That a conversation with Dave Wakeling ostensibly about music soon shifts to matters of sociopolitical concern shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the man's career, most notably his stint as the principal songwriter, singer, and guitarist for the English Beat.
Formed in Birmingham, England in 1978, the English Beat (or the Beat, as they were more commonly known outside of the States) emerged as a seminal exponent of the era's vibrant ska-punk movement. The band, which along with Wakeling (vocals/guitar) included Andy Cox (guitar), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums), Lionel Augustus Martin AKA "Saxa" (saxophone), and Ranking Roger (toasting), earned both popular success and critical acclaim with hit singles like "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Stand Down Margaret," and "Save It For Later," often chronicling and, at times, decrying some of the most contentious issues of the day.
Released on Tuesday by Shout! Factory as a five-disc boxed set, The Complete Beat collects the band's three-album discography along with two supplemental discs—one of extended and remixed tracks, and another of select live material and archival sessions recorded on legendary DJ John Peel's BBC Radio 1 program. A one-disc retrospective, Keep The Beat: The Very Best of The English Beat, is also being released.
The English Beat's original lineup broke up in 1983—Wakeling and Ranking Roger went on to form General Public ("Tenderness," "Taking the Day Off"), while Andy Cox and David Steele co-founded Fine Young Cannibals ("She Drives Me Crazy," "Good Thing")—though Wakeling, who for nearly the last 25 years has lived in California, keeps the old moniker alive on the road.
Like much of the music he helped create three decades ago, he remains as incisive and unflinching as ever. Says Wakeling, "You’ve got to be willing to put yourself on the line."
The music of the English Beat certainly had a political context to it. Do you think there is still a place for that in music today where it can touch a nerve in the—no pun intended—general public?
I know people are terrified over it because they think it might ruin their careers. It’s amazing how many times people are quite vociferous backstage but they won’t say “boo” to a goose in case it harms their career. I find that disappointing. For us at the time, we didn’t think we were doing anything special, frankly. We were just singing about what everybody was talking about in every bar and at every bus stop. It didn’t seem appropriate that just because you got to be in a pop group you had to stop talking about what was on everybody else’s lips.