It’s not often that a band can come back after 35 years and release a noteworthy album that stands strongly among the rest of its discography, but that’s just what The English Beat have done.
With the arrival of Here We Go Love, the UK-bred group’s first release since 1982’s “Special Beat Service,” The English Beat — now reincarnated with new members since its disbandment in 1983 — features the same fusion of Latin, ska, pop and reggae sounds that helped them become a household name in the ’80s, while still adding a modern flare.
Singer Dave Wakeling’s signature song-writing is present on the new record and timeless, with lyrics taking direct hits on politics while still remaining light and fun for fans to dance to.
As part of a tour promoting the new album, which was released June 15 and earned 175% of the group’s PledgeMusic campaign, The English Beat will perform July 19 at part of the 2018 OC Parks Summer Concert Series.
Wakeling, who also in the mid-80s-to-90s performed with General Public with joint-Beat frontman Ranking Roger, recently discussed The English Beat’s upcoming Orange County show on July 19 and his excitement for writing and releasing new music again.
OC Weekly: Why are you excited to play in Orange County again?
Dave Wakeling: It’s a pleasure to play in Orange County. I lived there for a long time and both of my kids were born there. When I lived in Orange County, I played every bar there ever was, I think. I at least used to joke about that. Ska has this connection to Orange County. I think there’s even further strength than when No Doubt came out of Orange County and mentioned they liked The Beat as well. It’s funny because the music that we came up with was about a world that we were dreaming of that was bright and sunny and dancey. We came up with that music in rainy England to try to cheer us up. When we got to Orange County, it was like, ‘Oh, look. This is where we meant.’ The music fits perfectly in Orange County.
OC Weekly: This OC Parks gig will be a little different in that it’s outdoors. What makes you excited about that?
Wakeling: Outdoor shows always sound great because there are no echoes or sounds bouncing around through the room. The weather, I would imagine, there’s not much chance of it raining. There’s something about playing out in the open. It’s almost like you’re singing to the sky, as well as to the people. It’s like you’re singing into nature and it tends to sound nice. There’s lots of room for people to move around and dance. It tends to be a very happy atmosphere. … It doesn’t matter to The Beat whether it’s light or dark. You can dance to The Beat in the light or the dark. It doesn’t need to be nighttime with a huge light show going on to make it danceable. We can play with no lights and it’s just as much fun to dance to.
OC Weekly: What can fans expect to hear during this set? Will it be a mix of old and new material?
Wakeling: I think you can only ever get away with two or three new songs. People tend to come with a list of songs they’d like to hear. We’ll probably play some greatest hits and a couple of new ones just to let people know we’ve got a record out. We’re lucky we’ve had a lot of different hits and a lot of different styles over the years with The Beat and General Public. We can usually put together a string of songs that most people in the crowd will know and like, and then you can slip a couple new ones in once you get them excited.
OC Weekly: Talking about the new songs, I’m assuming they fit very well into your set, as they very much have that signature English Beat sound.
Wakeling: There is that, and that helps fit the new songs into the set. They also get good treatment nowadays because you can put them right between ‘Tears of a Clown’ and ‘Tenderness,’ for example. You can place them in the set with songs they can aspire to be.
OC Weekly: Did wanting to continue the same type of sound for this new record, after 35 years, come naturally to you? Did you feel the need to experiment this time around?
Wakeling: I’ve always liked the idea of trying to boil down a complicated notion and try to simmer it down to a simple statement that could affect someone emotionally and intellectually at the same time. Every line in a song should really be like the punch from a heavyweight boxer. It doesn’t feel like it. There shouldn’t be any spare words. None of the words just rhyme. None of them are passengers. Even if they may just seem like it, they’re just setting you up for the next flurry. The notion of the song starts, and I really enjoy myself — sometimes for a few months — writing and editing, trying to make the point more and more succinctly and more and more prettily so it attracts people. They’ll think it sounds nice and want to know what I’m saying. Hopefully, the message will get through as well the second time they hear it. That’s a fascination to me to boil things down to simple statements that could bring people together. It’s something to do with commonality or common human experience.
OC Weekly: What do you think about when you’re writing songs?
Wakeling: I think, probably, my biggest frustration watching the world through my eyes has been how much energy and passion is wasted in useless conflicts or financially set-up conflicts. Situations where there could be a lot better way of doing things, but things are sometimes set up for the immediacy, perhaps for the people in control or power. You watch all of these things just being such a slanted playing field, so you try to come up with phrases that would join up, what would seem to be, quite different sets of opinions. I have a lot of friends with different political opinions, but once you strip that away, our basic human experience is remarkably similar. And yet, you see people clashing all the time. You’d hope to try and find a better way to find a balance between the two. At the moment, we seem over-competitive so some people have to really lose so others can really, really win. … I care about the people in the middle.
OC Weekly: Two songs on the new album that really clearly exemplify that message are ‘How Can You Stand There’ and ‘If Killing Worked.’ At first listen, they sound like happy, dancey tunes, but they’ve got these political undertones. Because you tend to gravitate toward those more serious themes, did you find it more natural and easier to write in today’s political climate?
Wakeling: There’s plenty to write about but you’ve got to be much more astute nowadays. You always have to try and remember that you’re on a stage, not a soapbox. You can get carried away singing about political opinions to your fans who think the same, and everyone in the room could think the whole world felt that way. But my shoes don’t fit everybody and my views don’t fit everybody either. You have to do it in a way that, for me, adds some humor with a sense of ambiguity. Then you can broach the really serious points but in a humorous way with a wry grin. A line like, ‘If killing worked, it would have worked by now.’ It’s just a cute phrase that captures people’s attention. It’s not until you read the lyrics in a bit more that you get it. The notion is that we’ve been 30,000 years killing each other’s babies and it hasn’t worked. What about trying something else then?
OC Weekly: Another band that has had similar messages in their music was The Specials. You worked with Roddy Radiation on this new album. What was that like?
Wakeling: He’s really great. I think a song like ‘If Killing Worked’ is one of his finest work, certainly in recent years. It’s funny that you want to go to an English guitarist to get an American country rock twang but that was who I went to. He just plays that sort of style perfectly. He was a joy to be in the studio with.
OC Weekly: With you and Roddy coming together and your album earning 175% of its PledgeMusic goal, as well as bands like The Interrupters hitting the airwaves, it seems that there’s this ska revival in the scene. How do you view the state of ska today?
Wakeling: It does seem to be bouncing back. I’ve noticed the various waves. It seems as though it comes at a time when people want to dance fast or faster but they’re also a bit mad about stuff, but they don’t want to spend the whole night being mad about it.
The English Beat plays as part of the 2018 OC Parks Summer Concert Series on July 19, beginning at 5 p.m., at Irvine Regional Park, 1 Irvine Park Road in the City of Orange.
By day, Brittany covers hard-hitting city news in San Diego. By night, she’s prowling the Orange County music scene, and is usually a regular attendee of local ska and punk shows. Reporting and music have always been Brittany’s passions. She wrote for her middle school and high school newspapers and studied journalism at Cal State Long Beach, where she graduated in 2012. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her French Bulldog, watching probably too many Disney movies for someone her age and napping.