Two Beats Hearting As One
English Beat singer Dave Wakeling skanks good karma
By Jim Caligiuri, 12:20PM, Fri. Jan. 18
We spoke to Dave Wakeling, whose English Beat appears at the Mohawk tonight. Everything you need to know about one of the architects of the late-Seventies British ska revival can be found on last year’s 5-CD box set, The Complete Beat.
“I was very involved with putting that together,” the singer says happily. “The record company was really good. I was very lucky because their offices are only about four miles from my house. So I was there a lot of talking about ideas. Two were big Beat fans and knew the tracks and what fans had been searching for.
“So it was rather easy oddly enough. Actually, the music was fairly easy, but when we got to the photographs and liner notes, we all remembered why we split up.”
In the early Nineties, the frontman for the English Beat and later General Public nearly left music behind, taking a job with Greenpeace. Then he ran into Elvis Costello.
“I could bang yours and [the Specials’] Jerry Dammers’ heads together,” lamented Costello. “You and your Greenpeace and your anti-apartheid work. It’s all well and good, but your place is on the stage and you know it.”
Co-workers at Greenpeace teased him about the confrontation for weeks afterward. Then a movie producer called to record a song with General Public for the soundtrack to the movie Threesome.
“Lo and behold that track went to Number One on the dance charts,” Wakeling recalls, “and I was back where Mr. Costello said I ought to be.”
“Having taken his advice, I’ve been waiting for the invitation to be his opening band on tour, but nothing yet.”
There are currently two bands performing the music of the English Beat, one fronted by Wakeling in the U.S., and the other fronted by founding member Ranking Roger in the UK.
“It’s all very friendly,” offers Wakeling. “It was done by agreement. I work and live here in America. Roger loves living in Birmingham, England. He was doing shows with a band called Twist and Crawl, and was really embarrassed because the posters would say Twist and Crawl in tiny letters and above it would say in big letters, ‘Doing songs of the English Beat.’
“The same kind of thing was going on with me. So I told him if he wanted to use the name I didn’t mind. There’s been some ruffles with managers and bookers, but apart from that it’s been pretty friendly I think.”
The reason for the English part of the band’s name comes from the fact that there’s also a group called the Beat, a power pop band led by L.A.’s Paul Collins, who appeared at South by Southwest last year. Last fall, the two Beats on this side of the ocean toured together, something they referred to as “2 beats, hearting as 1.”
“We had a great time,” enthuses Wakeling. “Collins is a lovely chap. The funniest thing is that his band is Australian. So they’re the American Beat and we call ourselves the English Beat because we all live in California.”