Monday, May 7, 2007

The English Beat

The Beat, known in the United States as The English Beat was one of the most important Two Tone ska music groups.

The band was formed in the English city of Birmingham in 1978, during a period of high unemployment and social-political upheaval in the UK. The Beat's songs deal with themes of love, unity and socio-politics over a tight dance beat with influences that include pop, soul, reggae, and punk.

The Beat were part of the revival of 1950s and 1960s Jamaican ska rhythms and melodies in the UK. This revival, which is often called the "Second Wave" of ska, blended elements of Jamaican ska with punk rock influences such as uncompromising lyrics, more aggressive guitar playing, and faster tempos. The "Second Wave" of ska is also referred to as the "Two Tone" era of ska, a reference to the 2-Tone record label and to the pro-racial integration beliefs held by ska bands of this era. Other contemporaries of The Beat included The Specials, Bad Manners, The Selecter, and Madness.

The Beat released three albums: I Just Can't Stop It (1980), Wha'ppen (1981) and Special Beat Service (1982), and a string of well-crafted singles including "Mirror in the Bathroom", the politically-charged "Stand Down Margaret" (which refers to controversial British PM Margaret Thatcher), the above video "Save It For Later" and "I Confess".

Ranking Roger, one of the band's vocalists, added a Jamaican flavor to the band's sound with his toasting, a reggae musical style of adding uplifting vocals and shouts over a rhythm track (a practice which paved the way for hip hop).

It is Saxa (Lionel Martin b.1930, aka Papa Saxa) who lent the band its Jamacian ska authenticity. Actually from Jamaica, Saxa had played saxophone with Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken and Desmond Dekker in the first wave of ska. Thus, he is often referred to by musical peers as "legendary". Having joined the band to record Tears of a Clown, bringing his characteristic rich, melodic style and his elder and experienced persona, Saxa was a major contributor to the outstanding success of The Beat's first hit single and subsequent touring.

Although the group's main fan-base was in the UK, they were also popular in Australia thanks to regular exposure on the government-owned rock radio station Triple J and the nationally-broadcast TV pop show Countdown. They had a sizeable following in the US, and a strong presence on that country's college radio.

The Beat toured the world with well-known artists such as David Bowie, The Police, REM, The Clash, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, and The Specials. Members of the band often collaborated on stage with The Specials. In the early 1990s, Roger joined members of The Specials to form the new band Special Beat, which released two live albums. They supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and participated in the recording of the various-artists song "Nelson Mandela."

Post break-up
After the break-up of The Beat in 1983, Dave 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. 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, the group's song "Rotating Head," remixed and renamed "March of the Swivelheads," was famously 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 debut, 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".

Current Beat Re-formations
In 2003, The Beat's original line-up, minus Cox and Steele but with the addition of Junior, 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. As of 2005, The Beat has reformed, counting Roger, Blockhead and Morton of the original line-up, with Ranking Junior also on vocals. The band is said to have the blessing of Cox, Steele and Saxa (of Desmond Dekker fame).

The band's lead singer, Dave Wakeling, fronts "The English Beat". Members include Wayne Lothian of General Public and Special Beat, Rick Torres of Supreme Beings of Leisure, Rhythmm Epkins, Fernando Jativa, and Michael Ambrose of Hub City Stompers.
Ambrose has recently formed anticipated ska/reggae act Steadfast United, with Lynval Golding of The Specials and touring partner of The English Beat.

I Just Can't Stop It (1980)
Wha'ppen (1981)
Special Beat Service (1982)

What Is Beat? (1983)
The Beat Goes On (US, 1991)
b.p.m. per minute (1996)
Beat This! The Best Of The Beat (2000)
The Platinum Collection (2005)

Tears Of A Clown/Ranking Full Stop (1979) UK #6
Hands Off - She's Mine (1980) UK #9
Mirror In The Bathroom (1980) UK #4
Best Friend/Stand Down Margaret (Dub) (1980) UK #22
Too Nice To Talk To (1980) UK #7
Drowning/All Out To Get You (1981) UK #22
Doors Of Your Heart (1981) UK #33
Hit It (1981) UK #70
Save It For Later (1982) UK #47
Jeanette (1982) UK #45
I Confess (1982) UK #54
Can't Get Used To Losing You (1983) UK #3
Ackee 1-2-3 (1983) UK #54

External links
The Beat web site
Dave Wakeling Official Site
The New English Beat MySpace (Roger, Everett, Blockhead, Junior)

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