The Beat Goes On: Dave Wakeling on His Band's Two Tone Legacy
In the late '70s and early '80s, England was something of a musical petri dish as scores of bands blended genres of music and, in the process, sometimes created whole new ones. It was also the heyday of bands like Madness, The Specials and The Selecter who blended a punk energy with ska and reggae sounds. It became known as the "Two Tone" style, named for the record label that recorded many of the acts.
At the forefront of the movement was The Beat, known in the U.S. as the English Beat. The multiracial group consisted of Dave Wakeling (vocals/guitar), Ranking Roger (vocals), Andy Cox (guitar), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums), and Saxa (saxophone).
They released just three records, I Just Can't Stop It ('80), Wha'ppen? ('81) and Special Beat Service ('82) before dissolving, with Wakeling and Roger starting General Public and Cox and Steele creating Fine Young Cannibals.
Sporadic semi-reunions happened over the years -- one was documented on the VH1 series Bands Reunited -- and two amicable versions of the group are now touring: Roger and Morton in the UK, and Wakeling in the U.S.
Now Shout! Factory has brought the Beat back with The Complete Beat, a 5-CD box set of all three records with plenty of rarities, alternate versions, and live cuts, as well as the single-disc anthology Keep the Beat: The Very Best of the English Beat.
Just before his current tour hits Texas (Fitzgerald's, Friday), Wakeling spoke with Rocks Off about the releases, money battles with former bandmates, and sweaty Houston (which Wakeling pronounces Hoo-ston) women.
Photo by Jackie Butler Dave Wakeling today
Rocks Off: Hi, Dave?
Dave Wakeling: It must be really hard to live in Hoo-ston. For 35 years I have never hit Hoo-ston on a decent weather day. Either the humidity will kill you, or the cold does.
I believe you have the greatest strength just to live there! [laughs croakily]. The answer is California, bro! That's why I left England! The weather there is appalling. Nearly as bad as Hoo-ston's!
I begged my agent to let me play in March or September, but these agents sit in air-conditioned offices and have no clue! You can't wear silk or kashmere in Hoo-ston in the summer! If I lived in Hoo-ston, I would stay naked and have sex most of the day! [laughs]
RO: So, this is a great time to be you with the new releases.
DW: I was really grateful. The chaps at Shout! Factory have done an incredible job sorting through all those tapes, something we probably couldn't have done ourselves. But they put it to us in a way to see what was great and what was rubbish! [laughs]
DW: That was amazing. We didn't know what we were doing at those [sessions] but we meant it and we had conviction. We meant it like Benjamin Franklin meant it! [Rocks Off is not quite sure what Wakeling means...] And sod the consequences!
DW: And Americans are so... what's the word? Pragmatic. So much so that they are happy to watch the Chinese eat them with chopsticks and not say anything rude about it! Which means to me that the English actually won the war of independence! [laughs even more croakily]
But I've loved [America] since I was a kid, or at least the notion of it. But I'm so disappointed today... this is not the America I dreamt of as a child... Benjamin Franklin should be revolving in his grave right now!