The English Beat/General Public’s Dave Wakeling Talks About The Complete Beat Box Set, Teaching Pete Townshend Tuning, Getting Scolded by Elvis Costello, and How Sting Got That T-Shirt

The original lineup of the English Beat

Dave Wakeling is excited. As a founding member of both the English Beat and General Public, he is currently on the road with the U.S. version of the English Beat (Fellow Beat-mate and friend Ranking Roger travels the UK & European circuit with another sanctioned version of the band), and this month, Shout! Factory has re-released the English Beat’s three original albums in a box set entitled The Complete Beat, with many cool extras including rare 12-inch remixes and the band’s John Peel sessions. Wakeling talked to THE GOLDEN AGE OF MUSIC VIDEO about many topics incuding scrapped videos, the breakup of the English Beat, teaching Pete Townshend to play “Save It For Later”, and why Sting is wearing a Beat shirt in the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” video.

It’s interesting to note that the English Beat’s music has a positive pop sensibility that sets it apart from the dour heaviness of your hometown of Birmingham’s more famous band, Black Sabbath.

We had this view that life was tragic, and yet it was beautiful. It’s all so beautiful (singing), I wanted to try to capture that in song, so we had the seductive side of reggae, the energy and power of punk, and the triumph and feeling of soul, and the crisp editing of 60s pop, so people would want to put the needle back on the record. We wanted to combine all that into a three-minute pop song. That was the brief. We all had different visions of it. Mine initially was I wanted Toots and the Maytals jamming with the Velvet Underground, with Brian Ferry and Van Morrison dueting on top. David Steele wanted the Monkees in there, and Roger was pure punk so he wanted a bit of the Clash and Pistols in there. We wanted to synthesize it into something that would make everyone in the room dance and feel uplifted, because life was as it was in Birmingham. It’s a bit like Detroit in how much joyful music came out of there. I’ve actually talked to the guys in the Romantics about it in the last few years. We talked about writing a song about it together called “Close Your Eyes And Dream Of Something Better”. Music comes out of places like Detroit and Birmingham I suppose because there was really only a few like the Au Pairs and the Killjoys, and a band called Fashion. Birmingham, though, got left out of the punk revolution, pretty much. There was London and Manchester, and Birmingham sort of got left alone in the middle, but immediately following, you got the Beat, UB40, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and only about a year later, Duran Duran. We didn’t really realize it at the time, but there was really a renaissance of Birmingham music at the time, and perhaps that ‘s because there was this built-up pressure of punk that hadn’t really been expressed in Birmingham. Some of that came straight after us, in post-punk or whatever. We tried taking that energy of punk but mixing it with our favorite reggae and soul records.

I guess [2-Tone Records head]Jerry Dammers was on the same wavelength, so when that label started, with bands like the English Beat, the Specials and the Selecter, there were black and white people playing music together as bandmates. That turned out to be a groundbreaking concept. At the time, did it just seem like a natural extension of the mix of workers on the factory line in Birmingham?

Yes, I’m glad you said that. We didn’t realize that it was out of the ordinary at all until we went to London. The first six months we played shows in Birmingham, nobody mentioned it. After the shows in London, we’d be surrounded by skinheads saying, “Black geezers and white geezers on stage together? That’s alright, I like that.” Okay, so long as you like it, we’ll pretend we did it on purpose! (laugh) We were lucky that it was a reflection of the city we’d grown up in.

The Complete Beat box set seems like a real opportunity to revisit the core of your music, especially those three albums. Did that require all the members of the English Beat to weigh in? I know that it hasn’t always been sunny skies with the other members.

If it had been left to us, we’d probably still be arguing about it now. There were people at Shout! Factory (the label that issued the box set who were longtime fans of the band, so they had a good idea of what fans had been searching for all these years – the rarities, the b-sides, the Peel Sessions, the 12-inch mixes that were only released in England, what have you. So before we even had time to squabble, they’d sent us track lists and CDs, and they’ve done an amazing job of it. There were very few changes that people had to suggest.

People are already talking about the earnestness and energy of the Peel Sessions. The band sounds so good.

I really love them. They are really my favorites at the moment. You can hear that earnestness on it, but we really didn’t know what we were doing. We were having to walk with our shoulders back and pretend we did. You can feel that youthful nervousness trying to come across as swagger, and I find the combination of the two to be really charming. I hadn’t heard the John Peel sessions for years, and the songs were recorded before we got a record deal – before we even KNEW we had a record deal, and certainly before we had any dreams of becoming a successful group, being in the charts, any of that. It was quite pure. Not so far to say innocent, but certainly naïve. There’s a certain charm to them, so I listen to them and it definitely brings me back to that enthusiasm and that “we can change the world” sort of feeling. Also, when we did get a record deal, the record company would want us to edit out anything they felt was unusual from the album version to make the seven inch single for radio. You know, they were worried about dub sections and too much echoes, things like that. We would argue back and forth, eventually we did a deal where we’d let them edit down for a single we’d still have to approve, and in exchange, they’d pay for time in the studio next door so they could edit down and get rid of us. We’d go in the other studio and make a twelve-inch dance dub version of the song and take it much further than even the album version would go. At the time, you could bring out a 12-inch single, and they’ll still count as a sale on the singles chart, so if your single was failing, they’d find the right time to bring out this 12-inch single, usually three or four weeks afterwards. It could give your single a huge jolt over the top, or at least stop it from starting to decline. So it wasn’t even some idea we came up with, they just gave us time in the studio to do them. It wasn’t really until I started conversations with Shout! Factory that I found out that many of the 12-inch singles had never seen the light of day in America. We weren’t really a singles band, we were more of a college darlings album band. There was no real use for the 12-inch singles for the record company in the U.S., so many of them didn’t get released at all here, so the CD of the 12-inch dubs and dance mixes is great for U.S. fans who’ve been paying huge amounts of money to acquire those English vinyl copies. That and the John Peel sessions are a real added bonus – and a bonus for me because I hadn’t heard them for years either! Now I’ve got all my music in one box.

It must have been a real kick to have your guitar hanging in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next to your favorite guitar player, Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground.

It was really peculiar. When I saw it placed there, I nearly fell over. Then they introduced me to the director of the museum, and he said, “Do you remember a college radio interview you did in Michigan in 1981? It was an interview on the radio, it was the first interview the guy had ever done.” and I said, “Yes I remember,” and he said, “It’s good to see you again! You told me that your favorite guitarist was Sterling Morrison in that interview, so when I heard your guitar was being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I told them to put it next to Sterling Morrison, that’s his favorite.” Wonderful! Now, it’s moved around a bit. For a while it was in the left-handed collection, between Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain’s guitars. That was nice. I was very proud of that until I got home and a friend said to me, “You didn’t feel awkward being between two dead people from Seattle, then?” Hadn’t thought of it that way, but no! (laugh)

Speaking of the left hand, I heard about your obscure method for learning to play, and how that gave Pete Townshend cause to call you when he couldn’t figure out the tuning for “Save It For Later”.

It was the most remarkable thing. My dad bought me a guitar when I was twelve. Neither of us knew how to play it. He bought it off a tour manager who was selling his band’s gear in the car park of a pub because he hadn’t been paid. The band was splitting up and he was selling the gear to get some money out of it. The guitar didn’t have a scratch plate on it, so it looked exactly the same for left or right hand. I’m right handed, not left handed. I thought the fret board looked hard and the strumming looked easy, so I played the frets with my right hand. I figured that was right, with the lowest notes at the bottom, and highest notes at the top. My twelve-year-old logic. I bought a Beatles’ songbook, I remember, and a Rolling Stones songbook, and I couldn’t play any of them! I played for hours and hours, and I thought, this doesn’t sound like George Harrison, and of course it didn’t because I was playing upside down. I started tuning the guitar up to something that sounded nice, finding something to make chords, started writing songs, and it seemed that the first tuning I figured out was similar to Keith Richards. Once I figured that out, all of a sudden I could play all the Rolling Stones songs without needing to look at the book, which was good because it still didn’t work when I was looking at the book. And I also like John Martyn at the time, and his tuning had a drone sound, like a bagpipe or something, so I kept messing around and trying to tune so I could sound like John Martyn records. I nearly got there, it turns out that his tuning is a very famous blues and folk tuning called DADGAD, but I’d tuned the G up to A as well, and it was all Ds and As as well. It turned out to be very similar to the way a bagpipe harmonizes with itself, so I made up some chords and figured out what worked, and wrote some songs, “Save It For Later” being one of them. So the phone rang one Saturday morning, and it was Pete Townshend. I thought it was one of my friends, so I’m on the phone, “Oh, hey, Pete, how’s it going man,” and he said, “Hello, this is Peter Townshend, and I’m sitting here with David Gilmour, and we’re trying to play your song ‘Save It For Later’, but we can’t work out the tuning.” (laugh) That was a such a weird thing because “I Can See For Miles” and “I’m a Boy” and the whole early Mod Who songs had a huge effect on me, and in my teen years, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma had been a big influence. and I always thought David’s guitar sound was one of the most distinctive and seductive out there. I always liked it more than the rocking blues style of Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton. David Gilmour’s guitar is more expansive. To have two of the people who influenced me to become part of a pop group call up and ask me for tuning was wild. At that point I was still playing it with two fingers. Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” is a similar song, so sometimes they do our song, and we will do their song. “Free Fallin'” and “Werewolves of London” fit with “Save It For Later” also. It’s always been a dream to have Pete Townsend, Eddie Vedder and myself playing “Save It For Later” acoustically together for some sort of charity event or something. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but it’s a long cherished dream of mine.

There for a bit you had a relationship with IRS records, and Miles Copeland, and his notorious —

— shenanigans?

That’s one way to put it. More mainstream fans may not have latched on to the English Beat right away, but they did see Sting wearing an English Beat shirt in the video for “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”. Was that Miles Copeland at work?

Sting sports his Beat shirt in the Police video

I think there’s a number of subplots to that. We toured with the Police for a while. As you can see from Sting’s career, once he had left the Police, and extricated himself from Miles, he actually had a lot of social and political things to say. But that was simply verboten — and I use the word advisedly — in the Police. You don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you don’t swear, you don’t say anything about politics, and keep your hair blonde. It was awful. I felt really sorry for them. They look like they really felt sorry for themselves as well. They were like the Monkees of punk, weren’t they?

It would have been impossible for Stewart to disconnect from Miles, I suppose. [The two are brothers.]

Yes, that’s right. It’s hard to get away from Miles if you’re within 300 yards of him, the way he’d shout and all. I liked Ian [Copeland, another brother who was prominent music promoter], and we became very good friends, and Stewart and I got to be pals. Miles had a terrific sense of humor, but he would take it too far. The effect he had on people was cruel, and I don’t think he understood at the time. A bit too full of himself, but we all were. He can hurt people without really noticing…so Sting started wearing the Beat shirt, we took it to mean that he cast his vote in our direction. He stood with the things we were saying. It also has to be admitted, however, the IRS Records and Miles Copeland had just bought the Beat’s merchandising contract for that year. While my dream was that he was wearing the shirt because he wanted to say “Stand Down Margaret” but couldn’t, that might not have been the full story. It was Miles trying to sell t-shirts for money he was never going to pay us anyway. (laugh)

Speaking of IRS Records, R.E.M opened for the English Beat when their album Murmur came out.

It was their first national tour, and we had just come off a tour with the Talking Heads. All of the Talking Heads were actually charming, but especially David Byrne. We would finish sound check, and David would come to our dressing room, and ask us, “Is everybody treating you okay? Do you need anything?” We weren’t used to the lead singer of the headlining group caring at all. We were very touched by that. Our next tour was with R.E.M., so after the sound check, I would go to their dressing room, and without the David Byrne impersonation, I would ask them if they needed anything. We started to become friends through that. Oddly enough, I heard from Mike Mills later that the David Byrne tradition was also passed on by R.E.M., so they would ask their opening bands if they needed anything, and they spoke to U2 about it, who also carried on the tradition, so David Byrne begat a whole legacy there. And Michael Stipe was nervous at that time, asking me what I thought of the songs, etc. I told them they were fantastic songs, but don’t be shy, sing up, mate! You’ve got some great lyrics but I can’t make out the words! Of course a few months later whenMurmur was doing incredibly well. I went in to see Miles and our record had been out about eight months and done very well. I said I need to remix the whole album, and they said what? I said, we have to turn the vocals down, it’s too old-fashioned. I can hear all the words! (laugh)

Interestingly enough, you reconnected with R.E.M when you produced the Alternative NRG album for Greenpeace. That’s a great album of live tracks, and R.E.M.’s live version of “Drive” is a fantastically funky rendition.

The version of “Drive” I just adore. We recorded it at the 40-Watt Club in Athens, Georgia. We took our solar generator to Athens, because Michael very much wanted to record with Athens sunshine.

Do you mind if I ask about the specifics of the English Beat’s breakup? It’s well documented what happened after, that you and Ranking Roger formed General Public and other members of the band formed Fine Young Cannibals with Roland Gift, but how did you feel about the two entities existing on the charts simultaneously?

Well I was absolutely thrilled with the success of General Public until Fine Young Cannibals got to be the number one single in 17 countries, then I turned green as St. Patrick’s Day! (laugh) I still get on well with them. David [Steele] and I speak, and it still bristly. I don’t know, it still feels like he has to get one over on me, still. We tried a few reunions over the years, but Andy and David fell out at the end of Fine Young Cannibals and haven’t had much to do with each other since.

They don’t like to tour, do they?

Well, that’s what happened at the end with the Beat. They wanted two years off. Roger and I had just started families. We’d shared all the money equally. Virgin Records offered us a deal, but they got tired of waiting, and David Steele wanted two years off, he didn’t want to tour America, and every time we resolved three bits of the contract, he thought of three more. The same with the management. Eventually, Roger and I were called to a meeting, and Virgin and the managers said, “Look, you’ve had this offer for six months, it looks as though the Beat is finished, you haven’t done anything and it looks as though maybe you don’t want to. If you and Roger want to do something, we know you’ve been working on songs, would you like to do a project?” And that’s how General Public happened.

Where did the name General Public come from?

Margaret Thatcher, really. She gave me the idea. Every time she told a lie about her policies, she would always come with the old mandate thing. “The general public have made it quite clear, blah blah blah.” She used the phrase a lot. We were coming up on 1984, and I thought, oh, the general public is like Big Brother, eh? And every time a politician uses that term the general public on television, it seemed like a free advertisement for the group. It also sounded a bit like Public Image Ltd., which had gotten on pretty well. So the eyes [in the album artwork] were meant to be the eyes of Big Brother, or the eyes watching the boot stomping continuously on its face, as it does toward the end of that book.

Big Brother is watching! General Public and the eyes

I want to ask you about your relationship with John Hughes. Die hard English Beat fans know that the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when he is running home uses the Beat’s “March of the Swivelheads” as the musical score, and that cut is actually an instrumental version of the Beat’s “Rotating Head”. You also produced the soundtrack for Hughes’ film She’s Having A Baby and performed the title track. What is it like working with and becoming friends with John Hughes?

It was amazing. He wanted to be in a group. He had a record collection 50-feet long and 12-feet high. It wasn’t categorized alphabetically, it was where he knew the records were. I went there once, and he made me quiz him. I’d shout out the name of an album, and he’d go pluck it out. He knew where they were. It was really weird. We actually wrote the lyrics to “She’s Having A Baby” together, almost like a postal chess game. There was no internet e-mail, or anything like that, so he would read some ideas down on where he was taking the film, and I would send him rhyming couplets back, sometimes on the same letter. He would then sent back suggestions, and we did that three or four times, and the song was born. My original recording of it was a bit raunchy. Kind of Rolling Stones-y. Everyone absolutely adored it. All of a sudden, we had a message from the film company, they have tested the movie and the demographic is older than they thought. They want to bring in this producer who produced Boy George, and they want a poppy version of it. It was still good, but it wasn’t as good. Still, it was a great experience. Back on Ferris Bueller, “swivelheads” was a bit of English slang. Get this, when the Beat got really famous, we had to have two bodyguards on the bus to get us in and out of the venues, but it turned out that both of them have worked as armed bodyguards for Margaret Thatcher. I sat at the front of the bus and talk their ears off. I gleaned a lot of their jargon from that, one being “swivelhead”. They called themselves “swivelheads”, and in the “Rotating Head” song, “friends in high places” means snipers on the roof, and “one swollen ankle” means someone has a pistol in a holster on the ankle. These were all things they’d say on the radio between each other. I also explained that tension and drama of life in that, and the trouble with getting to sleep at night when you may have to take a bullet for next day for Margaret Thatcher. But in the end, in it up being about Ferris Bueller anyway! (laugh)

When General Public covered “I’ll Take You There”, it became an international hit. How did that come to you?

I was surprised by the whole thing really. Going back, I was working with Greenpeace, and I was with the people next to the merchandise, giving out leaflets for Greenpeace, what have you. Elvis Costello was one of the ones who was nice enough to have a Greenpeace contingent on tour. So I was showing off a little in the office in Los Angeles, saying, “Oh, yes, Elvis Costello, I know him, we were pretty good mates for a minute there.” So I took about sixteen Greenpeacers, half of them playing hackey-sack, to meet Elvis backstage. Before I’d finished my introductory speech, he said, “I could bang your and Jerry Dammers’ heads together, Wakeling!” And I’m like, “What?”, and all my friends are giggling. He said, “You know, the Greenpeace stuff and the anti-apartheid stuff that Jerry Dammers is doing is all well and good, but your place is on the stage, Wakeling, and you know it.” So I went back to the office and that whole week, they teased me rotten about it. “Your place is on the stage, Wakeling!” they’d say. And then the phone rang, and this fellow said, “I’d just got the job doing the music for this movie called Threesome, and would you be interested in getting back together with Roger as General Public to do a cover version of a song, because I know you’ve always done well with cover versions.” I said that I’d love to, and he sent me a list of songs. He actually wanted us to do “Stuck in the Middle With You,” which I thought was a bit obvious for a movie called Threesome. (laugh) On the list was “I’ll Take You There” and I always thought that song had been written over an instrumental song called “The Liquidator” by Harry J and the All-Stars, which had come out two years prior to “I’ll Take You There”. Same bassline, and I thought it would be fun to stick our favorite bits of “The Liquidator” in there. So we did, we made this mashup, and the record company didn’t want me to say anything about “The Liquidator” part. I’ve only mentioned that in the last few years. When it came out, it went to number one in the dance charts, General Public got offered a new deal, I was back in a band and off Greenpeace, and it turns out that Elvis Costello’s words had become savagely prophetic. Now all I’m hoping to do is do a full tour with Elvis Costello.

For General Public’s “Come Again,” the music video looks like a full motion picture.

The guy who directed it was a commercial director and said, “Hey, would you give me a shot?” and I said, “Yeah!” and he said he wanted all the images to keep repeating, so the images “come again” as well. I said that was a good idea as well. The story of the song comes from sitting in a hotel room in San Francisco, as the second verse says, after a show and I couldn’t sleep, and I was exhilarated but also quite depressed. You know, your ears are ringing but you’re sitting in a room by yourself. You feel like you’re going to burst. I was trying to go to sleep, and as I lay there in the dark, I swear I saw two grey shapes at the foot of the bed. Two male ghosts if you will, and I was staring them, and you couldn’t look at them directly or they’d disappear, but if you let your eyes go sideways, their faces started to show. It looked like Jesus and the Buddha. And as I looked, they converged and became the same thing, smiled, and disappeared. So then, I’m terrified. I’m thinking, Good Lord. I rushed across to where the drawer was that would normally have the hotel’s Gideon’s Bible, so I reach in and grab it, flip on the lights, and it’s not the Bible, it’s the complete works of the Buddha.


That just set me off. I didn’t sleep that night, I started writing the song instead. And I’d seen all the televangelists talking about Jesus coming back, and also Ronald Reagan was coming up on his second election – coming back for a second term. So I mixed Ronald Reagan and Jesus into a song that was really about a mixture of things – my horror at evangelists on TV, knowing that if Jesus did come back he wouldn’t be that thrilled with them, and Ronald Reagan, and what had happened. By morning, the sun came up, and most of it was done.

You did a significant amount of videos for the English Beat, and the 2-Tone Label had a lot of videos. On the day MTV launched, they played clips by the Specials and the Selector.

Videos were really exciting before MTV. It was really exciting, and then when MTV started, they had some woman in an office over there with a rule book of thirty things you couldn’t have in videos, like a censor. You had to send the rough cut to them, and she’d tell you which bits were allowed and which were not, unless you were Madonna, and then you had to have all thirty of them. That was part of the game. And then it got really boring. From then on, we insisted on more performance-based videos than anything else. We had friends at home making really exciting three-minute films for $5000, and they really moved you. Too much of a knee-jerk reaction by the record companies. Forty year olds thinking they know what fourteen year olds would be offended by, but of course most fourteen year olds aren’t offended by anything. I thought it became very prurient, to be honest. It’s no surprise to me that in the end, MTV ended up eating itself.

When you were shooting “Drowning” when you were on a surfboard, that looks like a fun shoot.

Sure, that was fun. The song was about our first disenchantment with the record industry. We were disappointed with the attention we got from our label, since they had the Pretenders, Talking Heads and Madness, and we seemed to slip between the cracks. So when we went to New York, the label wanted to take us out to dinner, and I was too embarrassed. I wouldn’t go. They kept sending people up to the room, and I kept saying I wasn’t going. I sat and mused upon it, and I felt like I was drowning, and that’s how the song was born. Of course, you couldn’t make a video about that, could you? I also think it was the first pop song with whale noises in it. We mixed a few of those in there.

In the English Beat’s video for “I Confess”, you get your theater moment there with you on the rock in the cape.

Yes, Heathcliff! On the cliffs with the black robe. It was a bit of a swipe at the New Romantics who had sort of stolen our thunder in England a bit. It seemed like unless you were dressed up like your mom, you couldn’t get on TV. By comparison, we looked like a bunch of dour plumbers at a union meeting. (laugh) The video for “I Confess” was a bit of me venting about that. Not many people saw the irony, they just saw me in mascara with a black robe on.

The Beat’s “Door Of Your Heart” video was directed by Julien Temple, and we see a performance by you on a roof but also in a carnival parade.

Yes, he had a great idea. The single was coming out on the Monday after a carnival, so we rented some of the floats and costumes that were going to be used in the carnival in about three weeks time. We filmed it on the same streets that the carnival would take place. We made it look like we’d shot it at the carnival that weekend and put it out the following Monday! And absolutely everybody believed it. “Wow, how did you and Julien Temple get that together?” A bit of sleight of hand by Julien, very clever.

Do people still ask you about whether “Mirror in the Bathroom” is a cocaine reference?

Only in America, nobody had enough money in the UK for cocaine at the time – not for lack of trying, mind you! The punk scene was more amphetamine driven. It wasn’t until we got to New York where people would say, “ah, mirror in the bathroom, know what you mean, sniff sniff, know what you mean.” (laugh) It became sadly prophetic, I’ll admit.

Well, it was the eighties.

Yes, it was the eighties – two or three of the best years of my life. (laugh)

What do you recall from shooting the video for General Public’s “Tenderness”?

We did two versions. We did one in England with Nicholas Roeg’s son, who’d just become a video director, and he’d just done a Bronski Beat video. I really enjoyed that video, and so our first one had this female lifeguard, and we’re all playing around in the swimming pool. I’d been a competition swimmer, so when they proposed a swimming pool, I said yes yes, thinking I could show off a bit. So the girl and I are supposed to be eyeing each other and then we end up in the shower, and she takes off her jacket and she’s actually a female bodybuilder with a crewcut. She tosses off her wig and embraces me, and that’s the end of the video. Everyone in England thought it was amazing. We brought it over to Miles Copeland and his crew and they said [in a barking tone] “No no no no no.” We said we didn’t have any money to reshoot, but IRS Records came up with the money. They introduced us to [director] C.D. Taylor whom I like very much, and I think the theme of that video was that Roger and I were very attractive people at sunset. (laugh) We shot much of the performance on the A&M lot. C.D. Taylor found these eye drops that made blue eyes look even bluer with the right lens on. It ended up being my mom’s favorite video. I showed the two cuts to my mom, and she said, “ah, your eyes do look lovely in that one.” (laugh)

Now that it’s 33 1/3 years since the English Beat began, what would you say is the legacy of the English Beat?

Well, we were very lucky that our producer Bob Sargeant wouldn’t let us have any of the new modern synthesizers on the album. Some of us really wanted them at the time. He wouldn’t allow it, and luckily, because of that, it still just sounds like great drums, bass, guitar, bit of keyboard, Hammond organ, and saxophone. The music hasn’t dated itself the way much of the music of that time has, the very music we were jealous of at the time. If we wanted strings, we rented a string quartet from the World Philharmonic Orchestra, who by the way played in their full black coats and ties, all very proper. There were very tough times, after punk, but we said what we wanted, until time came again where record companies were censoring you. A couple or three years there, you could say whatever you wanted, so long as you had a catchy beat and you looked good. Because of that, the fans tell us that the lyrics still remain quite pertinent. With the recession going on in America these last few years, a lot of the songs about national identity, personal identity, and employment and what’s your place in the world, those are the songs that fans tell us could have been written today. It’s really a bit of sadness I feel because the words are still pertinent today. I guess I was hoping the lyrics would become historical, but they seem up to date. It’s a shame how people play each other. Life’s tragic enough without us making it worse for each other.

Dave Wakeling with the English Beat in concert

But with the music, it’s Carl Jung’s mass consciousness in action. A concert forces you to be in the moment because if you do it right, you have very little choice except to be in the moment. You lose your sense of time and you lose your sense of ego. You lose that sense of division between you and other individuals. As soon as you’ve stepped out of the moment, you need to jump back in. In that second hour, there’s that moment of “oh, we’re all one, yes? I see.” There’s just one song, and one happy crowd moving as one animal.

Don’t miss the English Beat on tour, which stops at the Bell House in Brooklyn on July 12th.


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