Neville Staples


The Specials: “I still entertain, but I can’t jump off speakers anymore!”

Coventry legends The Specials sit right at the heart of their own music scene. Performing 2Tone – a kind of second wave ska punk that was a fierce force for anti-racism in the UK in the 80s, in particular – a core member was Neville Staples, a ‘toasting’ lyricist whose style was a kind of precursor to modern day rap.

Ska, though, is its own unique thing, a bouncy, brassy, boisterous party style of music that’s gone on to occasionally infiltrate the mainstream and provide plenty of the most fun-loving live evenings on offer. Neville Staples returns to Ireland as part of Forever Young festival next month, and we caught up with him ahead of his appearance.

“It’s going to be a party,” Staples says. “I’m there at festivals singing, and I’m going to give them what they want. It’s my legacy and it’s The Specials’ legacy. It’ll be played my own way, my band’s way, and the band know how it goes, and add a little bit to it live. When I play live, I don’t do the short versions. I won’t just do the three or four minute version of ‘Ghost Town’, for example, once the audience are getting into it, I’ll keep going a bit more. I’ll give ‘Monkey Man’ a little extra, too. People love that one.”

It’s been a slow return for Staples, who suffered through the pandemic and has physical injuries that make live performing a little more difficult.

“The pandemic really screwed everything up, but I spent time redoing stuff, re-recording, going to the studio, creating a new EP that’s coming out soon… I’ve been doing various projects,” he says. “We haven’t finished yet, we’re catching up if anything. I’ll tell you what, it didn’t half mess up a lot of people. We had 100 shows booked, so what we had to do was revisit all those shows, and then on top of those we had some more added on.”

One of the men at the heart of The Specials, Terry Hall, also passed away recently. “We’ve lost a few people, like Terry [Hall] recently, because I’d been working with him for quite a while, it’s a big loss,” Staples says. “It does affect you, these people are your friends, people you’ve been working with forever.”

Staples spent years in the US, and heavily influenced the growth of ska there, in particular the rockier end of the spectrum, before returning home to Coventry, where his local football team launched a shirt in the band’s honour.

“We had our own take on ska, mixing it up with punk,” he says. “The kids now have got their own idea of it, and it’s different. They’re carrying the 2Tone, ska flag. A few years ago I brought from England the energy, the punk and the ska to California and worked with bands like Rancid and No Doubt. They do it faster over there.” 

“I played The Specials’ ska music to them, and gave it their energy. It’s hard to explain, but the Americans had their own take on it, which was fine by me. Most of them hadn’t seen The Specials, except on YouTube. I lived there for 8 or 9 years, and I brought that English Jamaican punk feel to America. But I didn’t try to change them, either.” The experience ended up being just another part of what’s a growing legacy.

“I’ve got older,” Staples laughs. “I still entertain, but I can’t jump off speakers anymore. I don’t run about like I used to, but that’s fine, because my band gives it the energy. I still have energy too, don’t get me wrong. My knee has got better over the years as I’ve learnt how to manage it. But it’s not 100%.”