Birmingham-born band The English Beat shows staying power with its current US tour. Dave Wakeling co-founded the ska sextet in 1979. They opened for seminal acts such as Talking Heads, The Pretenders, David Bowie, R.E.M., and fellow popsters The Specials. The original lineup broke up in 1983, after three albums and new wave hits like “Save It For Later,” “Mirror in the Bathroom,” as well as covers of “Tears of a Clown” and “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”
Wakeling then formed General Public with co-singer Ranking Roger, while the other bandmates started Fine Young Cannibals, each outfit producing a handful of hits. In 2003, the principals reunited for a UK tour, and have been on the road at intimate venues ever since. The English Beat released the latest 13-track album, Here We Go Love!, on June 15.
With his famous Vox teardrop guitar and B&W checked strap, genial Wakeling fronted an eight-piece band with Deborah Troiano singing backup. His current “toaster”/rap sidekick is Antonee First Class, with Oakland’s Matt Morrish providing the signature saxophone sound, as well as vocals and tambourine. Brian “Nucci” Cantrell is on drums, and on keys and vocals, Kevin Lum and Minh Quan.
The set featured mostly classic Beat, with a few new tunes included. Wakeling remains in fine voice, a smooth mocha mix with an impressive range, punctuated by syncopated reggae vocal pops and a mean whistle. The salt-and-pepper-haired audience dug the 80s dance grooves “Twist and Crawl,” “Tenderness,” and “Hands Off, She’s Mine.”
Faves were Special Beat Service’s“Save It For Later,” I Just Can’t Stop It’s “Rough Rider” and “Ranking Full Stop.”
After dinner and before the show, my plus-one said to order dessert, anything but the chocolate mousse. Which was fine, because Wakeling brought a creamy smooth voice and a sincere, never saccharine, sweetness to the evening. He’s full of positive energy, and gratitude—he shook hands with many audience members before exiting the stage.
The English Beat performed at Chicago’s City Winery on October 24 – upcoming tour dates here.