The Beat released I Just Can't Stop It, one of the most danceable and socially relevant albums of all time, in 1980. Guitarist and principal singer/songwriter Dave Wakeling is the only original member of the ska group still regularly performing those songs on this side of the Atlantic these days, but he's doing it with all of the enthusiasm of his youth.
The Beat (known as The English Beat in North America to avoid confusion with Paul Collins' Beat) released two more fine albums, 1981's Wha'ppen and 1982's Special Beat Service, before breaking up. Wakeling and toaster Ranking Roger (who now performs under The Beat banner in the U.K.) formed General Public and released three more danceable pop albums, and Wakeling usually throws group hits like "Tenderness" and "I'll Take You There" into his sets these days.
While Wakeling relies on his catalogue to help him sell out clubs, he's still writing new material and is hoping to have a seven-track EP — featuring two new songs, two Thievery Corporation remixes, two live numbers and an acoustic cut — out before the end of the year.
Wakeling is road-testing the clap-along "The Love You Give Lasts Forever," a ballad titled "Said We Would Never Die," an up-tempo ska/pop track called "How Can You Stand There" (which carries a double meaning about not dancing and doing nothing about global warming) and another dancefloor favourite dubbed "Dem Call It Ska" as the four new tunes most likely to be recorded first.
But the engaging Englishman — who's lived in Los Angeles for years, which gives him more opportunities to see his signature white teardrop-shaped guitar displayed in Cleveland's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame — knows that his bread is buttered by including such classics as "Mirror In The Bathroom," "Ranking Full Stop," "Hands Off...She's Mine," "Stand Down Margaret," "Doors Of Your Heart," "Save It For Later," "Jeanette" and "Can't Get Used To Losing You" in his two-hour shows.
"There's nothing I hate more than an artist who says, 'We don't play those old songs anymore,' and they insist on playing 12 songs you've never heard," Wakeling explains. "Even if they were quite good, you hated them for doing that so you don't end up liking the songs even if you did."
But Wakeling believes the chances of the original Beat lineup getting back together for a reunion tour like his 2 Tone contemporaries in The Specials are preparing for are about as likely as "you getting the first six people you kissed all together at a dinner party and everything going well.
"[Former saxophonist] Saxa is in his mid-eighties and doesn't leave his living room, so we'd have to do the concert there. Andy [Cox, former guitarist] and Dave [Steele, former bassist] went to the Fine Young Cannibals and went their separate ways and are involved in all sorts of different projects. I think they enjoy consciously looking forward at all times.
"Everybody has said that if the time was right and the money was right, they'd be up for doing it. But I don't know if that's just a way to defer making a decision on it.
"There's no clamouring from the other people in the band saying, 'We really must do this.'"
Wakeling stresses that it's important not to live too much in the past.
"I like being in the moment. And what I think we have now is a perfect band for the times. We were very careful when we started The Beat in Birmingham in 1979 not to try and make it sound like it was from Kingston, Jamaica in 1963.
"In the same way now, I live in California and all the band members live in California. And I've been careful not to make them try and make it sound like they're an English group from 1979, because they're not. So we sound like a really great band from California in 2009. That's the best that anybody could expect."
Wakeling is joined in The English Beat today by bassist/vocalist Wayne Lothian, toaster Antonee First Class, drummer/vocalist Rhythmm Epkins, saxophonist/vocalist Nat Love, keyboardist/vocalist Raynier Jacildo and guitarist Jai Vatuk. You can see them here:
April 8 Calgary, AB @ The Gateway Bar (Southern Alberta Institute Of Technology)
April 10 Minneapolis, MN @ The Cabooze
April 11 Kansas City, MO @ Midland Theatre
April 12 Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall
April 14 Chicago, IL @ House Of Blues
April 15 Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
April 16 Waterloo, ON @ Starlight Room
April 17 Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
April 18 London, ON @ Call The Office
April 19 Lexington, KY @ The Dame
May 1 Sacramento, CA @ Harlow's
May 2 San Luis Obispo, CA @ Downtown Brewing Company
May 8 Temecula, CA @ Wiens Family Cellars
May 9 Santa Ana, CA @ Galaxy Theatre
May 14-15 Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s
May 16 East Hampton, NY @ Stephen Talkhouse
May 17-18 Annapolis, MD @ Rams Head On Stage
May 20-21 Sellersville, PA @ Sellersville Theater 1894
May 22 Fairfield, CT @ Stage One
May 23-24 Londonderry, NH @ Tupelo Music Hall
June 12-13 Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up Tavern
June 19 Inglewood, CA @ Hollywood Park
Aug. 15 Malibu, CA @ Private
Aug. 29 Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre