shame these days because a lot of new music in the mainstream nowadays is the Simon Cowell sort of stuff; throwaway. You last about a year and then you get thrown away, they don’t wanna know anymore. If there was a band there who were saying something, they wouldn’t want to know. It’s just quick money, that’s what it’s about. 

I WOULD GUESS THAT THE X-FACTOR THING, THE LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCE, HAS GOT TO BE HARD FOR A FEW OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE IN IT THOUGH. THEY’RE JUST SPENDING LOADS OF ENERGY TRYING TO FULFIL AN INDUSTRY TEMPLATE… THERE WILL BE THOSE DOING IT WHO DO REALLY HAVE SOMETHING ABOUT THEM – AND IF YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING ABOUT YOU IT’D DRIVE YOU MAD TO CONSTANTLY HOLD THAT BACK, SURELY?
Yes. Yes. Basically they’re told what to do. The people like this at the minute so we’ve got to sell you this way, you need to say you like this or you need to wear that… We need to sell. The difference for us is that when we were doing it, when The Specials and Fun Boy Three was doing it, it wasn’t about selling or getting in the charts. We were just doing it

… SUCCESS WAS A HAPPY BY-PRODUCT OF ‘JUST DOING IT’… 
Exactly. Those things happened… We just happened to get in the charts – but that’s not what our game was. Our game wasn’t that. Our goal was to do what we like and to say what’s happening. That was it for us. No fear about sales or things. So, if the government was screwing up we’d say they were screwing up.

THERE’S THIS WONDERFUL LINE BEEN SAID ABOUT YOU… THAT YOU ‘CHANGED THE FACE OF BRITISH POP MUSIC NOT ONCE, BUT TWICE’… HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT ACCOLADE?
Erm… It makes me feel very proud when I hear or read that. I was never really sure what they were referring to with that statement, but I’ve since learned and realised that it relates to my work both here in the UK (for the tagged second wave of ska and Two Tone era) and my successful career in the US. Over there I was instrumental in getting bands like No Doubt, Save Ferris, Rancid and many others, off the ground with my music and touring in the US (mostly in the 90s), where they were my support or I guested with them until they took off in their own deserved right. So after the huge Two Tone phenomenon in the UK, I continued the work with the third waves in the US. I then took it around the world several times over, long before all the reunions with The Specials – and we had many in the 1990s onwards, with albums like GUILTY TIL PROVEN INNOCENT being one of my favourite The Specials albums, apart from the very first one we did. I worked with all the members during those years, on and off – except for Terry who was still trying to pursue a ballad singing career. Ska was never his thing – he’s admitted that publicly by the way. I have continued to tour worldwide, write and produce music and basically keep the movement alive. In fact it was after coming to one of my shows in the mid 2000s, that Jerry realised how a full reunion might work well. He saw the way the venues were packed out, the fans were going nuts and that it was probably the right time to reunite everyone. Unfortunately once he’d set the ball rolling he got pushed out by certain others – but let’s not go there! Yeah, I guess I am pretty proud of what I’ve achieved – and with all my morals (mostly) intact!

ALL OF THAT, AND IT MEANS SO MUCH TO PEOPLE… 
Yeah. And we didn’t expect things to go that way. We didn’t expect to ‘change the face’, as you said… It is still very nice to know that what we were doing at that time really meant something to people, and it’s good to realise it does still mean things to people. It’s great to know that people relate to what we were saying, and that they feel that what we were singing still counts… Now, even when new kids, young kids, listen to that stuff the problems are still aren’t they? So they can relate to it too… 

… I’D SAY THAT’S BECAUSE THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL SITUATION IS PROBABLY AS BAD AS IT WAS IN, I DON’T KNOW, 1980…
It’s bloody worse, if you ask me. There weren’t that many homeless people, but now there’s so many it’s unbelievable. The housing situation has gone a lot worse. The whole country has gone a lot worse than it was then. The thing is, we’re still singing those things we’re singing because things happening are the same – but I think they’re worse than back then. The country has some really serious problems. We’ve got a new single out which is singing about the knife problem going on – which is something close to me.

YES… I’VE BEEN VERY MOVED BY HOW YOU’VE RESPONDED TO THE DEATH OF YOUR GRANDSON, LAST YEAR…
Yeah, thank you. Funnily enough before talking to you I was just with my daughter… I took it bad, but it’s her son, y’know? She’s taken it really bad. Me now, I still get so emotional about it. I’ve had a couple of strokes, and because of the strokes I do get really emotional about things. When I’m on stage and I start talking about my grandson, I start weeping like a little baby. That’s just how I am. I’m not going to put this hard exterior up about it. At one time I would have done – but I’m not like that anymore. 

IN THE END I THINK IT’S MUCH MORE IMPORTANT – MUCH MORE VALUABLE – TO NOT HAVE THAT HARDNESS ABOUT IT. FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO SEE THAT YOU’RE NOT HARD ABOUT IT, YOU’RE ACTUALLY ABLE TO BE THAT EMOTIONAL… 
Exactly. It’s just natural. I can feel a lot of emotion. I mean, he died and then soon I had to do this big concert in Coventry. He’d died just a few hours before, you know what I mean? The place was an outdoor gig, and the place was flooded. Lots of people were coming to that show anyway, but more came because they wanted to show their respect. It was really moving for me. When Sugary, my wife, started talking you could see the crowd really feeling it. I couldn’t talk – I couldn’t say anything. The crowd was crying – some was holding their heart, some was in floods of tears. Jesus. I was crying. We started the song, and after a few words I just couldn’t sing it – I was crying like a baby. It had just happened. And I’ll tell you something else – there was people filming it on their phones when my grandson got killed… Unbelievable. So when I was crying I was expressing my feelings about all of that – not because I just felt I ought to cry or something to turn it into a show but because crying was genuinely about all I could do. But now a little bit of time has come on and that’s why we’ve been able to talk about it a bit better, and now we can put out this single.

IT’S GOOD THAT THE SINGLE TALKS ABOUT THE SITUATION. YOU’RE REALLY NOT HIDING FROM IT OR GLOSSING IT OVER… IT’S A GOOD RESPONSE.
Thankyou, it’s important to shine a light on it if you can. It’s on the rise, and so we’ve done what we can do and made this single. I think in Coventry alone in the last couple of months they’ve had about six incidents. The other day they’ve found an eleven or twelve year old with a knife at school. Listen how bad it is – we’re now gonna have to be searching little kids before they go into school. Metal detectors and things.

IT’S A COMPLEX PROBLEM AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE ANSWER IS – BUT MONEY BEING PULLED OUT OF EDUCATION AND OUT OF YOUTH SERVICES IS NOT HELPING. 
That’s it. But you can educate as much as you want and there will always be some people who will listen and some people who won’t listen. There will always be some who won’t listen. But we can still try and get through. And also the same thing taking money out of the coppers on the beat – y’know, the community copper who used to know everyone in his area. He used to know Bob, he used to know John, he used to know absolutely all the kids in his area. They’d get to know them all and so they could say “Oi John – behave yourself”… 

YEAH… “PACK IT IN OR I’LL TELL YOUR PARENTS”…
Yeah, exactly. Anyway, some of the proceeds of the single will be going to victims of that sort of crime – the families who have been affected by it and things like that. That’s how we’re trying to address what happened to us and the bigger problem of it. We’re using my ‘profile’ a little bit to try and get word out there. It happened to my family, so let me use my status in music to try and get through to people. It’s difficult but at least we’re doing our bit.

IT’S BEEN ABOUT TEN YEARS SINCE YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED… AND I REMEMBER THINKING, WHEN I’D FINISHED READING IT, BLOODY HELL… WHAT A LIFE
Ha ha ha… Yeah. I’ve been through the mill, but I came out all ironed out – but I’ve still got the same views on the way the country is, and things like that… Yes, I have lived a colourful life, ha ha!

WAS WRITING THAT BOOK A WAY OF LETTING GO OF SOME OF IT?
Yeah, I think it was. As well as that, I think people will have had their impression of me, but without knowing everything. So I think it was my way of saying what I was like, instead of people making up their own stories about how I am. They might have seen me on stage and just thought “Oh, he’s a rough and tumble lad” – but even if I was, the music changed me. That book was a way of getting some things off my chest, so that people had a clearer idea of what I was actually like, basically. My life through the rough and tumble time, on to The Specials and how we were able to say things about the way life was. Everything, all kind of in there. They might have just seen me as ‘Neville from The Specials’ on a pedestal or something – but I don’t ever want to be on that pedestal, and I’d never ever put myself on one. I just want people to see me as a human being. 

TO HARK BACK TO WHAT WE WERE SAYING ABOUT MAKING MUSIC IN YOUR SIXTIES – YOU’D HOPE, WOULDN’T YOU, THAT BY THIS SORT OF AGE THE PEOPLE, THE FANS, ARE MUCH MORE MATURE AND OPEN TO SEEING YOU AS A HUMAN BEING…
Yes, that’s true. You’ve hit the nail on the head, there – writing a book is setting the record straight for people who are open enough  to see it as it was, and not just some sort of crazy legend of things. 

LIKE IN YOUR MUSIC, IN THE BOOK YOU DON’T SHY AWAY FROM THE DIFFICULTIES…
Yeah, well a lot of people didn’t know (or don’t know) what I went through when I was young in the family home. A lot of families didn’t go through what I went through. Everyone’s got a different story, and mine is like that. So the book was to tell people what I’m like, and that means talking about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ things.  

I’M AWARE THAT THIS MIGHT SOUND LIKE A REALLY TRITE THING TO SAY, BEARING IN MIND SOME OF THE THINGS WE’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT… BUT I DO GET THE VIBE THAT YOU’RE IN ‘A HAPPY PLACE’…
Yes. I am. Apart from the obvious. You have to push through. You’ve got to keep a positive side and push through. Really, I look at life and I cherish it – because you never know when it’s going to finish. I don’t let things bog me down. At the back of my head I do know what’s happening, but what am I gonna do? Just let it bog me down and sit around and mope? I’m not gonna do that! I still do what I do. When I’m on stage I don’t let anything hold me back. 

 

See THE NEVILLE STAPLE BAND on tour with The Undertones…

Fri 3 May   COVENTRY   Empire  Tickets
Sat 4 May   BRISTOL   swx   Tickets
Fri 10 May   LEEDS   O2 Academy   Tickets
Sat 11 May   MANCHESTER   O2 Ritz   Tickets
Thurs 16 May   NORWICH   Open   Tickets
Fri 17 May   BEXHILL   De La Warr Pavilion   Tickets
Sat 18 May   SOUTHAMPTON   Engine Rooms   Tickets