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Interview:
Dave Wakeling still has the (English) Beat, 35 years later
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Dave Wakeling proclaims himself "quite shocked" when it's pointed out that it's been 35 years since the English Beat released the first of its three studio albums, "I Just Can't Stop It."

"It's an awful long time," Wakeling, 59, says with a laugh by phone from Boston. "I find it remarkable that I still even remember the words, never mind about rooms full of people singing along with them. I suppose that as a songwriter, as a troubadour, there is no greater honored that can be bestowed but that somebody can still be bothered to know the words 35 years later -- and sing along with you.

"So that part's a bit stunning, really."

Along with compatriots such as Specials AKA and Madness, the English Beat was subversive at the time, a racially blended group leading Britain's 2-Tone movement with a ska sound that connected wtih the burgeoning punk and New Wave audiences. The group capably, and memorably, covered Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "The Tears of a Clown" but also laced its repertoire with political and socially conscious lyrics that ran afoul of Britain's conservative government and even got the Beat banned from the BBC, albeit quietly.

"Well, they learned their lesson with the Sex Pistols," Wakeling recalls. "When they banned the Sex Pistols they were No. 1 for eight weeks and all of us were begging to be banned! So they just didn't play us. It wasn't a public execution; it was just a private, smothering under the pillows."

Nevertheless, Wakeling and company did enjoy the impact they were able to have after scoring hits of their own, including "Mirror in the Bathroom," "I Confess" and "Sooner or Later."

"It was a bit punky and jokey at the time," he says. "We suddenly found ourselves being chart darlings, so we could act all cute and then get on television or in the newspapers and say outrageously political things with a straight face, and it seemed to us a useful and subversive re-using and recycling of media space.

"They wanted to ask about what color girls' hair I liked or what I liked about this or that, but we would talk about Greenpeace or nuclear issues or racial issues -- but in a fun sort of way so you'd get away with it."

The English Beat splintered in 1983 but Wakeling, now living in California, resurrected the band in 2006 and has kept it going ever since. Next year will see the release of its long-awaited fourth album, a crowd-funded effort called "Here We Go Love" that Wakeling is looking forward to finally unleashing on fans.

"I didn't know how much I was meant to or not meant to try to make it sound like any of the other Beat albums," he says. "During the demo phase I thought some of the songs sounded like the Beat and some of the songs sounded like (his next band) General Public and some of the songs sounded like nothing I've ever written before. We just let the songs evolve the way the music seemed ot suggest, which is kind of how we did it with the Beat in the first place.

"After I got a few (songs) started up I had a few friends around and played them the songs and said, 'What do you think?' And they said, 'They sound great.' I said, 'What do they sound like, then.' They said, 'Uh, like Beat songs.' And I said, 'Oh...duh!'"

English Beat and 1592

Sunday, Nov. 29. Doors open at 8 p.m.

The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.

Tickets are $25.

Call 248-544-3030 or visit themagicbag.com.

Web Site: www.themagicbag.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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