Neville Staple chats with Kevin Cooper about his dodgy knees, his unhappy time with The Specials, the late Rico Rodriguez, and how his good friend Jerry Dammers stopped him from being a bad boy.

Neville Eugenton Staple is a Jamaican born English singer for the two-tone Ska band, The Specials. He has also sung with Ranking Roger in Special Beat. When The Specials split up, Neville departed with Terry Hall and Lynval Golding, to form Fun Boy Three. They had a string of chart hits, some in collaboration with the all-female trio Bananarama.

In April 2009, Neville Staple set out on a reunion tour with The Specials. The same month also saw the launch of his biography Original Rude Boy. The book covers Neville’s involvement with the 1970’s sound system scene and his childhood in Jamaica. It documents how a chance encounter with Jerry Dammers and The Specials led to his involvement in the band and also Fun Boy Three. He finally left The Specials in 2012 due to health concerns.

Now fronting his own band, The Neville Staple Band, he is coming to Nottingham to deliver a special Rude Boy gig. Whilst rehearsing he had a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Neville how are you today?

I’m very well Kevin, thanks for asking.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

It’s no problem Kevin.

And I have to say that you are looking better than ever.

To be honest with you Kevin everywhere I go people are always telling me that I look good and some even say that I am looking younger (laughter). I’m sixty years old now so thanks for that Kevin although I have to tell you that my knees are not in a very good condition after years of jumping off speakers on stage (laughter). But as you have noticed I don’t let that stop me from performing.

So apart from the dodgy knees, how is life treating you?

I can’t complain. I have got a good wife, and I am currently working on her new album. I have got a new album coming out as well so I am quite busy and health wise, as I have said, it’s just my knees which are no longer working as well as they should (laughter). But apart from that Kevin I’m ok mate.

Have the Doctors offered you replacement knees?

Yes they have Kevin but I’m not going to do that. As long as I can stand on stage and wiggle about whilst the crowd do the dancing for me, that’s fine by me.

A few years ago now you were involved in a much publicised serious car accident. Have you fully recovered from that?

To be honest with you Kevin since the accident I sometimes have the odd epileptic fit, but I control it pretty well with medication. That’s why Christine comes out on tour with me. But as soon as I could be I was back on my feet.

So are you in a happy place at this moment in time?

I’ve got to be honest with you and say yes, I’m good. I’m married to Christine who is a great lady but I don’t want to big her up too much Kevin (hysterical laughter). So yes I’m in a good place at the minute and I can’t complain.

Talking about Christine for a moment, does she look after you when you are out on the road and is she the boss?

(Laughter) no Kevin. She comes out on tour with me just in case my knees give way and I need to hold onto somebody (laughter). Being serious she makes sure that I don’t get too exhausted and keeps an eye on me to make sure that I take my medication. You need a good woman, even if you are a Rude Boy (laughter).

You are playing here in Nottingham at The Maze once again on Friday 20th November. Are you looking forward to the gig?

Yes I am Kevin. I have played The Maze before and I had a great time there. I always enjoy playing up there in Nottingham. It’s a great city.

What can we expect from the gig?

Let me tell you, it’s fun music, and I really do enjoy playing some of the new stuff. However if I don’t play any of the old stuff I would get lynched (laughter). So to try to please the audience I mix it up Kevin. They always want to hear the classics, so even when I am playing festivals, all they want to hear are the classics. So I try to create a party atmosphere; performing songs that they will remember, together with some of the Ska music that I like.

Does it frustrate you knowing that the majority of the audience are only there to hear you sing three songs?

(Laughter) no Kevin not at all, I really don’t mind just so long as they like the other songs too and not just those three (laughter). I will always do Monkey Man because that is one of my personal favourites. So everywhere you go; every gig that you play, people want to hear Monkey Man and for example A Message To You, Rudy. I always mix things up and play songs off my new album Ska Crazy as well.

You mention the last album Ska Crazy, were you happy with just how well it was received?

Yes I was Kevin, however the next album that I am currently working on will be more Reggae than Ska (laughter). You will notice that it is different from how the first album was done. I am very happy with it.

Do you have a release date in mind for the new album?

No Kevin not yet because I don’t want to rush things. I’ve got two more tracks left to finish on it, so we will see how they go. But the one thing which is definite is that I won’t be rushing it Kevin.

On the subject of A Message To You, Rudy didn’t you recently get to perform this with the writer and original recording artist Dandy Livingstone?

That’s right Kevin I did. I went on stage with Dandy at a recent Skamouth Weekender. I have to tell you it was fantastic to be on stage with the man. It was such a brilliant feeling and it was very special.

Are the audiences here in Nottingham good to you?

Well I’m not being big headed in anyway Kevin but……(laughter) they all come just to enjoy themselves. They know that they are going to get a good show, and I just love to perform live on stage. The audiences in Nottingham just seem to be able to make the whole evening much easier for me. You will see that I am always smiling on stage because I enjoy it so much. I really do enjoy it Kevin.

And I assume that the day that you don’t enjoy it will be the day that you will walk away from the music business.

You are so right Kevin, and that is the reason why I left the other band. It was becoming a chore and all of the enjoyment had gone out of it for me. It was the same songs being performed in exactly the same way night after night after night. At least when I perform Gangsters, Ghost Town and A Message To You Rudy they are all done differently. When the crowd are into it you just don’t stop. You just let them sing and you do it differently Kevin. You feed off the vibe that you are getting from the audience. It is just like a party feeling and everyone has a great time.

In 2010 you published your book; Original Rude Boy: From Borstal to the Specials: A Life of Crime and Music, for which Pete Waterman wrote the foreword. What is your relationship like with Pete?

Pete is a great friend of mine. Pete is from Coventry and I used to go to his record shop which was underneath Virgin Records (laughter). Pete also used to DJ at The Lacorno in Coventry so I got to know him through The Lacorno and his record shop. He used to run a dance competition at the Lacorno and I won the boys competition. Pete took me to a dance contest in London; that’s how close we were. Even now whenever I see him, Pete still speaks and he just calls me Neville. He’s not Pete Waterman, he’s just Pete. He’s a really good friend Kevin and we go back quite a while.

You have recently played at the Glastonbury Festival. How was that?

It was fantastic. It was so good that we are trying to get back there on one of the bigger stages. In fact we have been mentioned for the Main Stage next year so let’s keep our fingers crossed and see what happens. If I could play the Main Stage at Glastonbury with my own band then that would be fantastic Kevin. I just love the whole feeling of Glastonbury; I love the atmosphere. It’s a good feeling knowing that you are playing to people who don’t know the music and that they may just go out and buy some of your previous work.

Is it daunting playing in front of tens of thousands of people?

Nah (laughter) you simply get used to it. It is what I do, I am an entertainer Kevin.

I can’t speak to you without talking about your time in The Specials. Is that ok?

Right thanks Kevin, it’s been good talking to you. Bye (laughter). Go on, ask away (laughter).

You were a part of The Specials for a very long time. Were they good times?

To be honest Kevin, the first time was. After that I thought that the second time would have been but I am going to tell you the truth, my biggest regret was re-joining the band without Jerry (Dammers). Jerry should have been there with us and me re-joining the band is probably the biggest mistake of my life.

I get the feeling that you and Jerry are very close?

To be honest with you it was Jerry who got me out of trouble because I would have been a really bad boy, not a rude boy. It was Jerry who saw what was in me; bought it out of me and got me in the band. But the rest of the band didn’t want him in the band and I just don’t know what I was thinking at the time Kevin. A big, big mistake on my part.

So am I to take it that it was an easy decision to make to leave The Specials?

It was probably the easiest decision that I have ever made. By the time I left the band there were two camps and if you weren’t in that camp then you must be in the other camp. The whole experience left me feeling really uncomfortable. We were playing a gig in Copenhagen and I had an epileptic fit because of the flashing lights so I walked off the stage and I passed out. Trevor, my friend who is a roadie and Lynval (Golding) were helping me while the others simply walked over me. So when that happened I thought ok this is no longer a friendly band. I thought fuck this, I’m leaving.

I have to say that I saw the first reunion tour that The Specials did and that was fine. However, this year I photographed them at The Splendour Festival here in Nottingham and (in my opinion) there was simply no enthusiasm.

That is what I am telling you Kevin. There you go. It was a case of give us the cheque and let us go through the motions. You have hit it on the head man (laughter). It is now all just about money, money, money Kevin. I tell you what, I am broke as fucking hell now but it is not all about the money, I just enjoy what I am doing. I would never have just stayed in there for the sake of earning some money. My health, my sanity, and having good people around me was more important. So I don’t mind talking about The Specials but when I do I just say it as it is.

So am I to take it that you don’t all get together for a beer or a round of golf?

(Laughter) no Kevin but we never used to anyway. Back in the day Jerry (Dammers) used to talk to me and Trevor the roadie together with Rico (Rodriguez). We all used to keep ourselves to ourselves.

I understand that it was not a nice time when Rico Rodriguez recently passed away. Is that true?

Before Rico died he asked for me and Christine to go and see him; it was the day before he died. We drove down to see him the next day because he kept asking to see us because he knew that he was dying. When we got to him he was alive for roughly an hour and then he passed. With him at the time were me, Christine, his daughters and his friend, Rasta Larry. Rico passed away on Friday 4th September at 4.00pm. All of the reports have got it wrong saying that he died on Thursday 3rd, but they got it wrong Kevin. It was so disappointing at Rico’s funeral as only me and Jerry turned up; none of the others could be bothered to go.

So you are not too impressed with The Specials?

Every time that I see them Kevin the lead singer is just standing there looking like he just wants the gig to finish so that he can get himself off home (laughter).

They didn’t even get suited and booted. It’s just as though they can’t be bothered anymore.

That is very true Kevin. But if you come along and see The Neville Staple Band we are always suited and booted, looking nice on stage and presentable. I like to walk out onto the stage and make an impact. That’s the difference Kevin.

Going back to The Specials reunion, why wasn’t Rico invited along?

Exactly the same thing as Jerry, the rest of the band didn’t want Rico to be involved. They showed their true colours when none of them came to the funeral. None of them helped Rico out. Me and Christine were helping him as best we could and Jerry was helping him out in London but none of the others lifted a finger to help. They simply didn’t want to know which is what really pissed me of with them. They just didn’t want to know the guy despite him playing on a number of their hits. They are probably pissed off with me saying it Kevin but I don’t give a shit. They didn’t want to know the guy when he lay on his dying bed.

Jerry told me that he was glad that I was there to represent The Specials and that he was glad that the others didn’t turn up. When Rico died Jerry was on the phone speaking to Christine because he was feeling it hard just as I was. I was bawling like a baby because me and Rico got along great.

Musically the man is a legend.

Yes he is Kevin but the others just didn’t give a shit. They are busy being up there being boring, making money, so that’s alright. It was really disgusting. I don’t give a shit if they know what I’m saying because they can’t trouble me because it’s the truth. Jerry doesn’t have anything to do with any of the others, he just talks to me and Christine. We go out for meals together and we get along fine.

Moving on, in 2004 you formed The Neville Staple Band. What did you hope to achieve?

Before that Kevin we were touring the USA as Neville Staple And The Hitmen for about eight years. We got to tour with some of the big names over there including Gwen Stefani before she moved onto The X Factor (laughter). In fact Gwen supported my band on tour; how amazing is that (laughter). I wanted to show them what we were all about and how we played the music because at the time over in the USA they played Ska very fast. So because I was young I was just going with it. The band would tell me to slow things down but I would just say no, keep it fast, the crowd fucking love it (laughter).

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s easy to be honest with you Kevin. Just being on stage is a fantastic feeling for me; knowing that I am entertaining people. There is nothing more that I can add to that. As I said earlier it has kept me out of trouble.

Who do you listen to now, do any of the new acts excite you?

As you would expect Kevin I listen to a lot of Reggae and Ska. I am currently listening to a lot of music by The Skatalites because Rico get me into their work. I am also trying to catch up with Dandy Livingstone and his back-catalogue.

What do you do to relax?

I usually spend time at home working in the studio Kevin. What I have found is that because of the accident I now find it harder to come up with lyrics than I used to, so if I am struggling the missus helps me (laughter). So I will spend time working on lyrics. Also at the minute I am mixing my new album so that’s what I get up to if I have any free time.

Where will you be spending Christmas this year?

On the 23rd December we are flying off to Jamaica and we will be coming back at the end of January. Then that seems like a good time for me to release the new album.

What was the first record that you bought?

That’s easy Kevin (laughter). It was My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small because that is what I was listening to at the time.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That would have been Desmond Dekker And The Aces at The Police Ballroom in Coventry. All of the Reggae stars used to play there Kevin, they were great times.

Going back to that other group that you were in, do you have a favourite Specials song?

I have two Kevin, Monkey Man and Message To You, Rudy. I just love Monkey Man, I always have and Message because it was written and recorded by Dandy Livingstone. Also I love it because it was the first Specials track that Rico played on.

And after the tour and the launch of the new album, what next for Neville Staple?

I want to carry on letting people know what I do Kevin. Let me just say that when you come to the gigs just relax and enjoy yourselves. You are there to have a fun time and I will promise you that you won’t see me standing there looking as though I am bored (laughter) waiting for the cheque’s to arrive (laughter).

And I am sure that you will be suited and booted won’t you?

We always are Kevin, we always are (laughter).

On that note Neville let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure.

No problem Kevin, any time ok. Come and say hello when we get to Nottingham.