By Clare McCabe
The English Beat are currently on tour in Australia and head down to NZ this week. Managed to catch up with Dave Wakeling, lead singer and pretty much owner of the band, recently for a quick chat. Check out the interview below. Even managed to get him talking about The Clash (whatever else happens darling, we will always have Paris) and what he misses about the UK now that he lives in good old America. Good times people. See you at the gig. (PS my favorite line of the interview: "As a young man I wanted to be a tree"). Thanks Dave.
Dave, do you enjoy bringing the band to this part of the world?
I do, very much, and I'm enjoying it all the more by getting to drive between some of the cities, and see what the country's really like, and stop in small towns and buy a pie. So much of touring is just waking up and you're in the middle of town and every city kinda looks the same doesn't it? Everywhere is Pittsburgh now really, with the same shops, the same design shopping malls, same places where you're pushed to buy stuff. So it's all a bit the same really, just the accents are different. But I really like looking at trees, and I like looking at the small towns in between a gig.
Anything in New Zealand you're looking forward to?
Well, Tolkien wrote a lot of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in Birmingham, and he drank in the nearest pub to my primary school, it's now been turned into the J.R Tolkien lounge kind of thing. A window that he wrote from overlooked this little strip of land called the Dingle and a lot of the typography and the maps and all that are based on what he could see out of his window. I had a friend who lived on that street and as kids we used to go there, and we would go and play Lord of the Rings on the bridge. "It was the darkest days of Mordor!" And we'd do all that. So I'm very excited I suppose to drive between the towns and get to see a bit of that Lord of the Rings-y sort of stuff that we saw in the films. I love trees. As a young man I wanted to be a tree. My first poem was actually ‘Next Time I Want to Be a Tree'. And then of course your aims, you know, go broader and wider. I wanted to be an owl for some time, leading on from the trees, but then I found out that owls ate mainly shrews and I didn't fancy that so I went back to wanting to be a tree. So I really do enjoy them and what's fascinating about this part of the world is there's trees and birds that I've never seen before. It's like somebody just thought "Oh I know, draw one like this. Yeah that'll be funny." It's like wow. So just the amazing diversity, stuff I've never seen before is stunning to me. I've had to learn some new bird calls.
Do you miss the U.K at all?
You know I miss the gallows humor. I miss that somebody can say a whole paragraph and mean exactly the opposite of what's just been said and everybody knows it, but nobody makes a comment. I miss that. It's the sort of language I suppose when too many people have got shoved into too small of an island with a lot of beer. You learn this weird underground conversation. "Oh that's a nice dress. Do you like that colour then?" So I do miss that bit. Whenever you go back to Birmingham, I don't know why, everyone feels obliged to mention your weight as the first thing. "Oh god blimey you've got fat haven't ya!" So this time at least, cos I stopped boozing and I dropped about 30 pounds "Oh god blimey you're skinny. Are you eating all right?" So you can't win. I think England is a beautiful place to come from.
You recorded a couple of songs for a Scooby Doo episode last year - How did that come about?
I did indeed. I asked somebody if I could have a go at doing songs for television and I couldn't believe that my dream job was the first one offered. They didn't know I liked it but it came down. It was a battle of the bands between the Hex Girls, the house band for Scooby Doo and a ska band that had pretended they had died in an air crash and then had come back pretending to be zombies. They'd developed a beat, a groove. Hypnotic it was, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin and they were starting to take whole crowds away with them. So of course Scooby and the Hex Girls had to step in and stop that hash. So we got to be the band for both songs, and had to record it and mix it in 12 hours. It had that kind of live hectic feel to it, and it went down fantastic. We got to see the film, and it was just superb. My greatest moment so far I'd say. You know, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Clueless, Grosse Point Blank, loads of em' but really Scooby Doo, come on. I borrowed a beautiful Scooby Doo blanket to have in the vocal booth, so I was you know, really soaking up the Scooby vibe. It was just tremendous, I was so excited. It still gets bounced around Facebook endlessly, people were even asking if it's going to be on the new album. The songs called "You're Dead Right Mate" For the zombies and "Good Bad Girls" for the Hex Girls.
Are you looking to record a new album any time soon?
We are indeed. A pledge campaign starts, to get the ball rolling. So have a look for that at the beginning of June with lots of different prizes and premiums and things. We hope to have the record finished in autumn, and we plan on bringing it out initially in America in February or March. You should see it coming out in New Zealand by spring next year with a couple of extra tracks on it that nobody else will get. I'm really excited. We've recorded the drums already and a guide guitar and vocal for me and it sounds beautiful. We recorded the drums on 16-track, 2-inch tape like the old days so it sounds like the Dave Clark Five - the drums are massive. Some friends at radio stations in America have said they're really excited about the tracks. We were asked about an album about 5 years ago, and I was only really working up and down the coast in California on weekends, and being Coach Dave on the football team, trying to teach children algebra when you didn't really understand or remember it yourself. I decided to find out, would there be a market for a record - is anybody interested? So I started touring and now we do about 160 shows a year. And now the biggest single question is when will there be a new CD? So now I think it's the time to record one and see what can be done with it.
Any current ska bands that you respect or are a fan of, or are you more old school in your personal tastes?
That's interesting. I like Bustamante and I like the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. There's a band called the Pinstripes in Cincinnati that have opened up for us a good few times, I like them. It's usually I like the music and I like the attitude. That's the case in those three. But I suppose I have my top forty loves. I like Foster the People quite a bit, I like the notion of the perfect pop song with the perfect hidden political message.
Is there anything recently that you can point out along those lines? Or do you people are just wanting to sing pleasant pop songs?
Well certainly that's the majority of the top forty part of it. But I mean that's just the economics of desperation. There's a limited market so they just churn out top 40 acts for a couple of albums, throw them away and get some new ones in. So I think the idea is just to hit people during that teenage era where they will buy stuff and then just drop it and start again with the next set of teenagers. But that happens sometimes in pop, at the same time you've also got people making their own music at home, steering their own careers, selling tons of records to people that like their music but it never shows up on the Billboard charts, so there's both things happening really. You have to watch your p's and q's don't you? Social commentary is not welcome at a time like this. Music is escapism in the main part, or music is sexual politics.
I remember when Two-Tone started to diminish and the new romantics came in I was appalled. I was like well everybody tries a bit of makeup on and tries their mum's clothes on when she's out but the idea is to get it washed off and the clothes back in the wardrobe before she gets home, you're not meant to go on the TV are you? You can't always have songs about going on unemployment marches, I understand that. I like some of the pure pop going on at the moment. Bruno Mars sounds great, and I do like Foster the People cos it sounds like pop, but you know, it feels like coming of age. It's rather nice what they're doing getting right into the heart of the beast yet questioning the presets of capitalism and materialism, I like that, whilst making a fortune. Which is always great. Very ironic. I never made more money in my life until I did ‘Stand Down Margaret'. We gave the money away in the end to the CND.
Will you sneak any General Public songs into the set?
Yes. We will. ‘Tenderness' and ‘I'll Take you There' will be in there. ‘Never You Done That' might be in there, we'll see. That's probably it I think for the General Public ones. We probably won't do any new ones that are going to be on this new record, it's a bit early. But we are doing them at soundcheck and our glorious street team that have been such a help to us in NZ will get to visit and they get the special treatment in hearing the new songs live at the soundcheck.
Of all the gigs you've played is there any one that stands out, that you remember fondly?
Nope. I remember them all fondly. Even the ones that are total screw ups. Give it enough time and you can have a good laugh about it afterwards. They're all memorable and they all have some fond memories, even the disasters, which thank heavens there's not many of. I suppose opening for David Bowie was a tremendous highlight, I'd always wanted to meet him and was a huge fan and I'd often wondered and practiced what I would say to him if I ever got to meet him and I got to meet him and I did an impersonation of him with a tennis ball in my mouth. Which he probably quite liked, but I was just a young man gagging myself. That wasn't quite what I had in mind to say to him.
You guys toured with The Clash back in the day - any great tour stories?
I do have a couple of good Clash ones. We played a week at a place called the Théâtre Mogodor and the theatre was going to be pulled down at the end of the week so there was no holds barred, people were allowed to break off bits of plaster and take them home with them, chairs were getting trod on and no one cared. It was an amazing six nights. During that week some of the best rock and roll memories for me were created, although I happened to be an observer in most of them I think. One soundcheck the drummer was missing and they sent The Clash crew and a lot of French people dressed as though they were in The Clash, with their sleeves rolled up so tight their arms were bulging, to look for him. And they found him unconscious in a gutter in Montmartre. I was like how perfect is that? It's like I'm standing there next to the modern Baudelaire or something like that. "Sorry about that chaps, passed out in a gutter in Montmartre" As one does. Fantastic. So I was thrilled with that.
Then we went one night to a radio station, a pirate radio station which was called Radio Evry. There was a big room with people from Bulgaria who were sword swallowers or "Have you met Natasha? She's got two heads." It was really odd bohemian Paris people, everybody's got a fantastic name, there were no Davids there. Everybody was Bruno and Natasha. Fantastic. "Xavier, darling lovely to see you again." And you had to get really hammered before you got on the air. And then you got to do these interviews which were thoroughly scurrilous, got to say all this stuff from your subconscious. It was an amazing station. I found out at the time you couldn't trace the call of a radio station, it took them 20 minutes, it probably takes 20 milliseconds now, but it took 20 minutes then. They had three vans driving around France and every 18 minutes they switched transmitters from one van to another. A team of volunteers kept all their vans moving 24 hours a day, so they never had a fix on them. It went on for quite a while. I got a lovely sticker, and if anyone ever goes to see my guitar in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame it has the Radio Evry sticker on the front of it, from that wonderful week in Paris with The Clash. Whatever else happens darling, we will always have Paris.
The English Beat
May 28th: DuxLive, Christchurch - SOLD OUT!
May 30th: Bodega, Wellington
May 31st: The Studio, Auckland
Tickets via Under The Radar