It takes technique, soul, stamina and humor to pull off a great ska performance. For 2 Tone legends The English Beat, all of the key elements have been in place for 35 years. Inspired by the punk movement of the late 1970s and fueled by the reggae and Caribbean rhythms prevalent in England at the time, singer and guitarist Dave Wakeling formed The Beat (as it was known in England) as a pub band in 1978 in Birmingham. Wakeling was initially joined by guitarist Andy Cox, bassist David Steele and drummer Everett Morton, but the lineup soon expanded, with the addition of rapper/singer Ranking Roger and an elderly saxophonist nicknamed Saxa.
Wakeling sang the main melodies with his thick, working-class accent, while Roger toasted and harmonized. By the time the group recorded its first singles for the 2 Tone label, the Beat had developed a dynamic sound that mixed bits of classic soul, reggae, pop and punk. Its first hit, a fired-up reworking of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown,” put the band on the map as one of the major ska-styled acts of the early 1980s.
The debut album, I Just Can’t Stop It, included a pile of hit singles, including “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Hands Off… She’s Mine.” In 1981, Wha’ppen? followed with the single “All Out to Get You.” Their last big release, 1982’s Special Beat Service, delivered the classic hit “Save It for Later.”
After extensive touring in Europe and the U.S., the Beat split apart in 1983. Wakeling and Roger went on to form the nicely polished ska-pop group General Public, while Cox and Steele assembled the Fine Young Cannibals. Wakeling’s U.S. version of The English Beat came together in 2009. With his boisterous delivery and rich singing style still very much intact, Wakeling and his new mates sound nearly as festive and determined as the original Beat did in its heyday.
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