Neville Staple: Special Skank
From the opening soccer match sounding chant, to the tom tom drum beat, through the hard guitar lick and the intense vocals - one brit punk, one dread rock steady - you just knew you were hearing something special. Indeed, the name was appropriate: they were The Specials. The song, "Concrete Jungle," became a personal anthem, with it's raw, yet musically expressed, street life scenes that mirrored my life in San Francisco's poor but clean ghetto. A more energetic, feel-good band I've scarcely seen. The roots-meets-punk fusion was a fresh and living example of unity in the face of racism. They didn't have many black brothers, just one. Neville Staple (www.nevillestaple.com). He never stopped jumping, never stopped dancing, and his voice was strong, whether singing or toasting. He has continued for the past twenty years.
MP3: Say What You Mean
After the Specials created the Two Tone sound (the punk ska reggae hybrid which has never died), Neville formed Fun Boy 3, which took the Two Tone sound to the land of hard pop dance beats. Later he formed Special Beat with Ranking Roger (of English Beat). They toured with such luminaries as Sting and Steel Pulse. While most of that era's artists have largely disappeared, Neville Staple has continued to perform and make records, both as producer (Unwritten Law and the Venezuelan ska band Desorden Public) and performer on the VANS Off the Wall Volume IV compilation CD and others.
On this new release, "Special Skank Ska Au Go Go," Neville Staple continues along the path he trail blazed - rock flavored ska. But as befits an artist who is constantly in motion, the record has some surprises. Drummer Chris Clawson says, "We all love rock and roll, so there's nothing wrong with throwing some loud guitars in there." No lie.
The CD jumps off with "Say It Like It Is," a tune which sounds like a funkier New Wave version of Blink 182 style punk rock, but with the added flavor of Chris Colonnier trombone. "Say What You Mean" bursts forward with power rock chords, a swinging, funk-rock drum beat, and a ska punk chanted chorus, "If you mean what you say then say what you mean / is it a lie that you're living / . . . Are you front or you back / are you simply full of cramp / I have made up my mind and I know where you're at." The third cut "Entrapment" should be covered by Cheap Trick and turned into a retro New Wave radio hit. It's got musical hooks to die for.
MP3: 5 & 5 (Put Away Your Guns)
In a world dominated by metal rap rock, Staple shows how it's done on "Don't Mess With Me." The hard drum beat, dense guitar, and deft turntable scratching could fit in with the likes of Linkin Park (if they had taste and ideas) but it's Staple's skanktified delivery and on-point rapping that takes it over the top. His voice on this, and all of the cuts, has authority, confidence and a roughneck, roots tinge that beats the cartoonish son of Henry Rollins "intensity" displayed by Korn and the rest of the corny lot. This should be in heavy rotation on any K-Rock station.
"L.A.P.D." is a reggae tune that captures the political vibe of early British punk and reggae. "Drive By Shooting" is guitar flavored, old school dub reggae. Other cuts reinvent lovers' rock, rock steady and dancehall. The grooves on each cut have that swing of ska, and the sure hand of mastery, reflective of the talents of the band and experience of the band leader. In addition to the new songs, he plays several fan favorite ska and reggae tunes. He does a version of "Simmer Down," the never-can-get-enough ska song that brings the fun boy feeling of early eighties London to this writer.
Then he kicks into "Johnny Too Bad" which, in contrast to the Toots and the Maytals or Clash versions, is rendered with a laid back hip hop drum beat and roots bass, along with the records signature incendiary guitar leads. In the middle of the song he toasts in the old school fashion, giving it a fresh take. Maga Dog is done as a lovers rock with a drum/electro drum groove and jazz-flavored guitar lead, in keeping with this CDs attention to tasty nuggets of flava and distinction and the merging of old and new. In a world where rote regurgitation and straight up style biting is amply rewarded with MTV's blessing and a fat contract, this is no mean feat.
Did your parents play music in the house?
Neville Staple: Constantly. They played reggae and blues records; my parents loved music. The first few albums I can remember buying were by Prince Buster, T-Rex, and Dave and Ansley Collins. Their song "Double Barrel" was a hit.
How was your original punk ska sound created? What was the reaction to the Specials when they first rose on the scene?
Neville Staple: I started off at 15 years old as a DJ in clubs in Coventry, and Birmingham, England. There would be DJ contests allowing the crowed to pick the best track spun. Later, I hooked up with the Specials. We played straight reggae originally. Then we went out with the Clash. This was on their "Out On Parole Tour." The crowds were so up beat we had to speed up the music. Especially at one show at a place called Camden Palace (which is now called something else). The crowd was just bouncing and so full of energy it was contagious. The energy crept onto the stage and into the music. It was an amazing time.
MP3: Simmer Down
How are you received now? Are you viewed as "that guy from back in the day," or does your music come off as a new thing to the young kids?
Neville Staple: Both, really, you know. It's the older brothers that clued them in on my music when they were kids and now they too enjoy it. The young ones are really into it, telling me "My brother came to your gig back in 1980-something."
How is the ska two tone scene these days and how does it compare to the days of the Specials and Fun Boy Three?
Neville Staple: Ah, the ska these days its not even ska. They play it too fast. The ska scene now, it's a different hybrid of music, it's not like how the Specials used to do it. It's more like punk. Really fast, really fast. Third wave ska they call it in America. I call it 3rd wave punk. It's thrash. I'm not sure how it is in the UK, but in America it's all about the punk edge.
MP3: Take A Look At Me
Neville Staple On Tour
2-Jul-03 - Carling Academy, Birmingham
3-Jul-03 - The Borderline, London
5-Jul-03 - Rios, Bradford
6-Jul-03 - Rock City, Nottingham
1-Aug-03 - The Village, Dublin
2-Aug-03 - Culdaff, Donegal
3-Aug-03 - Feile An Phobail, Belfast
7-Aug-03 - Shefflins, Waterford
8-Aug-03 - The Savoy, Cork
9-Aug-03 - The Back Door, Limerick
15-Aug-03 - The Cathouse, Glasgow
16-Aug-03 - The Reading Room, Dundee
17-Aug-03 - The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
22-Aug-03 - Crossroads Festival, Gijon, Spain
23-Aug-03 - Mallorca, Spain
29-Aug-03 - The Railway, Ipswich
12-Sep-03 - Bolognia, Italy
13-Sep-03 - Rome, Italy
18-Sep-03 - The Archway, N. London
Since 1998 Neville has been on a mission to entertain, successfully touring Japan, South America and extensively touring North America with his own band. Above all he is a performer. It is worth seeing Neville's live performance; his captivating stage presence and distinct voice are well worth it.
Your strength is performing live. Will there be a DVD or live record in the future? How about doing a show in Budukan, Japan like Cheap Trick?
Neville Staple: Funny you should ask. On this tour we are doing a live CD. I'm not sure if its going to be a DVD as well or just a one of those CDs that play the videos on your computer. It will be out for Christmas in the UK. I'm going to have a few Mates help out that night like Busta from Bad Manners and Ranking Roger. This show will be Sept. 6 at the Archway in North London. I'd play Budukan, Japan. I'll play anywhere, mate, as long as it's not over run by an army. Venezuela wanted us to come down there, but my mate clued me in, thank Jah.
Neville Staple Discography
1979 The Specials (Chrysalis)
Blue Plate Specials (Big Ear)
1980 The Specials AKA Live E P (Two Tone)
The Specials Live At The Moonlight Club (Two Tone)
More Specials (Chrysalis)
Desmond Decker & The Specials (Trojan)
1982 The Fun Boy Three (Chrysalis)
1983 Waiting (Chrysalis)
1984 The Best of Fun Boy Three (Chrysalis)
1991 The Singles Collection
1992 Special Beat Live (Receiver UK)
The Specials & Friends (Receiver UK)
The Specials Live – Too Much Too Young (Receiver UK)
The Coventry Automatics Receiver UK)
1994 Skanktastic (Neville Staple solo – 525 Music Productions)
1994 Shack (Receiver UK)
1996 The Today’s Specials (Kuff Records/Virgin)
1998 Guilty ‘Til Proved Innocent (Way Cool Music/MCA)
1999 Ghost Town: Live at Montreaux Jazz (Trojan/UK)
1999 Searching For Jimi Hendricks (the Right Stuff)
2000 Skinhead Girl (Receiver/Trojan Records UK)
2000 The Very Best of The Specials and Fun Boy 3
Performed by Neville Staple (Cleopatra Records, Los Angeles)
2001 Conquering Ruler (Receiver/Trojan Records)
2002 Special Skank Ska Au Go Go (Cleopatra Records, Los Angeles)
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