When The English Beat finally arrives in Tulsa this Saturday night, you can expect to hear all your favorite English Beat tunes, but not all the original members. The version you'll see stateside is fronted by original guitarist and vocalist Dave Wakeling, with a band that pays due homage to all of the English Beat material as well as General Public and his solo work.
When asked about the current English Beat lineup, Wakeling shared that it's been working fantastically and came together more by happenstance than anything else. "We tried a couple of full band reunions, with five of the seven original members involved, but with everyone's schedules we can't really make it work."
It was during those rehearsals and warming up for the shows, however, that the former members discussed the fact that they were consistently identified with the previous bands.
"Roger was touring as Twist & Crawl, but found it was always being called The English Beat," Wakeling said. "I found that I would play my solo shows and people would call it The English Beat or General Public. They just sort of listed all the bands we had been in, so we both figure if you can tour with it, why not?"
"Now you can catch The English Beat on both continents on the same Saturday. You could even do like Phil Collins did at Live Aid and see the band twice on the same day," he added and laughed at the notion when it was suggested. "Yes -- but we'd be the ones suffering from jet lag instead of you."
These days, an English Beat set includes material from General Public and Wakeling's solo albums, but as he explained, "General Public always did a couple of English Beat songs, so it's just going a bit backwards for English Beat to play General Public. I think if I've got it to play, however, I can do it."
"I like playing the hits," he said. "I'm just still shocked that I have any, much less a whole set worth."
When asked why he thought The English Beat struck such a strong chord with audiences, Wakeling said "it seemed to satisfy a mood of the moment that I suppose we weren't very aware of at the time."
"We didn't realize at the time that Birmingham was a little hotbed (of music)," he continued. "Lots of bands moved from London because Birmingham was a little quieter. We just weren't fully aware at the time. Bands like UB40 and The Killjoys to Dexy's Midnight Runners and English Beat all came out around the same time, and shortly after that Duran Duran started. So there were four or five bands that come out, out of tens of thousands of guys that were strumming guitars at the same time. It seemed like we were just going with the flow of things and tried to fit in."
The other points that made the band resonate with its fans and makes it just as apropos today was were what Wakeling referred to as the band's enthusiasm for life and social consciousness. Perhaps that's part of the reason, beyond sheer nostalgia, that The English Beat still rings true some thirty years later.
"The situation right now with the economy is very similar to the recession in Great Britain in the late '70s and early '80s," Wakeling said. "There are too many similarities. People blamed it (the economic woes) on darker skinned people taking the jobs and the trade unions. And Margaret Thatcher's playbook didn't work -- it only made strangers out of neighbors. The English Beat fell into a social consciousness that kept people together."
When comparing those times in Great Britain, Wakeling shared his appreciation for the US, saying "I always thought Americans had a broader mind than that. I always loved American music and American sports, in part because I noticed they all played together. It's just surprising sometimes how every nation has to go through its challenges."
"I get to be an armchair critic now, though," he continued. "I can switch channels between CNN and MSNBC and Fox and read the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek to hear what's going on. The best part about it now is I can watch a few news channels and get the general stuff, but then I can hit Google and pull up 10,000 articles about whatever I want to know about. It doesn't take long to Google something and bring up the big picture and get a wide array, not just two or three opinions."
"Desperate times bring up desperate ideas," Wakeling concluded. "But testing times seem to bring out the best in people. At the same time, I don't want to put people down too much, because that brings out the hate, but I think ultimately it's good because people will find they have more in common than they initially thought."
Once again, The English Beat's social consciousness comes into play, but this time it's perhaps even more applicable in the US than it was when the band was originally putting out records. Just as appropriately, The English Beat's entire three album catalog was released earlier this year as a boxed set entitled The Complete Beat. A greatest hits compilation, Keep the Beat, was also issued, keeping the band in the public eye and Wakeling busy on the road.
At this point, opportunities abound and Wakeling shared that his touring version of The English Beat gets to play a variety of shows catering to different segments of its fan base. Just this past spring, the band played one night to the Harvard alumni class of '87, playing fairly up-tempo pop hits and catering to the audience's sense of nostalgia. The next night, Wakeling found himself playing the Punk Rock Bowling showcase to a completely different demographic.
"We managed to turn two very different crowds our way by just twisting the set slightly," he said. "Both sets went well and even the punk audience went away saying 'I had no idea they played like that.'"
The next night, Wakeling played another show that veered more towards the band's ska and reggae influences.
"In 72 hours, with very little adjustment, we were able to completely win over the '80s crowd, the punk revival and the ska/reggae audience, all with the same music," he said. "It's a sign of how much they (the songs) really all have in common with the audience."
When The English Beat performs at Reggaefest as the headliner this Saturday night, June 30, you can expect to hear the band play more to its reggae and ska influences, yet most of the hits will all manage to pop up, including a few General Public and a couple of Wakeling's solo tunes.
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