The English Beat:
The Week at TVD

It’s Day 2 of our week with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat! In the wake of today’s big release of the definitive box set, The Complete Beat, we got the low-down on Dave’s influences and why he thinks “best of” albums are the best way to get to know The English Beat.

Day 1 of our interview can be found here.

What records were in your collection at the outset of creating The Beat 33 years ago?

Number one by a long way is Heart of the Congos by The Congos, produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry, which I believe is still the finest reggae album ever produced. And that’s the record where if I feel like I want to play a piece of music, that’s most often what I would go for.

I get a hankering to put a record on, Heart of the Congos is what I normally go for. It just enlivens me. I love the sounds of it, the voices; the musicians in the background are some of the classiest reggae players ever. The production is Lee Perry just about before he spins out of control. It’s absolutely beautiful.

The Buzzcocks. They really were my inspiration just as we were starting with how they could say things so wittily, so quickly and not make a huge meaning of it, and all of a sudden you’ve just listened to 30 songs, all under three minutes long, that were all brilliant.

Van Morrison records would be there, you could choose from any of them. Maybe Astral Weeks… yeah, that’d be the one that moves me most. Although for a period there, just as we were starting in The Beat, I started to think that people’s live records were better than their studio records. Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison – I enjoyed their live albums at that time, maybe because we were just starting to play in a group as well I could feel that same excitement myself.

There’d probably have to be a Tim Buckley record in there, probably Sefronia.

What are you listening to on vinyl today?

I don’t listen to much, to be honest. I’m away on the tour bus most of the time and I tend to listen to ‘60s radio on Sirius because that was a terrific period for… you’ve still got teams of highly-trained songwriters but you’d also got the sort of new, naïve songwriters of the ‘60s and where those two would meet. And so that created some of the classiest music. Then sometimes I listen to the ‘80s channel so I can remember from where I am. [Laughs.]

Do you listen to your own records?

Not very often. Every few years you have to as new releases or box sets come out and everyone wants you to listen to everything and go through the track listings. And every time you’re terrified and you think, “Oh, God, I wonder if it sounds like rubbish yet?” And every time we’re pleasantly surprised that the songs aren’t embarrassing and don’t even sound particularly dated – The Beat songs – because they were just regular guitar, bass, and drums and a bit of piano. They didn’t have all the modern doo-dads of the day in the ‘80s, so they don’t sound old-fashioned and ‘80s now.

If you were to tell someone who’d never heard of The Beat to listen to one song or record that best encapsulated what you’re all about, what would you choose?

I don’t think there would be one. What was interesting about The Beat was we had a number of different phases from the quite fast angry – not angry – but strident first album, to a more eclectic, introspective second album, to a sort of bold, brassy, pop third album.

So, this Keep The Beat: The Very Best of The English Beat record that Shout! Factory bringing out now, I’d say that’s the best because it would give a sample of the sort of different sides of us that we went through over the years.

Given your particular love for songwriting, you must have certain songs that inspired you to write music?

A few years ago I started thinking about, and then asking other people, what was the first piece of music that made them cry and why? Because for me, I was about 12 or 13 coming home from a swimming [meet] about 30 or 40 miles outside the city we lived in and I’d won a couple of gold medals.

There was a bit of a tradition if I’d won a gold, I could get to sit in the back of the car with the radio on AND my dad would bring me an orange Fanta or something like that. If I’d not won a gold, or even if I’d got a silver, I would sit in the dark in the back of the car while he drank off his sorrows! [Laughs.]

So it was a good swim meet and I’d gotten a couple of golds, and I had the orange Fanta, and when the chlorine was in my eyes and the emotions from the meet were still swirling around with the adrenaline, and “Don’t Walk Away, Renee” by The Four Tops came on, and I started crying. I pretended it was the chlorine. Right after it was “Ruby Tuesday” and by the end of that I was in floods, and I also knew that music moved me as passionately as swimming did. I didn’t know I’d get to have a chance to be a musician, but I knew that music moved me as hard as swimming did that night. That was where it was all set, really.

Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark – they were both big for me. The Dave Clark Five would be a big deal for me, I think. The Tremeloes on a good day – and they had some great days! [Laughs.]

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who was inspired to become a musician by the combination of radio and a swim meet!

[Laughs.] It’s funny; it’s almost the same sort of thing because when you’re swim training, you sort of lose yourself. You go into this zone; you don’t even realize you’re swimming or moving your arms, really. You’re just like… sailing through space silently, somehow. You’re not aware you’ve reached this cadence or something and you don’t feel any physical exertion at all. I’d see swimmers doing that and they’d actually be plowing into the walls, they’d have to jump in and hook them out. “Whoop, quick! He’s gone to the fairies!” [Laughs.]

But you feel the same sense of immersion in the water as you do in music. When you’re playing live, you’re in the moment and it would appear that time stood still. So there’s only the eternal moment, I suppose, and I felt the same thing in music as I did in the water. For me, it’s that connection to the universal where it’s like, “Oh, yes, that’s right – everything’s connected and we’re all one.” I keep forgetting that bit. [Laughs.] It’s very easy to think of yourself as terribly individual and nothing to do with all the other billions of people going through exactly the same thing as you at the same time.

Don’t miss The English Beat on tour this summer, and be sure to check out The Complete Beat from Shout! Factory. For tour dates and more info on what Dave and The English Beat are up to, visit their official website

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