Nearly 17 years after their breakup, the English Beat, one of the most
ska-revival groups of the late '70s, will reunite for a tour and possible new album,
according to the group's co-vocalist, Dave Wakeling.
The band's members gathered in London last weekend to catch up and discuss the
plans for the tour, Wakeling said Wednesday (March 24).
"We had an executive board meeting in the U.K. last weekend," Wakeling said, who was
not present for the gathering. "It was a really casual thing where we wanted to find out
what the pros and cons would be. It was sort of the first exploratory, [have a] pint of
Guinness type of thing."
Out of the exploration came plans for a tour that could be preceded by
some studio work,
said Jason Rothberg, the band's U.S.-based manager.
"They talked about touring in the fall," Rothberg said. "But I'd really
like to see them think
about going into a studio and work on some new stuff before then."
While Wakeling, 43, didn't make the trip from his Los Angeles home to
the meeting, the rest of the original members of the band -- vocalist
Ranking Roger (born Roger Charlery),
38; guitarist Andy Cox, 43; drummer Everett Morton, 47; bassist David
Steele, 38; and
saxophonist Saxa (born Lionel Augustus Martin), 70 -- were present for
the London get-together.
Wakeling said the original impetus for the reunion meeting was to discuss promotional
events for the reissue of the band's catalog in England later this year.
It wasn't the first time the band has talked of regrouping, however. "There was usually
talk [of a reunion] when we would get requests, such as 'so and so is willing to pay this
much,' " Wakeling said. "But most of the time two or more of the members were so
involved in other things there was just never a time when everyone was free and
The English Beat (known as the Beat outside the U.S.) were at the
forefront of the English ska revival of the late '70s. Formed in
Birmingham, England, in 1978, the multiracial act was led by the dual
vocal attack of Wakeling and toaster/rapper Ranking Roger, who joined
the group after he jumped onstage at a 1979 Beat gig opened by his
Signed to fellow ska revivalists the Specials' 2-Tone record label, the Beat scored a hit
with their cover of Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown"
(RealAudio excerpt) in late 1979. They were joined on that recording by
then-50-year-old saxophonist Saxa, who had played with the
Beatles and with such first-wave ska stars as Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker.
In 1980, the band formed their own label, Go-Feet, and released a pair of hit singles,
"Hands Off ... She's Mine" and "Mirror in the Bathroom"
(RealAudio excerpt) They followed up with a debut album, I Just Can't
Stop It, that featured such classic ska-pop songs as
Down Margaret" (RealAudio excerpt of live version), a slap at then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Later releases included 1981's reggae-influenced Wha'ppen and 1982's
Special Beat Service, which included the hits "Save It for Later" and "I Confess."
Shortly after the latter album's release, Saxa decided to stop touring, and the group
eventually split, with Wakeling and Ranking Roger forming the new wave act General
Public and Cox and Steele joining singer Roland Gift in the pop group Fine Young
Cannibals. Wakeling said he's been singing the band's most popular songs in his solo
club shows for years. "I think it would be quite fun to play with the other members of the
Beat," he said. "I would look forward to doing some shows. You never know what might
happen. Maybe we would record some songs together, maybe we wouldn't. I've always
thought it would be good fun for us to work together" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).
The vocalist said he's been humbled by the support he's received since telling friends
the band was re-forming. "It's been outstanding, gratifying and slightly embarrassing the
way people have reacted to the news," Wakeling said. "[I've had comments like] 'It was
the best concert I ever went to in my life' or 'I lost my virginity to that one' "
Rothberg, who also manages ex-Clash singer/guitarist Joe Strummer, said he thought
the first new album by Strummer in nearly a decade would have created more
anticipation than the English Beat reunion. "I would have thought Joe's album would be
more anticipated," Rothberg said. "But [the English Beat are] definitely as anticipated or
Following on the heels of last year's lackluster reunion of two-tone ska contemporaries
the Specials, Wakeling said he wasn't concerned that some fans might see his band's
regrouping as a cynical move.
"I started to realize, when I was thinking about this," Wakeling said, "about the records
that were important to me in my formative years, how you hear a few bars and it almost
takes you right back to that first moment you heard them. You can smell that moment.
"At first I was a bit embarrassed, because it's only a record," Wakeling said, referring to
the popularity of the Beat's own recordings. "But what's invested in that record is what
gives it weight and value, and they're now a part of someone's history."