Ska is a ‘staple’ - UK-based artiste collaborates with veteran producer to revive genre
For Dr Neville Staple and his wife Christine, ska is an enamoured tale. The two connected through the genre over 40 years ago when Christine was heavily involved in the promotion of musicians and invited the band he performed with to Hackney in East London for a show.
According to Christine, best known by the sobriquet ‘Sugary Staple’, she followed his journey for a while having established her career as a writer, producer and performer in film and music from her early teens.
“As a teenager he was my pin-up; I idolised Neville as a singer and would keep posters of him on my wall. That was from the 1970s. I loved his Jamaican style and I was in a 2-Tone band (2-Tone is a form of music that fuses British punk rock and pop with reggae and ska), so it wasn’t until 30 years later that we linked up,” Sugary Staple shared in a recent interview with The Sunday Gleaner.
She added, “His music was always about uniting and fighting for what’s right; I loved his message, but low and behold, the night of the show I ran away from him. He wanted me to hang out all night, but I was not that type of girl that hangs around pop stars (especially not one who was known widely as the ‘Original Rude Boy’).”
January 4 marked their seventh wedding anniversary and the musician-couple have together celebrated several milestones in their recording career, she said, travelling across Japan, Australia, Europe, Canada, Mexico and Hong Kong, among other destinations.
“In 2019 we celebrated 40 years of hit songs from the start of Neville’s career with The Specials to what we have created with our band From The Specials, including our own version of music which is called 2-Tone Ska because it mixes the traditional, more authentic sounds of the Jamaican genre.”
Staple himself is hailed as a legendary ska performer and musician who revived ska on more than one occasion with hits and albums that have changed the way people view the genre in the UK.
The genre, that evolved in the 1960s with a distinctive rhythm, is the soundtrack of his life, said Staple, who at the age of five went to England, and wasted no time in sharing his passion for ska with his peers in the place that would become his home. He became actively involved in the sound system scene and later became a roadie for one of the leading ska revivalist bands, The Specials when they were called The Coventry, founded by Jerry Dammers, who formed the independent label 2-Tone Records.
“Ska is where I grew up; it told an obvious story of what was happening around people and by 17 years old my knowledge of music spanned many other types of music. It’s just that ska is my specialty and I want to be able to come back home specifically to perform it,” Staple told The Sunday Gleaner.
The couple’s recent project, a collaboration with veteran producer and owner of Pickout Records Lloyd Dennis, a single titled Be Free Baby, is a cadenced ode to their relationship with each other and the genre of ska, which he said can be played freely in any setting.
“It is a song to lift you up, to bring people together and one that just promotes happiness,” the ska legend said. “It’s not a revival but I would love to reawaken the love for the genre in Jamaica and we believe Jamaicans will love it when they see us perform Be Free Baby there.”
Dennis said the song is “about to lift up the label”, adding that Pickout Records, founded in the late 1980s, was responsible for the hit collaboration Cover Me with Ninja Man and Tinga Stewart.
The veteran record producer said there is still a market for ska judging from the pre-release sales; 300 limited edition vinyl were sold off and the requests are still coming in, he said. It is currently available on iTunes.
“Ska gets big attention in the UK but in Jamaica people leave out ska, and that’s not good for a genre that was top in the 1950s and is the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. I want the single to be a reintroduction to the younger generation and I think they will listen to it because it’s a track that deals with love and good, peaceful vibes,” Dennis said.