Last week, The English beat performed to a very crowded house at 9:30 Club, and Parklife DC caught the show. (Read our review!) Prior to the show, I had the opportunity to sit down with David Wakeling, the brains behind the band, for a lengthy chat. Born in Birmingham, England, Dave started The Beat there (and took it to the United States where it became known as The English Beat.) Roughly 30 years ago, he migrated to the United States and now resides in Southern California.
In our interview, I chatted with Dave about the success of his current touring version of The English Beat as well as a new record Here We Go Love, which appears due for release this summer. Being in Washington perhaps gave Dave inspiration to talk politics, and particularly current developments in his adopted home and the country of his birth. As a famed raconteur, however, he’s rather a Renaissance Man, ready to hold court on any topic that may hold his attention. Dave proved to be very thorough and very serious although with a sly wit and a healthy appreciation for the good things in life.
I was accompanied by ska aficionado Miyun Park, who chimes in a bit at the end of the chat. I’ve presented the bulk of the interview transcribed here, but I trimmed minor passages for focus and length.
If you know Dave, it should come as no surprise to you that he asked the first question rather than the interviewer.
Dave Wakeling: What makes a good concert?
Mickey McCarter: Well, that’s actually a good question. I’ve seen The English Beat quite a few times now. In your case, you guys have chemistry, you work well together. The audience love it. If you’ve got stage cues, they are subtle. Everyone works like a well-oiled machine.
DW: Something to do with connection, that makes a difference. You can tell between shows, when you can say, “Oh, that was a good one” or “Wow, that was great!” And the difference is the degree of connection between the audience and the band and the song. You’re moving as one thing. The crowd moves to the left and you move to the right, and everyone is dancing together.
MM: The English Beat are on the road all of the time, and the shows are always great. How do you prepare for that?
DW: Lots of shows. Being a troubadour. That’s the thing. We don’t ever rehearse or practice, only at soundchecks. And we let the show develop organically that way. And there are some cues in there but there are things that usually happen as an accident one night, and we’ll say, “Let’s keep that bit!” And they build on top of each other, and you collect the bits that work really and then present the song with a few extra tricks on it. But there’s nothing were we say, “Let’s do something like this.” Usually, somebody messes up, and you go, “Well, that was great. Do that again!” Then, it becomes a part when we work it out.
It’s an interesting balance because when you want to be in a group, you probably want to be Mozart or someone when you’re first thinking about it. And you soon find out you’ve got to be Andy Williams as well. You’ve got to be an all-around family entertainer. You can say, “No, you don’t get it. I’m an introvert, or a narcissist. I don’t want to be an all-around entertainer—fun for the bloody family.” But you soon find out that’s part of the job as well.
MM: Your band right now is very good. And I’m impressed in particular by the energy King Schascha brings to the stage. How did you meet him? And the rest of the band?
DW: Again, it evolved. Most everybody came in as a reference as somebody was leaving. It’s chemistry. You keep hold of the ones where it works well together.
I don’t know if you like soccer at all, but in soccer terms, we’ve ended up at the moment as last season’s Leicester City rather than Chelsea—not this season but last season. None of us in the band are virtuosi. We can all play. We’ve had greater shredders or those more musical in themselves. But we’ve never had a band that plays together so tight as now.
So in soccer terms, it’s like having one team instead of five or six primadonnas.
MM: I want to ask you about the future. You do a lot of interviews where you’re revisiting the past, which is always very interesting, but I’m interested in the future. You have a new album coming out [Here We Go Love].
DW: We do indeed. We just finished recording it.
We’re fighting a little bit with the record company! Now it sounds so good to the record company that they would like to make sure they bring it out around the world at the same time with CD and vinyl, which is going to take longer than I wanted it to take. So I thought we were going to be arguing the difference between say May and July, but they are talking more about the difference between July and September so it can be brought out around the world at the same time.
It *sounds* great, so those are good problems to have, I suppose.
My main concern has been the pledgers who pledged some years ago. We can give them all the singles and the remixes and the downloads to everything free as an interim before the album. So they will get something out of it and some exclusivity with all of the tracks.
MM: I would imagine your fans are extremely understanding people.
DW: Well, they’ve waited 30 years! They don’t mind at all. And we play the songs at the shows—the rough mixes or the working mixes. And they’re going down really good. Sometimes I just stand and watch from a distance to see whose heads are nodding and which songs are making them go. The American label has an idea of which single it wants, and in England, they fancy another one. So that might be quite good fun—to have two songs vying for radio. I thought the one they wanted in England would be good here too, but we are going for more of a poppy one than a straight-up ska. Something more radio-friendly like the “Save It for Later” groove rather than the alternative. And I think that makes sense.
Watch the official music video for “Save It for Later” by The English Beat on YouTube:
We have plenty of people come to our concerts. But you can’t expect a song to be on the radio and have thousands of people who have been waiting to hear something for 20 years. You want to make your first song accessible, and you want it to appeal to more than just Beat fans, I suppose. ‘80s fans *are* an important part of that, as we are doing that Retro Futura Tour with Howard Jones, Modern English, Men Without Hats, Paul Young, and Katrina. That will give us an opportunity through July and August to play to an extra couple of thousand of people who liked the ‘80s and probably liked us on the radio but now they are going to see us live and they are going to be blown away.
We *are* the best live band in the world. There’s the Donald Trump in me! [chuckles] [Editor’s note: Dave will occasionally slip into “Trump hyperbole” from time to time, always tongue in cheek, during the interview.]
Ask anybody. We have the best concerts. The best concerts. Always the biggest crowds.
So for Retro Futura, I think people will see the show, and we will play a couple of the new songs, and everybody’s going to want to go get the album because of that. You have to try to appeal to more than your immediate 2-tone club. If was only me and all the guys left with a load of buttons down one side of a black and white jacket, then we would only need the one box of records.
Miyun Park: Two boxes, at least!
DW: Well, two boxes then if they told their mates.
MM: How did you get involved in Retro Futura? Were you looking to be involved in a big summer package?
DW: Yeah, I was! Last year, we tried some shows with Culture Club and some shows with Train. Wow! Now there’s a great live band. And some shows with UB40 and the B-52s, and it worked great. And then we would notice on Facebook afterwards, fans of the other band: “Whoa! We didn’t know you guys were still playing!” Or “I didn’t know you were still alive, bro!”
Thanks. But it turned out we were really good anyway, and it really helped! You could see there was a good deal of acceptance. The new songs went down really well in front of a couple of thousand of other people’s fans—usually other ‘80s bands. So we thought that’s a good way to reintroduce ourselves. Apart from all of the bragging, I do think the new songs are absolutely fantastic. They are some of the best songs I’ve ever written, and they are some of the best executed. If everything else lines up, I think some of the songs will really touch people’s hearts.
They haven’t been written about this particular situation but a lot of the songs could have been written about just what’s happened politically in the last year and what’s coming. So it’s timely. I wish it could come out sooner because it’s really quite timely.
Our record company is going to do whatever a record company is going to do. We would like to push them to get it out by June or July but then it could come out only on CD and only in America, but it couldn’t be out in the rest of the world, and the vinyl wouldn’t be ready either. Well, perhaps they could bring out the CD and the vinyl could come out later. On balance, it’s complicated enough, and they really worry about bootlegs and that now. One press of a button, and everyone’s in the record business!
That’s their fear of even streaming the finished thing to pledgers—it could just get ripped and gone. Not that *our* pledgers would do that. Ask anybody! We have the best pledgers. They have been described as tremendously terrific, and in other circles terrifically tremendous.
MM: Have you met the pledges? There are incentives where they could meet the band and the like, no? How did that go?
DW: We met most of them. Tons and tons in the studio—great fun. And lots of them backstage and on the bus.
MM: Any interesting observations or stories?
DW: What a clever bunch! The more money they pledge, the more cleverer. We had professors, book editors, lecturers on astrophysics. On the other end of the scale, just to get it over the target within a certain amount of time, we put a loss leader on. For $50, you got the CD or vinyl and the t-shirt plus two passes for a show, which is 50 bucks anyway. So you just put your name down, and you get a free record. Those are the only ones that have given me any grief in this past year. “I paid for this bloody record over a year ago now!” You’ve already had more than 50 bucks worth. So then I point out the extra complaining they get to do and demeaning and ridiculing me public on the pledge page. Well, that’s got to be worth something. So you have added value there, haven’t you? [chuckles]
MM: Let me ask about the big picture. You’ve got a new album coming out, so the band is here to stay. You’re going to keep touring for the foreseeable future? You just turned 61—happy birthday!
DW: I did. Thank you! And I imagine we will be doing less shows. We do about 150 a year. And the dream is to do about 100, and try to keep the money the same. And maybe the record might be the way of doing that.
But then again, you don’t want to end up play loads and loads of big places because that can get rather anonymous. The DC club, the 9:30 Club, to me is a rather large club, y’know? It’s a club but it’s a large club. And I like that we’ll play there as well as some talk-of-the-town, sit-down winery or lounge. We sometimes do two nights in a place like that, and it’s about the same number that you get at the 9:30 but it’s a different vibe. Not all of our fans want to stand up all night and watch four opening bands in a matte black room smelling of old beer. They’ve gotten used to the good things. They’re astrophysicists!
[Donald Trump appears on television behind us, inspiring another riffing on his style of speaking.] They are top people. We always have the *best* fans. The *best* brains. Ask anyone! Only the cleverest fans, and the cleverest interviewers as well! Only the finest. No fake news. Well, that’s fake, what I just said there, but apart from that.
What scares me is the Donald Trump in all of us. The Donald Trump in *him* is excusable. Something happened to him when he got sent to military school at age 13, and we still haven’t gotten over it, have we? It still stings.
But it’s the Donald Trump in all of us because even if he’s underwater in the polls, he’s not with white men. He says it how it is, you see! But then that appeals to a scared side of us, doesn’t it? The word snowflake has been thrown about a bit, which is a bit odd considering how sensitive the leader of their movement is. But snowflake, as I’ve joked a couple of times, is a Neanderthal word to try and describe homo sapiens. It’s two-dimensional fear, isn’t it? It’s dead easy to incite. It’s always there under the surface.
It’s a shock I think to some Americans as to how America’s changed. “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it’s all got so vicious.” To the rest of the world, this is what America has looked like since I was a kid, which is why we love you and why we’re terrified. Because it can go like this. And this is what real America seems like to most people. Scared, intolerant, overly reactive.
My father even told me. He was in Burma during the War, and he said things could so willful and people could get so reactive. He said as you jumped in the trench, you would have a look at your compass because there was more chance that the Americans were bombing you than the Japanese. They just get too excited! “Here they are!” Brap! Brap! Brap! Not again!
It’s the Audie Murphy syndrome, and people are terrified of it. We even have a problem there with offering refugee status to the countries that we’ve blown back to the Stone Age, although it is part of the deal. If you take the “Can we blow you back to the Stone Age” ticket, part of the protocol is that you are to offer refugee status to the decimated families of the dead people you spread across their country. It’s old-fashioned politeness. Oh, the Geneva Convention protocols, right!
So it’s just a shame, but it’s been right there and we might as well sort it out because it’s the reason poor Obama got nowhere fast. Now nobody’s going to get anywhere fast until this gets sorted out. Do old white people like me expect and deserve to keep the traditional advantage that they’ve had for generations for no other reason than the color of our skin? And we just have to sort that out. The answer is probably no, but until their last gasp, they are going to demand that it’s yes. America is not going to be a majority-white country, is it? You can see which way it’s going. It’s already [happening] in places like Arizona. Most people over 50 are white, and most people under 50 are not. You can see which way it’s going, and so old white people like me are busy trying to fix and gerrymander all the rules so that our grandchildren can still be in charge even though we’re not the majority anymore.
MM: Where politics are concerned, I understand that you were a big supporter of another old white guy—Bernie Sanders.
DW: Well, I was a supporter of his when we were both young upstarts. As I was singing “Stand Down Margaret” in 1980, he wrote a letter to Margaret Thatcher demanding that she stop torturing political prisoners in the prisons in Northern Ireland. He was a mayor in Vermont, and I was a lonely troubadour on my first album. We both were having a go at her then! And I’ve liked him ever since. It made sense to me.
I thought it was very interesting that the most popular things that Trump has been going on about were parts of what Bernie Sanders was saying. In their speeches at least, their priorities were incredibly similar for people who were meant to be so diametrically opposed.
 “The system has broken.”
 “There is too much corruption and largesse.”
 “It is a shame that money and jobs go abroad and people don’t do as well here.”
 “Trying to change government with wars and trade deals harm hard-working Americans.”
Those are exactly the same things in both Bernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s populist agenda, I suppose. I thought the Democrats’ treachery for Bernie Sanders was willful, and they deserved all they got, including Donald Trump as president. Because it was clear: Crowd size doesn’t matter! Really? [chuckles] Tell that to U2!
So that was a shame. Progressive people in America were utterly betrayed by their leaders, who had become the status quo. They took their foot off the gas and their eye off the road and ended up in a ditch. You can’t ignore the working class. It’s rude. You *can* at your peril. But it’s not fair to count upon the votes of union workers and minorities and then doing nothing for them after they have voted. You get your picture taken with them. Get out of here! So in that way, they deserve Trump.
Whether the country deserves the right wing of the Republican Party gleefully taking us back to the 1950s, I’m not quite sure whether we deserve *that*. But somebody calling the B.S., that was about time, wasn’t it really? The same thing happened in England with Brexit. It looked like it was two-dimensional but it was quite sophisticated. They said they preferred to be bullied by people whose names they could pronounce and not some names from Belgium! They knew it wasn’t going to get any better, but they’d rather be abused by their own, thank you. That’s the sense of British nationalism! We’d rather starve our own old people to death, thank you very much.
Watch The English Beat perform “Stand Down Margaret” via O.T.T. on March 27, 1982:
MM: Where issues are concerned, do you still keep your finger on things that are important to you like Greenpeace?
DW: I do, a little bit! I do.
I don’t know whether I’ve become a fatalist. From Margaret Thatcher to there, there’s been a current theme, an ongoing theme in England and in America, and that’s the need for austerity. It always just happens to clobber old people, young people, and poor people the hardest. Health care! Oooooh, very difficult to get it right! Education. Oooooh, very very very very difficult. But to be honest I think it’s a culling. I think it’s a conscious culling of the working class because automation means that not so many of them are needed now. So it’s been 30 or 40 years of watching more old people die of neglect every year or more old people in England dying of the cold.
It’s not an accident. There are too many. They bred too many workers. They had to breed more of them, didn’t they, after the wars? They bred some more workers, and then the computer and the automation took over. It decimated them, absolutely decimated them. There is one-tenth the amount of workers needed now than there used to be? And so they are killing them off. Whatever excuse is required. Some of it is conscious, some of it is willful. Some of it is ignorant, some of it’s just survivalist. Divide and conquer. The rich aren’t getting richer by accident. And the poor aren’t dying off quicker by accident. It’s on purpose. We should just get over it, get used to it. Stop pretending it’s not happening, and stop fighting it. We don’t have the will to fight it. So just get over it. That’s what’s happening.
MM: Against this fatalistic backdrop, you have to go out and do a happy, upbeat show!
DW: That’s your irony of life! That’s the yin and yang, see? And the bleaker it gets, the brighter it gets on the other side. Life is still beautiful. Human beings may not live much longer given the way we treat ourselves and treat the place we live. But life itself is majestic, and that’s always worth celebrating. That’s there in every one of our songs, I think. Happy! Happy! Happy! Oh, but what about this then? Because that’s what it’s like. You usually don’t have, “How are you?” “Well, I’m completely happy. 100 percent happy all day.” Well, you might here that in certain areas here in town!
But people will be happy or sad and the balances go up and down during the day. At any one point, you’re about 70/30 or 60/40. The phone rings, and it’s good news and you’re back up to 70/30. Then, your friend’s mom has died. And you’ve got to the funeral! Now you’re back down to 40. At any one point, there’s a balance of percentages. I like the songs to be like that too.
So there’s a happy bit, a sad bit, an energetic bit, a despondent bit. I like that. I wish life were simpler but it’s not, is it?
For example, you look back like 10 years ago, and you wonder, “Why was I wearing that! Why was I wearing that?” But at the time, you were convinced you were pretty cool. Just as the three of us right now are convinced that we are pretty cool. And in 10 years’ time, we are going to wonder, “Why on earth did I choose to wear that?” So we don’t even trust or believe ourselves historically if you think about it. Time plays odd little tricks, doesn’t it?
However, life is still beautiful. Life is still majestic. There’s still a noble feel to it. Connection is still a real thing. When you play a song and you feel mass consciousness in the room where the crowd, the band, and the song are all moving together as one thing, and it lasts forever but it’s all over in a moment. That’s worth getting up for. That’s always worth it. It’s worth it until you die really and maybe after that.
MM: Say this record comes out and does well, and the record companies says, “We would love another!” What do you do? Do you do another?
DW: Probably, I would! There were about 40 songs, and they got whittled down to 20. Then they got whittled down to 13 with the idea that one of them would probably screw up and then there would be 12. But there are still 13. None of them screwed up, and they are all better than we thought.
There were some in that original 40! Two seemed a bit too difficult to take on at the time. There were another couple that were just being started to be written, and I didn’t think there was time to finish writing them and record them without some review of it. Is it really great or are you just excited about what you did today?
[Trumping.] Of course, I write the *best* songs. Always the best songs. Ask anybody!
So I think there is the start of half another LP in terms of being written. But having made this LP now, you have to wonder why people are making LPs! It’s not really what’s happening, is it? For a long time, we were told it’s still albums because the media is still albums. You’re not going to get any decent coverage in Rolling Stone or nothing like that. If it’s an album, then you get the cover and you get the coverage. So really in the pop media, it was more established if you have an album, that meant you were serious. In terms of marketing and advertising, that appealed to big establishments as well. When a record company said, “We’ve got an album,” that meant we’ve got an album budget and promotion and advertising so you’re going to gain one-page reviews if we’re committed to advertising in a magazine. So that was a sort of hangover from the regular record industry.
But now people just bring out a song don’t they really? Most of them. I think that we might start doing that. So we would have singles then this album. If it’s going well, we would have another single pulled off this album with some other new stuff or something. Then that would carry on, I think. I talked to the record company and the studio and the producer about doing two songs at a time, and bring out one song. When that’s done what it’s going to do, bring out the other one. And then go back in and do two more. And then if you get 10 in a row, and if all 10 do well, you put them together and you make a greatest hits album!
So I think that could work. We’ve got a great studio set up now, and great guys to work with.
MM: Yesterday, I read a lot of your old interviews from the past 10 years, and you said in some of those interviews that you accept your role as a legacy artist. But still, it’s remarkable. You have this back catalog of three original Beat albums, and then three General Public albums, and you’ve made a big touring career out of that.
I think a lot of that happened in that way because of your own self-reliance. You don’t really depend on anybody else to do anything for you nor do you let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything. And that becomes clear when you look at what you’ve been doing for the past 15 years if not your entire career.
DW: It was a blessing and a curse when the record companies disappeared because they used to sponsor everything but they used to control everything. So all of a sudden you were free. Yay! And you’ve got to take full responsibility for it. Whoa! It’s all of a sudden then you miss that young guy that just started that record label at 23, and you want to get an extra hundred grand out of him. Ha! You’ve missed him all of a sudden. But it does work out better. And it’s more satisfying, I think.
I don’t know that the money is ever going to be like the money was with mass marketing for pop. But even that was uncomfortable. For every one of your fans that bought the record and was going to love it forever, there was somebody else at high school who bought it because they thought they weren’t going to be cool if they didn’t. There was no chance of getting laid unless they did. That’s the pressure, isn’t it? With mass marketing, that’s how it works, or how it did work. You’ve got your MTV, your radio, your Rolling Stone all telling you, “Buy this record. You’re not cool if you don’t buy this record.”
Have you brought it? Yes, I’ve got it! Thank god. Have you brought Joshua Tree? Maybe lie and say yes.
Now it’s different. You’re only really selling to the people who were the ones in high school who did buy it and still liked it 30 years later—and their friends whom they have told about it or sometimes their family, their kids. In a way, it’s better. The older fans all have a whole list of stories that they are quite happy to share after the show—great moments or terrible moments in their lives and what song went with it. It’s fascinating to see how your songs got woven up in the tapestry of other people’s dramas and what it meant to them.
The song “Click Click” is meant to be tongue in cheek about suicide, but it turns out that quite a lot of people who were just about thinking of doing it listened to it and said, “Eh, I won’t bother.” It broke the ice for them. You don’t expect the number of songs that have gotten used at births or deaths, or got used at weddings. Or they got used for conception in the backs of cars! People have all of these stories as to what they did with your songs.
Watch The English Beat perform “Click Click” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on Sept. 26, 1980:
Let’s play a new song. Let’s play “The One and the Only.” [Dave starts the song on his laptop.] They are editing these now over March. And they will be mixed in April.
[Editor’s note: “The One and the Only” is really quite good, and it sounds as fresh and exciting as a Dave Wakeling song from even 30 years ago would have sounded. His voice is strong and the beat is catchy. It has the quality of a good song in that it transports you somewhere else when you listen to it. You get that shock of the new from when the familiar voice of an artist you admire sings lyrics that you’ve never previously heard.]
DW: I wanted it to sound a bit like Rockpile and Dave Edmunds.
MM: It definitely has that vibe! Did the live band play on these tracks?
DW: Some of them! And there’s also people who have been in the band over the past 10 or 15 years who I thought were particularly good at one sort of thing. Two of the guys doing backing vocals are actually from different lineups. I liked singing with them both so I got the two guys on this, and it was great. Their voices sound good together like I thought they would. So I used The English Beat farm team.
MM: When we were talking about playing with other bands earlier, I thought of when you came through last time at 9:30 Club with Squeeze. It was sold out, and it was maximum capacity! People were excited.
DW: It works so well. That lineup with Squeeze sold out everywhere. They are a bit wordy as well, aren’t they? We’re the Elvis Costello clique. We’ll end up as a book club, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, and myself—a new wave book club! We’ll suggest a novel to read and we’ll discuss it online.
MP: I would love that!
DW: Let’s play another one. What about “If Killing Worked”…? “If killing worked, it would have worked by now.”
[Editor’s note: Dave plays the song, and it’s another stunner. It definitely smacks a bit of Dave’s friend Elvis Costello, particularly his inflection in the chorus. Dave is justifiably proud of it.]
MM: Will you play new songs tonight? How many?
DW: We’ll play two, maybe three. We’ll play “The Love You Give” and “Never Die.” So probably two but maybe three. We might do “How Can You Stand There?” That’s coming online.
[The song ends, and Dave reflected on it.]
DW: The world’s is in such trouble. There is so much violence. What can we do? I know, what about $50 billion in weapons? That should do it!
You can only kill the terrorists you can see. You can’t kill the ones you’re creating by killing his dad. We found that out in Ireland. We ended up with 12-year olds with hand grenades. It’s tricky when you’re the British Army fighting 12-year-old kids in the street. It’s hard to get a good photo.
If killing worked, it would have worked by now. 30,000 years of killing kids in the name of peace!
MP: What motivated you to write that one?
DW: Just that, 30,000 years of killing in the name of peace.
Really, the Middle East. It’s always on my mind. I’m about the same age as Israel. And my life has been almost as turbulent! Sometimes I think my life has been made all the more turbulent because I’m about the same age as Israel. So that’s certainly part of it and certainly in terms of the theocracies that come from the Middle East.
I don’t really trust theocracies much. It’s always a bit scary because you could have a really good friend and you could make an agreement to deal on something and you’d be more than willing to keep your end of the bargain. But if they’ve got an invisible friend who tells them to kill your children they have to do it. Whatever their invisible friend tells them to do, they have to do it.
So you can never really trust their word, in my opinion. I can’t anyway because, yeah that’s all right until your invisible friend tells you something else. “Sorry, mate! There’s a new thing from the Pope or whoever. It’s a new fatwa! So my word doesn’t count anymore.”
So that really worries me about it.
They also seem to have an insatiable thirst for each other’s children’s blood in the name of a very similar set of gods by the looks of it. There’s something intrinsically wrong about killing each other’s kids in the name of peace and love. Something got missed in the translation.
Catch Dave Wakeling with The English Beat on Wednesday, March 8, as they continue their tour in Ponte Verde, Florida, on March 9 in Fort Lauderdale, March 10 on Floggin’ Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise, and beyond. Also catch them on the Retro Futura Tour around the United States this summer. Find a full list of Retro Futura dates at http://www.retrofuturatour.com.