Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bonus Q&A with English Beat's Dave Wakeling

photo by Eugene Iglesias
My recent interview with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat was one of the best I've had this year.

Here are more excerpts that didn't make the OC Register piece... 

Q: Tell me about your first-ever tour of Australia in August. 

Because they’ve done so well [economically], they’ve spent the last 10 years being told they’re the greatest country ever in the history of the world. Which I think I’ve heard over here. [There are plenty of restrictions] and it takes a bit of getting used to, to be honest. We were there 3 weeks and I finally sort of got the hang of it during the second week. But the first week, I just wanted to get on a plane. They just don’t trust each other or something...Their coffee is superb and the airports are full of little coffee stands. But if you try to take a coffee on a plane: oh dear! You’ll be surrounded. Can’t take that on the plane, sir. There’s all sorts of little things like that, quite irritating. It tends to spread down to the geeks doing your sound. That’s not the way I would’ve been doing it, mate. So you do get a lot of advice.

Q: How were the fans over there?

If you played a song at a really sexy beat that had all the women in the room dancing and following like they do here in California, that wasn’t quite 1980s enough for them. We had to play it more like the tempo we played at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas a few weeks back. We purposely picked the faster songs for that show and kept them up a little bit. To give it that punky edge. It went down superbly well once we realized that’s what Australian fans were looking for. Being that 2Tone ska vibe, a lot of them are still Skinheads. It’s just now they’re in their 50s and they don’t actually have to do much maintenance on the skin on their head. It’s natural [laughs].

Q: Labor Day Weekend marked the 30th anniversary of the first US Festival. Those were some fantastic lineups for the time.

I think those have to be some of San Bernardino’s greatest moments...It was an amazing lineup and [event sponsor Steve] Wozniak was an amazing guy as well. I looked to the side of the stage as we were performing and it was the oddest sight. There was a sofa, two stuffed armchairs, a coffee table – a living room set. And there was, what seemed to me at the time, old people. Wozniak had made a living room set for his mom and his family to watch his favorite bands so they could understand why on Earth he was spending all this money. So there they were, The Wozniaks sitting on the sofa! [laughs] I didn’t know what it was until we came offstage.

Q: One highlight of the new DVD of the festivals is during the ’82 one, when you and Ranking Roger led the crowd in a chant for “Stand Down Margaret.” And Prime Minister Thatcher's name was replaced with ‘Ronald’ for President Reagan.

It turns out anyone I sing ‘stand down’ about ends up being the most famous president of the century or the longest-lasting prime minister of the century. So I do take some of the blame for that. It only encouraged them, it turned out.

Q: How involved with you in what Shout! Factory put together for the new box set?

They came up with what they thought were good track listings and made CDs for everybody to listen to and anybody who could be bothered to listen and write their comments. They took all of that into mind and were never very precious about their way of seeing things. They went out of their way to make us happy as possible. If they thought something was definitely wrong, they would stand their ground and explain why and we’d go through it. They were a pleasure to work with.

Luckily, there were a couple people there who had been fans back in the day. So they had a sense of what fans had always been searching for and have not managed to find over here in America because there were different releases in the UK. The John Peel Sessions had leaked out and were sort of available in the UK but were like the Holy Grail as far as American fans were concerned. We managed to get into the box set everything that everybody had been searching for.

Q: In the early days of MTV, The English Beat did its first video for “Mirror in the Bathroom.” What do you remember about it? 

We used our friend from college who fancied herself as a video maker. Don’t know if she made one before or after us. I was in English class with her. It came out very well. It was gritty and real and didn’t look too glossy like a commercial. That was the start of it. Then [music] video started taking over from the song. Video killed the radio star, but not for long. I once overheard some kids talking about new songs coming out and what they liked. One was rattling off the names and the other was like, ‘yup, seen that one and that one.’ It made me laugh because it the idea of a song had become about whether you’d seen it or not. 

Q: And MTV had its own standards & practices restrictions. 

Your video would be delivered to MTV and there was a lady in an office with a list of 30 things that were banned. If you had one of those in, they said, ‘no, you’re not going to play the video until you take it out.’ I thought that had a very chilling effect on pop videos as an art form. So it meant a lot of them were nowhere near as creative as the songs. You had people who made TV commercials becoming video directors. Guess what? The videos looked like commercials. Loads of video makers were doing it because they wanted to get into making commercials. I felt it watered down an enormous amount of creativity that the artists were putting into the songs. I was very upset for awhile, then sort of felt redeemed when everybody stopped watching MTV for the same reasons [laughs].

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