A respectable sized crowd fills the Lemon Tree this evening, comprising mostly of ska aficionados, balding heads and Fred Perrys. They’ve all turned out to see the legendary, original rude boy – Neville Staple, the Jamaican-born, English-raised singer of The Specials, Fun Boy Three, and since 2012, The Neville Staple Band.
Staple complains a bit about the distance he’s travelled, but the crowd don’t care and are obviously chuffed he made the seven hour (one way) journey, lovingly chanting “rude boy” in between songs. He also confesses his memory is so shot he can’t actually remember the last time he came this far north.
The almost two hour set is a kind of ska jukebox, featuring Jamaican classics and of course, hit after hit from The Specials back catalogue. They’re obvious crowd pleasers, good for a boogie, and the die-hard fans dutifully sing every word. Monkey Man, A Message to You Rudy, Do the Dog, Gangsters, Do Nothing – no-one in the audience would mind if he played them all night long.
It must be a little daunting following such legendary classics with new material, but Staple has no qualms and lobs into the mix songs from his 2014 release Ska Crazy!, which are actually incredibly solid tunes. The re-hashed version of Farmyard Connection is the best of the bunch, and suits his current style and tone of voice best – whereas he seems to struggle a bit to replicate Terry Hall’s uniquely monotonous and melancholic charm on the Specials numbers, providing a suspect version of Ghost Town.
The crowd barrier in front of the band seem a little excessive for the venue, although it does keep Staple separated from a woman who insists on standing in the middle of the front row recording every move he makes on her gigantic iPad.
Pushing 65 and suffering bad knees, Staple asks the crowd to dance and jump around instead of himself. This makes a change from the last time I saw him in 2012 – when he was bouncing about alongside Terry Hall and the rest of the Specials. When so much has been taken from us musically in the last six months, it’s a real treat to see a man of Staple’s vintage still doing what he does best. The original rude boy is even humble enough to stick around and meet with the audience after the show.