Wednesday, August 04, 2010

English Beat!

I don't get to take advantage of many freebies as a reporter but last Saturday night DJ and I got to go see new wave classics English Beat and Squeeze at our new-old Uptown Theatre in Napa. Love, love, love the Beat! And they did not disappoint. Dave Wakeling and his new Beat played all the old favorites for 80s fans like me.

Before the show started DJ and got to meet/interview Wakeling and his band. They were just hanging out on the sidewalk, smoking and talking. Super nice and approachable. Wakeling said they were headed to San Francisco the next night. "Where are you going to park your giant tour buses overnight," I asked.
"In the Super Wal-Mart parking lot," he said. No joke.

Here are two stories I wrote for the Register about the evening:

The ’80s are back, or at least they were on Saturday night, when Squeeze and the English Beat managed to squeeze themselves and several hundred of their fans into the newly renovated Uptown Theatre.

For most, it was a night for reminiscing, as many of the 40-and-over crowd went through high school and college listening to the two bands’ combinations of ska, two-tone, reggae and new wave-styled music. Back then, both were at the top of the charts with hits such as the Beat’s “I Confess,” “Tears of a Clown,” and Squeeze’s “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Tempted.”

Saturday night, the English Beat’s music centered on frontman Dave Wakeling, the only original band member playing with today’s English Beat.

Beat (and later, General Public) fans will recall Ranking Roger, the band’s original “toaster” — but Roger’s not playing with the U.S. English Beat, instead he’s got the U.K. covered with his own band called The Beat. Concertgoers didn’t seem to mind Roger’s absence, enthusiastically welcoming Wakeling and bandmates to the stage for their first song, a remake of the classic, “I’ll Take You There.”

After a pause to admire the mural on the ceiling of the Uptown, Wakeling launched into a rollicking extended version of “I Confess,” which immediately brought most of the crowd to its feet to stay.

Between songs, Wakeling bantered easily with his front row fans, some of whom he seemed to know personally. A few sported “rudeboy” porkpie hats and Beat concert T-shirts.

This is a musician who seems to genuinely enjoy performing, and even those new to the Beat couldn’t help but get swept up in the infectious brand of “happy” music, as one put it. The band continued on with extended versions of “Tears of a Clown” from the 1980 album “I Just Can’t Stop It,” and “Save it For Later” from 1982’s “Special Beat Service.” Other favorites followed, including “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” and “Never You Done That,” complete with whistle solo by Wakeling.

Next up were hits “Tenderness” and the reggae-infused, highly dancable “Ranking Full Stop,” a personal favorite. All too soon, the Beat closed their one-hour set with an audience sing-along of yet another classic, “Mirror in the Bathroom.”

After a short break when many Beat fans rushed out to the Uptown lobby to buy T-shirts and band stickers, Squeeze took the stage. Also from the U.K., Squeeze first began performing in 1974 and, while weathering a break-up or two, original band members Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford continue to play together today.

Squeeze opened its set with “Take Me I’m Yours” from 1978, then “Annie Get Your Gun” and U.S. top 40 hit “Black Coffee in Bed.”

An accomplished guitar player and vocalist, Tilbrook put to rest any doubt about a band that’s been performing together for 37 years — Squeeze has still got it.

At one point Squeeze drummer Simon Hanson was rocking out so hard, he actually broke one of his snare drums.

Longtime fans probably appreciated the ’80s photo montage of Squeeze photographs and clips that were displayed during one slower ballad on curtains behind the band.

Wearing a brown pin-striped suit with flowered blue shirt and what looked like white patent shoes, Tilbrook went on to wow fans with “Loving You Tonight” and “Goodbye Girl.” Bandmate Difford also took a turn at the microphone for Squeeze’s hit “Cool For Cats.”

The group wrapped up with “Slap and Tickle” from 1979’s “Cool For Cats” album, then another U.S. top 40 hit, “Tempted.” But the fun wasn’t over quite yet.

After much cheering, Squeeze bounded back onstage for a final two-song encore, both tunes from the 1980 album “Argybargy”: “Another Nail in my Heart” and the popular “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell).”

While English Beat and Squeeze continue to tour, fans can also get more of a taste of the two bands via new albums.

Squeeze has a new album “Spot the Difference” composed of re-recordings of old hits, debuting this month.

Wakeling said he plans to release an English Beat EP in coming months, to be recorded in Northern California.

The English Beat/Squeeze combination will end next week, but Beat fans might enjoy the Beat’s next match-up with another ska favorite, Bad Manners.

Dave Wakeling of the English Beat talks about music, life.

Hailing from working-class Birmingham, England, Dave Wakeling and the English Beat entered the music scene in 1979.

Along with contemporaries such as the Specials, the Selecter and Madness, the English Beat became one of the most popular and influential bands of the British ska movement. Today, Wakeling continues to tour as the English Beat, albeit with new bandmates. The Beat played at the Uptown theater this past Saturday night. The Register spoke with Dave Wakeling before the Napa concert.

Are you still in touch with your original bandmates?

Yes. Particularly (Ranking) Roger. Everyone gets on pretty good now. I think the dust has settled on much of the squabbles. It all worked out in the end. (Roger currently plays in England with his band called The Beat.)

Does Roger’s band play the same songs as your band?

Roger takes the easy ones. I sing the difficult ones. This is not a competition — unless you insist.

Where do you live?

In Pacific Palisades. I’ve lived in California for 23 years. When I travel to England, they think I’m a Yank. I’m a proud Californian. It’s a wonderful place.

How much do you tour?

Endlessly. Year-round. I do eight shows in one month and then 15 to 22 the next month.

What is your favorite thing about being on tour?

My favorite thing is that you lose a bit of sense of time and place. Once it gets rolling the tour takes on a life of its own. There is a momentum that keeps you going.

Any favorite tour stops so far?

It’s always great to go to New Orleans. It doesn’t matter if you play or not.

Have you played in Napa before?

We did a private party up there a couple months ago. It was the first time I stayed there. It’s very pretty. If they know their bands as well as they know their wines it will be a pretty jolly evening.

For many of us that grew up in the 80s, your music is a defining soundtrack to our lives, marking significant moments such as romances, high school and college days. What does it feel like to know you’ve been a part of so many memories?

More than anything else, that’s the most rewarding and humbling thing that’s happened to me. You write songs to try and cheer yourself up and hoping that you’ll feel more connected to people. So 30 years later for people to tell you that they lost their virginity to certain songs, they used certain song in the birthing room, (played) other songs at funerals… you feel you did connect. It continues to give me a sense of wonder and humility. We are in fact all one.

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?

I don’t drink. I’m a vegetarian. I always wanted to be a Buddist monk and I worked for Greenpeace.

You’ve played with music legends such as the Police, U2 and David Bowie — is there any one artist or band you’d like to play with that you haven’t yet?

Van Morrison. He would be amazing I think.

What’s a common question you get about your music or career?

People have developed the misconception that we were overly political all the time. (Politics) was just one of the strands that was woven in (to our music).

What is one of your favorite keepsakes you saved from your early days in music?

A 1982 Clash and English Beat tour pass. I have it in on my office desk. Growing up as a kid I would have never have guessed (the two would play together). I still pinch myself. What a treat.

Do you have children, and are any of them into music?

Yes, I have four children (ages 15 to 28), one grandkid, and one on the way. They are all into music; singing, playing guitar, and playing drums. I’ve (talked) about a tour … (on) the Ska-tridge Family Bus.

Do you miss anything from England?

I miss the puffy white clouds on a perfect summer day. You know it’s going to rain tomorrow, but for today it’s a perfect day. (And) the sense of irony. That droll sense of English pub humor. But I can’t say I miss much else.

What’s your favorite third wave ska band?

I should say it’s a toss up; No Doubt because they spread the genre the farthest. But I could say the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the Slackers. I could have the Mighty Mighty Bosstones as first. But that might be a slap in the face to No Doubt.

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