Friday, April 20, 2012

The (English) Beat

I was a real big fan of The Beat, who formed in Birmingham, England, in 1978, against a back drop of high unemployment, social upheaval and racial tension, and rose to prominence with the arrival of 2-Tone in late 1979. I feel they were very much underrated and it was always The Specials and Madness whom seemed to get all the plaudits. Maybe the throw awayish nature of first single, a cover version of the Motown hit by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles "Tears of a Clown" and the rushed feel to debut album ‘Just Can’t Stop It’ (1980), with its covers of Prince Buster songs meant they were easily dismissed as another band riding on the shirt tails of The Specials. However I think this is harsh and that with some of their b-sides and the follow up album ‘Wha'ppen?’ (1981) they have been up there with some of the best sociopolitical bands going. They did score regularly and well in the main stream charts with songs including “Mirror In the Bathroom", “Hands Off She's Mine”, “Too Nice To Talk To” and “Best Friend”.

Although The Beat's main fan base was in the United Kingdom, the band was also popular in Australia, partly due to exposure on the radio station Triple J and the TV show Countdown. They also had a sizable following in North America, where the band was known as The English Beat for legal reasons (to avoid confusion with the American band The Beat) and received strong support from modern rock radio stations such as KROQ in Los Angeles and KYYX in Seattle. They toured worldwide with well-known artists such as David Bowie, The Clash, The Police, The Pretenders, R.E.M., The Specials, and Talking Heads. Members of the band often collaborated on stage with The Specials and in the early 1990s, Roger joined members of The Specials to form Special Beat, which toured and released two live albums. They supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and participated in the collaborative recording "Nelson Mandela".

 After the break-up of The Beat in 1983, Wakeling (guitar, vocals) and Ranking Roger (vocals) went on to form General Public, while Andy Cox (guitar) and David Steele (bass guitar) formed Fine Young Cannibals with vocalist Roland Gift. Everett Morton and Saxa formed The International Beat fronted by Tony Beet. Ranking Roger also briefly joined Mick Jones' post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite and performed at several live shows with the band. However, the band broke up shortly after he joined when its last album was shelved by the record company. Meanwhile, "March of the Swivelheads," an instrumental version of the Beat's song "Rotating Head," was used in the climactic chase scene of 1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off; the band was listed in the end credits as "The (English) Beat".

In the 1990s, Roger recorded his solo début; a reggae-oriented album entitled Radical Departure. In 2001, Roger released another solo album, Inside My Head, which included traditional reggae and ska with influences of electronica, jungle, and dub. Ranking Roger's son, Ranking Junior, has followed in his father's footsteps. In 2005, he appeared on The Ordinary Boys' single "Boys Will Be Boys" and is a current member of The Beat in the UK.

In 2003, The Beat's original line-up, minus Cox and Steele, played a sold-out one-off gig at the Royal Festival Hall. In 2004, the VH1 show Bands Reunited tried unsuccessfully to reunite the original line-up.
In 2006, the UK version of The Beat, featuring Ranking Roger and Morton, recorded a new album that was mixed by Adrian Sherwood, but it remains unreleased. After Dave Blockhead left the band, he was replaced on keyboards by Mickey Billingham formerly a member of Dexys Midnight Runners and General Public.
Wakeling fronts the US version as the "The English Beat". In 2009, Wakeling toured co-headlining with Reel Big Fish and also discussed plans to release new material in 2009.

Both the UK and USA versions of the band tour frequently and both recently celebrated the 30th Anniversary of The Beat

Original Line-up
Dave Wakeling - Guitar / Lead Vocals
Ranking Roger - Vocals
Andy Cox - Guitar
David "Shuffle" Steele - Bass
Everett Morton - Drums
Saxa - Saxophone

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