As California-based Dave Wakeling plans his UK return and a series of dates on this side of the Atlantic promoting a new LP by The Beat – 36 years after the last – MALCOLM WYATT got the lowdown from their acclaimed singer-songwriter
It gets confusing with bands doing the rounds again all these years on, not least when members go their separate ways, starting their own versions of the same group.
The Beat are no exception, their co-frontmen leading their own bands under the old banner, with further confusion as they were always The English Beat in the US, avoiding legal issues. But according to Dave Wakeling, there’s no animosity with old pal Ranking Roger.
“We seem really good friends. I went to his house, we had a pot of tea together and a lovely talk, and there’s some chance we may work together next year with the 2 Tone 40th anniversary.
“It’s just that we both like our own Beat a bit better than the other!”
There was also Beat bandmates David Steele and Andy Cox forming Fine Young Cannibals. In retrospect, you were all pulling in different directions, a split almost inevitable.
“I think so. The wonderful thing is we ended up making songs people can still be bothered about today. That’s tremendous.
“You go into a bar and a band will be doing your song. That knocks you sideways.
“To have one of your songs still mean something after nearly 40 years – you can’t pay for that. It’s the most wonderful gift a troubadour can ever have.”
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The Beat starring Dave Wakeling – as they’re billed – return with their first studio LP since 1982 on May 11, Here We Go Love, with their UK tour, including a rescheduled Preston Guild Hall visit.
Dave certainly remains switched on, as expected from the co-writer of Hands Off She’s Mine, Mirror in the Bathroom, Stand Down Margaret, Too Nice To Talk To, and the much-covered Save it for Later.
When his Birmingham sextet first broke in 1979, Ranking Roger was just 16 while saxophonist Saxa, who played with the likes of Desmond Dekker and Prince Buster, was pushing 50. And now …
“When Saxa died (last May) we realised some of us were the same age as when we first met him … when he was the old legend. When we went out with him, he’d call us ‘you young boys!’”
Dave missed Saxa’s funeral, after surgery in California, where he’s lived ‘over half his age’, but …
“I found out what pub they were using, putting £500 behind the bar. Whenever you asked if he wanted a drink, he’d say, ‘Get me two beers.’ So when the funeral crowd came in I had someone shout that.”
Yet Saxa appears on this album.
“I played some of the songs to him. He couldn’t play but was still in great form, humming melodies for me. Our sax player learned those and it sounds just like Saxa. It’s just a pity he’s not here to hear it.”
Did Dave spot a recent social media post about The Beat playing Stand Down Margaret on ITV’s Tiswas spin-off OTT in April 1982?
“Yeah. I remember that very well. It was filmed in Birmingham and we did Tiswas quite a lot.
“I suppose I can tell you now – we were Lenny Henry’s backing band on I Am a Mole and I Live in a Hole.”
Do you think Stand Down Margaret inspired The Specials’ Free Nelson Mandela four years later?
“Maybe. I just liked that it went down as the politest protest song
ever. I think it says please over 30 times. Very English of us.
“What else is interesting – and sad – is that a lot of issues from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s have come back – the spectre of nuclear war, fear of immigrants, people making ends meet. Striking similarities.”
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But like most ska and reggae bands from then you characterised positive aspects of multicultural Britain.
“I think we did. It’s just a shame money wasn’t put into helping develop that side of our society, but could be found for other things, like blowing people up.
“People were brought over for cheap labour, kind of ridiculed, and separate societies developed in some ways. We haven’t entirely overcome that.
“But when I get home I’m proud to see the thing people–- whatever colour or religion – are most proud of is that they’re Brummies. That’s a nice feeling.”
And are you still asking ‘please’.
“A little, although I’ve become the old bloke in the corner saying what he bloody likes!”
Including singing about Trump’s America on The One and Only. Is that Stand Down Donald?
“It’s really about the Trump in all of us. It’s easy to point fingers but a lot of people voted for Trump out of fear in the same way I think people voted for Brexit out of fear.
“It’s hard to take ownership of those decisions, and hard to make things work sometimes.
“We’ve got to get past the blame game, even though you can see some people who deserve a bucketful of it.”
What do you miss most about England?
“As with any English city everyone’s been packed together for so long, you have to watch your manners, so wordplay is important.
“I miss a good dose of sardonic wit or sarcasm with a grudge!
“I like that in Birmingham someone can say something and because of the way they’ve pulled their face everyone knows they mean the exact opposite.
“We don’t have as much of that over here.”
The Beat starring Dave Wakeling visit Manchester Club Academy (0161 832 1111) on Friday, May 25, Liverpool Academy 2 (0844 477 2000) on Friday, June 1, and play a rescheduled Preston Guild Hall (01772 80 44 44) show on Saturday, June 23. For UK ticket details try https://www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/the-beat-starring-dave-wakeling