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Led by original frontman, ’80s hitmakers English Beat to play Spokane

Dave Wakeling, founding frontman of The English Beat, brings his retooled band to Spokane Friday night at The Center.
Dave Wakeling, founding frontman of The English Beat, brings his retooled band to Spokane Friday night at The Center.

It’s been more than 30 years since The English Beat formed in Birmingham, England.

The group lasted just three albums before parting ways in 1983. Still, the enduring popularity of hits like “Save It for Later” mean there’s an audience for The English Beat’s brand of ska. Frontman Dave Wakeling will be in Spokane on Friday with the latest incarnation of the band.

Lest fans think this is strictly a golden oldies tour, Wakeling said he’s been issued a challenge by his manager to start playing new stuff.

“We have 20-odd new songs, and he wants us to try one at sound check and play it for three days and then switch it out,” he said by phone from Winnipeg, Manitoba. “He wants six of them locked and road worthy by the time he sees us back in Los Angeles.”

The goal, Wakeling said, will be a new record within the year. In the meantime, they’ll release a single or two every few months via the band’s website,, possibly as soon as this summer.

The band formed in 1978, combining elements of ska, punk, pop, soul, reggae and New Wave. As a part of the 2 Tone movement – named for the 2 Tone record label – the band was multiethnic with lyrics that touched upon racial harmony and other sociopolitical issues.

The Beat (as they were called in England; “English” was added to their name stateside) released three albums, “I Just Can’t Stop” (1980), “Wha’Happen?” (1981) and “Special Beat Service” (1982). Just as the band’s star was on the rise in the U.S., The Beat split up. Last week, Rolling Stone magazine put “I Just Can’t Stop” at No. 64 on its list of 100 best debut records with this note: “Lead singer Dave Wakeling wrote deft melodies and lyrics that cast a sharp, cold eye on romance and Thatcher-era politics.”

Vocalists Wakeling and Ranking Roger went off to form General Public, which scored a Top 30 hit in the mid-80s (“Tenderness”). Guitarist Andy Cox and bassist David Steele teamed up with Roland Gift to form Fine Young Cannibals.

These days, Wakeling tours the U.S. as The English Beat, while Roger tours the U.K. as The Beat. There’s been no music under The Beat moniker since 1983. The new material, which will be released by Dave Wakeling and The English Beat, will have that reggae-ska feel.

“I always feel a sense of syncopation as I’m writing songs,” Wakeling said. “The heavy beat I’m feeling, I’m feeling right in the middle of it, so there’s always this trainlike chugga-chugga going on. It’s what turns me on when I’m playing the guitar, I think.”

The old model of touring to generate record sales has reversed, he said. These days, bands make money on their live show, and it’s the recordings that bring the crowds out.

“I didn’t want to make the mistake of bringing out an album just like everyone did in the ’80s. Times have changed quite a lot,” he said.

The crowds are an amazing mix, he said. “There are three distinct types of people. There are the original fans, who tend to be in their early 50s or late 40s. The General Public fans in their late 30s and early 40s who found out about The English Beat retrospectively and who like both. The third set got into other ska bands, whether it’s No Doubt or Mighty Mighty Bosstones, or nowadays bands like Pinstripes … or Reel Big Fish, and they’ve either seen us playing with those bands or heard of us, so they come check us out.”

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