The English Beat goes on 

The veteran ska group plays Whistler Olympic Plaza July 5

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRYAN KREMKAU, SUBMITTED - keep the beat Dave Wakeling and his ska group The English Beat will play a selection of tracks from their 35-year career.
  • Photo by Bryan Kremkau, submitted
  • keep the beat Dave Wakeling and his ska group The English Beat will play a selection of tracks from their 35-year career.

Dave Wakeling is less than five minutes behind schedule for his phone interview with Pique from his home in California, but still The English Beat frontman apologizes profusely.

"I'm sorry. The first interview ended up being a soccer fan who wanted to talk about the upcoming international championship league that's coming to America. It had nothing to do with music," he says.

Turns out, Wakeling is well versed in an array of subjects other than his chosen career of the last three decades. He is also surprisingly funny, upbeat and just plain nice, especially for someone who has been grinding away in the music industry for so long.

"I've been to Whistler a couple of times," he says, after asking a few questions about the Whistler Presents Concert Series at Olympic Plaza, where he will be performing July 5. "I like to wander around with something on that looks like I might be a skier. I've never done it. I think I could do great après ski. I've always fancied the bear-skin rug, the log fire, balloon glasses with brandy, that sort of thing."

Wakeling — one of the founding members of the two-tone ska group, which formed in Birmingham, England back in 1978 — travels regularly around North America, but doesn't often wander beyond the continent. He leaves that to band co-founder, Ranking Roger, whose homebase is in the UK.

In an unusual arrangement, Roger tours Europe under The Beat moniker while Wakeling performs as The English Beat in North America, though both play the same songs on which they've built their storied careers. "We tried working together, but neither of us wanted to move," Wakeling says. "We realized it cost about $10,000 just to get a rehearsal together. Somebody's got to fly 6,000 miles. That didn't work very well for either of us. We came to an agreement that he could call his band The Beat in England and I would just continue being The English Beat here in the States and in Canada. So far, although it's an odd relationship, it's worked out pretty well."

The set up hasn't been without its flaws, he adds.

"I thought it was generous of me, to be honest," he says. "But I'm that way. I didn't mind it until sometimes it looked like it was being turned into a battle of the Beats, which I didn't really like. Most of the lyrics that we both sing are the original lyrics I wrote. I thought it was a bit much. It seems to be pretty good now and pretty calm."

Besides, it sounds like both bands will be moving away from their heyday hits going forward, Roger with a group featuring his son and Wakeling recording new music for the band. Both of them have put aside new music in recent months in favour of promoting The Complete Beat, a box set that included three remastered studio albums and bonus content, as well as Keep The Beat: The Very Best of The English Beat.

Wakeling says he hopes to cut back on his busy tour schedule so he can hole up and finish the tracks. "The drums are recorded for all of them," he says. "They're just the right tempo and the right key and arrangements and good, crisp, energetic, enthusiastic playing. We got a few instruments when we were nailing the drums, some of which we might keep. I'd like to have enough time to go into the studio and not be exhausted from the last weekend's shows."

Though the popularity of ska music has fluctuated since the band first started, Wakeling says they have begun to sell out shows along the West Coast — and it's not just their original fans in the crowds. He likes to joke that the younger faces are kids who were forced to listen to The English Beat while strapped into the back of their parents' cars as kids. "Another interesting cycle of life is 30 years later a beautiful young woman comes back stage to say, 'My mom really loves you,'" he says with a laugh, "which should be one of the most wonderful compliments you've ever heard, but somehow it's not."

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