It was in “dreary Birmingham, England,” when Dave Wakeling felt the pull of the warm rhythm of reggae and ska.
“It was the ambiguity of it,” says Wakeling of his attraction to the music, “that it had such an uplifting feel to the music from a distance, that it immediately made you think of the joy of life, and then, as you dug into the lyrics, you notice quite often that people were singing about oppression or suffering or tribulations, that sort of thing.”
By 1978, Wakeling and friends were appropriating the sounds of Jamaica for British culture as The Beat, or, as North American audiences know the band, The English Beat. After releasing its debut album I Just Can’t Stop It in 1980, the band became a hit in its native country and, oddly enough, Southern California, where The English Beat was championed by then-upstart new wave radio station KROQ and, in particular, DJ Richard Blade.
“It was funny how it translated,” says Wakeling of the band’s West Coast success. “When we first met up with surfers who were listening to our first album on waterproof Walkmans, we were stunned.”
Wakeling was so taken by the region that he relocated to California in 1987, after the split of his successful post-English Beat group General Public. Over the years, the Malibu resident has continued to perform under The English Beat moniker, as he will do on New Year’s Eve at the Malibu Inn. Central to the performance will be the collection to help Smile Train, an organization that provides treatment for children with cleft palates, that this incarnation of the band will take during a rendition of the General Public hit “Tenderness.”
“I think that it’s an easy charity for people to become involved in at a time like this. It’s a bit of a no-brainer,” says Wakeling. “And, there’s a deeper message underneath because giving people the chance to do something for a stranger reminds us that we’re all one. We’re all in it together.”
That notion of uniting to fight the world’s problems is something that has been apparent in Wakeling’s work since the first English Beat album. That message will remain clear in his new work, including one piece titled “If Killing Worked, It Would Have Worked By Now,” which he is currently recording with bandmates Rhythmm Epkins and Wayne Lothian.
“With an uplifting beat in the music, you could explore more harrowing subjects in the lyrics, but it wouldn’t come across as dour,” Wakeling says. “You could do it with a bit of a wry laugh.”
The musician concludes, “Well, yes, life is hell, but it’s still beautiful and it feels a lot better when you’re dancing… That was the joy of music for me and that’s why I write in that style.”
The English Beat’s Malibu Inn performance will be broadcast live on Sirius Satellite Radio’s classic alternative station First Wave.