In 1978, Dave Wakeling and the English Beat helped introduce the world to the 2 Tone label sound of second wave ska bands. The movement — which also included Madness of “Our House” fame and The Specials — was a nod to the fact that musicians of various ethnic groups in working-class Birmingham, England felt more unified playing together, rather than being racially segregated as in previous generations.
The clarion call of the era’s music was “Love and Unity,” blasting out with their unmistakable brass delivery and syncopated rhythms. But behind it all was a prominent backbeat played by electric guitar on beats two and four of a 4/4 bar of music, combined with paradoxical lyrics that broadcast modern views on issues like racism, economic hardships and the ever-present threat of nuclear war.
With hits like “Mirror in a Bathroom,” “Twist & Crawl,” “Whine & Grind/Stand Down Margaret,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “Best Friend,” “Doors of Your Heart,” “Too Nice To Talk To,” “Save It For Later,” “Get-a-Job,” “Sole Salvation,” “Sorry,” and “I Confess,” the Beat quickly gained popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Eight songs made the British charts and four made charts in the US.
These groups cannibalized members from other popular groups of the era in a sort of musical chairs that resulted in some of the finest pop music that will be on the everlasting playlist. The legacy of 2 Tone would be explored and revered by a new generation during the American ska revival of the late 1990s, and another is about to begin with a Dec. 30 show at The Rose in Pasadena as they build fan anticipation for their next CD on SlimStyle Records in March.
Pasadena Weekly recently chatted with Wakeling.
Pasadena Weekly: You’ve lived in California for about 30 years. Are you a Brit forever, or do you consider yourself an American now?
Dave Wakeling: I like it in California, I do feel more Californian and agree with the slightly more progressive social leanings they have there. We’ve made an enormous amount of progress that individuals each have their own right to follow their own happiness. In general, I like the California multicultural nature of it. You learn a lot in the Hispanic and Asian culture. I didn’t see much of that when I was in England. It helps to put yourself into perspective. The more you know about other cultures, the less likely you are to think you’re great. I’m not too keen on the idea of a super race.
Some cultures do a great job of being bullies for a few hundred years, and then they’re done for a while before someone else steps up.
Things are changing. A lot of stuff is that we’ve been tied to our grandfather’s rules, seeing things through that prism. It’s an interesting time, the pendulum tends to swing a bit wildly. We’ll probably find that a lot of this sexual harassment is as much to do with power as it is to do with sex. It’s power for TV, celebrities or politicians taking on their underlings who are trying to make it in the same business. Sadly, that’s the way it’s been done. Not the way it should be done, but how it was done.
It’s a fascinating time and that’s why I enjoyed writing songs for this new record. There’s a lot of questions about the battle of the sexes, issues of authoritarianism, issues of people with different skin colors. We’ll see in due time reconciliation or if it’s too late, then global warming will do us all in. There’s always a chance until you stop trying.
How’s the response after all these years?
Concerts are selling out in advance, two nights at a time. Despite all the troubles in the world and the conundrums we face, one of the best ways to deal is to have a dance and glory in the spirit of life itself. Then the planet’s worth saving and the traffic jam around you is less of a load the next morning. Sometimes the song just takes over, and we’re all pulsing at the same time. It’s over in a few seconds, but seems to have lasted for hours. Everyone lets go for a few seconds, but that’s enough to help you out when everyone seems against you.
The English Beat performs at 9 p.m. Saturday at The Rose, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are $24 to $38. Call (888) 645-5006 or visitwheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.