Noise Annoys: Dave Wakeling brings his Beat back to Belfast
Noise Annoys chats to The Beat's singer/guitarist Dave Wakeling about playing Belfast for the first time since 1981, his new record Here We Go Love and why a reunion with Ranking Roger might be on the cards
RANKING Roger put it best when he told me "more Beat – more better!". For the past few years, The Beat frontman has been leading his own version of the band that released evergreen singles like Mirror In The Bathroom, Too Nice To Talk To, Save It For Later and their cover of Can't Get Used To Losing You in the early 1980s during the genre-blending 2 Tone explosion.
However, his comment acknowledged the fact that The Beat feat Ranking Roger are not the only game in town: there's also The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling, a mainly US-based version of the group led by Rog's former Beat and General Public comrade, who will make their Belfast debut at The Limelight on Tuesday.
In 2015, both Beat incarnations announced new albums – the first to arrive would take the honour of becoming the group's first LP since its 1982 swansong, Special Beat Service.
In the end, Rog's crew won, releasing their Bounce record in 2016 to critical acclaim: Wakeling and co's much delayed Here We Go Love finally appeared in May of this year to a similarly warm response.
However, even better than the fact that fans now have two new Beat records to add to their collections is the fact that the once estranged former co-vocalists have finally buried the hatchet after years of sniping.
This outbreak of peace was underlined in October 2016 on the night Ranking Roger guested with Wakeling's crew on Ranking Full Stop during a rare hometown gig by The English Beat at Birmingham's O2 Institute.
Apparently, Roger also presented Dave with his own personal copy of Bounce that night – so did that light a fire under the California-based singer/guitarist to finally finish his own Beat record?
"Not really," says a cheerful sounding Wakeling when Noise Annoys calls to get the low-down on his Beat's imminent visit to Belfast – the first time he will have performed here for almost 40 years.
"Initially my record was going to come out a little bit before Roger's. I was a bit surprised – he didn't tell me he was making one until it was done.
"So I waited, in a way, for his to be over. I took a break and let him through – like a courteous driver!"
According to Roger, the best 'review' Bounce received was that "Dave Wakeling absolutely loved it", but what did the San Fernando-based Beat man really think of it?
"I imagine that, like anything in life, he probably prefers his LP and I probably prefer mine," Dave tells me.
"There's a few songs on it that I thought were smashing, and I know that he likes some of the songs that are on mine. But there's no doubt, probably, that we could have helped each other out on a few songs as well.
"There's some bits I hear missing on his songs and I bet if you was to ask him he'll have heard a thing or two that could have been added to my songs."
Stop the press: is that a suggestion of a 'proper' The Beat featuring Dave and Roger reunion we've just read?
"We shall see," teases Wakeling, who put down roots in the States during the mid-1980s when he and Ranking Roger enjoyed huge US success with their post-Beat group General Public.
"With the 40th anniversary [of 1979 debut single Tears of A Clown/Ranking Full Stop] coming up, a lot of people have said that they want to see us performing together – and I have been asking him rather regularly over the past year or so.
"Most likely it wouldn't be a full-time thing, but so many people have said that it's on their 'bucket list'. I've said to Rog, it's what everybody who's bought our records since the kick-off wants: these are the people who've paid for every meal we've had since we started, and they'd like us to sing together.
"When you put it that way, it's a bit hard to say no, isn't it?"
The Beat's legendary original saxophonist, Saxa, passed away last year after a period of ill-health, and thus won't be around to enjoy any future Dave/Rog reunion.
However, the Jamaica-born veteran horn man did come up with some signature sax lines for Here We Go Love before he died (sadly, he was too ill to actually play them himself), a fact which makes the record's current success all the sweeter.
"I was pleased and relieved," Wakeling says of finally getting the LP out after its long gestation period.
"It did take us longer than we expected. We worked on it part-time in-between tours and concerts. But I was absolutely thrilled at the result when it was finished – and even moreso by the reviews."
Indeed, the challenge of trying to join the musical dots between The Beat's split in 1983 and the present day is something both Roger and Dave's versions of their band have managed to pull off with aplomb.
"We were trying to get a record that would sound nice to original Beat fans but would also sound nice on the radio to someone who'd never heard of The Beat," says Wakeling.
"From the reviews that have come in, it seems that we've managed to capture both ends of that pretty well. I'm really satisfied with that part of it."
Interestingly, both Bounce and Here We Go Love feature songs informed by similar social and political issues to what The Beat were touching upon in their lyrics almost 40 years ago – something that's not lost on Wakeling, whose record featues the anti-war number If Killing Worked and the Trump-baiting tune The One And Only.
"It's kind of disappointing in a way, really" he tells me.
"You think, well, they didn't listen to the songs the first time around, obviously or we'd have sorted this!"
Next week's Belfast gig kicks off a short Irish tour for The English Beat, which also includes stops at The Venue in Cork (Sept 5) and The Button Factory in Dublin (Sept 6).
Dave enthuses: "I'm particularly pleased about Belfast, because we've been trying to come over for a while. Any time we'd post any shows at all on Facebook, someone would immediately comment "No Belfast????".
"We were thinking of calling the tour "No Belfast????" – I've got a list of everybody's name who's put "No Belfast????" on Facebook and I'm going to go round the crowd to check that they're all there!"
Hopefully, things in Belfast will go a bit smoother than the last time Wakeling played here with The Beat, supporting The Specials at The Ulster Hall in 1981.
"We had our own detante at the show," he recalls.
"We had a delegations from two rival gangs of skinheads visit us in the afternoon to thank us for deciding to come to Belfast when so many groups didn't.
"To make sure this would be celebrated in the right way and there wouldn't be any trouble between the opposing factions, it had been decided that one set would stay downstairs and the other set would stay upstairs.
"In that way, trouble would be avoided: 2 Tone was working its magic, which it did right up until we joined The Specials onstage for their last song, Enjoy Yourself.
"We were all singing along happily – until we couldn't help but notice the line of skinheads standing along the balcony and p****ing over their enemies below!"
:: The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling, Tuesday September 4, The Limelight, Belfast. Doors 7pm, tickets via Ticketmaster.ie.