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The English Beat: Two Tone Ska Legends Return
One tempestuous weekend in March 1979 was not only the date of the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, but also, in Birmingham, England, the very first show by a nascent band known as The Beat. Introduced as “the hottest thing since the Pennsylvania meltdown”, the band had a sense that the next few years could well be explosive! The Beat hailed from working class, industrial Birmingham, England. When The Beat rushed on to the music scene in 1979, it was a time of social, political and musical upheaval. Into this storm came The Beat, trying to calm the waters with their simple message of love and unity set to a great dance beat.
The Beat were all about inclusion, rather than exclusion, and this showed in their personnel and their music influences. The original band consisted of Dave Wakeling on vocals and guitar, Andy Cox on guitar, David Steele on bass, and Everett Morton on drums – later additions Ranking Roger (toasting) and foundational First Wave Ska legend Saxa (saxophone) completed the outfit. The band crossed over fluidly between soul, reggae, pop and punk, and from these disparate pieces they created an infectious dance rhythm. Along with their contemporaries The Specials, The Selecter, and Madness, the band became an overnight sensation and one of the most popular and influential bands of the British Two Tone Ska movement.
By Christmas of 1979, The Beat were riding high in the UK charts with their first single, a smoking remake of the classic Smokey Robinson tune "Tears of a Clown." Over the course of the next five years The Beat toured relentlessly and released three studio albums: I Just Can’t Stop It, Wh’appen, and Special Beat Service. The band toured the world, touring with such artists as David Bowie, The Police, REM, The Clash, The Talking Heads, The Pretenders, and The Specials, to name but a few. The Beatkept scoring hits with tunes that have now become so popular that it’s hard to remember a time when they didn’t exist, such as "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Save it for Later," "I Confess," "Stand Down Margaret," and their serene cover of the Andy William penned "Can’t Get Used To Losing You."
Despite their huge success, The Beat continued singing about and acting on the problems we all face. They donated all the profits from their highly successful single version of "Stand Down Margaret" to the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament. They donated their music to causes including the anti-nuclear benefit album Life in The European Theatre, The World of Music and Dance album focusing on indigenous people’s art, and lent their voices to The Special AKA’s anthemic freedom cry "Free Nelson Mandela," to name a few.
With Dave Wakeling's belief that every great band only has three really good albums, The Beat decided to call it quits after their third album, Special Beat Service. Subsequent years led to a number of successful side projects that kept The Beat alive, but it wasn't until 2003 when the band reunited that fans truly got what they sought. Wakeling continues to tour the world and sell out shows, perforing as The English Beat, backed by an all-star cast of ska super stars.
The English Beat performs live at Mickey Finn's (602 Lagrange) on Thursday, June 21. Doors at 8 p.m. EnglishBeat.net -- www.innovationconcerts.com
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