Neville Staple is back with the release of a double LP called ‘Return Of Judge Roughneck’ after his latest work ‘Ska Crazy!’ (Cleopatra Records, 2014). He is the Original Rude Boy while at the same time he can be a not so common Judge. In both cases he is a music man who enjoys the singing/toasting and dancing after 40 years of musical appearance, from the early days of The Coventry Automatics till today. So, let’s take a taste…
Hello Neville and welcome to Last Day Deaf! I want also to welcome the ‘Return Of Judge Roughneck’ (released on 17th Feb by Cleopatra Records). So let me ask you this…Who is ‘Judge Roughneck’ and what cases will he be judging (hahaha..)? What should we expect with his comeback?
I always had fun performing as Judge Roughneck back in the early days, so it made sense to bring him back. On my social media many fans have still called me Judge Roughneck too and as this album was a personal tribute to Prince Buster, even before he sadly passed away. I wanted to pay homage to his music too, hence the lead track being a version of ‘Alcapone’, while also bringing back some of the fun elements of the 2Tone days. Judge Roughneck can tell it like it is and has no scruples, which is what we need in the current political climate. He’s fun too.
Now let’s travel back in time. Could you please refresh our memories about your musical career until today (bands, collaborations etc.)? What was the impulse or influences that made you get involved with music? What are the most significant moments you’ve experienced so far in this music journey?
My first involvement with The Specials was when they were still called The Coventry Automatics. I became good friends with Jerry Dammers at our local youth club in Coventry, where I used to rehearse my toasting and Deejaying skills, for my Jah Baddis Sound System and I initially joined as a roadie. This was before Terry Hall and John Bradbury joined the band. Then at a gig supporting The Clash, Jerry was so impressed with my toasting from the mixer desk that he called me on to the stage to perform and I never looked back.
After The Specials, Fun Boy Three and Special Beat years, I continued with my solo career right up until the present years. However, I have also worked with the likes of No Doubt, Save Ferris, Rancid and other up and coming bands, before they made it big. I have done various collaborations with some of these and many others over the years and also with Amy Winehouse, who was amazing and also love the 2Tone Ska.
You’ve been in the music business over 30 years but you still sound fresh, full of energy, and always in a dancing mood. How easy is this and what is the motivation for an Original Rude Boy like you to keep the beat going all these years?
The fans. Definitely the fans. The love they show me gives me adrenaline and ambition. I think no matter what you do in music you have to remember those who helped put you there and I love the music. How great is it to have a job that involves doing stuff that you love. The encouragement I get from my wife also keeps me going. She manages me and my band and performs too. Having a wife and soul mate that embraces what you do, if just the best thing ever!
Ska is a mixture of Caribbean rhythms, calypso, jazz and rhythm & blues. It brings you joy and makes you wanna dance instantly from the first note. However, at the same time, it can be revolutionary and a means to protest social and political injustice. How do you explain that and what does Ska music means for you?
Exactly the same as you just did! Hehe! It was all about living through the crap of a dodgy Government system. We weren’t ready to back down. We were ready to fight. We united. The Specials – we gave you black and white, we gave you politics, social injustices. We gave you style. And a subculture of music that the kids today would never understand, or are only just tuning into. For me it’s about dancing and stomping, while sounding off the system.
The ‘Return Of Judge Roughneck’ is your second album released by Cleopatra Records after the first one ‘Ska Crazy!’ (2014). Can you tell us a little about this collaboration? In general, what do you think about record companies nowadays and I mean how much ‘‘creative freedom’’ do you have since we live in a world where everything is or it tends to be commercialized?
To be honest Cleopatra Records are great guys and I have known them from the mid 1990’s when I lived out in the US and was touring up and down the country, whilst living in Long Beach. So I guess for me it was about sticking with who you know and trust, as I have been stung a lot over the years. My wife helped with everything from getting the right photos done by one of the brilliant original 2Tone photographers, John Coles, to getting a video into production, helping create the iconic record sleeve, looking at registrations and lots more stuff. These guys are great for letting you have some freedom to create the ideas. They also appreciate that we may know what our fans want in lots of different ways.
You have been playing music and singing over 30 years with so many musicians/bands (like The Coventry Automatics, The Specials, Fun Boy Three, Ranking Roger/Special Beat). What have you gained from all these years of music activity (…and I don’t mean money hahaha…)? Would you follow the same steps if you were beginning your music career today (even if today’s reality is different)?
It’s actually around 40 years that I have played or sung (and I have played instruments for a while too, such as drums, bongos, trumpet and piano/keys). Musically I probably would follow similar steps today; however, I think I’d be a lot more careful of documents I signed, music and writing rights I gave away for peanuts, who I linked up with along the way. I would have found my beautiful and clever wife, Christine Sugary Staple, much earlier on too. Everything else is a ride and you learn from it all anyway, so you can’t really dwell on changing time. That’s your life you have lived and I really did live it and still do!! Hehe.
Each musician has a specific way of composing music or finding appropriate lyrics. What is yours? From where do you get your inspiration for music or lyrics and how does your process in the studio work? Which is your most favorite work to date?
I enjoy most of my work and have too many favourite pieces to pick just one. On my new album I have a special fondness for ‘Lunatics’. ‘Down My Street’ is also very much about me and my musical freedom, so that’s kind of special too. When I work on songs, be it with my wife, on my own or with someone else, I have a more immediate approach to the sounds and the lyrics. I tend to write it in my head there and then and the lyrics just come out instantly, so sometimes my wife records my random singing so she doesn’t miss it if I forget something really good I’ve just sung. I guess it comes from my toasting days, where you have to make things up instantly to please the crowd. We are currently producing a new joint album we have done together, with lots of new materials and a mix of ska songs, punk, rocksteady and reggae.
You are a forerunner of the ska movement. Is this something that gives you joy or pressure? What do you think about new bands – have any caught your attention? Can you give some advice to young people wanting to play ska or any other type of music?
This definitely gives me great joy. I love working with the younger bands and artists too and always have. There is some great talent out there but things are much harder for genuine live music artists and excellent recording artists to break out successfully nowadays. Best advice I would give is to be yourself always, register your work properly, read and check anything you sign and get out on the road. Obviously create a good online presence too.
In 2009, your autobiography ‘‘The Original Rude Boy’’ was published in the UK by Aurum Press. What motivated you to do write this?
So many people over the years loved my background, loved my story and kept telling me to write a book. Then my good friend Tony McMahon got on board and helped me get it underway. Trevor Evans, my best friends since childhood also helped me remember some of the things I had forgotten. I guess I am one of the success stories from being a bit of a bad ass and getting into trouble, going to DC and borstal etc, to being, as you guys put it, a forerunner of the ska movement and performing all over the World, so my main motivation was to show other kids like me that they still had a chance to do good things with their life. I’ve had a lot of interest in doing my life as a film too and may agree a deal soon too. I have also thought about doing another follow up book too, so I can fill in the gaps.
We live in a world where everything moves and changes quickly. Although the development of technology has simplified our daily life, we realize that human relationships tend to be more impersonal… Does this affect your work? Do you think that ska music or any kind of music can bring us together and be more human instead of materialists?
I like to think that it does but to be honest I think the World is quite a greedy place and music is no exception. If the fans support the live music scene, then we stand a chance of sharing messages of unity and a sense of fun. Music should be mostly fun.
I know that you are a busy man since you are touring all around the UK in late winter and spring in support of ‘Return Of Judge Roughneck’. How does it feel when you’re on the stage and try to bring your message to the audience?
I still love the live shows. The fans are very important to me, so putting on a great gig is part of what I give back to them. I still tour all over and will be doing shows in the US, Europe and Hong Kong this year. Last year I did European Countries and Australia. I love touring and I love that the fans enjoy all the classic hits, as well as the other songs I perform. Seeing the fans stomp, jump, sing a long and enjoy themselves is what it’s all about.
Photo credits: John Coles