Biggest-ever international Ska festival comes to Islington this weekend

The Specials star Neville Staple speaks about returning to the stage after suffering a stroke mid performance

�Ska music has come a long way from its origins in 1950s Jamaica. From its progression into rocksteady and reggae, to the Two Tone revival 20 years later which saw the emergence of acts such as The Specials and Madness, the genre has morphed its way through each generation.

In a celebration of its diverse history, the third and biggest-ever London International Ska Festival, featuring 37 bands and DJs from 11 countries, will be held entirely in Islington for the first time, starting tonight at the O2 Academy in Parkfield Street – in the year that mark the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence.

It’s an event on a scale that Neville Staple of The Specials, who will perform at the event on Sunday, could have never imagined when his band was founded some 40 years ago.

He says: “When we started out, everyone thought we were a joke. Radio 1 wouldn’t play our stuff, it was only people like John Peel who used to play us. We only started getting airplay with Ghost Town, and then we supported The Clash.”

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The band went on to achieve huge success and reformed in 2008, and are now set to play at the London Olympics closing ceremony concert.

This is despite Neville, now 58, recently suffering a stroke. He says: “Halfway through a set in Copenhagen I had a stroke on stage, then in December I got pneumonia and had it again in January. I just got back from Australia with The Specials so I’m getting there, but you won’t see me jumping off speakers again.”

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He is looking forward to playing at the festival this weekend, the only platform of its kind in the world.

“It means a lot to me,” he says. “There are more younger bands playing ska these days, putting their own stamp on it.”

Festival organiser Sean Flowerdew, of Pama International fame, grew up on the music of The Specials. Having started his first ska band at the age of 14, he launched the London International Ska Festival as a 17-year-old in 1988.

His own music, which has more recently included Phoenix City All Stars – a band performing at the festival – then took over, but he re-launched the festival last year.

He says: “I’ve tried to show everything from original Jamaican veteran singers and the Two Tone guys to contemporary acts and DJs.”

It’s a line-up that includes Dandy Livingstone (of Rudy, A Message to You fame) playing his first show in 40 years; The Pioneers and Dawn Penn; Two Tone group The Selecter; contemporary acts The Dualers and Buster Shuffle and DJs including Specials founder Jerry Dammers.

Islington Metalworks and Islington Assembly Hall will also host events. Visit for more.

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