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The Beat

When the ska revival movement kicked into second gear in the late 70s, the London capital could boast two outfits: MADNESS and BAD MANNERS, while the Midlands could boast three: The SPECIALS, The SELECTER (both from Coventry) and Birmingham’s The BEAT; formed in autumn 1978. An integral part of the 2-Tone set up run by Jerry Dammers and bought up by Chrysalis Records, The BEAT – or The English Beat, to save confusion with an American power-pop act – had a decidedly radical bent to their political and lyrical waxing; never so trenchant was their “Stand Down Margaret” coup de grace rally to British Prime Minister at the time, Mrs. Thatcher.
As with the other aforementioned Brummie bands, The BEAT were a multi-racial posse led out by vocalist/guitarist Dave Wakeling and toaster/rapper Ranking Roger, while guitarist Andy Cox and bassist David Steele shared stage/studio space with West Indies-born drummer Everett Morton and Jamaican saxophonist Saxa (alias Lionel Augustus Martin); the latter previously played with the legendary PRINCE BUSTER, whose overt style of `Rough Rider’ (penned by EDDY GRANT) the group covered on their glorious debut LP.
Following a number of low-key gigs, the sextet expanded their musical horizons when they signed to the ultra hip nerve centre of the ska revival, 2-Tone. Straight off the bat, The BEAT struck pay-dirt and the Top 10 with a high-octane blue beat cover of SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES’s `Tears Of A Clown’, doubled-up with the equally frenetic `Ranking Full Stop’.
Spurred on by single’s success, The BEAT negotiated a deal under the sponsorship of Arista Records that allowed their own label, Go Feet, to acquire full creative control. Thankfully, everything went according to plan, and 1980 proved to be a golden year; `Hands Off… She’s Mine’ reaching the Top 10, while the compulsive claustrophobia of `Mirror In The Bathroom’ went Top 5. Its parent album, a landmark in the ska movement and a classic Top 3 pop disc in its own right, I JUST CAN’T STOP IT {*9} was a nigh-on perfect combination of black and white music styles laced with humour, caustic lyrical wit and biting politicism. As previously said, `Stand Down Margaret’ – its “dub” version a double-header to Top 30 hit, `Best Friend’ – was a self-explanatory missive to Thatcher and her Tories, while the anti-violence stance of `Two Swords’ and `Click Click’ dealt with the growing tensions in a nation divided by more than just politics. With the band pledging their support to a number of left-wing causes including CND, The BEAT’s softer approach came by way of the Pomus-Shuman number `Can’t Get Used To Losing You’.
Yet as the 2-Tone movement lost its momentum, with main players MADNESS and The SPECIALS pursuing new musical avenues, The BEAT chose to emphasize the reggae element to limited success on Top 3 follow-up set, WHA’PPEN? (1981) {*7}. Although the double-A platter `Drowning’ / `All Out To Get You’ had narrowly missed the Top 20 (unlike previous Top 10 single `Too Nice To Talk To’), from this point on, major chart appearances became relatively thin on the ground. In the process, the sextet made a concerted effort to break the lucrative American market where they toured in support of TALKING HEADS and The PRETENDERS, while at home `Doors Of Your Heart’ stalled outside the Top 30.
Although third album, SPECIAL BEAT SERVICE (1982) {*6} scraped into the US Top 40 (UK Top 30), it failed to produce any big hitters, with even the infectious `Save It For Later’ and `Jeanette’ lingering outside the 40 cut-off mark; `I Confess’ and `Ackee 1-2-3’ both reached a peak position of No.54.
This heralded the end of the line for the ageing Saxa, who semi-retired due to ill health. His replacement was Wesley Magoogan (ex-HAZEL O’CONNOR); the band also augmenting their final recordings with keyboard player, David “Blockhead” Wright. Paradoxically, The BEAT had a penultimate piece of chart action when a re-mixed version of `Can’t Get Used To Losing You’ (once a hit for crooner Andy Williams), went Top 3 in spring ‘83.
It was too little too late though and, following the release of a retrospective, WHAT IS BEAT? (THE BEST OF THE BEAT) {*9} later that year, the group finally threw in the towel; Wakeling and Roger subsequently became GENERAL PUBLIC, while Cox and Steele became pop stars all over again as FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS, alongside singer Roland Gift. Off-shoots of The BEAT later arrived, as Everett Morton and Saxa formed The International Beat, with Tony Beet, a singer from Birmingham; one set appeared, `The Hitting Line’ (1990); Ranking Roger would tour and record with three of The SPECIALS, and dished out a string of collaborative albums under the Special Beat banner. Rumours of a “proper” reformation appeared here and there post-millennium, but the originals were still fighting over the group name going into a further decade of studio inactivity; The BEAT have since split themselves into two factions: The Beat with Ranking Roger, who released a concert album LIVE IN LONDON (2013), and The English Beat Starring Dave Wakeling, who have pencilled in a PledgeMusic album, `Here We Go Loves’ (2017).
In the meantime, and striking while the iron was hot, hot, hot, The BEAT featuring RANKING ROGER – the talisman helped along by “toaster” son Ranking Junior, guitarist Steve Harper, bassist Andy Pearson, saxophonist Mark “Chiko” Hamilton and drummer Fuzz Townshend – stole the limelight for 2016’s BOUNCE {*7}. Echoing the group from their ska-pop days of old, their blend of romance and politics was evident on `Walking On The Wrong Side’, `Busy Busy Doing Nothing’, `Talkin’ About Her’ and `Side To Side’.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2000/GRD // rev-up MCS Jun2015-Sep2016

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