The English Beat:
The Week at TVD

For Day 4 of our week with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat, we chatted about some very meaningful moments: getting a phone call from two of his heroes, how he always wanted to use his fame to talk about causes that matter to him, and his gratitude for and devotion to his fans.

Day 1 of our interview can be found here and Day 2 is here. And there’s still time to enter to see the band live on us, right here!

I was thinking about the first time I heard an English Beat song, and realized that it was “Save It for Later” only via Pete Townshend instead of you guys! One thing that stuck with me was that he remarked, “This song has some very interesting chuning...” 

Yes! I was trying to get what turned out to be a traditional old tuning which was called DADGAD. And I was trying to play along with John Martyn records; I like John Martyn and he used this DADGAD tuning, but I didn’t know that. So I tuned it up and ended up with all Ds and As, so I ended up with DADAAD instead of DADGAD.

I was at home in Birmingham, England one Saturday morning when somebody gave me the phone and said, “It’s Pete Townshend.” And I was like, “Yeah, sure it is. Yeah, hey, how ya doin’, Pete?” And it turned out it was! [Laughs.] He says to me, “Look, I’m sitting here with Dave Gilmour and we’re trying to work out the tuning to your song, ‘Save It for Later.’” Well, I nearly fell over! I mean, two of the guitar heroes of your growing up, you know – some of the early Who songs meant the world to me and Dave Gilmour’s guitar on “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” – I mean, really!

So to have them struggling over mistaken tuning was wonderful! [Laughs.] Best thing in the world! So I told them the tuning and I watched Pete, on video at least, play it a few times and his fingers dance up and down the neck, don’t they? Wow! Lot better than me!

I went and saw him play at the Wiltern Theater once and I got to speak to him for a few minutes. He told me that songwriters were the luckiest people in the world; it just didn’t always seem that way! [Laughs] And then they started the set with a little bit of a speech and then “Save It for Later”. And the crowd loved it. I wasn’t exactly crying, but there were tears rolling down my face. It was like an all-star band and they played it beautifully, he sang it really well, I was like… wow! Who would have ever guessed?

That’s so… beyond the beyond.

Yeah, it was really lovely. And he was very nice to me, very kind.

You’ve always supported great causes and have been quite a philanthropist, backing causes like Doctors without Borders. Is that a function of being from working-class Birmingham?

That’s an interesting question. It might be. Even when we first started doing songs, we didn’t think there was anything odd about singing about what everybody in most bars and pubs were talking about. So, there didn’t seem to be a huge gap between social, political things and musical things. They did seem to be connected. And then I also think that at the time, it was still part of the mass-marketing of record companies, y’know, in the ‘80s. All of a sudden your face is plastered all over magazines that you’d never read before and is used in many ways to sell records. You can’t blame the record companies for that – it is a commercial art.

But I think then to try and balance that off a bit, we tried to use some of the prominence we were getting instead of, “What’s your favorite color cereal?” you could talk about Greenpeace or Doctors without Borders or something. Sort of the way I think of… perhaps being a bit embarrassed about fame for fame’s sake is if you had an opportunity, you could use that time to spread on information about stuff that you thought was important and hope those reading look into Doctors without Borders instead of our breakfast favorites.

It seems like there are fewer bands today who market themselves that way – largely through print and interviews. 

Well, I think there’s less and less mass marketing now. There isn’t that that record company largesse anymore and so I think more often bands have got to build themselves up from the ground up with their own fanbase, and so they don’t have to address this less seemly side of mass marketing.

Do you think that an artist owes anything to his fans?

Well, a lot of respect, gratitude, kindness. I think after 33 years, you start to realize that more than anything else, you’re a service industry. You get a lot of nice things, sometimes, out of being in a pop group, but to have somebody after a show tell you that your songs have been part of their soundtrack for 20 or 30 years, and these lyrics of your song was used in this situation, or this song was used in the birthing room, or this song was used at a funeral, or this song was used when somebody was contemplating killing themselves and listened to the song and had a laugh and decided against it… You hear remarkable stories of how your songs are being used from conception, birth, and death and everything in between! [Laughs.] That’s kind of priceless.

As a songwriter, you couldn’t really ask for any more than that because all you’re trying to do when you write a song is you’re trying to connect one way or another. So to have people who you may not have ever met but who tell you that you have, in fact, connected with them in a way that was meaningful to them for the last thirty years and they just want to take a minute to say “thank you,” that puts it all in perspective, then. You really do owe them at least your gratitude and [I feel] a responsibility to say thank you for allowing me to become part of the soundtrack.

Does that motivate you to keep touring?

Yes, I think in some ways it does. Although I really love singing anyway. I really like the immediacy of being on stage, but certainly meeting fans and talking with them afterwards and before that’s certainly exciting and a big part of it for me.

It seems like a lot of musicians from the UK have a certain accessibility. Even the most “untouchable” UK music stars will often take time to interact with their fans in some way.

I think it might be something that they hit you with right from the beginning. As soon as you start to get some sort of prima donna ideas, some guy in a bar in Birmingham will be like, “OK, Elvis, it’s your round!” [Laughs.] You’d soon get well deflated! And they’re quite forceful about it, fans in England; you can’t say “Oh, he’s not available.” They’ll say, “Get lost, I’ve bought all his records – he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for people like me, I want a word with him!” And they mean it! [Laughs.]

That’s a pretty different approach to celebrity. Living in Los Angeles, I’m sure you see the contrast all the time.

Yes, I think it’s a totally different mindset. I think that the allure of mega-stardom here in America sometimes draws people to you that are more attracted by fame than art, really. Not for everyone, of course – it’s dangerous to generalize, but I’ve heard a few people tell me that they want to get in a group to be famous. That’s all they wanted to do. I only write songs to stop myself from going mad or ending up in jail! [Laughs.]

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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