NEVILLE Staple seemed almost apologetic.
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“I’m not in the Specials any more,” he announced hesitantly towards the end of the show, although more attentive fans of the recently-revived ska operators would have known that already, “but that’s life, yeah? I’ve got this band now, so support us next year.”
The response from the crowd suggested they were sad to hear the news (a couple of loud boos rang out) but willing to give the Jamaica-born, Coventry-bred singer the benefit of the doubt as far as his own solo career goes.
In all honesty it was an entertaining set, with the consistent high tempo that Staple and his band set masking the fact it was quite sparsely attended. A venue a quarter of the size would have been heaving, but at least here everyone was on the dancefloor and making the best of it.
Despite only having one trombone player to recreate the horn-laden attack of his old band’s sound, Staple’s new sidemen played loud and fast, a capable complement to the pork pie-hatted, metallic grey-suited singer’s raw but soulful vocal.
The back alleys of the Specials’ sound were thoroughly explored in a little over an hour, including an upbeat It’s You, an energetic Do the Dog and the eternally atmospheric Gangsters, as well as diversions including a joyous Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).
Staple’s own observation that the closing Ghost Town was more relevant than ever “because everywhere is becoming a ghost town” served also to remind us that the fine music he’s been involved in during his career is always worth hearing, no matter who’s playing it.