Features Interviews The English Beat

Interviews: The English Beat

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Dave Wakeling has been on the music scene since the late 1970s with his ska/2-tone band The English Beat, over the years he has carefully honed a sound that is immediately recognizable to millions. Couple his string of hits with The Beat along with the hits delivered during his tenure with General Public and you have the essence of what Mr. Wakeling is made of. Always politically active—having spent time working for Greenpeace and donating profits from the single “Stand Down Margaret” to the Committee For Nuclear Disarmament—he remains true to his roots today. While his message may seem brusque at first, take a moment and try to hear what he is saying, Bottom line: it's up to us, not politicians, to change the world.

Scene Point Blank: Congratulations on the box set release of The Complete Beat. There are a lot of great memories on there.

Dave Wakeling: Thanks. Derek Dressler from the Shout Factory did an amazing job. He really dug into the material and he came up with from a Beat fan’s point of view: what he thought was the best, and that really helped the rest of the band. It’s been hard to look at thirty years’ worth of work and provide us with some guidance. He did an amazing job, splendid chap. Now I do worry for him. At Shout Factory he looks terribly pale, sitting in that cold windowless office. He may not be with us for that long—he works that well and that hard on it, and they should probably pay an extra bonus at his funeral because clearly he’s a fucking champion.

Scene Point Blank: Are you surprised by your longevity in the business? I mean, thirty years and the music and lyrics still sound fresh and meaningful today.

Dave Wakeling: Thank you. Yes, I am surprised. I mean, I really, really, really meant it at the time and we never wanted to look like fools and we were amazed we came across and got through it without looking like fools. I’m happy and I’m terribly sad that so many of the lyrics seem pertinent still. I thought it was meant to be focused on the 1980s; I thought we were ready to grow up as a human race and it appears that we would prefer to just scrapple around in the short end of the pool.

Scene Point Blank: You live in the US these days, with your political history how do you view what is going on here politically?

Dave Wakeling: We’re headed into totalitarianism aren’t we? We can’t compete with China and they beat us at every fucking punch, including solar panels. Poor Obama. They beat him to every punch, we all need to learn Chinese, the American Empire is over. I’ve seen the dissolution of the English Empire, I know what I speak of. Your empire is done. The Chinese are waiting to eat you with chopsticks. You can be as pathetic as you like: it just brings it forward. They will eat you with chopsticks unless you get real.

I always thought e pluribus unum was actually real. I know it’s Greek and not many Americans speak Greek, do they? I thought you actually meant it, it turns out you don’t mean it at all. All you mean is how much can I get for myself today and fuck everybody else. I have never seen people in a country that hate their own patriots so much in my life ever, and I’m disgusted by it. They don’t need to kill you, you’re going to kill yourselves. I’m disgraced, I’m disgusted. I live here, my dream was America. I’m Benjamin Franklin: the last great out for an Englishman lies in America. I came here on that premise, and you’re killing each other and I get to watch while I sing you songs.

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Scene Point Blank: Hopefully people will stop and listen to the message and things will change.

Dave Wakeling: I think it’s too late—they might listen once—and we are going to watch the dissolution of a great empire. That’s the next two years. I mean, has anybody woken up yet? They’re ready, they’re ready with their chopsticks to take us to pieces because they work as a team, now we only work as a team when we get to the fucking Olympics. Every time America works as a team we are unbeatable. Every time we don’t work as a team they pick us apart with their chopsticks.

And that’s what’s going on. I don’t care, I’m too old now. I’m like your granddad who can say what he fucking likes cause it’s too late. [Laughs.] I can say really disgusting things to twenty year-old women now and they giggle. Twenty years ago they would have slapped me in the face. [More laugher.] So that’s the truth of the matter. I just sing my songs. I think it works.

I think Americans are some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. They have dealt with people of different races and creeds and religions and they are some of the most open and honest people I have ever met in my life. You watch: your car breaks down in America on the freeway, you only wait ten minutes before some complete stranger comes by you and asks, “Can he help?” That’s America. I was there in Florida with three feet of water on the fucking freeway and we broke down and the guy came out and got soaking wet. “Could he help?” And he did help and we made our way to the show because of his help. That’s the real America. I am so sick of this tight-ass fucking nonsense. This is not the America I grew up dreaming about, this is not the America that the rest of the world dreamt about. For the last thirty years, this is a fucking joke and I’m appalled. I just play my songs, I just play my songs and fuck y’alls. [Belly laughter.]

Scene Point Blank: You've toured with some pretty big names in the past: The Clash for one, The Talking Heads, and REM. Any good road stories you can share?

Dave Wakeling: They were all amazing, you know. David Byrne came backstage at every show after sound check and asked us, “Were we okay, did we have everything we needed, and could somebody please iron me shirt?” And so my wife ironed his shirt. She did it every night and he looked smashing in it. He took the time to come around and ask, “Was everything alright, was there anything we needed?” and it so touched our hearts that we have done it ever since. The next tour we were the headlining band and this quirky old chap pulled up – REM. Every night I went back to the dressing room and I asked, “Is there anything you need?” and I’m amazed, because REM and U2 also have done the same thing on tour ever since and that’s our legacy from David Byrne who cared—who cared about us. “How do you think the tour’s going? Do you need anything? Can I help you?” That, for sure, is rock and roll.

Scene Point Blank: [David Byrne] seems to be a really great, honest guy.

Dave Wakeling: Yes, that’s right. You know he’s very highly functioning Asperger’s or something. [Laughs.] He was the realist one of the lot of them and I was so touched by it, I spread the word. REM did the same for the last twenty years and U2 did the same.

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Scene Point Blank: What’s your take on the status of the music or recording industry now with power apparently shifting to smaller indie labels?

Dave Wakeling: There is no music business is there, the music business dissolved, and I love it. I think it’s fantastic. It’s actually about how good are you on the day, it’s not about the extra special promotional budgets or any of that, it’s about how good are you on the night. You kick off at ten or whatever and how good were you, how good were you between ten and midnight? How did you touch people’s hearts, how did you move them? That’s all it’s about, that’s all it’s ever been about, but now the record company has gone and shunted it away. That’s all its about and, oddly, we got to it because every time we do a show we do it 110% and we move people’s hearts, we move people’s minds, we send them home covered in sweat, just wet, their hair plastered to their heads and old people telling me, “Oh my god, my legs are going to kill me tomorrow but, you know what, it was worth it!”

Scene Point Blank: So it sounds like you’re still playing for the love of it.

Dave Wakeling: It’s my passion, it’s what I do and sadly those ninety minutes or two hours on stage are the realist moments in my day. The rest of the day sometimes I think is a load of bollocks. I just watch people lie continually and not get anywhere with anything ever and it really disappoints me, I expected more of America and I think I am being let down right now. To finally beat the British Empire and then act like chumps. Really, what are we going to say: that the French won the war of fucking independence, Britain got the silver, and America got the bronze really? No, come on, watch out. People’s lives depend on this, it’s disgraceful.

Scene Point Blank: And it’s really surprising that it is the baby boomer generation that is leading this mess right now.

Dave Wakeling: It’s a mess. I get the sense that I’ll be lying on my death bed feeling really regretful. We will have failed as a generation. We knew what was going on, we were hippies in the seventies eating organic food and maybe yoga and all of that and we adopted that but we never took it seriously, did we? And then the people who could care less are running the show and we will die under their servitude. How awful is that? I will die unhappy the way it looks right now

Scene Point Blank: I agree change has to come, but you can’t just wait for it. Action has to be taken.

Dave Wakeling: You either do something about it or you go the way of history and they’re coming with their chopsticks. They will pick every piece of meat off our bones ‘cause they mean it.

Scene Point Blank: How is the ska/2-Tone scene these days, in your opinion? It seems to be going through another revival here in the Boston area.

Dave Wakeling: Every four years there is a huge resurgence of ska. There’s currently a load of 18 and 19 year-olds, all kids in ska bands with great lyrics and great intentions. There’s no record business land anymore, they destroyed that—it could have been preserved but they didn’t want to see reality, they wanted to pretend it was 1980 and it was 2000—so it’s hard for young ska bands, there’s a lot of great bands out there. The Pinstripes, they are a tight band—what a fantastic band they are—and they mean it from the bottom of their hearts and they put 110% in every time they come out and they will get somewhere. It doesn’t matter really whether the American record industry can be bothered to support them. They are real, they are fantastic, they make people smile, they make people dance, and they will get there regardless.

Scene Point Blank: With no record industry, bands are becoming more and more self-sufficient as a result.

Dave Wakeling: You’re absolutely correct, it’s evolution. This is the way we learn through hardship and we either take on the challenge or we ignore it and the best of the groups right now are dealing with the fact that there’s no largess from the record company, there’s no $250,000 buyouts there to smooth things over until you find out two years later that you actually owe $250,000. [Laughs.] Regardless of the records you sold, it’s a matter of evolution. It’s a matter of evolution of the bands, the fans, and with the journalists. We either get on to this real case or just lay down, get ready for chopsticks....

Scene Point Blank: [Laughs.] I’m picking up a theme here, the chopsticks theme....

Dave Wakeling: But it’s true, though. They’ve been around for six thousand years and we’ve only been at it for a minute. I talking about America being the greatest empire ever but we’re still waiting for our 300th anniversary. Come on, you haven’t even started yet but it’s a fantastic chance, the notion that America is one of the most wonderful things that could ever happen in the history of mankind or womankind and I can’t believe that suddenly Americans are willing to give up on that dream. They are willing to accept Mussolini the dictator. They’re that scared, really? You’re the guy broke away from the British Empire, first people to ever do it. We don’t let people go easy and you did it. America is the greatest empire ever in the world, the greatest music and the greatest sports ever in the history of the world. And what you’re willing to like kneel down and kowtow, really? It shocks me. That’s why I came to America, I thought this was the future of the world. Maybe I should learn Mandarin.

Scene Point Blank: [Laughs.] Or at least learn how to eat with chopsticks.

Dave Wakeling: I might even learn Mandarin, just in case your generation doesn’t live up and they do you in to your pride. [Laughs.] It’s an awful shame and I get very saddened. I think about it all the time when I’m singing on stage and me and like 500 or 1,000 Americans we’re all connected within the moment I know they’ve got true hearts, you can tell by the way people are dancing. If they have a true heart it doesn’t matter if you can dance well. I’m not a good dancer either, but I dance when I mean it and I can tell the difference, and there is so much great spirit here in America I am absolutely appalled with what fools we are making ourselves look like on the international political playing field. We don’t deserve this, we’re better than this.

Scene Point Blank: Yes, I agree 100% and hopefully maybe this interview will get people thinking and acting properly rather than just sitting there waiting.

Dave Wakeling: Americans have changed the world many times and there’s no doubt they’re some of the best people to do it, but they’re looking for some volunteers right now because there are too many people just waiting for the chopsticks.

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Words by Scott Wilkinson on June 22, 2012, 6:32 p.m.

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The English Beat

Posted by Scott Wilkinson on June 22, 2012, 6:32 p.m.

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