The Beat was formed in 1978 by Dave Wakeling (vocals, guitar) and Andy Cox (guitar). Band members Ranking Roger (vocals), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums) and Lionel Augustus Martin a/k/a Saxa (saxophone) would then each find their way to the lineup via their own unique path. “People just appeared as required. It had a kind of kismet feel,” Wakeling said in a press release.
One of the earliest and most important ska revivalist groups, the English Beat is looking forward to pushing both collections and, eventually, new material.
Wakeling, who has lived in the United States for about 25 years, spoke to SoundSpike about the new releases, working on forthcoming material and the band’s first trip to Australia.
SoundSpike: How’s the tour going, or are you on a break?
Dave Wakeling: I wish it were a break. We’re preparing for it. I have an 18-hour day most days getting everything arranged. I like it. but it gets too much.
What kinds of things do you have to prepare?
Book the flights for the band, rent the bus, discuss the mileage and the charges with the bus companies and the agents.
That’s a lot of work.
It’s too much work. That’s what I’m saying. I like it and if I didn’t have my eye on everything I’d be really worried because then if something goes wrong, I kick myself. I could have checked that. I could have done that. but you end up with just a bit too much to do. I’d rather have a few hours to sit and play the guitar in the sunshine some days. but I don’t seem to have time for it.
Are you excited about the reissues coming out in July?
Yes, particularly so. They seem to have done a really nice job with the box set. I’m really glad that we get a chance to have a box set. I always wondered whether we were going to get in there, and now we have. It’s nice because it’s a modest package. We wanted something that we might be able to sell at gigs and somebody could pick up and put in their pocket. It’s very dainty looking, considering it’s packed with five CDs and so much information. more Beat stuff than I even remembered.
Was it difficult to sift through the unreleased material and decide what to include?
No, it wasn’t very difficult. Derek at the record company, Derek Dressler, was very brave and [another executive] made his suggestions right off the bat. Everybody started to appreciate that he had a pretty good judge of feelings. With only a few little quibbles here and there, more really about the artwork than the music, even everybody liked the running orders, he’s done his homework and was a fan and tried to put a package together that he would want to buy as a fan. It was quite pleasant to be involved with it. It was a nice-looking package and we look forward to promoting it showing it off at my concerts.
Can you believe it’s the 33rd year for the English Beat?
I’m amazed that the songs have lasted that long and listening to the box set, it’s great that they still don’t sound particularly dated. They still sound like we meant it. It’s not sort of overly wrapped up in whatever the fashion affectation at the time was. In that respect, they still sound credible to everybody in the band really. That’s the big surprise. We all thought if we listen to these we’re going to be embarrassed. And, um, it hasn’t been the case. “Oh that’s pretty good. Oh.” In that respect I’m surprised and proud.
Have you started writing new material?
I have, yes. I have 20 new songs and have the drums and the arrangements already recorded on them. I’m just waiting until this English Beat set and I think in the springtime a General Public best of record, and then I’ll start bringing out my new ones on the back of those, I suppose. It will be quite good for me. because I’ll enjoy watching the re-release of the Beat and General Public. So, I’ll have a bit more of a clue about how I’ll actually try to bring out new music. I don’t necessarily think it’s just sticking 12 songs on an album and crossing your fingers. We might do different sorts of things, target songs that are working on television or film first. Maybe bring out EPs at concerts. I’m not sure. I’ll have to learn along the way.
It sounds like it’s an exciting time for the English Beat.
It’s really exciting. I’ve been playing a few in the set every now and then and they were going down well. People were telling us which ones they liked the best. Then people started asking for them by name for CD at the merchandise counter. In some ways it’s a bit frustrating. I’m now on this tour to promote the best-of record and the box set. I don’t do the new songs in the set at the moment. It’s concentrated on the Beat songs that are on the collection and some General Public ones, too. I think that by the fall, the new ones will be back in the set, I suppose, hopefully.
Do you worry about new material ending up on YouTube before you release it?
I think that horse has left the stable. There’s no point worrying about it. It’s a totally different thing nowadays, isn’t it? Some of the new songs have already been captured on bits of video. In general, it doesn’t seem to harm you too much. Somebody’s thinking something’s great on YouTube and the fact that it’s on YouTube. probably it is positive, at least it is to be as an artist. Quite a lot of my fans grew up buying music and you got something in your hand. An artifact and you could read it and turn it over and get a look at the back and even get somebody to sign it. They’ll still going to be at least in terms of my music, they’ll still be quite a lot of people who want to pay some money and be handed something.
What do you listen to these days?
One record that I always turn to is the “Heart of the Congos” by the Congos. It’s my favorite reggae record. It’s dripping with pain and sizzling with joy at the same time. Lee Perry produced it and it’s got some of the best musicians that ever played in reggae on it. It’s been my favorite record for I suppose, wow, over three decades now. That’s the most often one I would play. I just find it inspirational to me. It’s an immediate lift of the heart and change of mood, if required.
What inspires you to produce new music?
It’s the same thing as it ever was, really. It’s something that captures your attention and affects you strongly even in a positive or a negative way. or it can be a little bit of both. As if something terrible or sad happens in your life, you come up with something you might have said to yourself or found out what’s going through that process and then you put it in a song. “The Love You give Lasts Forever” is one of the new songs that people have liked the most so far. but it came out of the conversations me and my sister had in the days immediately following our mom’s death. We figured out it was the love that we shared with her was still there. the love you give lasts forever even when you’re gone.
I’m sorry to hear about your mother.
It’s been awhile now. Nobody ever really stops thinking about it.
My father passed away right after I moved to Arizona. You’re right you never stop thinking about it, that’s for sure.
It starts to get a bit warmer in the end. my immediate reaction is I demand a recount. Surely some mistake here.
What do you have planned after the U.S. dates?
We go to Australia in the end of August. We have a few local shows in California at the end of the tour. We go to Australia for the first time ever. It should be interesting. the tickets are going like hot cakes, if they have hot cakes over there, I don’t know. [Laughs] I think there’s some built-up anticipation. We’ve never visited before. the first show in Sydney is already sold out and we put on a second one on and that’s half sold out. It’s all looking like heading into a celebration. I’ve been reading up on Australia and I find it very interesting.