During a tumultuous weekend in March of 1979 (the same weekend as the Three Mile Island nuclear incident) a little upstart band from the working class neighborhoods of Birmingham, England called The Beat played their first show. Playing an intriguing amalgamation of ska, punk-rock, pop, soul and reggae, The Beat was literally making music like never heard before. Decades later bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and No Doubt would point to The Beat’s singular sound as a major influence.
“We might have been spreading ourselves to thin when the band first started,” says guitarist/vocalist/songwriter and the only founding member still touring as part of the band Dave Wakeling. “The idea behind the initial Beat was to make music anybody could dance to, even people who can’t dance like myself. We wanted to make music that made you look like a better dancer. It had that simple ska thing going and we’d sing about the kind of stuff that wakes you up in the middle of the night. It seems like you can kind of take on that kind of stuff in a more humorous way while you’re dancing.”
The band released three critically acclaimed studio albums in the 1980s: I Can’t Stop It (1980), Wha’ppen? (1981) and Special Beat Service (1982) along with a string of successful singles like “Mirror In The Bathroom,” “Too Nice To Talk To,” “All Out To Get You” and “Can’t Get Used To Losing You.” The band’s distinct sound was surprisingly (to some in the music business) quite financially successful and they toured with acts like The Police, The Specials, The Clash, The Talking Heads, David Bowie and REM.
Like many successful acts of the time, infighting and creative differences led to an early demise and several groups emerged out of the wreckage, including General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. Fast forward three decades and Wakeling is touring with a six-piece and hitting on all cylinders. Due to legal reasons, the band tours as The English Beat in North America.
“A fella named Paul Collins had a band in L.A. called The Beat,” Wakeling says. “By the time we got started in the UK we were known as The Beat over there. The record company wanted us to go by The Beat UK but obviously we hated that name. We suggested The Beat Brothers but they didn’t like that . That’s now the name of our publishing company. One day I was looking at a deli menu in New York and I noticed the phrase English muffin. Now, obviously we don’t call them English Muffins, they’re just muffins. Like in France, they don’t call them French Fries. I wondered if that might work for us and the label loved it.”
Along with the band’s danceable grooves and poignant lyrics, The Beat had a sociopolitical edge that fit well with many of the disenchanted youth in the UK at the time. Fast forward to 2006 when Wakeling and crew were touring the US and the idealistic bend of their youthful vision could still be seen. With the economy struggling and unemployment on the rise, the band offered half price tickets for anybody with a letter showing they were unemployed. It’s something worth noting anytime a musical act can continue to be relevant thirty plus years after their formation and The English Beat is continuing to put a great new spin on some classic tunes as well as composing current and germane new songs.
“We saw our first record as the soundtrack to the nuclear Armageddon,” Wakeling says. “We thought maybe if we could cheer people then maybe we could save the world. That’s still what we’re trying to do. We’ve got a really great line-up and we play some Beats songs, some Public songs and a bunch of new songs. Five or six of which I think could be hits.”
The English Beat plays The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., on Sunday, March 17 at 8 p.m.. The Bishops will open the show and tickets are $22. For more info visit onepercentproductions.com.