From The Specials; Neville Staple Band in Lockdown

Photos by John Coles
Artwork by Sugary Staple

If last year’s fortieth anniversary of Two-Tone Records saw an upsurge of interest in this homegrown second-generation ska, it shows no sign of flawing anytime soon. Perhaps you could attribute parallels to the social and political climate of our era, or debate intransigent devotees are reliving their youth, but I’d argue it’s simply an irresistible sound.

One thing our eighties counterparts didn’t have to contend with was the Covid19 pandemic, and musicians of every genre are reflecting on it. Ska is of no exception, we’ve seen many contemporary performers releasing new material on the subject, but here we have a legend doing his thing, topically.

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The Neville Staple Band releases this timely single, Lockdown. A dynamic modern-sounding reggae track, yet encompassing all the goodness of the Two-Tone era of yore. Understandable, original rude boy Neville Staple is conversant with this, a founder member and co-frontman of The Specials, Fun Boy Three and Special Beat. Those influences shine through here. There’s something very Fun Boy Three about this tune, with a slice of poetically-driven Linton Kwesi Johnson to its feel.

As true as the song suggests, in lockdown Dr Neville Staple has teamed up with wife Sugary Staple, to pump out this relevant single, commonly reflecting on the feeling of many concerning the virus and staying safe. “Sugary came up with the idea to write a song about the lockdown,” Neville explains, “which, at first, was a very fast-stomping ska track. We then realised that it was too fun and happy a tune for the theme. Most of us have been quite down about the whole virus thing, so we decided to take it on a more sweet but moody 2Tone reggae route, in a similar vein to ‘Ghost Town’, with some music we had worked on previously with Sledge [Steve Armstrong.]”

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While I detect echoes of Ghost Town, this tune also breathes originality and present-day freshness, confirming progression of the genre rather than a frequently supposed nostalgia. Being a local site, some may recall his visit to Melksham’s ParkFest last year, where an unfortunately damp evening didn’t stop the revelling, and Neville stole the show with an assortment of Two-Tone classics. I was backstage with the wonderful support band Train to Skaville. A chance meeting with Neville, when he popped out of his tent for pizza, humourlessly failed to engage long enough to explain who I was, and ended with him pointing at his pizza-box and saying “yeah, I’m going off to eat this.” I should’ve known better than to harass a legend when their pizza is chilling in drizzle! I nodded my approval, knowing I’d have done the same thing.

Neville was awarded an honorary doctorate from Arden University last year. With a tour, and so many international shows and festivals postponed, the couple decided to do a lot of extra charity work as well as new song writing. DJ recordings for people sick in hospitals or in isolation, personally dedicated to them, was just the start. Sugary and Neville wanted to highlight the work of Zoe’s Place, a charity run for terminally ill babies and toddlers. As ambassadors for this charity, Sugary expressed, “charities like these really do suffer at a time like this, as the focus is on other things. But the work they do at Zoe’s Place is like one of a kind and so very special. They step in when families really do need the support, providing 24-hour high quality, one-to-one palliative, respite and end-of-life care for children aged 0-5 years. A heart-breaking time for anyone involved. We must not lose a charity like this – it is too important and so we will be supporting this, along with other charities we are patrons or ambassadors to, with this single.” And the duo dedicates this song to all those who have been affected by Covid-19.

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Shared to our Boot Boy Radio DJs, you can expect we will be spinning in for the foreseeable future, but you can get it here:

7″ vinyl order https://bit.ly/2NeeoUA

Spotify https://open.spotify.com/album/1s2wuLNQ3q4wsvq7tOUfVh

iTunes https://music.apple.com/gb/album/lockdown-single/1515072018

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Lockdown/dp/B0894K4G1Q


SPECIAL NOTICE – FROM THE SPECIALS, NEVILLE STAPLE & SUGARY:

A MESSAGE TO YOU..! The Legendary Neville Staple (Dr), Sugary Staple & the Band, need your help please.

Can you wonderful people please donate just £3 towards this project (which will also get you 2 signed exclusives pics), or any random amount, or check out the mega exclusive vinyl 45 & CD gift set offers (these are going really well, and are extremely rare limited edition items, so grab them while you can). You just click this link and choose your reward, to then register your donation.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fromthespecials/lockdown-ska-2020-from-the-specials-neville-staple-and-sugary/   


If you like a bit of ska and reggae, catch me on www.bootboyradio.co.uk Fridays from 10pm GMT till midnight!

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Barb’d Wire and Corn Exchanging; Reggae Finds a Home at Devizes Arts Festival

Never content with what contemporary music thrust down our throats, even as a youngster, the easiest and sneakiest place to hunt for origins was Dad’s record collection. It would be years before he discovered the shortfall of vinyl and confronted me. Sixties Merseybeat and blues-pop standard, I recall the intriguing moment I unearthed a shabby cover of a girl’s naked torso, “Tighten Up Vol 2” was inscribed on her abdomen in lipstick. So, when he did, I inquired why he bought this, Trojan Record. More concerned where his Pink Floyd gatefold had vanished to, he half-heartedly explained, “it was something different,” as if he didn’t wish to divulge too much, “and cheap.”

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The estate of Bob Marley is still argued over, he never understood how to handle the royalties of rock star. Other than a BMW he had no extravagance, the house on Hope Road a gift from Blackwell, in which he lobbed a single mattress in the corner of a bedroom. What you see of the Jamaican music industry in the movie, “The Harder they Come,” is staunchly realistic; peanuts a too expensive commodity to compare to payments made to singers and musicians.

Poor wages triggered a prolific industry, hundreds of hopefuls jammed Orange Street awaiting to be ripped off. Trojan Records was founded the year after Bluebeat dissolved, 1968. The reasoning both English labels sourced Jamaican music was originally to supply the Windrush generation with the sounds of home, it is doubtful either realised the legacy they would leave. The underpaid nobodies singing on these records meant Bluebeat and Trojan could lower the price tag when compared to what upstarts like Bowie or Clapton would require, and price was everything for white British kids attempting to amass vinyl for house parties; as my father summed up.

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Though the attraction may’ve been the price, the enticement of these records came when the needle hit the groove; these rhythms were insatiably beguiling and exotic. I felt that ambiance too, and fell head over heels. But my palette had been preconditioned without comprehending it. Slightly too young to have immersed in the youth cultures of the late seventies, the sound bequest our pop charts.

Whether it was Blondie or the Police, or Madness, The Beat, or Piranhas, the charts of pre electronica eighties was inspired by the two youth cultures of punk and skinhead, and until the day I discovered a Bluebeat 7” of Prince Buster’s Madness, exposing Suggs and his Nutty Boy’s embodiment, I had no idea. Jerry Dammers’ Two Tone Records only had six years, an insecure contract with a get-out clause after one single, saw the acts achieve acclaim and jump ship.

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But if we celebrated Trojan’s fiftieth last year, we must do the same for Two-Tone’s fortieth, as it engraved its hometown, Coventry, as firmly on the ska map as Kingston. Within its short run Two Tone defined an era and reintroduced the roots of the dub reggae scene that punk spurred to white British youth; ska. The nonchalant rudimentary street-styled design of Two-Tone’s corporate identity is today considered standard ska practise; Dave Storey’s chequered monochrome background with Walt Jabsco, a character based upon a Peter Tosh image.

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It may have challenged punk with chicness akin to mod, but today, these subcultures are inconsequential, we can bundle it all into one retrospective burlesque, select whatever element of any of them and fuse them without pretence or offense; one reason why a group like Barb’d Wire is fresh and electrifying.

Though hailing from Two Tone’s home, Coventry, drummer and vocalist, Trevor Evans, a.k.a. ET Rockers, having begun his sparkling career as roadie turned DJ for The Specials, and with a brass section arrangement by Jon Pudge, ska is only an element of Barb’d Wire’s sound. Guitarist Ryan Every, Fingers Aitken on bass, and Mark Bigz Smith commanding the keys, blend influences as far and wide as punk to orchestral and blues into a melting pot of reggae. Fronted by the spiralling, gospel-inspired vocals of Cherelle Harding, their unique sound drives a heavy dub bassline, while not divulging on its preconditioned instrumental ethos. What we’re left with is a genuinely contemporary reggae lattice landing the group as firm favourites on the dynamic Coventry scene and festival circuit such as Skamouth.

 

While tracks like Duppy Town and Et Rockers Up Town, on their 2017 debut album, Time Has Come, rely on dub, a stepper’s riddim thrives throughout, but incorporates aforementioned influences. The only recognisable cover, for example, is the classic Latino-inspired Rockfort Rock of which the Skatalites perfected a ska-rhumba amalgamation. Produced by Roger Lomas, who also handles Bad Manners and The Selecter, again, Barb’d Wire pride themselves with Two-Tone influences, yet unlike the standard ska cover band you’re likely to get on our local scene, who all have their place in maintaining a clandestine but welcomed scene here, Barb’d Wire will be a fresh and welcomed gig, when they arrive at Devizes Corn Exchange on Saturday 1st June as a feature of Devizes Arts Festival.

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For me, and any reggae/ska/soul aficionado, this is simply unmissable, but for the Arts Festival it may be a risky move, breaking their typical booking in search for newer audiences. While organ recitals, poetry slams and theatre noir have their place, we owe it to ourselves to support this event in hope it will spur future events at the festival of an alternative and contemporary genre. That is why you’ll see our Devizine logo proudly on the posters for this particular appearance, as though we plan to bring you more in-depth previews and reviews of this year’s stunning line-up, I’m most excited about this one!

 

Saturday 1st June: Tickets available now, £18

 

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