Q&A: Dave Wakeling of The English Beat On Punks, Mixing Races and the Circular Nature of Music.
Even three decades after the fact, the music of The English Beat still retains the fresh edge that distinguished it back in 1978. Beginning with the "Mirror in the Bathroom" and "Save it For Later" singles, The Beat (as it was then called and is still referred to in its native England) became a musical force by combining elements of punk, Motown and Jamaican ska.
Dave Wakeling formed the band and it is in his capable hands that it continues on today. Speaking from his home in California, Wakeling was kind enough to pontificate on a variety of issues, including the band's swing through Dallas tomorrow night at the Granada with special guest Fishbone.
The band has managed to make it to Dallas more often the last couple of years, but this tour is with Fishbone. How special is it having them this time around?
You have to be really brave to follow them. After their set is finished, it is as if the stage has been hit by a small hurricane. We get on really well together and their music is different, but similar enough. Both bands come at their sounds from similar points of view. Both bands are glad to have survived more than anything else.
In the past, The English Beat has been a part of some amazing tours. Wasn't your first tour of the U.S. with Talking Heads and The Pretenders?
We were lucky to be associated with Sire Records. That tour was with the expanded Talking Heads, the Remain in Light Tour. That was the most amazing beat band I have ever seen. I just saw Jerry Harrison (drummer for Talking Heads) in Mill Valley the other day and we spent a day reminiscing.
The English Beat always drew a diverse crowd, from punks to rockers to mods. What was it about the music that attracted such a dissimilar group of people?
Coming just a bit after punk, people were still up for a fast dance, but they wanted something, I felt, that was a bit more optimistic. With anarchy, you can only go destroying things for so many years. It becomes a bit boring, but people still fancied a dance. Mixing it with reggae, we discovered fans liked to chill out and take it all a bit easier. We thought combining punk and reggae would appeal to a lot of people; and thank god it worked. All we ever wanted to do was combine all our favorite kinds of dance music and try and make this kind of universal beat that would draw people together. At that time in England, there were efforts made to put people of different colors against each other. It was very difficult for them to start a race war on a Monday when everyone was listening to our music on a Saturday night.
Wasn't The Beat one of the first interracial bands of the time?
That's right. But it wasn't anything particularly special in Birmingham, where we were from, which was a big industrial city where perhaps some of the lingering prejudice had been worn out with everyone working in the car factories. And then the car factories shut down and everyone was out of work, no matter what color you were. But when we went to London the first time, it wasn't that integrated. But people commented about it, saying that having black geezers and white geezers on stage was a good thing. They liked us, but it was so new to them. By the time we got to New York, it was almost like we had written a new sociology book.
On this tour, you are playing songs from all three English Beat albums as well as songs from the band you formed after The Beat broke up, General Public, and even some new songs. Are there plans for a new album?
We have made demos of eight new songs and there has been some interest from some labels, but it's a bit difficult working with some of the independent labels because they either want product in January or July and we have tours booked all throughout the year. I'm not sure we have time to finish an album by July. I would like to release a single or an EP as soon as possible.
Is it hard to fathom that you started the band over 30 years ago?
It's stunning. I'm still waiting to grow up. Time goes quickly when you are having a good time. Time is a funny thing. A bad afternoon can still go on forever, but three decades seem to have sped by. I'm not a big fan of time. I haven't quite figured that one out yet.
At your last show in Dallas, there seemed to be quite a lot of young people, kids in their late teens and early twenties. What is it about your music that has such a cross generational appeal?
I think things are circular in that there has been an upsurge in punk bands throughout the '90s and now we are in a recession. Let's be honest; people are scared and they are looking for an escape that doesn't depress them. People still like to dance. They want to have a sense of optimism. We have been successful during recessions. We were born from a recession. Every time things get a bit bleak economically, we seem to do very well. I suppose a recession brings everybody down to brass tacks, brings people down to basic values, what really is important. For me, it has always been about compassion and community. Those are the only two things that matter when your back is against the wall.
Is your former partner Ranking Roger still fronting a UK version of The English Beat?
Yes, I believe he's doing something with his son. Everything seems kind of friendly these days. I say never say never. He was agonizing about whether we would ever work together or not, but I think if we tried, it would be OK and the fans would really like it. That would be reason enough for doing some kind of reunion, but so far, that hasn't happened. Right now, I would have to say that they are the best Dave Wakeling cover band in England.
The English Beat performs with Fishbone on Saturday, February 13, at the Granada Theather.