The Beat’s Dave Wakeling happy to dance to the death
- Credit: Archant
Dave Wakeling understandably laughs at the sentiment afforded to his old 2-Tone outfit The Beat. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to celebrate 35th anniversaries. Diamond, Ruby, I’ll give you those, but the 35th?”
It says a lot of our times, with its snowballing penchant for the retrospective, that this curious anniversary is even needed to promote the English Beat’s upcoming tour. The run of shows, which will see Wakeling and co. visit the Islington Academy on March 12, signal the band’s first visit to Britain since the break up of its original parent group in 1983.
Over the last few years, The English Beat have, as their front man puts it, “earned their badges back” in the US. While a rival strand of The Beat, led by Ranking Roger, remained in the UK to play to home crowds, Wakeling went to record his solo album in California and found he never wanted to leave – despite the album itself falling apart.
“Sting’s manager gave me the Sting speech – which Sting later warned me about – where he said we need to surround you with great musicians, people you aspire to. To do this, he said we needed to come out to America.
“Initially, I did find myself with these guys who had played with everyone – they were fantastic, brilliant musicians. Slowly but surely though, the money fell through, the sessions got put back and suddenly I was making my record in a kitchen with some bloke holding a drum machine.”
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The experience obviously didn’t put the 58-year-old off – perhaps because, as he admits, there’s still a part of him that remains a grateful Birmingham teenager who “spent too long in front of the mirror, singing into a cricket bat”. For when Wakeling first formed the Beat back in 1978, the popularity of songs like ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’ and ‘Too Nice To Talk To’ took him completely by surprise.
“You’d walk around trying to think it was normal to have these songs playing on the radio, but end up pinching yourself a bit. Nowadays it’s still surreal – I’m amazed I can remember my lyrics, let alone anyone else.”
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After three successful records, The Beat broke up at the peak of their powers: “We kind of fell apart; we didn’t really have the energy to break up.” At the time, there was little animosity and Wakeling didn’t even mind when Ranking Roger started touring with the Beat’s name in 2005.
However “bad management” and royalty issues soon turned the relationship sour, and both men have kept away since. “The situation now is as awkward as it is sweet. There are no real issues at all – I don’t even remember what much of the grief was about – it’s just two old bulls still at a standoff.”
The situation appears to have cooled enough for Wakeling to return to England and he’s even open to the idea of all the major 2-Tone bands reforming for a festival. “I’d like to do it, even if it was just for one day and we were only breaking even money-wise. Even now, it’s the fans who keep us going and we owe them greatly.”
Indeed, the timelessness of bands like the Beat, the Specials and Madness is surely no coincidence. As hard as it is to swallow, maybe it’s because the issues they write of are still so sharply relevant.
“It’s scary isn’t it?” Wakeling says. “We got the government we deserve. If there’s no will to elect anyone better than David Cameron than this is what you’re going to get.
“I feel very sad that Margaret Thatcher won – her will became the will of the world. The working class have been punched in the face for 30 years and we don’t even feel it any more, we don’t even flinch.”
So what do you do when the bad guy wins? Since 1979, followers of the Beat have made their choice.
“Coming off the back end of punk, there was something a bit too nihilistic – people were having to knock back amphetamines just to help them sleep. We found there were a lot of us who still wanted to dance and jump about, but just without banging our heads against the wall. In our eyes, if we became as angry and bitter as those we objected to, it meant they’d won.
Combining punk’s energy with the happy, nobler aspects of reggae gave us a warmer and softer way to protest. At the same time though, it meant we were going to dance whether we won or not – even if it meant the world blowing up around us.”
The English Beat play the Islington O2 Academy on March 12. Tickets are £20.25, for more information visit www.o2academyislington.co.uk