A Little Tenderness From Dave Wakeling

During a phone call with Dave Wakeling he revealed The English Beat is getting ready to launch a PledgeMusic campaign to record some long-awaited music – the band’s first new album since 1982’s Special Beat Service.

Wakeling’s most recent release is his third with General Public, 1995’s Rub It Better. The British singer/songwriter, who now calls Pacific Palisades, Calif., home, says he still loves playing the two acts’ hits like “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Save It For Later,” “Tenderness” and “I’ll Take You There,” but that he’s especially excited about the new tunes.

Wakeling discussed a few of the songs on the release with Pollstar, in addition to sharing his thought about life on the road. The musician noted that putting on a “good” show isn’t enough for the ska/New Wave band. Dancing is a must and it’s all about connecting heart-to-heart with the audience.

Photo: Bryan Kremkau

Having toured for so many years, what keeps playing live exciting?

Well, I suppose pacing yourself is important. … We have found a method for us that works. We [tour] for about three weeks or a month and then we come back to California and then play just weekends – four or five weekends, up and down California. Then we go back out on tour for another three weeks. That way we manage to put in about 160 shows a year these last few years. But we’re home quite a lot in the week, every other month. You can still manage to keep some semblance of a life.

You have to be careful to pace yourself emotionally because you can’t just sing the songs. Of course you can – you can probably sing them without thinking at this point. (laughs) But it’s a shame to drive overnight and put all your gear out and have people come for a party and just go through the motions. So you have to try and find a way to be able to give 100 percent, with an option of 110 percent, if it catches a light.

If you’re just going through the motions, it’s not going to be fun for you or the audience.

Well, [yes] but you can get away with it. The crowd will probably like it but it doesn’t resonate from heart to heart. You don’t want it to be a good show, or even a great show. You want it to be the most amazing thing they’ve ever seen. (laughs)

In March you played your home country. What was the reception like in England?

It was fantastic! It was quite different from the vibes in California. You had to make them work to dance with you. They were a bit shy to dance, to start with, which didn’t used to be the case in England. … The audience was predominately male, with women around the edges. Again, the opposite of California, with the women up front and the guys on the sides. It was an interesting challenge. We moved the setlist around a bit to try and bang them into gear up front and loosen them up a bit and it worked tremendously.

That’s interesting that the U.K. fans were a little shy to dance – and that it wasn’t always that way. 

It might just be that the people are 20 to 30 years older than [when we first toured]. We also see that in some cities of America, generally in colder parts of the country, out of the major cities. You see the same sorts of shyness or restlessness. … You know they want to dance, really. That’s why they’re standing there looking a bit anxious. You just have to ease it into them. At the shows in England … everybody was dancing by the end.

It is important to us – the dance part of it. When your body’s moving, your mind feels open. When your mind feels open, your heart comes to the front, so part of the enjoyment for us is connecting at the show. And probably the thing that keeps the show, or keeps the tour freshest out of everything is Carl Jung’s theory of mass consciousness. You start feeling the audience moving as one animal. They start moving in time with [one another]. They’re not quite aware of it yet but they can feel something wiggling across the crowd. You notice it from the stage and as soon as you get to that point, you go, “OK, here we go, we’ve arrived!” (laughs)

Then you can just perform from your heart to their heart, and create something over and above the decibels of the songs and the notes.

I like that. Dancing means more than just moving around.

Well I found [that] out when I was younger. I would go dancing at a club and listen to records. I would understand the lyrics a bit more than when I’d been sitting at home, as though I had wider vision. I suppose it’s your limbic system, isn’t it, that operates you, your movements. Once that’s fully engaged, you’re more focused, more able to connect.

Photo: Doug Seymour
Sellersville Theater 1894, Sellersville, Pa.

Is there a certain type of venue you prefer?

It’s fun to have a variety of venues. It’s easy to connect when you’re in a small place and they’re right in front of you, looking up your nostrils. … But you can also try and achieve that in a much bigger show. You just have to kind of cast your heart forward. It’s the same thing, really. You just have to be careful that you’re being true to your medium.

It is easy, just like singing by muscle memory, to go through a show the way you always do. But you don’t want to find yourself making huge arm gestures, like you’re in an amphitheatre (laughs) when you’re in a club. And you don’t want to be having small, intimate conversations with the crowd when you’re in an amphitheatre.

Over the years, the Beats and the General Public, we’ve collected up quite a lot of songs that people know well, either from records or from movies or the TV, so even if we do a private show – and you know half the people in the crowd are not even sure who the band is – usually by two or three songs, you see [someone] elbow [another attendee] and go, “Oh! It’s him! Oh, I love that song!”

So, it’s been useful to collect those [hits] up, but to be honest, I’m more excited about the next batch because we’re in the process of finishing up a record. A PledgeMusic campaign will start, recording of the album will take place in the fall and it will come out in springtime.

So this is a very exciting time for me. I’ve worked a few years to get to this point. … I didn’t want to put out a record that might be a vanity record. So I decided to go on tour … and re-develop a live market and test to see if anybody wanted to hear any new songs. And then it got to a point where we could pack a show in most cities in America.

[We’ve been] busy writing songs … and we picked the first 10 to start recording for the album. I played them for some friends at radio stations and they feel we’re in the right direction.

Photo: Eugenio Iglesias

When is the PledgeMusic campaign going to launch?

I think it’s going to kick off in a month or three weeks. We’ve been working out this last week what our Pledge premiums will be – dinner with Dave, that kind of thing. … It’s a little bit [tough] for me, to be honest, because you don’t know what to price things. You don’t know what’s competitive or have a look at what other people are doing. But I’ve also sort of been a easy-to-access, man of the people, type. The Beats have sort of always been that way, following the lead frankly from The Buzzcocks and The Undertones, who we were huge fans of.  It’s a bit difficult to charge someone to meet you when you meet people all the time (laughs). But I think we found a decent balance and list of things to offer to people. … I think my favorite one is to jam on guitars with me for an afternoon, either my songs or their songs or whatever they fancy.  

Do you have a general timeframe you’re expecting the new album to come out?

Yeah, we do actually. We have a target date – Feb. 17 because Valentine’s Day is on the 14th and my birthday is on the 19th. That’s what we’re aiming for, but I never get too caught up in that sort of thing. I remember when we had record companies, there always used to be a big debate about the release date. It seemed sometimes more important to them than what was on the record. And I always used to say the same thing when we got to that point: I would say, “What month did Rubber Soul come out?” And they would always answer 1963. And I’d say, “Exactly.” Nobody remembers the month a record comes out. If it’s a good record, you remember the name of the record.

However, I understand, they’ve got to coordinate stuff with other records; you’re not the only band on the label. They have to use their marketing prediction force to the best of their advantage. We feel confident we can make our provisional Feb. 17 release date. And that will then begin … our next tour, a longer tour of America.

How would you describe the new set of tunes?

Brilliant! I think that’s the right word. I think some of the songs are very timely. I would say we’re in a particularly tense and confusing stage of history at the moment. Whether you want to look at Ukraine or global warming or any of it. And our systems are looking rusty. In some ways it doesn’t appear that we can keep up with the acceleration that the world is experiencing. … When situations like that happen, the simple and most valuable aspects of our lives get confusing. And in the panic and anxiety of it all, we can lose track of what’s the true value to us. Some of the songs deal with topics like that.

There’s a song called “The Love You Give Lasts Forever,” which is actually reflections on the death of my mom. But even after she had gone, I could still feel the love between us. And it occurred [to me] that’s actually what immortality is – it’s the love you give that lasts forever. Even when you’re gone.

There’s a song called “Never Die,” which could be about a person or a relationship. Played it live once at the Belly Up and had four people crying in the front row. I spoke to them afterwards and they were all crying for different reasons. One had lost a friend, one had lost a boyfriend, one had lost a parent and one had just had their cat put down that day. … And they all shed a tear. If you can’t make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry.  

Before I let you go, I wanted to ask what it was like recording songs for the Scooby Doo episode that aired last year.

I think that was probably the epitome of my career. It was fantastic having a tune in “Clueless” or “She’s Having A Baby” or “Grosse Pointe Blank,” all those big films. It was great. But to get a chance to be a part of “Scooby Doo,” that I loved so much since I was a kid, was just tremendous! The two songs we’d done did amazingly well. There was even talk of The Hex Girls spinning off and having their own show [because] the song we’d given to them was so good – “The Good Bad Girls.”

It was excellent. One of the most exciting recording I’d ever done. Sadly, they’re used to all being done on computers now, so they were expecting me to come in with a laptop with all the music done on computers and [have] me just sing and that was it. We turned up with a drum kit and bass amp and guitars and keyboards.

And it made the difference, because it did sound like two bands actually playing. Which it was.

Recorded music is fine and programmed music is fine but the reason why there is a Pollstar and why anybody would bother going out at night to a concert is there’s magic. There’s magic is live instruments being played in front of you, something happens over and above the sum of the notes.

Photo: Doug Seymour
Sellersville Theatre 1894, Sellersville, Pa.

Upcoming dates for The English Beat:

May 16 – Oakleigh, Australia, Caravan Music Club
May 17 – Sydney, Australia, The Metro Theatre     
May 18 – Brisbane, Australia, The Zoo        
May 21 – Adelaide, Australia, The Gov       
May 23 – Perth, Australia, The Rosemount  
May 24 – Perth, Australia, The Rosemount  
May 28 – Christchurch, New Zealand, Dux De Lux
May 29 – Dunedin, New Zealand, Sammy’s
May 30 – Wellington, New Zealand, Bar Bodega   
May 31 – Auckland, New Zealand, The Studio        
June 13 – Athens, Ga., The Melting Point    
June 14 – Carrboro, N.C., Cat’s Cradle        
June 15 – Falls Church, Va., The State Theatre        
June 18 – Ridgefield, Conn., Ridgefield Playhouse
June 19 – Londonderry, N.H., Tupelo Music Hall   
June 20 – White River Junction, Vt., Tupelo Music Hall    
June 21 – West Warwick, R.I., Manchester 65        
June 22 – Philadelphia, Pa., Prince Music Theatre   
June 25 – Portland, Maine, Port City Music Hall     
June 26 – Somerville, Mass., Johnny D’s Restaurant & Music Club
June 27 – Amagansett, N.Y., The Stephen Talkhouse         
June 28 – New York, N.Y., City Winery NYC       
June 29 – New York, N.Y., City Winery NYC       
July 2 – Chicago, Ill., City Winery Chicago 
July 3 – Chicago, Ill., City Winery Chicago 
July 6 – St. Louis, Mo., Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room          
July 13 – Costa Mesa, Calif., The Hangar (OC Fair)
July 18 – Napa, Calif., City Winery Napa    
July 19 – Napa, Calif., City Winery Napa    
July 23 – Englewood, N.J., Bergen Performing Arts Ctr.    
July 25 – Amagansett, N.Y., The Stephen Talkhouse          
Aug. 1 – Solana Beach, Calif., Belly Up Tavern      
Aug. 2 – Solana Beach, Calif., Belly Up Tavern      
Aug. 13 – Seattle, Wash., The Triple Door   
Aug. 14 – Seattle, Wash., The Triple Door   
Aug. 15 – Portland, Ore., Wonder Ballroom
Aug. 23 – Morrison, Colo., Red Rocks Amphitheatre (appearing with Rebelution)
Aug. 31 – Lincoln, Calif., Thunder Valley Casino (Retro Futura Tour)      
Oct. 9 – Perris, Calif., Lake Perris Fairgrounds         

For more information please visit EnglishBeat.net