“Can I take you to a restaurant that’s got glass tables, you can watch yourself while you are eating.” Actually, yes, I’d love to be in a restaurant again. who knew these words would be so propetic in 2020.
Besides hanging out with friends over dinner, the itch to see live shows is a major thing right now. I know our 2021 calendar is getting full in expectation of events happening again, but I’m asking you to add another show to it because Dave Wakeling is ready to rock the US again with English Beat.
Truth is, if you loved underground music back in the late 70s and early 80s, you might be familiar with a documentary titled Dance Craze. It was the story of TwoTone (aka Mod-Ska)!
If you were near a radio or MTV in the early ‘80s, you already know one of those Dance Craze bands, English Beat. Their mix of ska, punk pop, reggae, Latin, soul, and pop established them as originators of the “TwoTone genre,” you know…. punk, new wave with ska. This mix of new guard and old guard brought on what was known as the Second wave of ska.
Created in 1978 as The beat in England, the band featured Dave Wakeling (vocals/ guitar), “Ranking Roger” Charlery (vocals/Toaster), Andy Cox (guitar), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums), and “Saxa” Lionel Augustus Martin (saxophone).
The beat took whatever gigs they could. With their punk and reggae songs, it was a bit of back and forth with styles, but then they had the brilliant idea to merge the two and started trying out new songs.
It was those infectious smiles, cutting-edge lyrics and that soulful music that made the beat so special.
When the band set sail to conquer America, they had to change their name. Turns out Paul Collins had the name rights in America to The Beat, which gave birth to their final incarnation as the English Beat.
In 2012, Wakeling told AV Club, “Sometimes the punk songs went down great and the reggae didn’t; sometimes the reggae songs went great and the punk ones didn’t. But every single night, “Tears of a Clown” took the roof off the place.”
SKA SKA SKA
“If it wasn’t for the English Beat and Dave in particular, who knows where ska would be today. After the Third wave of ska ended, the genre went into hibernation mode. There were a handful of those legends that kept the genre alive all these years, Wakeling was a big part of why it’s still here and thriving.”
JIMMY ALVAREZ | TNN RADIO
Circling back to their early days, their cover of the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles song got them attention at shows and on the charts.
“Tears of a Clown” became a big enough hit to score them a spot-on Top of the Pops before they had even released an album.
Following up on the success of that single, was their first studio album, “I Just Can’t Stop It.”
The 1980 debut included another uber-hit that would be wildly successful, “Mirror in the Bathroom.”
While getting ready for work and dealing with a wet pile of clothes (and a bit of a hangover), Wakeling talked to himself in the mirror.
He came up with “The door is locked, just you and me” and the rest of the lyrics fell into place during his day at work (in wet clothes).
So, I’m sorry, but despite rumors, it’s not about doing cocaine in the bathroom.
“I Just Can’t Stop It” also spawned “Twist & Crawl,” “Rough Rider,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” “Hands Off, She’s Mine,” and their next big hit “Best Friend.”
Also noteworthy, from the US Release was another fan favorite, “Rankin’ Full Stop.”
That album propelled them back into the studio for the their next album, “Wha’ppen?”
The band toured extensively to promote it, including visiting the US opening for Talking Heads and the Pretenders. “Wha’ppen?” changed their direction by putting reggae at the center, and Roger described it as a mellow album for “Californians and surfers.”
While the disc had amazing titles like “Monkey Murders” and “French Toast,” “All Out to Get You” was the most popular single.
The band went back to a more upbeat and ska sound for their third studio album, “Special Beat Service,” that album was for many of their fans their crowned achievement.
A few of the tracks remain fan favorites, songs like “Save It for Later,” “I Confess,” “Pato & Roger a Go Talk,” “Jeanette,” and “Ackee 1-2-3.” The album was so well received they landed a spot at 1982’s US Festival with Oingo Boingo, The Police, and Talking Heads.
They did so well, they were asked to return to the US Festival the following year with A Flock of Seagulls, Oingo Boingo again, The Clash, and INXS.
As for their music, Wakeling has previously described “Save it For Later” as, “Well, it’s about nothing. It’s about not knowing anything. Or feeling like you know nothing, and grasping in the dark for your place in the world, and trying to do it with a wry humor.”
“Save it For Later” became a favorite for Pete Townshend, who would cover it at solo shows and with The Who. During a show, Townshend told the audience – which included Wakeling – as “one of my favorite songs in my whole life.” Wakeling said of the moment: “The crowd all stood up, and I stood up. And I swear I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry, but there were tears rolling down my face. There was no effort to it at all. They were just rolling, rolling. I was mesmerized really for the next hour or so. I couldn’t breathe properly.”
“I Confess” was also somewhat autobiographical, but part gossip magazines and the situations that can arise in love triangles.
Another memorable track from “Special Beat Service” is “Rotating Heads,” which became a well-known pop culture moment by its instrumental version handling the conclusion of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Throw in tours with David Bowie, The Police, The Clash, R.E.M., and frequently, The Specials, and you have an exhausted group of guys. In 1983, most of the members wanted to slow down, but Wakeling and Roger had families and bills, so they wanted to press on.
In 2012, Wakeling said, “It was sad for us that we’d stopped being pop stars in England. We’d only had three years at it, and it’d been a whirlwind, and now all of a sudden we were yesterday’s newspaper. That was bad enough, but for some of them, becoming a huge success in America was worse. Y’know, you’d come off the stage after playing for 15,000 people and some wry wit would go, “This is crap! We’ve turned into another American stadium rock band.” And I’d be like, “They’re all going nuts! We’ve got 15,000 people screaming for more, they think it’s so great.” I didn’t get it. It was a big point for them at the time.”
Also a key fact: two band members can bring more money home than six band members. Wakeling and Roger left the others behind and formed General Public, and that was the end of the original version of The Beat.
In 2004, VH1 tried to get the guys together for their “Bands Reunited” show, but it was not successful. While some could put the past behind them, Cox and Steele would not participate, which did not come as a total surprise. During the episode, Roger said, “The fact that we left The Beat low and dry, and just walked off without even giving them any warning, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.” Fortunately, Wakeling, Roger, Morton, and Saxa did get time together.
Back in 1983, Wakeling and Roger were going strong with General Public and had hits with “Tenderness,” “Never You Done That,” and “Hot You’re Cool.”
Whether they wanted it or not, the other members would end up being popular again, and back to playing huge shows, Oooops…
Andy Cox and David Steele created Fine Young Cannibals and created the hits “She Drives Me Crazy,” “Good Thing,” “Don’t Look Back,” “Johnny Come Home,” and their mega-hit, their infamous cover of the Elvis Presley classic, “Suspicious Minds.”
As for Everett Morton and Saxa, they formed the International Beat and Roger even guested at shows and produced their album.
As the story goes, Wakeling and Roger couldn’t agree on a music style for General Public, and Roger was tired of traveling, so the two split. Wakeling headed to the US and fronted English Beat, while Roger handled The beat in the UK.
Roger also joined Mick Jones from The Clash for Big Audio Dynamite, members of the Specials for Special Beat, collaborations with Sting, Smash Mouth, The Clash, The Specials, AND released solo stuff. He even passed his skills on to his kids and his son “Ranking Junior” is now a member of The beat.
Since that final break off, there have been box sets with remixes and live albums, plus new albums from the two versions of The Beat/English Beat.
Despite the split, Wakeling kept on as the English Beat and played a billion shows over the years. While ska was in a state of hibernation after the third wave ended, Wakeling along with bands like Selecter, Madness, the Specials and Reel Big Fish kept the scene together and they are properly credited for keeping the lights on until the Fourth wave was ready to launch.
Now that The Interrupters and several Third wave and Fourth wave bands are emerging, Wakeling and the English Beat should be credited with helping ska become cool again.
Sadly, there have been losses since then as well. Lionel Augustus Martin, better known as “Saxa” was already an “elder” when The Beat took off and passed away in his sleep in 2017 at the age of 87.
“Ranking Roger” Charlery was diagnosed with two brain tumors and lung cancer and passed away in 2019. He had completed his biography shortly before his death, so pick up “I Just Can’t Stop It: My Life in the Beat” for more stories and memories.
Wakeling was working on a box set for the band’s 40th anniversary and both versions of the band were planning an anniversary tour when Roger passed. At the time, Wakeling said, “It’s a funny combination; a sign that the work we all did together is going to be given a pat on the back as a classic catalogue, but at the same, there’s only four of the original members of the band to celebrate it. But it’s impossible for anyone to be popping champagne corks today.”
While we never get over the ones we lose, we can celebrate them and their legacies. When 2021 arrives, hopefully everyone can see The beat/English Beat on stage to relive great moments and make new ones.
Until then, Wakeling is keeping fans up to date on Facebook (and gardening!) and sharing some great pictures and videos.
If you’re lucky, you can catch Dave and the English Beat in 2021 when they tour again.