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Jeff Moehlis: The English Beat Goes On

Ska revivalists The English Beat to perform at SOhO

Dave Wakeling will lead iconic ska band The English Beat at SOhO Saturday, June 4. Click to view larger
Dave Wakeling will lead iconic ska band The English Beat at SOhO Saturday, June 4. (Eugenio Iglesias photo)

The English Beat was one of the key bands in the British ska revival during the late 1970s and early ’80s, along with The Specials and Madness.

Songs like “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Save it for Later,” “Too Nice to Talk To” and a hit cover of “Tears of a Clown” still sound fresh 30-odd years after their first release.

Santa Barbara 2 tone lovers will get a chance to hear these songs performed live —and dance along to them — at SOhO Saturday, June 4. Tickets are available here.

The English Beat’s lead singer, Dave Wakeling talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show and more.

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Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming concert?

Dave Wakeling: Well, it’s one of the best nights of dancing. It’s dance music for people who can’t really dance but like to anyway.

We’ll play the hits from The Beat and from General Public, and we’ll try to play a couple of brand-new hits-to-be off the new album that’s coming out in the fall.

JM: You’ve performed in Santa Barbara fairly often in recent years. Besides playing music, what do you like to do when you come to visit?

DW: The nice thing about Santa Barbara is you can enjoy yourself even doing nothing, just looking around.

I’ve always been taken by the way the ocean air gets trapped by the mountains. It gives you you the kind of sparkle that people say is reminiscent of the south of France.

That’s true, at least from what I can remember about the south of France, and I can see why so many photoshoots are done there. There’s something very crystal sharp about the air there, isn’t there? So I like that.

I did used to like — kind of bemoaning the passage of time — I used to like all the thrift stores and consignment stores that were on [State] Street. And now, I just go from one Old Navy to the next, then I do Starbucks, then I cross over and there’s four more Old Navy’s.

That’s a little disappointing, you know? It used to have that same sort of thing that Ventura used to have, with bookstores and nice second-hand things that you never thought you’d end up owning but for some reason you did after your glorious stay in Santa Barbara.

I’ve got lots of lovely memories of Santa Barbara. I’ve played at The Arlington Theatre a few times, and we got to be the opening band for The Clash at the Santa Barbara Bowl, which I think was a highlight of my young life.

JM: Can you give a bit of historical context of what was going on in England when the ska revival got going in the late ’70s?

DW: It’s interesting because the 2 tone movement came up off the back of punk and the worsening social situation in terms of opportunity for the working classes.

The masses were not happy. There was whining and screaming and raving against the Empire with punk for a few years. Everybody’s throats were a bit sore.

There was still a lot of social commentary — everybody in every bar was talking about it — so 2 tone found a way to capture the angst of punk and the seductive and life-sustaining rhythms of reggae and put it all together in sort of a festival jamboree of social commentary.

So that you could still wail against the Empire, but that didn’t mean you had to act miserable. You could still be happy about the good stuff. You just hoped you’d live long enough to be able to say that in 30 years time, and, look, here I am saying it.

JM: How did the song “Mirror in the Bathroom” come together?

DW: I was on a construction site, and I’d forgotten to hang my jeans up to dry. So I turned the shower on to try and get the room warm, at least, and I was having a shave.

I saw myself in the mirror, and I said, “You know, Dave, you don’t have to do this. You know, the door’s locked, it’s just me and you. Have a shave, and just get back to bed.”

I got on my bike to the construction site, and some of the stuff that I’d been saying in the mirror to myself came back to me when I was riding to work.

“The door is locked / Just you and me.” It just went off into a big, long ramble of sorts.

As you get more self-obsessed, you also get more isolated from society. And both of those feed into each other, so the more isolated you become the more lonely you are, and the more lonely you are the more self-obsessed you get; the more self-obsessed you get the more isolated you become. I thought that was amusing and put it into the song.

My biggest problem was I really thought that “Mirror in the Bathroom” was a stupid title for a song. It took me a little while to introduce it to the band, and say, “Look, I’ve got these words that fit David’s bassline, but it’s a bit stupid.”

I showed them, and they said, “It’s not stupid at all.” I’d been thinking that our song’s really good, but you can’t have a song called “Mirror in the Bathroom.” It’s stupid.

When the record came out, it was a success in England and then it came to America, and “Mirror in the Bathroom” was taken to be something completely different, which it wasn’t at all. It was about having a shave. We’d heard about cocaine, but we certainly didn’t have money for it.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

DW: Be prepared for lots of tears, some of joy and some of misery.

Click here to read the full interview with Dave Wakeling.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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