Suppose your favorite band's creative differences reached the critical stage and the whole thing went ka-blooey, thus ruining your wallpaper and your finances as well. The English Beat was just such a worst-case scenario when they called it Quitsville in the early '80s.
The English Beat, a multiracial dance outfit out of Birmingham, England, helped, along with the Specials, to fuel a dance-crazy ska revival about 1980. The Beat's aptly named "Just Can't Stop It" was one of the best albums of the last decade. The band toured incessantly, then broke up shortly after a memorable performance at the US Festival in 1982.
Now comes the confusing part: The two Beat singers, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger formed General Public. The Beat rhythm section recruited a new voice and became the Fine Young Cannibals. General Public went away after a few albums and the pieces re-formed variously as the Special Beat, then the International Beat.
Now Wakeling, the blond guy with a very funny accent for a guy who lives in Dana Point, has formed the Free Radicals. As a member of many of those other bands, Wakeling certainly knows the way to Santa Barbara, where his band will play Friday night. This will be his third gig there with the Free Radicals, but his first at the Beach Shack, a place that provides nonstop dance bands for the nonstop dancers. Wakeling spoke recently from his home deep in 714-country.
How long have you been in California?
Three years now--am I a dude yet?
Well, you haven't lost your accent.
No, I suppose I'm sort of like the talk radio Michael Jackson. I live in Dana Point, but I'm not a surf dude or anything. I have a nice view of the beach from my deck and I enjoy walking on the beach in the morning and the evening.
What do you think of the Southern California music scene?
Well, I don't really know that much about it because I'm not that much of a scene person. One thing about the clubs in L. A.--they don't keep them very clean. I think they could use a coat of paint. Also, I do think a lot of those Seattle bands burst the bubble by proving you could make it without having a perm.
How often does the band play?
Right now, two to three times per week. It seems to be getting better and better, more like a complete unit. For advertising purposes, it's called Dave Wakeling & the Free Radicals. Once we get name recognition, we'll become just the Free Radicals. We hope to get a record deal by summer.
You've played Santa Barbara a lot of times before?
Endlessly with the Beat and General Public at the Arlington Theatre, on campus at UCSB and the Santa Barbara County Bowl. With this band, we've played Toes Tavern twice. This will be our first show at the Beach Shack--they pay more money, which is a consideration.
Why is ska music so popular?
The Free Radicals are not really a ska band. General Public was not really a ska band, and the English Beat only had a couple of ska songs. With the Beat, we wanted to combine punk and reggae, but there was already fast reggae music and it was called ska. I can't really get excited if I had to watch a ska band all night.
Back in 1982, the Beat seemed on top of the world--you just played the US Festival, then broke up. What happened?
We just got tired of each other. Why aren't you still kissing the first girl you ever kissed? I just thank my lucky stars that I was ever in a band called the Beat.
After the Beat came General Public. What happened to them?
Roger was getting more into machines and I was more into a band. My music didn't have a metronomic edge, and it was hard for me to write a song on an acoustic guitar, then translate it into dots for a computer. Roger's coming over soon on vacation for a few weeks, and maybe he'll do some gigs with us.
Whatever happened to that old saxophone dude from the Beat, Saxa?
Saxa's in the International Beat--it's still going as far as I know. He had such a gorgeous tone on his sax, sort of a clarinety sound. A lot of the younger players blow it too hard and it sounds raspy. His first instrument was a clarinet, which probably accounts for his tone.
How did you get started in the music biz?
I think really by writing songs, writing poems and being a lyricist when I was a kid. I liked to sing but I always avoided the choir. Then Andy Cox and I became roommates. We were too shy to get our own groups together, so we'd look in the band members-wanted section of the paper; and we made each other join other bands. He made me join a '50s revival band doing "Chantilly Lace" and like that, and then later, a jazz fusion band. I made him join a cabaret band and they made him rent a tuxedo. Finally, all this gave us the courage to start our own group, which turned into the Beat around 1979. I remember our first gig in Birmingham was the same day as that nuclear incident at Three Mile Island. They introduced us as "the hottest thing since the Pennsylvania meltdown."
So do the Free Radicals still do Beat songs?