Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
on 20 May 2009
If you've been lucky enough to get tickets to The Specials' reunion tour, or see Neville live with his own band, you'll understand what I mean when I say this autobiography is as energetic and entertaining as the man himself. However, it's emphatically not a book for musos! Although a large stretch of the story is devoted to The Specials, 2 Tone, and Neville, Lynval and Terry's subsequent foray into pop with Fun Boy Three, the emphasis is on touring, performing, the dynamics within the band, bad behaviour and conflict - not composition and recording studios. And given Neville isn't a musician, but a self-confessed entertainer (he starts out as one of the band's roadies) that's both forgivable and refreshing.
What you get instead is the other half of 2 Tone's musical heritage. Terry Hall's couldn't-give-a-f*ck post-punk stage presence and Jerry Dammers's art school musical perfectionism are given their dues, but really this is the story of the working class Jamaican kids who brought ska to the Midlands and, through 2 Tone, the world. The first few chapters of the book - Neville's early years in Jamaica, growing up in Rugby and Coventry, his abusive father, riots ands fights with skinheads, the sound system scene, burglary and borstal - read like the source material for films like Scum or This Is England. It's edgy, amoral and fast. However, when he meets the then Coventry Automatics the story soon becomes one of rock 'n' roll excess, infighting and, above all, a sheer love of performing. Then, unfortunately, the Eighties really get going and bubblegum pop becomes the order of the day.
The most striking thing that emerges from the book, however, is the difference in attitude between Neville, fellow roadies Rex Griffiths and Trevor Evans, and the rest of the band. Having grown up poor, black and occasionally criminal, Neville seems like he can't believe his luck - and he certainly doesn't believe it'll last. So, he takes everything he can get - money, girls, booze, drugs and cars - and lives the life of an unabashed rude boy. At times other band members, Jerry and Horace in particular, clearly disapprove - seemingly on political grounds. But whereas Nev's clearly with them on some things - there's a lot of wading into crowds and walloping skinheads and NF thugs - socialist self-denial isn't one of them. In a sense, if the book has an argument, it's that you can't have the ska without the rude boy.
Original Rude Boy is a rough, ready and thoroughly entertaining read - but, as the Britain of 2009 looks back on 2 Tone with nostalgic, rose-tinted specs, it's also a timely reminder of the politically charged, racist, sometimes criminal Britain from which that music literally had to fight its way out.