INTERVIEW: Neville Staple | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Former Specials singer Neville Staple is performing live and completely free of charge on the plinth in Stockton’s town center on Saturday 12th March as part of Stockton Calling’s pre-fest street sessions.

I chatted with him about his astonishing career to date. “I grew up listening to ska music from an early age. I’m from Jamaica, so even from an early age I was listening to ska. I came over to England and was listening to ska because my parents and my family members, everybody used to play ska, from Jamaica right up to here. I just loved the music. We had a sound system and I used to play ska all day. Sometimes reggae as well, but ska just has this rhythm and this beat that makes you want to move.”

Staple’s early life was dominated by music which had a heavy political focus, and he laments the lack of such styles today. “Most of the kids nowadays are into different stuff. I find that a lot of people that come to my concerts are 16 or 18 upwards and they, like me, grew up on the music because their parents were playing it and they started to understand the meaning. Nowadays, the youngsters they aren’t like that. They don’t think about what’s happening around them. There are few people doing things like we used to do in the Specials and think about the politics. We used to know about what was happening around us and that came across in our music. People would learn from music. Nowadays the kids have no manners and they’re into these records that are not really suitable – they ain’t got no respect for their parents. Things are just very different nowadays.

“People don’t listen to lyrics, or pay attention anymore. If people listened to some of our Specials lyrics, they’d realise that they’re still about today.

“If the younger generation listened to the music that we were producing then they’re going to learn from it. The messages we had at the time are still relevant now.”

It’s difficult to imagine The Specials without Neville Staple, but that could have been the case had Neville not decided to perform some impromptu DJing one evening. He fondly remembers how his days as a performer began and reflected on a career that sprouted almost completely by chance.

“I originally was just a roadie for the band. They were supporting The Clash one night and I was just at the desk doing a bit of mixing next to the mixing guy and I grabbed the microphone, started DJing out the front and then Joe [Strummer] called me on stage and that was it, that was how I started. From then I had a great time in The Specials, but I’ve also moved to America and worked with a lot of great artists over there like No Doubt, Gwen Stefani, Rancid. The list goes on.”

Having worked in America for a substantial portion of his career, Staple explained the differences between ska in the UK and America, and why it is that the music is still very popular in the states today.

“They like their music out there, they listen to a lot that comes over from the UK, so a lot of them are really into ska. It’s huge in California. They play it a lot faster over there, though. Much faster, really punky, but they love it and they still pick up the message that the music is portraying. Just like here, it’s still relevant for them.”

Now performing as a solo artist with a band of his own choosing, Staple is enjoying his music more than ever before. “There’s no egos or bigheads in a solo project. No one thinks they’re better than anyone else, we’re all equal in the band. Once you get that equality, it’s a much more enjoyable experience. Some band members originally thought I would be like that because I’d been in The Specials, but I told them to forget about The Specials, I want them to do this with me and I want us all to be equal. What we’re doing is completely different from my previous bands. My manager is my wife and everything is up and up. We get on really well and have a great time on stage. I wasn’t used to that before, so I decided I would be better off to start my own band where I could perform in those circumstances.”

Looking ahead to the show in Stockton, Staple is excited about what he believes is going to be a great show. “People can expect to enjoy themselves, lots of dancing and us happy on stage. Most of the people who come to see us expect a sing-along and have been aware of my work for some time, so it’s always a great audience that comes to see us. I perform songs from my history because people always want to hear that and I still enjoy playing them. Just come along, enjoy yourself and have fun.”


Neville Staple will be performing on the Plinth on Stockton High Street on Saturday 12th March at 2pm. Also performing on the run-up to Stockton Calling are Lisbon and Mark Morriss on Saturday 19th March, with more to be confirmed.

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