The Beat’s Dave Wakeling talks ahead of Birmingham show
He’ll be back to where it all began next week. The Beat’s Dave Wakeling will return to Birmingham to headline the city’s O2 on September 15.
It’s a far cry from the place he calls home these days – that’s California – but he loves it just the same. And he gets back whenever he can. Last month, Dave visited the city to hang out for the August Bank Holiday.
“We went to a ska festival in the Hare and Hounds, at King’s Heath. It was weird. I used to go there to try and get drinks before I was 18. Now there’s a whole new generation of people playing songs, including Specials songs and some of our songs. And the same spirit and the same ethos is right there, which I like very much.”
The Beat remain one of the region’s most influential bands. They formed in Birmingham in 1978 during an era of high unemployment and social upheaval. Along with The Specials, they combined black and white – a Jamaican reggae flavour to working class pop. They were successful from the off: making their name with singles like Tears of a Clown, Hands Off She’s Mine, Mirror In The Bathroom, Too Nice To Talk To, Can’t Get Used To Losing You and more. Their first two albums both went to number three in the UK while their third, Special Beat Service, was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. There were Stateside tours with The Pretenders and Talking Heads as well as shows with David Bowie, The Clash, The Police, REM and more. Remarkably, The Beat gave stadium-fillers REM one of their first gigs – when REM supported them in the USA.
Dave sees many parallels between the era in which The Beat first prospered and the modern idiom. “They are testing times. We thought the late 70s were turbulent and they were difficult times and some of it never really got solved and it’s coming home to roost right now. You can sing about the same things today.”
He didn’t imagine that would be the case. He thought music would change everything. But then he didn’t imagine he’d still be in the game some 40 years on. “I don’t know how I still remember the words, let alone play the songs.
“We were only the sum of what we’d grown up in. We were singing about what people were talking about in pubs or bus stops. It wasn’t us coming up with something. But we lived through an age where pop music and real life converged.”
He pinches himself when he looks back at the life he’s led. “We toured with Talking Heads and The Clash and Bowie and they all said we were their favourite opening band because we’d always leave the audience in a great mood but ready for more.”
Playing alongside Bowie was a highlight. The Thin White Duke is Dave’s excuse for a lifetime of smoking.
“I was always worried about smoking and singing. But then I got to meet David Bowie and he was smoking red Marlboro, the strongest, hottest cigarettes. There I was with a sore throat and my hero was smoking ciggies three times the strength of mine. I was shocked.
“He said he would get through three packs a day when he was living in Berlin. These days, I’ve changed my cigarette brand but I never gave up smoking because if David Bowie could sound like that on three packs of Marlboros then there was no reason to.”