Legendary British Ska Band English Beat Reuniting

Influential early-'80s sextet to tour and possibly record new album.

Nearly 17 years after their breakup, the English Beat, one of the most

influential British

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

interested."

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

punk band.

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

"Stand

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' "

(RealAudio excerpt of interview).

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

more."

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."