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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The (English) Beat is Back

Thirty years.
It's not a blip of time, certainly not in this fast-moving world of gigabytes, bullet trains and Usain Bolt. But there's that adage about everything old being new again (or is it what goes around comes around?) which can make the world appear as if it's standing in place.
In 1979, England was wracked by economic troubles, spurring massive job losses, all the while madmen threatened to push a button to blow up the world. It's 2009, and the landscape in America is much the same.
Yet amid the turmoil, it is (was) time for a little levity, a time for a little devil-may-care. A time to dance.
A time for The English Beat.
For 30 years, Dave Wakeling and his band of merry ska makers roused people off their feet and onto the dance floor, and this summer is no different. Embarking on a nationwide tour (including a June 3 date at the 40 Watt), The English Beat are back, even if Wakeling never thought this day would ever come.
"I didn't expect to be alive after three decades," Wakeling said. "It's a fabulous surprise and the fact that I enjoy it more than ever is an extra bonus. In some ways the situation now socially, politically is similar to the late '70s. With the recession, depression and unemployment, the international fears of nuclear armageddon and all that – they're similar times. It's really useful for people for $20 or $30 to go out and dance their asses off. It cheers people up and gives them a sense of hope for the future because a lot of people are going through some bleak or challenging times."
Started in Birmingham, England in 1979, The English Beat were an anomaly even amidst other bands of the English ska revolution. The six-man band wrote political songs with a pop/reggae pose, singing and toasting (which was rapping before rapping was cool) to the sounds of a teardrop guitar and a saxophone player who was 30 years older (there's that number again) than everyone else in the band. In three albums (or 30-something singles, as Wakeling is apt to say), The English Beat entertained thousands, and even had Sting wearing their T-shirts in Police videos.
And just like that, they were done.
Wakeling went on with Beat bandmate Rankin' Roger to form General Public, while fellow bandmates Andy Cox and David Steele went on the form Fine Young Cannibals. Both bands discovered added success, with General Public notching a top 40 hit in Tenderness, a ubiquitous tune that later found its way on the Clueless soundtrack. But Wakeling, one to never sit in one place too long (it's the dance music, you know), left the music business altogether in the early 1990s to work for Greenpeace.
Pushing to promote awareness of global warming, Wakeling used his musical prowess and produced a benefit album called Alternative NRG in 1994. Using only solar power to mix the album, it featured tracks from U2, Annie Lennox, Jesus and Mary Chain, and a band many in Athens are familiar with.
"Last time I was at Athens was the last time I was at the 40 Watt as well, and we recorded R.E.M. for a Greenpeace song," Wakeling said. "It was a great version of Drive."
The album helped push the troubles of global warming to the forefront, and even if people weren't practicing ways to reduce gas house emissions, they were at least thinking about it.
"I was very conscious with my years working at Greenpeace of what was called greenwash – when people just put it in a green bag and make it look environmental," Wakeling said. "The fact that people would need to lie about it to make something seem environmental shows you they think the enviroment is a good idea. I never minded so much when corporations were doing it because even though they knew they were lying the people they were trying to attract in advertising thought that they were telling the truth. So at least it helps push the cause."
Wakeling left Greenpeace and returned to General Public, where he scored a surprise hit with "I'll Take You There," a cover of The Staples Singers hit which found its way onto the Threesome soundtrack. And now, years later, Wakeling is back where he started, in the fold with The English Beat.
"We started off trying to reinvigorate interest in the band three years ago by touring nationally," Wakeling said. "And it worked."
The latest incarnation of the Beat features Wakeling on guitar and vocals, Wayne Lothan (a former member of General Public) on bass and vocals, Antonee First Class on toaster duties, Rhythmm Epkins on drums, Nat Love on sax, Ray Jacildo on keys and Jai Vatuk on guitar.
The band is promoting the tour as one big 30th anniversary party, and while no cake is promised, there's sure to be plenty of dancing going on.
"For some people it's a trip down memory lane to simpler times and they can dance to celebrate that," Wakeling said. "For other people they can celebrate and dance because they haven't danced for years."

-Ed Morales

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1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, Ranking Roger and a couple of other original Beat members have another version, just called The Beat, that plays shows only in England and Europe.