Call Me SKA-stradamus: Revelations with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat
Dave Wakeling and The English Beat were in the Downtown Los Angeles area to perform at the 80’s Weekend 3, taking place at The Microsoft Theater. The event was completely sold out, featuring not only the iconic English Beat, but many other classic bands from the time period as well. And although The English Beat is very much part of the 80’s, Dave Wakeling is certainly a man of the past, present, and future. Prior to the 80’s Weekend 3, we caught up with the legendary English Beat front man to discuss the upcoming album Here We Go, Love, obscure recordings from the past such as Rub It Better by General Public as well as the misfired No Warning, which remains his only solo endeavor to date. Other revelations include Dave’s thoughts on a reunion with Ranking Roger, President Trump, performing at the US Festival. and why we should all start addressing Mr. Wakeling by the name SKA-stradamus. Read on…
What are you looking forward to the most about the sold out 80s Weekend show tonight?
The audience, I think. There’s a general euphoria. They like reliving the 80s but they also still have lots of energy to be able to enjoy themselves in the moment. So, you get a nice balance between a trip down memory lane and also having a dance and feeling alive right now.
What can one expect from a live English Beat show in 2017?
All the greatest hits plus a growing number of new songs off the new record. We’ve been introducing a few of them, we always do it out of town first, don’t do it in LA. Try it out first. [laughs] Get it right first, then bring it back. We’ve already got 3-4 of them now that are starting to resonate. We’re playing them well, playing them as good as the record sounds so there will be a growing number of them in the set. You have to be careful because if you give them too many songs they don’t know, their attention can wander. But about 3 is optimum. Then if it goes really well, you might be able to pull a fourth one. Three you can get away with, put them carefully between the hits just in case one doesn’t go down. But so far now we’ve found they’re working really well. People like them.
Is there a title for the new album?
Yep, it’s called “Here We Go, Love.”
Any story behind that title?
Not really. It’s ambiguous. It could be – in England it’s most often used when somebody’s passing something to somebody. “Can you give me the ketchup?” “Oh, here you go love.” But love can also be the noun in the sentence as well, so it’s as if you’re talking to love itself. It could also be about love leaving, oh there you go. [laughs] So I wanted it to be a number of different things so anybody could pick what they wanted, really.
When you wrote the lyrics for the new album, what inspired you?
The same stuff that’s been going on ever since I was a kid. This new Donald Trump part of it is just an extension of the same thing. It is remarkable how similar some of what’s been going on to the book 1984. But it’s been very similar ever since I was old enough to read that book. This is just another example of it. I don’t think we just turned a corner into totalitarianism. [laughs] We’ve been slipping on that banana peel for ages. And then when people get scared they get nasty and isolationist. We understand why, it’s the same in England. This new international / globalist / multi-cultural world, and white working class people feel like they’ve been left behind in their own country. And in some respects they have. So you can understand.
Their jobs have been decimated since automation. Absolutely decimated. It’s 1/10th of the manufacturing jobs. That idea was so that we could all work less and still have the same money. Once the automation got put in, the bosses kept the money and sacked 9/10th of the workers. Then blamed them for sponging. Blame them for being welfare dogs, hang on a second there. At the same time, numbers don’t lie do they? The percentage of money that’s owned by the smallest percentage of people. The top gets bigger and bigger and more and more people are at the bottom, 90% of the pyramid gets dispossessed. So it’s pretty clear what’s going on. So the songs are about that and because there’s been a recent election, some of them sound like they’ve been written in the last two weeks, frankly. I can’t believe my luck! Call me SKA-stradamus! If you couldn’t see this coming, you weren’t looking.
How do you think this new album compares to the classic English Beat?
Well it’s way better. No, you always think about that of any record. It’s a bit more focused, because I had a bit more time to do it. I know a bit more what I’m doing and the people working the studios have more technology to help you get you towards what you’re looking for without making it sterile. In that respect, I’m really happy. The songs seem to be pertinent to the times. What’s most interesting really isn’t that it’s President Trump, it’s that most men in this country voted for it. It’s the Donald Trump inside of us we have to worry about. That’s been trained, that that’s the way you get on in the world. That’s what we need to spend the next four years thinking about. These things don’t happen by accident. Demagogues can only get to people with a need because they don’t know who they are. If you know who you are, you don’t need a demagogue. It’s the Donald Trump in us we have to have a good look at.
We’re gonna go back in time. When you look back at the legendary Us Festival that you did, what do you think of that show and that era of music?
That was fantastic. It was completely sponsored, wasn’t it? So it could afford to be magnificent. It worked perfectly. It was a wonderful atmosphere, especially if you were an artist there. But also, the backlash of it, was that people started thinking – oh you’ll be able to do this and make money. So it set up a model for putting on these super big festivals which have now just been turned into cash cows, haven’t they? I could see from a music production point of view, people must have been pulling their hair out about the excess and the cost of that festival. It was meant to be a techno exposition as well, show how tech was helping music. But the notion got used then, we should maximize this and now we’ve ended up with festivals just being the same as other corporate gigs where there’s eight concentric circles that you have to go through where they try and get a bit of money off you on each one before you get to see your group. It all has become maximized from an accounting point of view, which is not necessarily what Woz (Steve Wozniak) had in mind. Then again, if you can afford to lose five million bucks on a party, you can have whatever party you like.
In the bio on your website, it says that you toured with David Bowie. What was that experience like and did you get to hang out with him at all?
I had a couple of conversations and he was very nice. He thought we were the best opening band he ever had. When he went on stage, the crowd was ready to go. He was very nice. He brought us some beers to our dressing room, he was very nice.
Looking back on your solo album, No Warning, what are you impressions on it now?
Well they were good songs. It was my first opportunity to work with some of the drumming and computer technology which was not great at the time and it made it very difficult for things to feel groovy. There were some good songs. I had sort of been brought over to America by IRS Records — they sort of promised me the earth and then gave me dirt, which is similar, but not the same. I ended up making the record in the kitchen with somebody – he was pretty good. Good songwriter but he was kind of, just starting off as a producer. We got some good songs going but it didn’t work too well and I kind of walked away from it in the end, thinking that was the last I’d see of it. But Miles (Copeland of IRS Records) brought it out anyway. Another band owed him some money – he told them he’d let them off their debt it they finished it off with a bit of guitar and he put it out. So I didn’t do much to promote it but I did get off the IRS deal. It wasn’t anything personal, really. He had a commitment to deliver a number of albums to the major label and he had already took the money. Screw you, [laughs]. We discussed trying to stop it or whether we should have and there’s litigation, an attorney in New York said well, your choices are would you like to put your head under a rock for three months and be off of the record or would you like to spend the next two years with a multi-millionaire megalomaniac in court, in New York? I said “Pass the rock!” [laughs]
When you look back on that final General Public album, Rub It Better- what are you impressions of it now and what was it like working with Jerry Harrison?
It was smashing, I liked him. My dad died during the making of that record, so I was gone for a little while, which was sad. Then came back slightly different. A bit too many instruments going at the same time. I came back, they had been using different rooms in the same studio but when you put it all together that was like, 72 tracks of different people’s ideas. So it was a bit odd then, I thought. But the good songs on it came out great, I thought Blowhard came out terrific. I think Hold It Deep came out great. I liked Freedom Fighter on that and that’s a big, Call me SKA-stradomus song again! What was that about? The aging general called his men out on parade and said boys, we’re getting ready for a new crusade. The night before the battle, both the armies knelt to pray, but God was so disgusted she got up and walked away from all those freedom fighters. That was about the Gulf War, who knew that was coming? I did. That’s what I’m telling you.
Would you ever want to get back together with Ranking Roger again for some reunion shows?
I’ve invited him a few times and we’ve talked about it just a few weeks ago, and he said yes but not yet. He’s said that a few times. I’ve sent him some of the tracks from this record and invited him to sing on them. He said yes but he’s never got back to me, so. We’ll see. I’ve been saying for ages that it’s more really, what the fans think. Not us. In respect to the people who paid for every meal that our children and grandchildren now have eaten in the last 40 years, we should do a few shows together. We don’t have to do it forever. Make it a special occasion. He came on stage in Birmingham, in September / October with us and did a couple of songs and it was great. The crowd loved it. it works, the mojo is still there, the magic is still there in the squad. But we’ll see. He runs his own Beat and he’s just had his own album out, which was OK. I think he’ll want to work with us again soon. All indications are, he seems to be heading that way and saying very nice things. I helped push his record on my Facebook page and we all seem to be very friendly.
You’ve got two businesses and two organizations and some of the people who work for both of them would be terrified if me and Roger were to work together and now you’ve got two drummers, two bass players – everybody is gonna wonder if they’re the one. Do I get to? Am I coming on the tour? No, not this one. So they’re right to worry and at the moment, on a Friday or a Saturday you can see The Beat in America and you can see The Beat in England. And if we work together you’re only going to be able to see one of those shows. So there’s all of that. It’s mainly the ancillaries, me and ROger I think would be happy to do it if both teams around us were going, yeah, come on let’s have a go. I think we’re in the position where we would. But it’ll take a while yet. My prediction is that it’ll happen after this record is a huge hit.
What was your reaction when you found someone like Pete Townsend calling you and wanting to cover Save It For Later?
I was stunned. Absolutely stunned because his songs meant a lot to me growing up. His lyrics particularly. And he’s one pretty good guitar player as well, pretty good all around. In the same way as Elvis Costello covered “Stand Down Margaret,” during the election on his concert tour. To have someone who was a hero of yours do one of your songs, it’s indescribable really. Now there is something about it, they always seem to do the songs for some sort of benefit or charity cause. Maybe they think because I’m that way as well. But I wouldn’t mind someone doing a real good cover and giving me some royalties as well, that’d be smashing. [laughs]
But it’s got to be one of the greatest honors, I suppose, as a troubadour, to have one of your heroes cover one of your songs or to speak well of them even, that’s good. That’s almost as good as when you meet somebody after a show usually and they go, can I just thank you for what your songs have done for me over the last 30 years? There really isn’t a price you can put on that one either. For other things, there’s visa. Some things are priceless.
What’s up next for The English Beat and Dave Winkling, tour wise?
We’re going to finish this record over February and then we’re gonna go to on tour in March hopefully with one of these songs on the radio to help pre-promote the album and let people know that it’s coming. Look where he’s playing, just at the time the record is coming out and with that, plus the SKA-stradamus thing that half the songs sound like it’s being sung about what’s going on right now. I was amused to see that U2 had to suspend their record, delay it because they had to write some more songs now that Donald Trump had come. Oh no, mine are even better! [laughs] I’ve been getting ready for this…
(Interview and Candid Photos by Ken Morton – Live Photos by Roy A. Braatz jr.)
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