The Specials' Neville Staple On Why Ghost Town Is Still Relevant Today

The legendary vocalist gives his opinions on David Cameron’s ‘Ghost Town’ politics, Amy Winehouse and why he still loves Ska.
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The legendary vocalist gives his opinions on David Cameron’s ‘Ghost Town’ politics, Amy Winehouse and why he still loves Ska.

Ghost Town is as fresh and relevant now as it was when it was first released in 1981 during another age of austerity – why do you think that is?

Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron are essentially the same people who stand for the same things. It’s all: ‘We’ll help the kids, we’ll help the community.’ Well, they haven’t and never did. It’s all ‘Ghost Town’ politics. They get in power and become self-serving to their class. They don’t do a thing to help anyone in the classes below them, or anyone who needs helping, or even any areas that need helping. People might say I’m wrong but that’s my view on it – which is why Ghost Town is still relevant to many people today.

Roadblock on my 2014 Ska Crazy album is still about the same things as Ghost Town – kids getting into trouble. The video was shot by an 18/19 year-old kid who said to me: ‘Nev, I want to use my mum’s bereavement money to make that video’. That’s how strongly young people feel about being cast off by society. I said: ‘Are you sure?’ and they said: ‘I’ve never been more sure of anything - because that song means so much to me and friends in terms of what’s happening now to our generation.’

The way it was shot was like Ghost Town in the dark and the black of night.

How important is Ska and Two Tone to you today?

The music still speaks to people today. And the style. The old time guys in Jamaica used to wear the suits and look so smart, so stylish. I’ll never change because I’ve always been into Ska and Reggae – I grew up with it – it’s what you’re used to and what it’s in your blood.

I think it’s brilliant when I play at festivals and gigs when half the audience are kids who know every word. So I stop and let them sing with me. Or I say: ‘It’s up to you to sing this chorus’ – and they do.

The Neville Staple Band operates differently from The Specials because we stop and let the crowd sing along with us. We can stop the music anywhere and mix it up – with The Specials it was more of a format – we had to play the songs the way people were expecting and wanted. Meaning it had to sound like the record, whereas now we can improvise more to how the crowd is responding.

I like entertaining the crowd, I like talking to them – not just going: ‘Next song, next song, next song.’

My favourites are still Monkey Man and Message To You Rudy. Last year I went on stage with Dandy Livingstone, the man who wrote the original version in 1972. Oh man it was great. To sing on stage with him was amazing. I keep in contact with him now. I phoned him, and we talk together in Jamaican.

Message To You appeals to me because I was a bit of a lad when I was younger. I went to detention centre then borstal. And then after borstal I had enough. So The Specials at the time became something for me to fall back on and get me out of trouble.

Message To You changed the course of my life. I wouldn’t say it saved my life but it certainly changed the course of it.

What was it like playing with Joe Strummer and The Clash?

It was great playing with Joe. But I got on best with Paul Simonon. He was just like me - rough and rugged. Even though the others were too. We got on great but there was something about him Paul. No airs or graces just rugged.

What was The Clash’s manager Bernie Rhodes like to work with?

My word Bernie. He was like: ‘Here’s a gig for you in Europe – now go off and do it.’ We didn’t stay long with him!

The Specials is now dead and gone for me. We aren’t getting back together. But I still talk to Jerry Dammers. I get on with Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers too. I still talk to both of them.

Do you enjoy playing festivals?

It was also great to play Glastonbury at different times with The Specials and my own band. I love playing festivals, they’re part of the UKs musical fabric. I loved playing with Amy Winehouse too at the V Festival the year before she died.

Amy was great. She was the best. She should have been the lead singer for The Specials. She sang brilliantly. She sounded brilliant - she delivered the songs perfectly. She was great.

I’m looking forward to Hitchin’s Rhythms of the World because it will be a load of new people listening to The Specials music and to the Neville Staple Band’s music - along with people who will know every word.

I feel very privileged that people still listen to the music of The Specials, and to the Neville Staple Band. I would say just go enjoy yourself, go and have a party and let’s all enjoy ourselves.

Neville Staple will be headlining the main stage at Hitchin’s acclaimed Rhythms of the World music festival this Saturday with his group The Neville Staple band. For more info go to http://www.rotw.org.uk

Read the original interview in the Hitchin Comet

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