Pin It

A Relentless Beat 

Dave Wakeling's celebratory ska still stings

click to enlarge Dave Wakeling's songs are as relevant now as when The English Beat broke through in the '80s.
  • Dave Wakeling's songs are as relevant now as when The English Beat broke through in the '80s.

Dave Wakeling lives at the intersection of music and politics. Few songwriters blend relentlessly joyful sounds with poignant commentary as well as the longtime leader of the English Beat.

The band led a British ska revival in the late 1970s and early '80s, blending the anti-authoritarian stance of punk, the unifying messages of reggae and serious pop hooks. Back then, the targets of Wakeling's tunes were those oppressing the working class and ethnic minorities. Now the longtime U.S. resident is preparing the first new Beat album since 1982, and Wakeling says he still sees many of the divisive issues that inspired him to pick up a guitar decades ago.

"Maybe we're just mammals and meant to go at each other's throats," Wakeling says. "I thought we were more than that when I was younger and wanting to join a group."

The Baltimore riots, in the aftermath of yet another black man being killed by police, and the reporting from the scene, have filled Wakeling's TV screen on his current tour. He says he's fascinated by the stories, but frustrated that America still seems to respond to violent acts with even more violence.

"How do you find ways to respond to things that doesn't make you as bad as the things you're responding to?" he asks. "We haven't quite got that, yet, but it's an interesting thing to watch us struggle with. ... We end up with these enormously contradictory messages about violence and control."

Wakeling is ever the optimist, though. He's seen positive changes in cities he's toured through for decades. "I'm lucky," he says. "I travel America a lot. I stop at truck stops, and stop in cities, and I've watched cities change, and I get to go back every year or couple of years." Americans are very tolerant people, he finds, "considering we're such an odd bunch from many places." He notes how his children's interactions with people of different races are different from his parents' — a generational evolution for the good.

His children surely took an example from their dad, whose band was a best-selling example of racial diversity across three albums released between 1980 and 1982, full of hits that still sound fresh in 2015: "Best Friend," "Ranking Full Stop," and "Mirror in the Bathroom," among others.

Those songs, and a few from Wakeling's post-Beat band General Public, have allowed him to tour for years with a new version of the English Beat, filling clubs with ska fanatics and '80s kids. New songs made their way into the set, and when people started asking for them at the T-shirt stand after the shows, Wakeling decided to record a set called Here We Go Love, slated for release this fall.

"I didn't want to make a vanity record," Wakeling says. "It's easy for legacy artists to come out with a record, and there's no audience waiting for it. If that was the case, I was happy to keep the songs in my head, really."

The songs are broadly political, if not quite as party-oriented as his old anti-Tory tunes. One called "If Killing Worked" takes on the violence he sees on TV — and Wakeling's cheeky humor, familiar to fans, comes through as he describes his idea for a marketing plan for the song.

"We're going to try something called 'Try Not To Kill Someone Else's Kid Week,'" he says. "The idea is that everybody will try to not kill someone else's child. But we have to be compassionate, so if someone is used to killing a lot of people's children in a week, then just try to cut back. A few less. Finish at five instead of working into the night. Take your foot off the gas."

Wakeling knows that some fans get squeamish at that intersection of music and politics, and the Beat's live shows are overwhelmingly celebratory. After all, he notes, "you're on a stage, not a soapbox." ♦

The English Beat • Mon, May 18, at 8 pm • $35 • All-ages • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • • 747-2174

Tags: ,

  • Pin It

Latest in Music

  • Meet 
the Sun
  • Meet the Sun

    Karrie O'Neill is finally ready to take her music full time, complete with a brand-new album and upcoming tour
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Party like it's 1975
  • Party like it's 1975

    The latest British pop sensation invades Spokane
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Act Naturally
  • Act Naturally

    After a brain tumor, one local man's recovery was aided by listening to classic rock. This weekend, he gets to meet Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band
    • Oct 13, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri
Paul Nelson Band

Paul Nelson Band @ Bing Crosby Theater

Sat., Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

Most Commented On

  • The Kids Aren't Alright

    Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children can't quite strike the balance between whimsy and darkness
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
Music & Film

indigo girls

spokane symphony

Readers also liked…

  • Here On Earth
  • Here On Earth

    Local existential rockers B Radicals on their new album, current events and why they're not exactly hippies
    • May 6, 2015
  • Volume is Back!
  • Volume is Back!

    Volume 2015 Inlander Music Festival: Everything you need to know, and suggested lineups for every musical taste
    • May 20, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation