Interview with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat

Here is the second part of an Interview with The English Beat's Dave Wakeling. Orcasound caught up with him recently while he was in Montreal.

Orcasound: When you started in the late 70s it was a time of social, political and musical upheaval. Do you find there is a correlation between then and now?

Dave: Yeah.

Orcasound: Is that why you are coming back?

Dave: No, I am coming back because I am still breathing. I think that is why the music has seemed to get pertinent again. It is the same sort of social climate, in a way and I think that the powers that descend have learnt in this new millennium that violent opposition and demonstration just don't work. It just pours more gasoline on the fire. It's a shame that the other side hasn't learnt that violence has stopped working. Iraq is a pretty good case. The use of force to solve international situations has definitely stopped working. Something to do with that Age of Aquarius. That's the sadness of it. George Bush is trying to make his grandfather's views fit the world in the same way he is trying to make his grandfather's shoes fit. Different time different place.

Orcasound: So you think that The Beat's message of unity and togetherness is important today?

Dave: I think it is the search for optimism in the face of the most terrifying bleak outlook. It's saying if we are all dead then let's all have a dance. Not in a wanton way, but just to celebrate. So it wasn't trying to party like it was 1999 but like it was right now and you never know how long you might have. In some ways since 9/11 people have been playing my songs more and more on the radio. I am getting more play right now with The English Beat and General Public then we ever got in the 80s when we were begging and bribing for it. It's ridiculous. They are playing it on these strict 80s shows or rock from the 80s until now kind of shows. People keep saying that the lyrics are pertinent.

Orcasound: So you brought back The English Beat because of a similarity in the social situation between now and the 70s?

Dave: It wasn't as conscious as that. Things seem to evolve and you work out why afterwards. I know the demand on the radio is high and the demand for live gigs has gone up. Everywhere we play a gig the promoter is like "Fantastic. When can I expect you back?" You know something is up. After 9/11 I noticed a real change in American audiences and internationally, but primarily in American audiences, everybody is really scared. Really scared like they've never been scared before. When they go to a concert in America now they start to dance sooner. They want to connect more than they ever did and they value a great night out more than they ever did. Sometimes it takes a tragedy. The shows have become somewhat more genuine and heartfelt. Which I take evolutionary wise to be a good sign. I go to England and I get blamed for American foreign policy too. I feel for Americans because despite their national reputation, traveling through every state for 25 years, if you are injured or in trouble someone will help you in America quicker than anywhere else I've ever been in the world. I don't quite believe these people are assholes. I haven't met too many of them there. Neither does Canada.

Orcasound: So did you move to the States for business, family?

Dave: Music. Music to start with and then I stayed for love and I did realize that I had done 30 years of living in the rain and you get 30 years for murder in England, so I had done my time. I deserved some sunshine. It would have been Vancouver if it wasn't like England. I always wanted to live in Canada. I always felt it was like American opportunity with European sensibilities. But I just couldn't take the weather. I know a lot of people do not have a great opinion of Los Angeles, but I've always thought if you are living in a city of 13 million people and you can't find 20 that you like you have a problem.

Orcasound: What are the differences when you used to record with The English Beat and the whole process today?

Dave: In the 80s all the machines were crap and you just wasted fortunes and many broken hearts listening to under skilled technicians badly operating the machinery. Butchering your songs. Now the machines are great. Now nobody knows how to use a microphone. Nobody knows how to record anything. That is all they used to know in the 70s and 80s. It was about a collection of beautiful mikes and the right place to put them. They don't have a clue about that now. Everybody used to know how to record then. If you listen to pop music on the radio today everything is metronomically recorded. Anything on the Top 40 has been recorded to a click. Musicians have got to be able to play to a click. Some of The Rolling Stones songs were exactly twice the number of beats on the fadeout as there were on the intro. You'd probably bring that into a label now and they'd say it was out of time. Everyone that we know, everybody younger than us has grown up listening to pop music that has to be metronomically in time. You will get certain genres that will try to break out of that, but even the heavy metal bands are to the click.

Orcasound: How do you go about writing? Do you write on the road or do you put yourself in a room and say 'I have to write something now'?

Dave: Either a song comes to me or I don't have a song.

Orcasound: What happens? Does it just come to you or are you inspired?

Dave: There's a trigger usually. Quite often it'll begin through a walk or sitting watching the TV or the news and a tangential thought comes from it. If it hits a nerve then you start to say I'll put it down and the more you think about it the more things start rhyming. It seems to build a certain head of steam and when it's got to a certain point either one of two things happen. Either I start writing it down, which can be a mistake too early. Sometimes you just want to remember it and just let it go because it might change. Step two would be to go into the shower and use the poetry of the water. I just keep going with the poem and once it gets good I start to panic that I am going to forget it. I better get out and write it. I try to think of little images, so that if I forget the words that image might bring that set of words.

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