Neville Staple – Melkweg, Amsterdam – 22/12/2004

"We’d all come along for a bit of a dance and even I, with my dicky knee, was having a hobble."




"We’d all come along for a bit of a dance and even I, with my dicky knee, was having a hobble."




In the last month or so I’ve been lucky enough to have seen 2 of the greats of Jamaican music in The Skatalites and Lee Scratch Perry. The main reason for my interest in Ska and Reggae was the British Ska explosion in 1979 and the long line of fantastic records brought out predominately on the legendary 2-Tone label.


I would save all my pocket money ad visit the small independent record shop, and sometimes even Woolworth’s to buy Madness, The Beat, The Selecter and of course The Specials. I played those records grey. To this day my poor Mother can still be found hanging out the washing singing Blank Expression, and our 40 year old tortoise can occasionally be cajoled in to a surprisingly sprightly ‘Nutty Dance’.


Having thought about this on the way up to the gig, I realised that I didn’t really know what sort of music I was going to hear tonight. Rat Scabies on drums – they might be doing Damned covers, they could be a sultry, lounge-jazz combo………….perhaps not.


My fears are allayed by the black and white checkered patterns adorning the posters and the smooth and soulful ska sounds the DJ pumps out; and he gets an extended set as we wait for a few more people to show. Even with the balcony shut the Oude Zaal is not yet even half-full.


While I was waiting I took to admiring the work of the unsung hero of Ska – The ‘Chicka  Man’. Although not omnipresent, it has been clinically proven that he appears on at least 63% of all ska records ever produced. I discussed this with Damian a month or two ago, and we agreed that it must be one of the finest jobs in the world. I desperately hope that each studio has it’s own ‘Chicka Man’ whose sole responsibility is vocal maraca noises, and if anyone knows of any vacancies, I hereby apply.


And then we waited some more. Old Nev has become a bit tardy in his old age, but with Christmas just hours away, he’s competing with every ‘piss-up in the name of the Baby Jesus’ this side of the North Pole. Over an hour after the scheduled kick-off time, I am informed of the bass-players arrival by the combined spray of 4 tins of Heineken dribbling down my right cheek. Quite how he managed to simultaneously open 4 tinnies, I don’t know. I can only manage 3.


With barely a hello, they erupt in to Concrete Jungle and follow it up with Man at C&A. The tone for the evening is set and it’s 2-Tone. Half-way through Simmer Down I’m looking at Rat Scabies thinking "Old Rat has lost his rattish good looks". In fact I’m thinking  "Bloody hell Rat, you’ve let yourself go a bit mate, I don’t mean to be rude but blokes your size don’t tend to get called Rat. They get called Buffalo, Hippo or maybe even Gnu if the lighting is poor, but definitely not Rat". But of course I only thought that; I wouldn’t say it for fear of being beaten up by the enormous, hard-looking geezer playing the drums, and his enormous, hard-looking chums.


There’s something fishy going on, someone’s telling porkies, but I don’t really care, they smoulder and then crackle through Too Hot and then a beefy Little Bitch. We’d all come along for a bit of a dance and even I, with my dicky knee, was having a hobble; but the extra space afforded by the lack of punters meant that the guys that had come along for a good, violent, push and shove, pogo, didn’t really have anyone to bounce off. They were forced into actually dancing, or more accurately thrusting their limbs around with scant regard for the basic principles of rhythm, which has always been my preferred method.


Around this time I realise that Nev’s plugging the new CD to death, whilst playing virtually nothing from it. He promises to come and sign our new CD’s for us, in fact he says he’ll sign anything. I lean against the stage, my legs are giving way. It’s a relentless onslaught of hard-edged, sweaty, ska, and every one’s a peach. A Message To You Rudy, Monkey Man the classics keep coming and the band is good and tight and bouncing.


Eventually a mystery is solved and "special guest" Rat Scabies is introduced, and on he wanders looking for all the world like the guitarist out of Crème Brulee. He takes the place of the lovely, enormous drummer and drums proficiently. It’s a bit odd having a drummer as a special guest. The big lad was fine, and Rat’s fine too but I’m not convinced that he’s doing anything the other bloke couldn’t do.


What they do manage, is Pick it Up a song off the new album which is decent enough despite being punctuated by another plug for the album. I think it’s possibly a bit of a weight around Neville’s neck that the Specials tracks are always going to get a better reception than his newer songs. He overdoes the "buy the album" pleas but is almost apologetic about playing any new tracks and when he says "I’ll do my own songs, but if you buy the CD I’ll do Specials songs" it makes it sound like we can have ice-cream and custard as long as we eat our sprouts.


Ice-cream and custard it is then. Gangsters, Guns of Navarone, and a fantastic sing-along Enjoy Yourself. Rat has gone again by now and they finish the gig as they started it, with non-stop, classic hits and a fat drummer. Ghost Town is one of my all time favourites and I can’t wipe the smile off my face. The encores keep the good times rolling, Nite Klub and Too Much Too Young are truly electric, finishing up with Rat Race which leaves us all sweating and knackered after a fantastic show, and that’s how it should be.


I waited around afterwards to see if I could get my arse signed, but my tram deadline came before Neville did. I’d also wanted to put my arm around his shoulder and say "Don’t worry Nev, have faith in your own work. All this desperation and self-deprecation isn’t necessary". But he’d quite rightly just tell me to fuck off and send the drummer over to beat me up.



Words : MONO