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The English Beat



"If Killing Worked, It Would Have Worked By Now": It sounds like the dogma of a war-weary statesman or the mantra of a protest, but that statement comes courtesy of a new song by Dave Wakeling, founder of second-wave ska pioneers The English Beat. Mixing ska, politics and punk, the Beat fired up disgruntled youths on both sides of the Atlantic ready to dance to a revolution, and they're ready to do it again.

When The English Beat came to life in 1978, there were two sides to punk. The OI faction was pissed off at everything, while the other side was arty and literate and wanted to talk--reasonably--about revolution. Wakeling says that even the moshing was cooperative in early English pits.

"They bumped into each other and pushed each other up higher as they jumped," he remembers. "But, when I came to America, it had turned into pre-season training for the football team." Wakeling says the Beat tried to reincorporate the affable side of things, lending the upbeat side of reggae to what became skinhead ska--"reggae with a chunky edge. That was our notion, a punky reggae party."

The group's interracial makeup was part of the band's cutting-edge appeal. It was normal in Birmingham, England, the working-class environment where Wakeling was raised. In fact, he wasn't aware that it was an issue until the band played London and people started commenting on it.

"By the time we got to America, it was almost like a sociology treatise with some backbeat going on in the background," he says. "I was always grateful that it was kind of accidental."

But being in the spotlight took its toll on Wakeling, who often threw up before the show. The group's elder saxophone player, Saxa, a veteran of first-wave ska bands with Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker, had the cure. He reminded Wakeling that a lot of people were quite happy to walk in the rain to the bus stop, pay money to come in and then walk back out in the rain, not getting home until after midnight, soaking wet, just to see the show. Saxa told Wakeling he should remember that he was the lucky one: He was getting paid to play, and he didn't have to get wet. "I never threw up again after that," Wakeling says, laughing.

Saxa, now 80, won't be with the resurrected Beat. In fact, Wakeling doesn't have any of the other originals on board as of yet, but he's still encouraging original vocalist Ranking Roger. Wakeling says he's glad the Beat won't be a carbon copy of its old self: "I wouldn't like to be in Los Angeles in 2006 playing as though I was in England in 1980."

The English Beat plays the Cat's Cradle on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. with The Specials' Lynval Golding, The Selecter's Pauline Black and Westbound Train. Tickets are $16-$18.

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