The Beat goes on: Dave Wakeling brings ska legacy to PontiacWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The first time Dave Wakeling heard ska, the music with which he was to forge an indelible legacy, he was at a soccer match in his native Birmingham.
“They used to play ’em to keep the skinheads quiet,” Wakeling said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “So they could dance instead of kick each other. Or kick each other in time, I suppose.”
Wakeling described the first songs he gravitated to as “dirty reggae” — “sexy, rocksteady, blues beat” numbers. But then his mind started to open up to songs with more social conscience.
“You never noticed at the start — just sounded like a pretty song. Say Max Romeo’s ‘Uptown Babies,’ that’s probably the best example. What a pretty song. And then you dig into the lyrics, and you think, ‘Oh my God, he’s singing about starving kids!’ And I thought that was a very effective way of talking about some of the things that might be difficult in society, but to be able to do it so that you remain optimistic and noble,” Wakeling said.
“I realized then that reggae wasn’t just a happy music. It was a music of survival. And that sometimes, there was a good chance, it seemed to me, that somebody would have to play a song instead of having dinner — instead of listening to the song after dinner, it was instead of dinner. And so, there was a joy in it, but it was mixed with a nobility and a sense of survival.”
Wakeling’s passion for ska would manifest itself fully when he became one of the founding members of The Beat in 1978. The band’s music, largely classified as 2-tone ska, would fuse elements from across the musical spectrum.
“When we started up, we wanted to make the living embodiment of the punky/reggae party. We wanted the adrenaline of punk, and we wanted the sway and the backbeat of reggae, and we wanted the protest and social conscience of both. And add two tablespoons of Motown.”
For The Beat, success would come quickly, as would demise. Within two years of their formation, the group would release its first album, “I Just Can’t Stop It,” which quickly rose on the charts in their native England. Two more albums followed in rapid succession, as well as extensive touring all across the world — including North America, where to avoid confusion with the Paul Collins group, the band became known as The English Beat.
“It was very odd, because it happened so quickly and so big that we really didn’t have time to adjust to it. We just had to pretend that it was normal, and that this was what we’d expected. We had kinda dreamt that it would happen, but I don’t know to what extent we expected it,” Wakeling said.
“[We] thought, really, that the trappings of fame were stupid in areas, and that we could use it, we could use it subversively — instead of stuck over onto kids’ magazines, talking about breakfast, we could get into the kids’ magazines and start talking about politics. And we did, and we got away with it! It was bonkers!”
The Beat’s ride came to a sudden stop in 1983, when the group broke up. Wakeling ascribed the ending to its members simply working themselves too hard in the last days.
“We probably really only needed three months off, and a nice big glass of milk and some cookies. But it all seemed — it all had become too much. And some of the band didn’t like touring, some of the band liked touring a lot. That was one difference that did come up. So people just weren’t happy.
“Whereas it used to be magical, we just couldn’t seem to stop ourselves from having good things start up and going off for us — a couple, three years later, it was almost impossible to get a rehearsal together.”
Wakeling, who has lived in the U.S. for years, still tours extensively as The English Beat with a new band (which also plays songs from his General Public days), and will perform March 31 at the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Mich. He also said that he’s been recording extensively in recent days.
“We’ve been very busy in the studio, and we’ve been touring a lot, and that’s kinda made it sometimes a bit slower than we’d like. We wait until we can get back, and get our breath back, too. So, I think the next chance we’ll have to do any recording is in May.”
“I’m hoping I can have a top quality EP of some sort to come out in August, that would be my dream plan.”
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.