One tempestuous weekend in March 1979 was not only the date of the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, but also, in Birmingham, England, the very first show by a nascent band known as The Beat. Introduced as “the hottest thing since the Pennsylvania meltdown”, the band had a sense that the next few years could well be explosive! The Beat hailed from working class, industrial Birmingham, England. When The Beat rushed on to the music scene in 1979, it was a time of social, political and musical upheaval. Into this storm came The Beat, trying to calm the waters with their simple message of love and unity set to a great dance beat.
The Beat were all about inclusion, rather than exclusion, and this showed in their personnel and their music influences. The six member band consisted of Dave Wakeling on vocals and guitar, Andy Cox on guitar, David Steele on bass, Everett Morton on drums, Ranking Roger on vocals and toasting, and foundational first wave ska legend Saxa on saxophone. The band crossed over fluidly between soul, reggae, pop and punk, and from these disparate pieces they created an infectious dance rhythm. Along with their contemporaries The Specials, The Selecter, and Madness, The Beat became an overnight sensation and one of the most popular and influential bands of the British ska movement.
By Christmas of 1979, The Beat were riding high in the UK charts with their first single, a smoking remake of the classic Smokey Robinson tune “Tears of a Clown”. Over the course of the next five years The Beat toured relentlessly and released three studio albums: “I Just Can’t Stop It”, “Wh’appen”, and “Special Beat Service”. The band toured the world, touring with such artists as David Bowie, The Police, REM, The Clash, The Talking Heads, The Pretenders, and The Specials, to name but a few. The Beat kept scoring hits with tunes that have now become so popular that it’s hard to remember a time when they didn’t exist, such as “Mirror in the Bathroom”, “Save it for Later”, “I Confess”, “Stand Down Margaret”, and their serene cover of Andy William’s “Can’t Get Used To Losing You”.
Despite their huge success, The Beat didn’t stop singing and acting on the problems caused by the noise in this world. They donated all the profits from their highly successful single version of “Stand Down Margaret” to the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament. They donated their music to causes including the anti-nuclear benefit album “Life in The European Theatre”, “The World of Music and Dance” album focusing on indigenous people’s art, and lent their voice to The Special AKA’s freedom cry “Free Nelson Mandela”, to name but a few.
Dave Wakeling once told me that every great band only has three really good albums. And true to form, The Beat decided to call it quits after their third album, “Special Beat Service”. Of course, that was not the last we would hear from the Beat boys.
After The Beat, Dave Wakeling formed General Public with co-front man from The Beat, Ranking Roger. The band took off quickly, scoring back to back hits off their first album, “All The Rage”, with the tracks “Tenderness”, “So Hot You’re Cool”, and “Never You Done That!” Dave’s good looks and soulful crooning combined brilliantly with Roger’s gravelly toasting, high intensity showmanship and upfulbeat, and they took the critics and fans by storm. It didn’t hurt that their line up included, among others, such music luminaries as The Beat’s Saxa on saxophone, Mickey Billingham on keyboards (Dexy’s Midnight Runners), Horace Panter on bass (The Specials), and none other than punk legend Mick Jones on guitar (The Clash). General Public release two more albums, “Hand to Mouth” and “Rub It Better”, notched up additional hits with “Come Again!”, “Too Much or Nothing”, and “I’ll Take You There”, and helped to secure the legacy of The Beat, before they disbanded in 1996. However, true to The Beat’s philanthropic bent, General Public reformed in 1998 to play at Sweet Relief, a concert to benefit ailing artists.
While Dave and Roger were working on General Public, Andy Cox and David Steele were occupied putting their own band together. Embracing the new “music video” paradigm, Andy and David placed an ad for a singer on MTV. After receiving hundreds of tapes from across America, ultimately it was Roland Gift who got the job. Roland was the lead singer from a band from Hull, UK, called The Acrylics who had opened a few gigs for The Beat. With Roland onboard, the Fine Young Cannibals was formed. From the release of their first single “Johnny Come Home”, from their self-titled first album “Fine Young Cannibals”, the band received critical raves and outstanding success. Their second album “The Raw and The Cooked” was nothing short of a musical phenomenon, with singles such as “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing” becoming instant classics. The Fine Young Cannibals achieved multi-platinum record sales and, perhaps more importantly, universal fan approval.
After General Public, Dave and Roger went different directions to follow their own muses. Roger has put out two solo albums, “Radical Departure” and his 2001 release “Inside My Head”. These albums show Roger’s return to his reggae and punk roots. For his part, Dave produced Greenpeace’s “Alternative NRG” album, the first album recorded completely with solar power. Dave also recorded the title track and produced the soundtrack for the John Hughes’ film “She’s Having a Baby”. After that he recorded his first solo record titled “No Warning”, which maintained the pop sense for which General Public had become famous.
While the other ex-members of The Beat were busy with their own projects, Saxa and Everett Morton put together their own band, known as International Beat. The band blended modern pop with traditional ska rhythms to form a hybrid sound reminiscent of The Beat. International Beat has toured around the world and released two live albums to date.
After the release of his first solo album, Ranking Roger joined some old friends from the heyday of the 2 Tone scene who had formed a ska ensemble band called Special Beat. The band included Neville Staples on vocals (The Specials and Fun Boy 3), Brad on drums (The Specials), Horace Panter on bass (The Specials, General Public) and Graeme Hamilton on trumpet (The Au Pairs and Fine Young Cannibals) to name but a few. Special Beat toured Britain and U.S. extensively and released two live albums.
February 2003 saw a dream come true for many Beat fans as the band reunited for a mini-tour in the UK, which culminated in their acclaimed, sold out command performance at the Royal Festival Hall! It was a magical homecoming for the band and for the fans, with band members and fans gathering from around the globe for a night or irie, ska-ful rock-steady Beat!
Being the hard driving ska legend that he is, however, Dave was not content to rest on his laurels after the RFH reunion. Dave continues to tour the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the UK with an amazing all-star ska backing band playing the hits of The Beat, General Public, and his new songs.
You just can’t stop The Beat!