How VH1 Finished the English Beat

Feb. 14, 2008
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Dave Wakeling has some advice for any '80s band considering reuniting: Stay as far from VH1 as possible.

Wakeling learned this lesson several years ago, when his early '80s ska-pop band, the Beatknown in America as the English Beatappeared on the cable network's "Bands Reunited," a program that attempted to reunite the classic line-ups of fallen bands. Most of the Beat had just played a successful concert the year before, so prospects for a full reunion seemed strong.

"I think some people hoped with 'Bands Reunited' we'd get the remaining members," Wakeling told me in a 2006 interview. "But I think in their attempt to do it, VH1 kind of blew the whole thing apart."

The problems, Wakeling theorized, emerged once it began to look as if a full reunion of the Beat wasn't possible.

"At that point, I suppose the producers have a dilemma of how to create some drama to make an interesting TV show, so they started to play games behind us, trying to get that band members to phone this band member, or to get that band member to go around another band member's house," Wakeling said. "After it was all over and done, the people who were reluctant to do it felt they'd been publicly ridiculed by VH1. They said, 'there's always been an off chance of the full band reuniting, but that VH1 show was the nail in the coffin.'"

"So VH1 finally killed the Beat," Wakeling laughed. "Thanks a lot."

If Wakeling doesn't sound too upset about the situation, it's because he's still touring as the English Beat in America, even without the participation of any other original band mates. He's been through so much drama with his former peers that he no longer lets it phase him.

He's had a particularly tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship with Ranking Roger, the second Beat vocalist whose reggae-inflicted toasting provided an infectious contrast to Wakeling's Brit-pop croon.

"I think in some ways, when I took him on, he was sort of like an apprentice in the Beat," Wakeling said. "He was very young, had a lot of energy and was a great toaster. But I think he wanted to be a singer and songwriter, and we sort of ended up with him wanting to the do the job that I did."

The problems came to a head in Wakeling and Roger's post-Beat group, the '80s-pop act General Public.

"We had all these great songs written that had toasting in them, but when we got in the studio Roger wanted to recast himself as a singer, not a toaster," Wakeling said. "I was like, 'I wish I would have known.' It was like signing a forward to your soccer team and discovering that he no longer wants to do headers."

Most recently, tensions between the two again flared up again when Roger reneged on an agreement decrying that Roger would tour as the Beat in England and Wakeling would tour as the English Beat in America. When Roger attempted an America tour under the English Beat moniker, a fed-up Wakeling trademarked the band name and hasn't worked with his old partner since.

Wakeling's English Beat plays the Turner Hall Ballroom on Sunday, Feb. 17.

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