The (English) Beat are coming to play at Auckland’s Powerstation next week – Thursday, August 23rd and I recently had the honor to spend some time on the telephone with founding member, Dave Wakeling.
The Beat formed in Birmingham in 1978 – it was a time of high unemployment and social upheaval in the UK – Dave recalls, “You were allowed to sing about social circumstances in punk – in some ways it was almost required – we wanted to achieve that classic English pop of the sixties – bands like The Buzzcocks and The Undertones had captured a bit …but we wanted to be John Lennon pretending to be The Monkees.”
They were born from socialist ideals and, in many ways one can draw some parallels with the world recession today and those times.
“The recession has made the lyrics of Beat songs more pertenent (again) – if you’ve only got limited resources what is it that is important to you; how important is it to you; and what else would you give up for it – it starts to make everyone think about what’s their role in terms of their country and what does their country represent to them.”
Dave has lived in California since 1986, I wondered what drew him to the United States to live ?
“I like California particularly – I like the enormous diversity of people – and the way the vast majority of them get on with the vast majority of the others the vast majority of teh time – it sounds like the future to me – I fell in love with the place – I suppose coming from rainy Birmingham it’s not too difficult to.”
“It’s a shame really, perhaps because of their foreign policy, Americans are often portrayed (in the British Press particularly) as pretty intolerant people … but I don’t actually find that on the ground… “
We laugh about the irony of the British Press daring to criticize anyone
“The second Beat album has got a song on in it called Cheated which is about Rupert Murdoch – he had already bought The Sun – and turned that into working-class caniblism, and he was just about to buy The London Times – you knew he was capable much better things ‘cos he was obviously a clever bloke – but he just went with the lowest common denominator and he was just smearing it across England – so I wrote Cheated and a line that said ‘Young swingers in this Sun Dialing Times, Sweeping the nation with a dance called The Bread Line’ – Elvis Costello picked that as his favorite year in one of the papers at Christmas. “
The people suffered ever such a lot – not only did it become fashionable to be sarcastic about eachother and derogatory at every opportunity, but it coarsened our debate. I think, really, Rupert Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher stopped strangers from talking at bus stops – they changed the culure that much – strangers just stayed as strangers; they used to be neighbors that you’d talk to. There was a coarsening – playing people off against each other for profit. “
But Dave’s fast to admit that it’s not all a bed of roses in the USA either,
“Americans are now having to get used to teh idea of not always automatically being the best in the world at something…. So we have awful conundrums here – America is capable of providing the worlds best medical care – but it actually ranks 37th in the world …”
“My mum and dad were quite proud of the (British) National Health – it was bought out of World War 2 – that this land that was fit for heros would include hospitals where they could have new legs attached, I suppose – I dont think there was much dicking around in socialist halls talking about it – it was just ‘we had beeter build some hospitals’ – so by accident really, I grew up in an era that everybody knew that if you got sick that the rest of the society had already made provisions to give you reasonable care. I hadn’t really even thought about it much until I lived here (USA) but it does give a sense of mutual concern and community and without saying it, everybody in the street had the sense that everybody has got everybody’s back.
He mentions the class divide – the poor, the middle class, and then the huge leap to the very very wealthy – I asked him what his take on the 99% Occupy movement was :
“I like the 99% part more than the occupy part – I think you have to be strategic – what might have worked very well with a town square in Egypt, give their political history and the fact that dozens if not more people were prepared to give their lives
in order to hold that square – it just didnt seem, to me, the best idea ‘oh let’s try an park in some some places that might be semi-official with winter coming on’ .. but I agree with the 99% element – I think that when the venom has been stripped that there’s a very similar sense of dissatisfaction with government and governance and what that represents in this modern world between the 99%’ers and the tea party (movement) – who would be set up in an American arguemnt as though they are the exact opposite of eachother but I think they have a great deal in common.”
Dave’s still, a you can tell, still got a lot of things to say, so I wondered if he’s still writing music ? He told me taht he is, but out of respect to other members of The Beat, they have agreed to refrain from releasing their own new material until after the forthcoming Beat re-issues have been released;
“I’ve got another new song called If Killing Worked It Would Have Worked By Now – and I’ve always thought that since I was kid – I used to watch the news and I always thought that by the time I was a grown up they’d have sorted all this bollocks out – but no, it seems that killing each-others kids in the name of peace is still attempted – it’s never been a very convincing argument to me… It’d be fun to try and organize just one day where everyone said they wouldn’t kill each-other’s kids for a day and see if anything happened.”
Indeed, that would be fun. And awesome.
You can listen to the interview in full here:
22 min 45 sec