Dave Wakeling might have spent half his life in California, but he retains a withering English wit. He’ll use it on his former musical partner, Ranking Roger, as quickly as on himself.
In the late 1970s, Wakeling, Roger and a group of other young musicians in Birmingham, England, formed the ska band The Beat. In 1983, after three albums and a slew of hits like “Save It For Later,” “Mirror In The Bathroom,” “I Confess,” “Best Friend” and “Too Nice To Talk To,” The English Beat called it quits.
Wakeling and Roger formed General Public and the others created Fine Young Cannibals. Both bands achieved success in their own right before they disbanded.
On Wednesday, Wakeling is bringing the group he calls The English Beat with Dave Wakeling to Tacoma’s Jazzbones. The News Tribune spoke with him via phone.
Q: Are you in Santa Monica, California, today?
A: Yes. I’ve been migrating like a sandpiper with a wounded leg up and down Santa Monica Bay most of my stay here. Which is now substantial — half of my life. Dude, I’ve, like, totally been, like, west of the 405 30 years.
Q: You just combined an English and California accent all at once. Impressive. Speaking of accents, aside from your band’s name, The English Beat always seemed so British because you never affected an American accent like so many other British singers do. Why did you buck the trend?
A: Like a lot of singers, to start with, I could only hear the sum of my influences. Whenever I sang anything, I could immediately tell whether I was trying to be Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry or Elvis Costello. I was too worried about being other people — some of whom were American — so I never thought about it. It took me awhile before people came up and said, “Your voice is really original.” It always struck me as stunning that Rod Stewart, who has quite a Scottish accent, when he sang he sounded like he was from Mississippi or something.
Q: What attracted you to ska?
A: There was something junky and rhythmic, almost industrial about it. But it had a light, airy feel on top. Almost like a jig, like Irish or Scottish music. Whether it’s calypso, ska ... you hear almost that sailor’s hornpipe kind of melody. You hear it in bluegrass music, too. Gaelic, Irish and Welsh sailors plying that Atlantic and their music got mixed up in African beats along the way.
Q: When the Beat disbanded in 1983, you famously said that every great band only has three really good albums. Do you still feel that way?
A: There are probably a few exceptions, but it seems to me that albums with the same lineup — you start to become part of the machine. I think it was invigorating that the lineup of the Beat split into General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. Both of those bands made some decent, credible hits.
Q: You tour in the States with The English Beat. Does Roger tour in the U.K. with another version?
A: At the moment, he’s calling himself The Beat. It was a gentleman’s agreement that’s gone south a few times. I told him it was fine to use the name The Beat in the U.K. The idea was that if we visited each other’s territory, we’d play shows together. It seemed like a good idea but we’ve never managed it so far. It’s become a competitive “I Confess” at 30 paces. Which is a bit tawdry. It would be nice to do some shows together. The saving grace is that the vast majority of his set are my songs. So, we have that in common still. And he knows all the words to them.
Q: So, how would you describe your relationship with him at the moment?
A: Well, from that last paragraph, it sounds rather icy, doesn’t it? I tell you what: I don’t think there’s any pedestals for us to stand on anymore. I think it’s way past that. The people who have paid for most of every meal that me, Roger, our children and grandchildren have eaten since we started in the late ’70s would like us to sing songs together, please. And that should be the end of the matter. Roger acknowledges that the last time we worked together it was great. But we’ve gone our own ways. He likes singing with his son and I like singing the songs in tune.
Q: All right, let’s talk about what you’ve been doing lately.
A: It’s been like a whirlwind. Lots of concerts. Each one better than the other. We sold out concerts in Australia, England and New Zealand. Then we did a record deal and a pledge campaign at pledgemusic.com. That was 60 days ago and the pledge campaign has fulfilled itself.
Q: What can you tell me about the new record?
A: In light of your earlier question, this will be The English Beat with Dave Wakeling. So that, and with a completely different lineup, should count as record one, not record four — 30 years and a different set of people. I’ve been doing shows as The English Beat but it’s not the same people as 30 years ago. It’ll come out in February-ish. And then in March or April we’ll kick off a U.S. tour in, I imagine, Tacoma.
Q: I’ll help you make it happen.
A: Pull some strings. You know, everyone in England always liked the idea of a place named Tacoma. Because it’s got the word coma in it. People in England think you can go there and drink yourself to oblivion. As school boys, we always liked to see it on a map. And then you go there and it turns out, like name like nature.
Q: It also has Taco in it. You can test both out when you’re here.
A: If it goes well enough, I could buy a small place in Tacoma.
Q: You could turn it into an English pub and attract a British crowd.
A: A holiday for English people. Come over for a week and get absolutely Tacomaed. But, sadly now, I’m back on the water wagon. I’m just an alcoholic voyeur. I love to watch other people get drunk. I miss it, to be honest. It’s better for the world. But I miss it.
Q: Will we hear any General Public tunes in Tacoma or is that forbidden?
A: Yes. But even if they were forbidden, I would still play them. I’m that kind of punk. I’d do more of them. I’d even do Roger’s General Public sounds with the synthesizers. We’ll do a small handful. And a small, demure handful of new ones. I don’t like it when an artist comes out with a new album and insists you listen to it. It took me 30 years to like the last 12 and now I’ve got to like 12 more in an hour. Great.