Music

Neville Staple and The Special Beat

It was a dawning of a new era in 1979. Thatcher came into power in England and the economy looked pretty grim in the UK. There were racial issues, joblessness and a fractured society split along financial lines. Riots were taking place in Southall and the ugliness of the period was just beginning.

Out of this gloom and trouble came an uprising of music that was political and energising; a mix of punk and ska. From the streets of Conventry came the inter-racial group The Specials – with songs like Concrete Jungle, Too Much Too Young and Ghost Town to name a few. The Two-Tone Record label housed so many acts important to that scene and cultural upheaval happening in London. Madness, The Selecter, The Beat and others powered this short-lived label, which folded in less then a decade.

The Specials scored seven top ten singles between 1979 and 1981, with Terry Hall and Neville Staple handling vocal duties. Neville arrives in Australia this long weekend with a new line-up of The Special Beat – a mix of various players from that landmark moment.

“This time we are doing Beat things, Selecter songs and Special songs,” the man explains. “I don’t know when I will get out to Australia again because of The Specials thing. [ The Specials have just announced an Australian tour for July. ] For this time instead of just doing The Special Beat we have Pauline to make it a bit different, you know what I mean.”

This will be our opportunity in Australia, once again, to hear Neville perform some old ska favourites. Joining him from The Beat will be Ranking Roger and Roddy Radiation from The Specials on guitar. Pauline Black, who will forever be linked to that hit record Too Much Pressure, is also coming along for the ride.

With 30 years having passed since the rude boys and skinheads gathered around to hear this music, I wondered what Neville remembered the most about those days of his youth?

“Fun, travelling and meeting a lot of different people I never would have met if I was not in the group. Just really enjoying myself. Because now I think back and if I had had more sense, when I went to different places I would have taken in more. When you are young, you just sort of go with the flow and the excitement. My kids are all grown up now [but] when they were young they did not really know what was going on. It is only now my oldest kids are saying, –  “I didn’t know you were that popular’,” Neville laughs.

“I recall making the first record, we were working with Elvis Costello,” he continues. “At the time we just read about him or saw him on TV. All of a sudden he was sitting there in front of us. I used to think that people who were in music were different. Then we got into the group and met them and they were just like me: pretty normal.”

After Neville comes to Australia, he heads back to the UK to join most of the original members of the band The Specials for a reunion tour that will take them from Glasgow to Birmingham. Unfortunately, artistic differences are keeping this from being a full-blown reunion of The Specials. Jerry Dammers, a key player in forming the band, will not be taking part in this realignment.

“We wanted to do it straight away and he just wanted to take his time with it,” Neville explains. “We just wanted to get out and play some songs now before it got too late. This way the young kids can see us together instead of hearing about us from other people; do you know what I mean? We don’t have time to wait.”

Neville Staple and The Special Beat play the East and West Coast Blues and Roots Festivals, as well as three sideshows.

Sun 12 April – Step Inn, Brisbane

Thurs 16 April – The Forum, Sydney

Friday 17 April – Prince Bandroom