If my math is correct, tonight (9.7.2016) will mark the seventh time I’ve seen The English Beat perform in Portland, Maine since they started coming here a week after my interview with Dave Wakeling in November 2009. I’ve never seen a recording act perform as many times. It’s funny, because I never saw The English Beat (let alone knew about them) when they were around in the late 70s and early 80s. Now, I couldn’t imagine being without their music and not seeing them every chance I get. Last year was the only time I’ve missed their Portland show, and that’s only because I found out about it too late.
The English Beat (as they are known here in America) started out in Birmingham, England in 1978, as a New Wave / Ska band, but with a marriage of Pop, Soul, Punk and Reggae. Pretty impressive. The band was well-represented with the wonderful Dave Wakeling (vocals and guitar), Ranking Roger (vocals), Andy Cox (guitar), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums) and Saxa (real name Lionel Augustus Martin) on, of course, saxophone.
Oddly enough, there’s been more compilation albums released with The English Beat’s music than actual studio albums, but I tell you, all of their original studio albums – 1980’s brilliant I JUST CAN’T STOP IT, 1981’s WHA’HAPPEN? and 1982’s SPECIAL BEAT SERVICE – are all pretty damn special.
I can’t remember if it was the 1997 John Cusack film, GROSSE POINTE BLANK (with “Mirror In The Bathroom” featured in a pivotal scene in the film) that reignited my interest in The English Beat, but I do know from there, they and their music were always welcomed on the show.
Back in 2009, I was the longtime Music Director for WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine (in addition to hosting my volunteer radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s). I got word that The English Beat’s upcoming appearance to Portland and the opportunity for an interview with Dave Wakeling (the voice of The English Beat and General Public) came up, and I, of course, was very interested.
Dave and I spoke on Monday, November 16, 2009, for nearly a half-hour on subjects from Margaret Thatcher, the 1981 British documentary DANCE CRAZE, I.R.S. records, the late, great John Hughes and his massive record collection, VH1 and much more.
The “much more” part of the interview included a conversation on covers, a subject I’m fascinated with. The English Beat has released a number of successful cover songs, from their U.K. Top 10 covers of Smokey Robinson and The Mircales’ “Tears Of A Clown” (No. 6, 1979) to Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” (No. 3, 1983; their biggest U.K. hit), and General Public released their 1994 cover of The Staple Singers’ No. 1 hit, “I’ll Take You There” (No. 73 U.K., No. 22 Hot 100, No. 6 BILLBOARD Modern Rock, No. 1 BILLBOARD Dance).
I asked Dave if there were any covers he hadn’t covered yet but would like to, and he almost instantly mentioned “Here Comes My Baby,” a song written and recorded by Cat Stevens in 1967, but was popularized by the English band, The Tremeloes, that same year. That version reached No. 4 in the U.K. and No. 13 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100. Dave even sang a little bit of the song during the interview, and I’ve been waiting for him to release a version ever since. I may get my wish – I believe it’s included on the upcoming album by The English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling – HERE WE GO LOVE – scheduled for release sometime in 2017. Maybe he’ll sing it tonight!
We also talked about covers other artists have done of songs by The English Beat or General Public, like Pete Townshend’s 1985 cover of “Save It For Later” (from The English Beat’s 1982 album, SPECIAL BEAT SERVICE), and I asked Dave what that is like for him:
“It’s got to be about one of the proudest moments you could ever have, you know? I used to sit and thrill to The Who when I was a kid. So, to have somebody of that stature cover one of your songs – and Pearl Jam covered a bit of [“Save It For Later”] in their ‘Better Now,’ because it’s basically the same song, I believe, and Robert Plant had it as his song of the year, which was stunning to me. Johnny Marr had it as his favourite song of the 80s, which I still haven’t recovered from that one. So, those sort of things do mean a lot, especially when they’re artists that had really affected you, you know.”
Well, Dave Wakeling and The English Beat have really affected me. As I’ve mentioned on the bloggy thing here before, there’s just something about being at an English Beat show that moves me – the energy, the skanking, the music – and when they play “I Confess” (prolly my favorite song of theirs), I close my eyes and somehow I feel a peace I can’t really describe in a blog post, and I don’t feel it anywhere else but their live shows.
After that first show in 2009, I got to meet Dave Wakeling on the tour bus, and at the time, I was 80 pounds heavier and wearing a wool sport coat, black shirt and a two-tone (black and white checkered) tie. Dave loved the look of the tie, and I said, “I’ll tell ya what I’m gonna do – I’m going to give you the tie right off of my shirt.” Dave appreciated the gesture, signed everything I brought with me (including a flier for the show that was signed, “Save it for later Ron!”), and gave me the T-shirt I’m wearing to the show tonight.
Dave Wakeling (who makes his home in California these days) is the kind of guy who doesn’t forget his friends or his fans. All these years later, he still hasn’t forgotten. The love between Portland, Maine and The English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling is quite mutual and then some. “Save It For Later” wasn’t one of their biggest hits, but it’s truly one of their best, and like the Dave and the band, it’s aged well, and is one of many songs I’m looking forward to skanking to tonight…