By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Along with contemporaries such as The Specials, The Selector and Madness, The English Beat helped pioneer a British revival of Jamaican sounds mixed with elements of pop and punk, becoming one of the most popular and influential bands of the UK ska movement.
Fronted by singer, guitarist and principle songwriter Dave Wakeling, the band (simply known as the Beat in their native country) scored a hit with its first single, a high-octane cover of Smokey Robinson’s Motown classic “Tears of a Clown” in 1978.
With help from toaster and co-front man Ranking Roger and Jamaican saxophonist Saxa (who played on some of the original ska hits by the likes of Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker), the English Beat unleashed a string classic two-tone hits including “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Hands Off She’s Mine,” “Save It for Later” and “Tenderness,” Over the course of the three albums, The English Beat achieved great success in their home country while also finding a solid base of young fans eager to dance to the their hypnotic rhythms in America. Their constant touring with iconic bands such as The Clash and The Police helped to boost their popularity in the States.
Despite his huge success, Wakeling never stopped singing about political issues. The band donated all the profits from their highly successful single version of “Stand Down Margaret” to the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament and donated their music to causes including the anti-nuclear benefit album Life in The European Theatre as well as lending their voice to the Special AKA’s anthemic song of freedom “Free Nelson Mandela.”
Wakeling disbanded The English Beat in 1983 after their third album, Special Beat Service, but would stay active with English Beat toaster Ranking Roger in the hit-making band General Public. Wakeling has led the U.S. version of his influential ska outfit since the ’90s after an unusual agreement that gave Ranking Roger the rights to tour under the name in Europe and the U.K. (the singer sadly passed away last spring). The musician has remained an active performer on the touring circuit, delivering his classic songs to an audience that spans several generations.
The English Beat had much of it’s classic catalog reissued by Shout Factory a couple of years ago complete with additional b-sides and live cuts as well as a CD/DVD package of the band’s live performances at the US Festival in 1982 and 1983, but a few years ago announced a crowd-funding campaign to finance the group’s first new album in decades. The recording, entitled Here We Go Love, finally saw the light of day in 2018 and was met with glowing reviews.
Loyal Bay Area fans continue to pack local concerts by Wakeling and company. This Sunday, the English Beat headlines the Cornerstone in Berkeley, sharing the stage with East LA-based ska outfit the Delerians.
The English Beat
Sunday, January 26, 7:30 p.m. $30 (sold out)