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The Beat goes on as Dave Wakeling brings his ska/2 Tone collective to city

2 Tone/ska collective The Beat formed in 1979 and subsequently released their debut single, an infectious cover of the Smokey Robinson classic Tears of a Clown on 2 Tone Records, which went straight into the UK charts at number six.

Dave Wakeling. Picture: Steve Rappaport
Dave Wakeling. Picture: Steve Rappaport

Further hits followed before the original incarnation of the band went their separate ways in 1983. These days, Dave performs with his own version of The Beat – also known as The English Beat – consisting of mainly American musicians. Fellow founding member Ranking Roger, meanwhile, toured with his own version of the group – The Beat featuring Ranking Roger – until his death, from cancer, in 2019.

From his home in California, where he’s lived for more than 35 years, Birmingham-born Dave (he still has his Brummie accent) tells the Cambridge Independent via Zoom that he’d just come back from touring around other parts of the US and was “absolutely shattered”.

“So I spent the last two days in bed, I got up 10 minutes ago, showered, so I should probably be all right a little bit later on, but I’m a bit fragile.”

How did the tour go? “Well, it was fantastic,” says Dave, 67. “It was 28 shows in 36 days and each show was sold out, or close on, and each show went down great – so it was a very successful tour, but boy, it was tiring.

“We don’t normally do that many shows in that small a space, that’s very few days off. There were some places where it was eight shows in a row, which was more than I’d ever done and I was surprised I did it as well as I did. So I’ll try not to do it again, I promise!”

Dave Wakeling. Picture: Jackie Butler
Dave Wakeling. Picture: Jackie Butler

Along with their contemporaries The Specials, Madness and The Selecter, The Beat became an overnight sensation in the late 1970s as part of the explosive 2 Tone scene. Over the course of the next five years, they released three studio albums – I Just Can’t Stop It, Wha’appen and Special Beat Service – while their hit singles included Mirror in the Bathroom, Can’t Get Used to Losing You, Hands Off…She’s Mine, Too Nice to Talk to, Stand Down Margaret, Doors of your Heart and Save It for Later.

The Beat have toured the world alongside artists such as The Clash, The Police, The Specials, REM, and David Bowie, and continue to do so today, selling out their last UK tour in 2022. Pauline Black of The Selecter recently told the Cambridge Independent that the stars of 2 Tone never expected it to still be this popular more than 40 years later.

“Yes, I don’t think any of us expected it to last as long as it did,” admits Dave, who went on to form the new wave band General Public with Ranking Roger after the original Beat had called it a day. “However, there was something substantial about the music around 2 Tone – the songs and the lyrics have stayed relevant, sadly relevant.

“In fact, I was more concerned looking at the crowd on the video [the recently re-released documentary film Dance Craze] and remembering those conversations we had at the time about ‘what’s this trickle-down economics, then?’ How’s that going to help us? Why do we have to have austerity first, then, what’s that about?

“And now those same people in the crowd they’re my age, they’re retirement age, and Brexit and ‘yes, we have no tomatoes’ has basically crippled their evolution (!), since we had that conversation about ‘what’s this trickle-down, then?’

“And many of the songs were singing about things like that, weren’t they? The economic warfare that goes on, getting a job, and also how the powers that be just seem to continue – it doesn’t matter how badly they do. It’s remarkable, isn’t it really? But I think human beings we’re at a bit of a stage in our history, we’re not sure where to go with this.

“We don’t know if we can cope with so much freedom and we’re wondering whether we’d be better off with a big, stern man in charge of things, just telling us what to do; there seems to be a real urge for authoritarianism at the moment, which is a shame – it’s not the way I’d normally like to see the working class moving! But we do have our ways…

“I think some of the political situation, for me, this has been going on since Margaret Thatcher and this is the result, and so I’m not surprised that 2 Tone has a degree of relevancy still, because it was one of the main squads complaining about it at the time and it turns out those complaints were pretty valid.”

Discussing how there has been more than one incarnation of The Beat over the years, with different members, Dave assures me that the members of the band didn’t fall out.

“Not particularly, no,” he says, “we managed to stay friends most of the time, but it became competitive and that brings its own problems, doesn’t it?

“Me and Roger managed to speak very well, right till the very end, however, whilst we were doing that he was also writing a book and not saying anything about it to my face, which was tricky… but at least, in the moment, Roger was always very kind and very decent with me, and I think I was the same with him.

“It [having two different bands with similar names] only became a problem really if promoters started trying to book shows for either of us too close on each other, but I do have a bit of a problem with that now; it’s a generational problem. As soon as we announced our shows for the UK tour, Roger’s son [Ranking Jnr, with his band The Beat featuring Ranking Jnr] announced some shows in the same places right before.”

That’s confusing! “That’s one word for it, yes!” laughs Dave, who assures me that the Cambridge crowd can expect a gig packed with all the hits, plus some General Public tunes.

“Personally, I don’t think any group should be called The Beat unless it’s got an original member of The Beat in it. At the moment, Birmingham has three Beats – mine, Jnr’s restarted his up after a couple of years, and Everett [Morton, the late drummer of the original group]’s old band is still going under the title of Beat Goes Bang.

“In one way I don’t mind; I’m happy for the lyrics to be sung around the world, but I don’t like it when it impinges on what we’re doing, I think that’s a bit impolite.”

Dave notes that he and the surviving band members of the original line-up are still in touch with each other and are collaborating on a new record deal for their back catalogue.

“It looks as though it’s Rhino Records, the catalogue division of Warner’s,” he says, “so we’ve been in touch with each other and it’s nice to see an email from them. We’ve managed to stay on terms at least, although we don’t always agree about everything. But we’re getting there – 43 years... we’ll get there!”

The Beat logo
The Beat logo

Is Dave still in touch with members of the other 2 Tone bands such as The Specials and Madness? “I’d speak with The Specials quite a bit, or used to – I used to speak with Lynval [Golding] and Roddy [Byers] quite a lot but I haven’t in recent months, to be honest. I’ve been in touch with a couple of people from Madness. They kept intending to tour in California and we were meant to be the opening band.

“It’s gone on for about four years now, but they keep putting it off till next year. We’re not really sure what’s going on. I was looking forward to that, I’ve seen their shows on YouTube and stuff and I thought that we would put on a fantastic concert together, the two bands.

“I don’t know if there’s going to be any more Specials shows now Terry [Hall]’s gone… I teased Roddy, ‘are you ready for the spotlight, kid?’”

Dave admits he hasn’t really been interested in writing new material since the pandemic. “I’ve got four or five songs going in my head,” he reveals, “I’ve usually got four or five songs going, but I’m kind of thinking that they’re for me only.

“I’m doing an album for me now and not like flagrantly ‘quick, rush to the studio, put it out, do you like it?’. It’s just for me now, and I kind of like that in a way.

“It’s funny. The pandemic made a difference to me; I just sat here, or sat in the garden, thinking about things and I don’t know that I’ve got that many opinions left to share…

“I’ve got loads of opinions, everybody’s got opinions, but I don’t feel the urge to share my opinion, in a way, and I also think my opinion has become a bit more complicated since the pandemic – my view of the world and my position in it.

“So I don’t have a lyrical comment on it to share at the moment, in the same way I find that I don’t share my opinion on social media anymore. I don’t feel safe sharing my social or cynical political opinions on there at this point.

“I used to. Right before I stopped, it seemed as though you were attracting more anonymous trolls than a regular debate or a conversation.

“I only use social media for monitoring the news and seeing what other people think, but at the moment I don’t join in all that much. I keep my opinions a bit more to myself than I ever used to.”

See The Beat at the Cambridge Junction (J1) on Wednesday, June 21. Tickets, priced £34.50, are available at junction.co.uk. For more on The Beat, visit englishbeat.net.

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