The English Beat is Still Going Strong
By Naughty Mickie  notymickie@earthlink.net

The name's familiar, but perhaps you can't place them. The English Beat is a two tone ska revival band, who gave us hits like “Save It For Later,” “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Confess.” Original member, lead vocalist and guitarist, Dave Wakeling was there at the start of the group when it formed in Birmingham, England in 1978. When the band broke up in 1983, Wakeling formed General Public and did some solo work. In 2003, he reformed The English Beat in the United States. Its current lineup is Wakeling, drummer Rhythmm Epkins, bassist Wayne Lothian, toaster Antonee First Class, keyboardist Ray Jacildo and saxophone player Matt Morrish. Other members from the original lineup now play in its "twin,” The Beat, in the United Kingdom.

I speak over the telephone with Wakeling, as he relaxes on his balcony in Malibu. He begins our chat by telling me about how The English Beat first came to be back in England.

"It was a mixture of the fortunate climate and the geography in which we found ourselves and the times we found ourselves in," Wakeling says. "Punk had just finished or was still grinding its teeth in death throes and people were looking for something exciting. But they were looking for something that was a bit less nihilistic because if you just stayed awake for the last four or five years shouting out that you have no future and then it turned out that you made that come true, you were looking for a different way. But there was still plenty of anger to be had, things weren't right. The punk revolution hadn't changed the world and there was still much to be concerned about, but people were sick of being angry and protesting. It was almost as if by adopting that position of fury over band things for so long it was almost as if they got you playing their game."

"It was quite by happenstance (how we formed). The person who played the instrument was the first person that we met that played that instrument that we asked to join the group. Me and Andy (Cox, guitar) decided to start a group and we put an advert in a local newspaper in the Isle of Wight saying I wanted to 'shake some action,' after a song by the Flamin' Groovies. David (Steele, bass) was the only person who answered the advert, but we didn't tell him that.

"We came back to Birmingham and David got a job as a trainee psychiatric nurse, which would prove to be very useful later on in
the pop career. He asked a nurse if she knew any reggae drummer and she knew Everett (Morton). We met Everett the next Tuesday and that was it, that was the four piece band." Wakeling continues, "We saw Saxa playing saxophone in a bar that we used to frequent and when The Specials asked us did we want to make a single, we asked Saxa to play on it and he never left.

"And then we were doing our first set of shows, our residency in Birmingham, Ranking Roger (vocalist) used to come along with some friends of his from the punk club on the corner. In the main part punks and masters were banned from places, but where we were playing was a new pub that was trying to build up any kind of clientele, so he would bring people round to watch us play. He would get up on stage and do his thing into the microphone. He said could he join the group and I said yes, if you can move that bass cabinet into the van and he did."

I wonder if Wakeling writing process is different when he works solo than when he works with the band.

"There's not a difference really." Wakeling explains, "I might sit around with a head full of ideas normally fueled by MSNBC or NPR on the radio or the (BBC) 'World Service.' I'm interested in current affairs issues and that sort of things, they start to form patterns of human behavior and eventually something happens and you start to feel so passionate about that particular subject that it spreads out into just feeling more passion on a broader level. Then I find myself in the shower and all of a sudden it's as though the water is playing music, it starts playing a tune and words start coming and the words go with the music. I get really worried because I think I might enjoy it so much that I'll lose all my short-term memory, sometimes you can jump out the shower and it's all gone - oh my heavens - jump back in the shower and see if you can find it.

"I think it builds up in you until it reaches a fever pitch and then it may be something on a political level, it might be something on
the world stage or it might be a private moment or a personal challenge or trouble, something just pushes you over the edge at that
point and everything you've been soaking in and all the little smart one liners start dancing together and start crawling out of your
mouth in order."

As my wont, I ask Wakeling about his childhood.

"I started singing as a very young kid in choirs and things like that and I started scribbling schoolboy poetry as well. I always enjoyed singing and practiced trying to be Robert Plant when I was a young teenager, so I developed my upper range. He was a local boy made good, so he was one of my first idols. Him and Ozzy Osbourne were the two local singers who made it." Wakeling laughs, "I wonder who's the more famous? I'd probably say Ozzy's the more famous. More people around the world probably know Ozzy Osbourne than Robert Plant, how odd is that? The power of television or the power of Sharon.

"When I was about 12 my dad gave me a guitar that he bought in a bar from a guy who was selling a band's gear off the back of a wagon because he said they hadn't paid him. I got this acoustic guitar which neither of us knew how to play and it was ambiguous, it didn't have a scratch plate on it so you could hold it either way round and it looked OK. For better or worse, I got a hold of it the wrong way round and so ever since I've played the guitar upside down and back to front.

"It's become part of my style," Wakeling goes on. "I'm not really left handed, well not for that. I ended up making up my own guitar tunings because nothing was working because I didn't realize I was looking at all the books upside down. So I made up my own tunings and just started writing my own songs. I learned the chords for the guitar in time for the third Beat record, but up until that point I'd playing everything in my own tunings."

We discuss out free time.

"I spend a great deal of time on my balcony mulling the world and my career and all around me and I nitpick at my window boxes." Wakeling boasts, "I have a superb array of at the moment, but it's getting to be hot so some of it's getting a bit stringy. I had it going all purple, yellow and white for the (basketball) playoffs and I added a bit more gold on the night of the last game and the Lakers brought it home. I took a photograph and it went up on Facebook.

"(I'm growing) flowers, mainly annuals, it's a mixture of stuff. But it's growing pretty well, the hanging plants are down to the floor
and the bigger ones are about a couple of feet high. I spend a lot of time with a pair of tiny scissors trimming everything and I'm
wondering why I can't have any brown bits, everything's got to be fresh and vibrant. It keeps me out of trouble and I sit there with my Phone and my computer and then I have an idea usually of something I've forgotten to do - oh my god - and I quickly put the scissors down and get on with that."

So what is the secret to The English Beat's success?

"Again it's something to do with timing," Wakeling says. "The songs came out of a recession in England, the late '70s/early '80s recession, which was a historical sized recession with massive unemployment and no great sense of the future, we really did think it was over. So some of those songs quite oddly have become quite pertinent to what's going on now. People tell me, 'Wow, you could've written that one on what's happening now.' The funny thing, well it's not that funny, the song 'I'm Your Flag,' which is on the second Beat record, it has a chorus that says, 'I ran into Northern Ireland, ran into Afghanistan dying to become a man, I am your flag.' Gosh, that's odd isn't it? Afghanistan is just bubbling up again now. I've taken on the guise, at least when I can get away with it, of Ska-stradamous. I knew it was coming.

"Also I think, again it's the recession, people want to be cheered up, they want to feel upbeat for a night out generally speaking.
They've got enough angst in their lives right now without having to pay to come out for it. Our music has always had an upbeat feel to it even if the lyrics sometimes are dealing with some of the bleaker or savory aspects of life. The music, from a distance, is very uplifting and makes people want to dance and smile. As long as you keep the prices reasonable, that can be of great value in a recession I think."

I ask if Wakeling has any other projects waiting in the wings.

"This is it," states Wakeling. "It's more than I can take on frankly. We did 170 shows last year, I dare say it was the same again, and at the moment I'm currently self-managing and tour managing. Sometimes you have to wait until the sun goes down before you can get the scissors out on the old window boxes. The best thing about it now is that the plants have grown so high, they're a couple of feet high, that I can walk around on the balcony completely naked and none of the neighbors has a clue- until they read this interview. 'Hellooo!' I'll wave at them.

Wakeling worked for Greenpeace in the '90s and produced the organization's album, “Alternative NRG,” featuring REM, U2, Midnight Oil, UB40, Annie Lennox, Sonic Youth and more. The effort was recorded at 14 venues across the U.S. using a truck powered by a solar panel array in a trailer dubbed Cyrus. the album touted renewable energy and the fears of global warming. I wonder how Wakeling feels about the eco-awareness so prevalent today.

"Now it seems as though everyone is catching on to the idea. I don't mean to say that we were so ahead of our time, I think it always takes about 15 years for thing that are on the cutting edge to work themselves into the middle of society where they can be taken on board to where it makes financial sense to the rest of the system," says Wakeling. "Let's just hope that those 15 years that we've waited or wasted isn't too long. I don't know, I'm not sure whether there is the time or the will at this point to do much about it, but we shall see."

What's next for The English Beat?

"We've started recording some songs," Wakeling shares. "We've recorded the drums for the first three songs and I intend to bring out a series of EPs starting later this year and just bring out a new EP every few months primarily to sell at concerts. We've had a lot of people asking and luckily, I think a lot of our fans are old enough that they still like having a CD or a tangible item."

I ask for his take on CDs versus vinyl.

"The art seems as compressed as the music. I can't listen to them as much as I like them," says Wakeling. "I think the only people who talk to me with great passion about playing music are the people who play records."

Wakeling seems to have a perfect afternoon on his balcony that could only be made better with a nice glass of wine, I comment.

"I don't drink wine any more, I'm on the wagon. I've been on the wagon for a few years now so I don't have that escape any more, it's a bloody shame. I've now become what's known as an 'alcoholic voyeur,' I love to watch people get drunk, especially women," laughs Wakeling.
 
We end our talk agreeing that a nice cup of tea will do just fine.

Find out what's shakin' with The English Beat at www.myspace.com/officialbeatspace

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