Interview with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat

You must’ve been right about how much Americans love that word.

It touched a nerve, I suppose. The purists still insist on calling us ‘The Beat,’ but that’s who we are now. Once you start, you’re branded—it may as well be burnt on your back. So, English Beat it is.

Have you been able to find someone who’s as good at toasting as Roger?

Well, comparisons are always odious, but I think the guy we have now is better. We call him Two-Tone Tony. He’s a Jersey boy—born in London, raised in Jamaica, and he lives in New Jersey. And so his toasting has all three flavors. Because of that, he has a great ability to connect with an American audience, and he lives here, so he knows how people move. He does a passable Ranking Roger—he sings the parts that were Roger’s parts. But in the past 18 months or so, it’s grown and grown, and the stuff he does, little poems that he just wrote on the spur of the moment, have now grown into full-fledged songs that we play. He’s a great lyricist—very witty and engaging. And unlike many toasters, he has a great, tuneful singing voice. Very few people have both.

It’s analogous to a rapper with a singing voice.

Yeah, it’s the same sort of thing. On some of those songs he wrote, I think to myself, ‘God, he sings like Seal.’ (laughs) At first, there were a few people who would make comparisons with Roger, or ask if he was ever coming back. But nobody asks anymore. He seems to have been accepted by the purists—the ones who just call us ‘The Beat.’

Was it a hard sell, being a punk band with a saxophone player?

No, not really. When we started, there weren’t many bands at all with saxophones, so it was a huge novelty. And Saxa, the original saxophonist, was a superb player—he would tell a story with those melody lines. He would just enchant people. So if there was any resistance to having a saxophone in a punk and reggae band, it dissipated once he started to play. And we did want it to be not just a punk band—we were, of course, trying to blend punk and reggae.

They’re both very political.

Well, it was a period where social activism was almost de rigeur. I liked growing up in that period. It would have seemed odd to us at the time to sing 12 songs without mentioning at all what was going on around us. People used to ask us, ‘Do you think pop and politics mix?’ And I said, well, only if you’re a human being, only if you live on planet Earth. If not, then I suppose they might not. (laughs)

The English Beat play at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ, on May 14 and May 15. For more info, visit