by Paul Freeman (March 2010)

Many 1970’s and 1980’s bands are enjoying revivals these days. But for The English Beat, it’s not just a case of nostalgia.

Their eminently danceable ska tunes are as vibrant and irresistible as ever. And the politically charged lyrics seem just as relevant today as when they were first written.

The sextet was formed in 1979 in Birmingham, England. The lineup consisted of Dave Wakeling (vocals, guitar), Andy Cox (guitar), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums), Saxa (saxophone) and Ranking Roger (singing, toasting).

The English Beat (known in the U.K. simply as The Beat) stood among the most popular and influential bands in the British ska movement. Always politically involved, they gave the profits from their hit single “Stand Down Margaret” to the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament and donated music to numerous causes.

They recorded three albums prior to their 1983 split. Then Wakeling and Ranking put together General Public, which also enjoyed success.

Following that group’s breakup and a solo record, Wakeling worked with Greenpeace and produced that organization’s album “Alternative NRG.” The artists included U2, Annie Lennox, UB40, Sonic Youth and REM. The recording process showcased the potential of alternate energy sources.

General Public reunited for a while in the mid-’90s. In 2003, The Beat reassembled for a U.K. mini-tour, climaxing with a Royal Festival Hall command performance.

Now based in California, Wakeling continues to tour with his band of top-notch musicians as The English Beat, spreading his rhythm-infused message of love and unity. Ranking Roger fronts a U.K. version of the band.

The English Beat is celebrating the 30th Anniversary of their debut album “I Just Can't Stop It, which featured the hits "Tears of a Clown", "Mirror In the Bathroom", "Best Friend" and "Twist & Crawl.”

Wakeling, the platinum band’s silver-tongued founding member, talks with Pop Culture Classics. As always, he’s funny, candid and brimming with insights.

You’re based in Los Angeles now, what prompted the move from England?

I came over here in 1986 to make a record. All the time during the ‘80s, we toured America pretty substantially. And I had a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Southern California, its weather being almost the polar opposite of England.

And people liked our music, which was really funny, because we were sitting in the rain and snow, writing tunes just to try to warm ourselves up. Then we got to San Diego and there’s tons of kids on surfboards, with waterproof Walkmans, saying it’s really happy music. And we’re like, ‘Whoah!’

So I’d always liked this area. I came over to make records and I stayed.

Was it surprising to you, even as you were breaking in the U.K., that there was such success in North America?

It was remarkable, because some of the groups that we’d been fond of in England, The Jam, for example, Squeeze even, or Madness, to a certain degree, could be absolutely massive in England, but seen, in some ways, perhaps to be a bit too English to catch on fire in America.

So we weren’t sure. We thought our music was a bit too closely the sum of where we’d come out of and that it was talking about an English experience. We didn’t realize it would translate or it would be seen in different ways. It wasn’t really seen a music of desperate ska-pocalypso in San Diego. It was seen as fantastic music to surf to, because it was the right spirit.

That spirit of the music, do you think that’s what’s enabled it to travel not only across continents, but over time?

I think there’s something about the inherent vibe of the music, ska or any of those hybrids mixing pop or punk or soul with ska. As soon as you put a bit of ska or reggae in it, you just have this uplifting feel, by definition, upbeat. So, from a distance, the song sounds upbeat and optimistic. And it’s sort of heartwarming, the groove of it.

So it allows you sing about stuff that, if you put it all in a minor key, in a dirge, people would all start crying and take the record off. So I like that sort of combination. It’s a bit what life is like, happy and sad at the same time, different percentages going up and down during the day.

Reggae sounded like it was happy music, but it was really born out of the necessity to cheer oneselves up in a situation of oppression or deprivation. So it’s a music of survival, really. So we add that to our grouses about our changing Aquarian world. And all these songs about recession in late 1970s in England and the social torment between the left and the right and the vague shadow of nuclear Armageddon, always being whispered about, just out of sight.

And all of a sudden, it sounds like some of the songs were written about right now, here in America. So, it turns out that all i have to do now is wait for each dire recession to come around and I’m back in. [Laughs] So every cloud has a silver lining.

Do you think there’s a catharsis that comes with that contrast, having those catchy rhythms and that great feel against those darker themes? Does that create a sense of hope?

I think so. Also, in such a buoyant surrounding, you can get away with discussing slightly more uncomfortable or discomforting subjects. ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’ is about staring at yourself in the mirror and wondering if you’re losing your grip on reality. So, practicing for your first nervous breakdown. And I sing it every night and everybody’s smiling their heads off, singing along.

You try and find something really personal to sing about and then, by observation, you try and notice if other people go through this, as well. So you start off the song with a very personal point of view, almost confessional sometimes. And you try and finish the song with what would be your universal extrapolation of that. So you might have started writing the song just to try and sort something else in your head. By the time you finish it, you try and think of yourself as a service industry and say, ‘Hey, look!’ But it’s a fine line. You can’t confuse the stage with a soapbox. So it’s better to hint and allude and sometimes make things purposely ambiguous, so people go, ‘Hang on, what did he mean by that?’ And then, hopefully, the next step is they go, ‘What do I think about that?’

I think that is the step, if you can, because my shoes don’t fit everybody and I wouldn’t expect my views to fit everybody either.

But most of us all have feet and shoes and all of us have definitely got human foibles. So you try and make the music as much of a celebration of nature and human experience as you can. And then the lyrics on top are really, I suppose, celebrating human foible. I think that’s what we have in common. That’s our bond. It’s not the all night long braggadocio. It’s the mistakes we all make.

Did you ever catch a soap opera by accident and something’s going on and you’re kind of rolling your eyes and then something happens and it’s like, ‘Oh, my God! I’ve done that!’ And you would never tell anybody, of course. But, of course, we all do those things. So if you can put an element of that in the song, it draws people in, makes them feel more like we are all one... or at least all in the same boat.

So the artists that inspired you to get involved in music, did they tend to be those who were politically and socially aware? Or was it more about the sound, early on?

Oh, that’s a good question. Nobody’s ever asked me that before. Hang on. I think not necessarily of being political, but certainly in terms of stance. So probably all the way through the ‘60s, I would have had to have voted on the side of The Rolling Stones, rather than The Beatles, for example. And it was more to do with attitude... or defiance. A willingness to be individual enough to look like you were questioning authority without having to wear a big T-shirt that said, ‘Question Authority.’ It was implicit.

Anyone who says, ‘We piss anywhere, man,’ and then gets caught, is definitely worthy of watching, because he may become a guitar legend like Keith Richard did.

But no, I did like probably more personal politics. I liked Van Morrison and Tim Buckley and I liked Bob Dylan’s lyrics, more than his voice sometimes. He had to wait for The Byrds to bring it out, didn’t he? [Laughs]. It was like, ‘Oh, that’s a good one. When are The Byrds doing that one then, Bob?’ Or Gerry and The Pacemakers. Anyone, really.

It was really the skinhead reggae that I liked as a kid. The Trojan, Blue Beat, Rock Steady - it was more really sex. Singing about sex and with a really sexy beat. So that was fortuitous, because that sort of suddenly arrived in my world just as I was arriving in my world at 14. So that was the soundtrack to me desperately edging closer and closer towards skinhead girls and wondering whether you were going to get some or whether you were going to get a smack. And both had a deep affinity to me anyway. I was moved.

And then there was stuff like ‘Harder They Come,’ ‘Many Rivers to Cross,’ and all, that I suppose led into Bob Marley and the use of reggae songs singing about, let’s say ‘social justice,’ more than necessarily politics. And there is something about that beat that makes you feel like you’re all one. And you look at the crowds, it sometimes looks like that theory of mass consciousness is coming true. All the crowd are dancing in time with each other, but they don’t actually know it yet.

Everything’s starting to move like it’s one thing. Time has the appearance that it’s standing still. Everything seems to be lasting forever. It’s a really nice state and that gives you the ability to seem direct, kind of heart-to heart. And then, just for fun, you can have songs that are flippant. Put some amusing lines in. You don’t want it to get Poe-faced. You still are inviting people to come out and have a dance.

So when The Beat got together originally, was it as a lark or were there grand ambitions?

Well, I think there was a mixture between people. I’d always dreamed of doing this. I always loved singing and I always liked writing poems. But I’d always dreamt about being a group so much, I always thought it was just stay that, really, just a dream. I wore out two cricket bats, standing in front of that mirror, pretending.

So when it happened and happened so quickly, the notion of it being a lark dug in, and perhaps a bit too deep, which perhaps didn’t make for the longevity of the band. Perhaps it all seemed a bit too surreal.

You’d write another song. The record company would go, ‘My God, that’s a hit!’ And you’d go, ‘Well, yes, of course it is, isn’t it?’ And they’d put it out and go, ‘F--k! It’s a hit!’ ‘Really? I’ll write another one this afternoon then.’

It was odd. And I think in some ways, some of us, who had enjoyed the social commentary in reggae and punk, felt that this was a great opportunity to have fun and play sport with the Top 40 media types. And so we sort of went about it on purpose, trying to use the political things that would go in the record and use our newfound fame - that we were a bit embarrassed about, I suppose - to try and push various issues.

Margaret Thatcher was in power at the time. There were very delicate lines to tread. You’d have loads of people saying, ‘Do you really think you should be mixing pop and politics?’ You’d say, ‘Well, only if you’re a human being living on Earth... or tell this troubadour he’s got it wrong.’ I thought that was what it was all about. ‘Oh, look, that bloke’s coming to sing that song about the mayor of whatever.’ Troubadours spread political and social views, just under the surface of the regular media. And that’s what you are meant to do.

If you get 12 songs that seem to manage to avoid any political commentary at all, I think somebody must be trying really, really hard to do that. And, in a way, I find that to be far more of an overtly political statement than just naturally mentioning what people in every bar and every bus stop are already talking about anyway.

There seems to be an amazing amount of self-editing done in pop music. Apparently some people are more worried about their careers than about saying anything.

Your down-to-Earth attitude, do you think that’s partly from the Birmingham roots?

Well, it is easier when you don’t have much to lose. That’s for sure. So I do understand, in some ways, the American reticence. You could cry buckets over the meanness and cruelty that’s been displayed recently by certain people that would rather see some other Americans die, rather than have national health care of any sort at all, because they think that’s the American way.

It’s really scary. But I have to say, I’m really an optimist about it. Most of the things people are screaming and shouting seem to be stuff that they’ve been programmed to say, anyway. They seem more like generational arguments than anything else.

It would make you think that we’re coming to some big moment. I hope this 2012 thing isn’t happening, because I’m enjoying myself now. [Laughs]

But I just thought it was the most absurd thing to have the Stupak and the ‘baby killer’-shouting guy, a Baptist and a Catholic. standing right in the way of health care for American citizens by their arguments, at exactly the same time as it turns out the Pope had a letter about a priest in Milwaukee who’d been doing deaf boys for 25 years. And the Pope decided to let it go, because he was so old. And I’m like, ‘Oh, the contradictions!’

I think everybody has a right to say something, but, what do they say in the law? You’ve got to come into court with clean hands. I just felt it was like absurd that everybody’s lives were being held in abeyance by what are really, traditional, generational arguments. Nothing realistic.

The rich women have always been able to have abortions. It’s a complete red herring, anyway. When they talk about the argument for abortions, they’re only ever talking about poor women.

So with that all going on at the same time, you get this sense of synchronicity about cultural questions that have to be addressed. Fascinating time, though, eh? Plenty to write songs about, if I could get myself away from the news.

Are you constantly writing?

No, I don’t constantly write at all. It’s very intermittent. And it can just be a couple of lines or a phrase that I’ll tuck away. Normally, and historically, the ones that have gone over the best, seem to come in a bit of a flurry. At least the start. I wait patiently like I’m at a train station, just waiting for it to arrive, the first bit of it. Usually I have to get wound up, happy or sad, romantically or politically, and then something just gets under my skin and rhyming couplets start popping out. I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s a good one!’

And I just let it progress at its own pace to start with. But it’s usually inspired by something that’s just got me frustrated to the point where you don’t know whether to punch the wall or write a poem. It’s like that, really, for me.

So once the ideas do finally come, does it just flow? Or can it still be a painstaking process?

Well, that first bit of it is quite a quick process. You just have to wait a long time for it to start. But then when it happens, it happens quite quickly and you might have the start of what turns out to be really a smashing song. And it might have all come in 5, 10, 15 minutes. That’s probably half the song. The other half the song will take probably anything between three months and nine months, because then you can mull it over. I sort of play with it, like a cat that’s already maimed a mouse enough that he knows the mouse can’t escape. So he plays with him. Or scratching a cut. It kind of hurts, but it kind of feels good. And you dig around a bit. And then other stuffs starts coming out. You’re looking for more universal ways of communicating with each other.

What you want people to get from a song, is for them to say, ‘Oh, I know what you mean.’ And they don’t mean, ‘Oh, I know exactly what you mean.’ But they know that sort of thing. And you use the words as a bridge to try and connect emotion from yourself to them. The words are just the vehicle. So when you get that look on someone’s face like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s right,’ you’ve touched a common experience, though it might be a different thing that stimulates that feeling in them than it does you. But it’s still a feeling that we have in common. And once you’ve got that going. then it’s really exciting singing songs to people live, one of the most exciting things you can do, really, for me.

Yeah, with your music, I would think there would be amazing connection with audiences.

Well, you’ve got the dancing. The drummer is so good that I find myself dancing at sound check, while he is doing the drums. It’s not even a song. They’re just getting the microphones to work. And I find myself moving to the rhythm. And I’m not even that much of a dancer.

So there’s something about that that really helps the whole atmosphere. And the stuff that we sing about and the stuff that we joke about and talk about. And there’s been quite a bit of serious stuff going on recently. So there’s plenty to talk about, plenty to allude to. You try to do it in an ironic and entertaining way.

When you’re very young in your career, you’re so fervent about stuff, it takes you a minute to figure out where the stage finishes and where the soap box begins.

However, I’ve always thought it was kind of churlish when people say that singers should just shut up and sing or that actors shouldn’t have political views, shouldn’t do celebrity endorsements of political campaigns. That’s kind of wrong, really, particularly for songwriters. If you’re writing your own tunes and you have notions of social interest or politics, if you want to call it that, I think it’s fine to talk out about it.

I don’t see there’s any distinction, in my life at least, between romance and politics. I don’t really know that there’s any difference in anybody’s life. The way we treat each other, the way we treat the guy down the corner shop is the same way that nations treat each other. I see it all as one big, connected thing.

I never really did it on purpose, sticking political lines in love songs and vice versa. It’s always been that way.

And the fact that there is that universal truth in the songs enables them to remain relevant. Are you finding a totally new audience, as well as the old fans?

Yes. It’s a nice combination. The fourth wave of ska has generated some interest, particularly on the East Coast. We did some shows with Reel Big Fish also. So we’ve been getting lots of people between 15 and 21 coming to shows who didn’t used to come. And luckily, the band’s in great form, playing better sets than we have in a long time, very tight. And so they’re impressed by that. And the songs, thank God, don’t sound like 30-year-old, synth-pop extravaganzas, singing about somebody with mysterious eyes. But they’re singing about situations that at least younger people in America find very similar to what’s going on right now.

Recession going into depression. Unemployment in double figures. Even college kids worried that they’re never going to get a job and now they’ve got a huge bill to pay. Almost the same sorts of things. Just slightly different faces. Although, Afghanistan, a current war. Who’d have thunk?

We wrote ‘I’m Your Flag’ in 1981 about ‘I ran into Northern Ireland, ran into Afghanistan, dying to become a man, because I am your flag.’

I like America a great deal. I’ve visited a lot of places and this is the place that suits me to live the best. I like the fact that even people who have remarkably different and sometimes savage political views, but if you happen to meet them in a diner and have a cup of coffee, then, generally speaking, they seem to be openhearted and friendly folk.

It’s an odd contradiction. When you see it on the TV, it looks as though everybody hates each other.

I remember, when I was a kid, I became interested in the politics, because my Dad was a news hound, on black-and-white television. Around that time, there was the Six Day War and not long afterwards was the riot they had at the Democratic convention in Chicago. And they were on the television in England; it was like savage black-and-white footage. And I remember my Dad saying, ‘Cor, good job they hate each other.’ And I was like, ‘What?’

He said, ‘The Yanks, Dave. Good job they’re at each other’s throats. If this lot ever got on the same side, they’d roll all over the world in 10 f--king years.’ So he actually thought it was a good job that they all hated each other.

But having lived here for 20 years, I don’t find that people in their everyday life are very hateful at all. In fact, considering the wide range of opinion, and the wide range of ethnicities and cultures and traditions that are represented, I think that America is incredibly tolerant. And I know that there are certain people, in their circumstances, who see a completely different America from the one I do. But compared to other places I’ve visited or lived, I think we’re ahead of the game, more than we might think. So my message would be, ‘Let’s not beat ourselves up over this.’ Job creation. You should pay somebody else to do that. [Laughs].

With all the successes you’ve had, did you have to go through a lot of challenging times, as well?

Oh, awful. But the redeeming thing about it, although you rail against it and fight against it the first several times it happens, you learn far more about yourself from your failures than you do from your successes. So in terms of your actual life and development or growth, whatever you want to call it, your failures are far more fruitful to you than your successes.

Success tends to be a slightly blasé experience. ‘You’re the greatest!’ ‘Well, yes, I know. Of course. Yes.’ If you’ve had a few hits, and you have a new record and everyone’s thinking it’s a surefire thing and it comes out and goes down like an anchor, it takes you down to the bare bones of your soul. Long nights of the soul. Sleepless nights, sitting there, staring into the dark. [Laughs]. Mixture of shame, embarrassment, guilt. Then you get really upset.

And your mom would come and visit and say something like, ‘David, there’s people in the street would give their right arm to play guitar in your group.’ And you’d have to stop crying and go, ‘Well, they wouldn’t be much bloody good without a right arm, would they? Perhaps that’s why the record’s failed. Perhaps it sounds like I’m playing one-handed.’

Also, never one to refuse a free drink, I had to really get a guided tour around my own dark side with the booze. Well, anything I could get me hands on, really, but the main fuel for the engine was booze... drinking. I don’t drink anymore. I probably still love it. It seems to be a shortcut to bringing out the Viking in me.

You’d be walking around on a painkiller and a depressant and eventually the experiences in your life catch up with that. And so you go through absolutely horrific, awful times. And then songs that you’ve written a few years before, come awfully true in your real life and you’ve got to on stage and sing them now that it’s actually happening, like you’re Ska-stradamus or something.

Often with these songs, you’re just kind of messing around with the silt or the mud at the bottom of your own river, stirring it around a bit. And then, later in your life, years later maybe, those seeds turn into the real fleurs du mal. It actually happens in your real life. So that’s always interesting.

Until you get some ability to learn a sense of detachment and irony, the same as you might put into your songs, it could kill you. And a couple of times, I thought it was going to - drama queen that I was. ‘Let’s have another drink and see if I still feel suicidal. Yup. Okay well, let’s have another drink and see... ‘ [Laughs]

Now, with a different perspective, do you actually enjoy performing more? It must be different.

It is different. And much, much better... in every possible way. With the single exception of, if the crowd’s really, really drunk by the end, and they’re all like falling onto the stage, shouting incomprehensibly, something about 1982, and women are starting to show breasts that have passed the showing phase, then you do feel a bit like one of those temperance people, a little bit prudish. You stick, ‘Oh, you bunch of bloody drunks’ in between the lyrics. But most of the time, it’s better.

I did used to enjoy a taste. I’d get into a great zone with a few drinks in me, performing. I was very focused, like in a horse race, with blinkers on. But I prefer the more panoramic view. It’s not as intense sometimes. You have work on it to become intense, whereas the drink made everything you do feel intense. Then you listen to the tape and, ‘Oh!’ As a dear musical and drinking friend of mine said, ‘Oh, I think that was Johnny Fumble, instead of Johnny Thunder’ last night [Hearty laughter] You could have actually felt like a Viking whilst you were doing it.

You get to listen to the tapes and you were singing in tune. But there were times in the past where I thought I was being incredibly erudite and witty and up-to-the-moment, in the stuff I was saying in-between songs. And then I found out years later, when I’d sobered up, that nobody could understand a word that I was saying. It wasn’t just the English accent [Laughs]. So that’s a saving grace, as well.

So generally I enjoy it. And it’s much better for my health. I can do more shows and I can sing better. And I can sing longer. And upset a lot less people along the way.

When The Beat broke up, before General Public hit the charts, did you assume that more success would follow? Or were you worried that it might all be over?

No, that never ever occurred to me. The Beat, for any number of reasons, was starting to run out of steam and starting to run out of the magic that had been the impetus at the start. It was kind of like a whirlwind and It wasn’t as though people in the group were from a peer group or anything like that. And it was also the first person we ever met who played that instrument that ended up being in the group.

So there was something charmed about it. And really all it was, probably, was overworking. Some of us liked playing live more than others, in retrospect. And we probably overdid it, somewhat from record companies always wanting you to tour, if there’s a hit or if there’s an album and there always seemed to be one or the other. And so I think it drove some of the sensitive types a bit numb.

And so it started fractioning off a little bit. Me and Roger spent a lot of time together. David and Andy spent a lot of time together. And the band started spending less and less time together, unless they were being paid to be there. And it was a shame, really. And one of our early lessons about enforced socialism is that sometimes the cleverest of the people are the first to work out that, if you’re going to get paid the same, you might as well do as little as possible.[Laughs]. Good try, anyway.

Is Roger still fronting a U.K. version of the band?

Yeah, he is, with his son Matthew. It’s gone through various phases. It was very friendly for a good while, in the setting up of it. It was my suggestion that he should do it, if he wanted, as long as nobody said, ‘Oh, the show’s crap’ or ‘Oh, you’re spoiling the songs.’ No harm, no foul.

But then I think he got some representatives that saw world domination for him and they tried to book an American tour for The English Beat. And I wasn’t invited. So that took somewhere between two and 15,000 years to get over. And now, everything seems sort of okay again. In fact, there was a sort of floated idea, an invitation - Would we like to do some shows together, as General Public, in America this summer? Although it’s not going to happen, because we both, by the time we were asked, had other things that we were committed to doing, I was interested and excited to hear that both of us said ‘yes’ pretty quickly, that we were interested.

And I thought it was a clever idea, the person who’d come up with this, because maybe that would be a place where we could meet and have a meeting of The Beats, rather than a battle of The Beats. And try to keep it from ‘I Confess’ at 30 paces.

I hadn’t heard about the friction, so I thought the whole arrangement sounded incredibly civilized.

It started to leak out. But luckily, the internet saved us. Roger had a couple of things to say, when he thought he was a long way away from home and I think he wanted to get it off his chest. But, of course, within an hour, somebody in Liverpool has sent the link to the newspaper in New Zealand that only came out an hour and 10 minutes ago. And so I’m already up in arms and complaining about.

And we had that conversation, where I said, ‘God, it’s our dirty laundry and it only gets in the way of us working together in the future. And there’s no value in it for us.’ I said, it’d be all right, if somebody phoned up and said, ‘I’ll give you a thousand dollars, tell us three things about Roger,’ I said, ‘I’d think about it.’

Would you like to make yours and Roger’s lives a lot harder... for nothing? No. [Laughs].

But you never say ‘never.’ Apart from when you’re using that phrase, ‘never say never.’ There was a certain magic about me and Roger working together. And it translated from The Beat into General Public.

And for quite a lot of our fans, which I didn’t realize at the time, we were like a bit of an example for racial harmony. Like, if me and Roger could get on, they could get on. I didn’t realize that. I suppose I should have done. But I’m certainly glad that it seems to be the case.

I said to him last year, it gets a bit embarrassing, if there’s division between the love and unity boys [Laughs]. We’re going around the world singing about love and unity, but can’t actually get on with each other. Hope nobody notices that [Another robust laugh]. So I think we might do something, sometime.

We were both involved in talking with members of The Specials as they started to converge on each other and we added what assistance or oil to the situation as we could. And a couple of them have thanked us profusely by saying, ‘In return, we’re going to reunite The Beat for you.’ It’s like, [He quips] ‘Oh, thanks. What did I do? Split The Specials up, quick!’ But we’ll see.

I don’t think there’s a likelihood of a full reunion, but again, never say ‘never.’ David and Andy, who went off to do The Cannibals, have never expressed much of an interest. Although, they both seem to be quite proud of the legacy of The Beat. I don’t think it’s issues entirely related to The Beat. But it never looked like it was going to happen with both of them at the same time.

Saxa is 80 and he sits in his living room with three saxophones and he’s ready to go. He has the little yellow cloth over each one, like he used to take on take on stage, as if he was just waiting for the bus. But the bus isn’t coming. We’d all have to go to his living room, if there was any kind of reunion [Laughs]. He has a German shepherd dog that’s about four-foot, six inches at the shoulder, and hates everybody except him. He thinks Saxa’s God. He’ll get the phone from across the room for him. But everybody else, he has to be locked and chained, far back, because he just goes for you, like a wolf. Very bizarre. So he won’t be coming on the tour. Although, the last time I spoke with him, he said he was feeling a bit better and he was coming to America just one last time to say thank you, do a few shows. I told him he could just come sit on the side of the stage or introduce us. He can play a bit, if he wants, doesn’t have to. Or we could get a tape and he could just hold the saxophone and everybody would pretend they didn’t know he was miming. ‘Oh, he’s fantastic! Sounds as good as ever!’

Every time there was a ska revival over the years, did you get a paternal feeling? Obviously a lot of these bands were influenced by your music.

It’s nice. It’s particularly odd when you hear these sorts of things from people you admired, growing up. Like Pete Townshend and Dave Gilmour, covering ‘Save It For Later.’ Remarkable! Surreal, really. There’s been a lot of that. Synchronicity - ooh, I was just about to say that. I’ve seen a lot of odd occurrences along the way and they all add up, in the end, once you’ve tried to avoid the issue, any possible way you can, you just end up being really grateful and feeling really lucky about your job.

Somebody on the airplane, sitting next to you, ‘Oh, what do you do for a living?’ ‘Oh, I go around the country, connecting people and making them happy.’ How did that happen then, a bipolar kid in Birmingham who was trained to be an alcoholic? [Laughs.] So I think it’s fantastic and I really count my blessings.

Sometimes I jump out the back of the concert quick at the end, when we finish, because it’s red-hot and I feel like I’m going to faint. So I lean against the wall outside, amidst the steam. Usually alleyways, I think, look pretty romantic. So if there’s not a lot of people around, you can pretend you’re in one of those French or Italian films from the ‘60s, just ‘til anybody else gets there.

But sometimes people will be walking out the front of the concert, walking away and their hairs all stuck to their head and the T-shirts drenched. ‘I haven’t danced like that in years! That was amazing!’ And they’re all hugging each other, like their team just won. It’s very satisfying.

You know you’re going to probably go back to the bus or the hotel or whatever and wake up at four o’clock in the morning and remember something dreadful that you said in 1972, that you’re probably going to go to hell for, if there is one. But for that moment, at least, it’s really nice. It’s as satisfying as when I had a job as a firefighter. That was nice, because you got to act brave, but you got to feel like you were of service to the community. And people genuinely appreciated your efforts. It was a really nice job. And I didn’t know that being a singer in a pop group was going to be as satisfying as being a firefighter, but it is.

Working as a fireman, this was right before forming The Beat?

Yes, about two years before.

So music also turned out to be a public service of sorts.

Yes, which I hadn’t expected. I thought it was going to be all girls, motorbikes, complete hedonism. I wanted to be Andrew Marvell - ‘Society’s all but rude to this delicious solitude.’ Instead, I’m Dave Wakeling, man of the people.

Not quite Paul Weller. He got to be like the voice of a generation. And he didn’t even have to say very much. Perhaps I talk too much. Check back on the first three hours of this interview and see if I talk to much [Guffaws].

He could just stand a certain way for a photograph and he became a spokesperson for a generation. I did admire that. I even bought a bracelet like his. But it didn’t work for me.

Yet,. obviously, you do speak for untold numbers of people. You’ve achieved so much. Are there still goals you’re burning to fulfill?

No, there’s no goals. Just doing things that are interesting and fun and connecting. And I think there really is something exciting about being a troubadour in these turbulent, if not troubled, times. There’s something fascinating going on in the social fabric. And it’s a really great job to have in a time like that. You get a way to express yourself.

I was terribly happy the health care bill passed, although I’m queasy over the mandate, like a lot of people are, I’m sure. In some ways, you couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for the other side. They have such a different view or tradition or sense of what the world actually is. And so, it’s fascinating singing songs and having conversations about that sort of thing with people who are generally interested in that sort of thing, all around the country.

Is there a new album in the works?

There is indeed. There are 17 new demos and loads of people feel loads of them are hits. Although, sadly, nobody knows what a hit is anymore. ‘You’ve got a CD full of hits, Dave, although, sadly, neither CDs nor hits exist anymore. Nice, Dave.’ [Laugh] So we have to see how to cope with that paradigm shift.

But yeah, we do have songs that we’ve been playing out live and some of them are kind of timely. ‘The Love You Give Lasts Forever.’ That’s got a sort of tolerant vibe about it. And in some ways, the other side of the same penny, ‘If Killing Worked, It Would Have Worked By Now.’ It’s as simple as that. And I thought that while watching the black-and-white TV news with my Dad in 1968. I remember clearly thinking, ‘Oh, well, they’ll have all this nonsense sorted out by the time I’m grown up, won’t they? I won’t have to deal with all this stupidity.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, my God!’ It’s still going on.’ And there’s no excuse now, because there’s TV cameras and the internet. We know it’s going on now. You can’t turn a blind eye now, can you? It’s just, ‘Root for our boys in the field!’ People like it, don’t they?

Although I think there’s a change in the air and I think this President will deliver some things that do really benefit American people who are struggling the most from the collapse of the financial system. I don’t know if that’s a temporary thing, frankly. We’ll see. But what’s odd about it is that sometimes it seems as though the people who are screaming loudest against it appear to me to be exactly the sort of person that’s going to benefit most from it. It’s a fantastic job that’s been done on them. But then, the whole thing is odd to me. From what I’ve read, it’s like the Democratic states pay for the Southern Republican states to turn out and call them un-American.

I rather like the Italian anarchists. Always stylish, aren’t they? Even the way they wear a scarf. They can make a scarf look like a wardrobe. The Italian anarchists, compared to the Russians, who like the capes and the bombs and all of that. The Italian anarchists said that it was inherent, what was wrong with the system. And so you just needed to be articulate and to wind those contradictions up against each other. And then it wouldn’t take loads of bombs or a revolution. It would just need one toffee hammer. And you’d just tap it on the top like an egg shell and the whole edifice would crumble. Fantastic. Now serve that with a nice salad, a good wine... for you. I’ll just have a sparkling water. So, yes, the theatre of the absurd that’s going on, if you could just collect up those contradictions and just keep gently and entertainingly putting them back into the culture, I think we’ll be all right.

Your music will keep us going for quite a while.

Well, we’ll have a good dance before we die. Make a nice corpse. They’ll dig me up in 5,000 years. ‘It appears this was a male, seems to have been some sort of ska dancer. You can tell by the thigh muscles.’

No, it does seem to be on a sort of roll, which is why I’m being jocular. It’s lovely to get the pat on the back, as a golden oldie, and also be looked straight in eye as if you’re doing something that’s contemporary, as well. Best of both worlds. And I just hope I don’t reach for a bottle of champagne to celebrate and f--k it all up. [More laughter].

For tour info, visit www.davewakeling.com.