The Point’s Graeme McIver interviews 2-Tone legends Dave Wakeling from The English Beat and Roddy “Radiation” Byes from The Specials backstage at their recent gig in Galashiels to talk about politics, ska and Dave’s Auntie Nelly! He also talks to some of the fans of 2-Tone about what the music has meant to them over the years.
This article should be read in conjunction with The Dawning of A New Era - A Brief History of 2-Tone and The Specials by Graeme McIver
“Galashiels…it’s an interesting name…heraldic even. I saw the sign in the hotel earlier saying that I’m following the invasion route, (laughs) could I just start this interview by apologising for the last 2,000 years on behalf of the English in this part of the world.”
Dave Wakeling is following a well-trodden path of English invaders into the Scottish Borders. Yet he needn’t worry. In his case the reception from the locals is somewhat different from that portrayed on the Burgh’s coat of arms. Two foxes look up at a plum tree in memory of an incident in 1337 when the townsfolk came across an English raiding party who had stopped to pick the plums (or plooms). The fruit turned out to be particularly sour for the English and history records that the local water “run red for three days and three nights.” Soor Plooms remains the motto of the town to this day. It just goes to show that even when the referendum debate is at its most vigorous, cross-border relations have improved significantly since then.
Dave is here by invitation. Local hotelier and promoter and Paul Turner fulfilled a lifelong ambition of having one of his heroes play in his home town.
“This is massive for me and the guys I was at school with. The Beat were one of our favourite bands. I’d been following Dave and The English Beat online and when I saw he was bringing the band to the UK I thought I’d take a chance and emailed him to say, “listen, I’m a big fan, I’ve loved your music all my life but I’ve never had the chance to hear you live. What are the chances of doing a gig in my home town of Galashiels? “I never really thought I’d get a reply but I got an email back from Dave and you know what, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. The reply I got back was beautiful. It was like, that’s a great email Paul, and I’m really pleased to receive it. Yeah, I’d be delighted to come and do something with you.”
promoter Paul Turner
This personal invitation to visit Gala has seen The English Beat deviate slightly from their normal tour schedule of better known venues such as the O2 Academies in Birmingham, London and Glasgow. The weekend before the Scottish Borders date saw The English Beat play the SKAMouth Festival in Great Yarmouth and the night after would mark the finish of the British end of a world tour with a final date at the Think Tank in Newcastle.
Whilst erstwhile band mate (Ranking) Rodger Charlery has for years been touring with his own version of the group, (The Beat UK) there has been somewhat of a buzz surrounding Dave’s version, (The English Beat) as it is the first time in years that a UK audience get the chance to hear the band’s repertoire sung by the original singer and lyricist.
At the peak of their powers in the early 80’s the Birmingham based band were a hugely popular part of the 2-Tone/Ska scene. Rolling Stone magazine described them thus; “the band’s secret weapon was pop, the ear-candy tunes and sharp-fanged lyrics of frontman Dave Wakeling – at his finest, a singer-songwriter as savagely witty as Elvis Costello.”
They had a string of hit singles such as, Tears of a Clown, Mirror in the Bathroom, Hands of She’s Mine, Save it for Later and a number one single with an unlikely cover-version of the Andy Williams track, Can’t Get Used to Losing You. After three critically acclaimed albums, (Wakeling said at the time, “every great band only has three great albums) and hundreds of packed out gigs the band split with Wakeling linking up with bandmate Ranking Rodger to form General Public whilst Andy Cox and Dave Steele went on to form The Fine Young Cannibals with Roland Gift. For the best part of the three decades since Wakeling has lived in Orange County California with his wife and two children. Although he has toured extensively with the band across North America these are his first shows in the UK since a special one off performance at The Royal Festival Hall in 2003.
Joining Wakeling on the tour is Roddy “Radiation” Byers, the guitarist from 2-Tone stable mates The Specials and his current band The Ska Billy Rebels. Byers appears onstage each night to play three of the songs he wrote for Coventry based group namely, Concrete Jungle, Rat Race and Hey Little Rich Girl. Reviewing their gig in London the journalist Simon Price reported that Wakeling introduced him onstage jokingly saying, “The greatest miracle of 2-Tone wasn’t black and white uniting, it was getting people from Birmingham and Coventry to like each other. We should’ve taken to the UN. Next to that sorting out Palestine would have been a piece of piss!”
The Specials and The Beat, (They had to add the word English to avoid copyright infringement in the USA) were part of 2-Tone, a movement that exploded onto the British music scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Mixing the raw energy of punk and the danceable rhythms of Jamaican Ska, 2-Tone’s influence remains to this day.
During the course of the afternoon and evening I spent time with one person who knows more than most about 2-Tone and what it meant and still means to people. Paul “Willo” Williams is a 2-Tone devotee extraordinaire. Author, promoter, commentator and in general the go-to-guy on all things 2-Tone, skin-head and Ska related. In 1995 he wrote the book, You’re Wondering Know – A History of The Specials and prior to that wrote and produced the 2-Tone fanzine Street Feeling. His close relationship with the band after years of interviewing and writing about them meant he was one of a literal hand-full of people trusted with the knowledge that The Specials were to reform in 2008 and stood in the wings at their first performance at The Bestival Festival that year.
Clive Bisland and Paul "Willo" Williams from Specialized
“I first saw the The Specials play live at Bridlington Spa when I was only 13 in 1980” he told me. “It was like an explosion 3 inches from your face. I was terrified but thought this is brilliant.”
Paul and his mate Clive Bisland are in Galashiels to sell merchandise on behalf of Specialised. Formed by Paul in 2011, Specialiszed is a music based charity raising money for The Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT). Through the sale of albums, merchandise and events they have now raised over £50,000 for the charity over the past 18 months. After The Specials played a gig in support of TCT at The Royal Albert Hall, Paul put his love of 2-Tone and the band together with the idea of somehow doing a charity project to raise money and produced an album of Specials covers by modern day artists.
Paul explained that Roddy Byers was the President and Dave Wakeling an ambassador for Specialized. As well as the album of Specials cover versions the project plan something similar for The Beat. Paul explained, “The Beat were a natural choice, being so melodic a band, with messages as tough as The Specials, the scope with The Beat is amazing. Bands came forth again at a huge rate to take part. The new project is an exciting one and it also aims to keep a band like The Beat in the public eye where they belong AND raise even more money for Teenage cancer Trust.
On the information leaflets Paul and Clive were distributing Dave Wakeling is quoted as saying, “These songs have been a big part of my life and I am honoured that they could be of use to The Specialized Project, a wonderful opportunity to assist a worthy cause.”
Watching The English Beat and Roddy Byers soundcheck are a group of mates for whom 2-Tone and Ska are a way of life. These are the school friends that promoter Paul Turner referred too and the guys look on with a sense of disbelief and joy. Aiden Hume, Mike McEwen and Neil “Foxy” Fox have been waiting on this day with relish since they heard of Paul’s email exchange with Dave Wakeling.
The group are now all 42 years old and since first year at High School in Galashiels they have been bonded together through a love of ska music. “We were called the Nutty Boys at school” they explain and recall school discos in the early to mid 80’s when the dance floor would clear and they would be surrounded by other kids watching them dance to 2-Tone records.
Dave Wakeling with Gala's Nutty Boys, Foxy, (Dave) Mike and Aiden
Foxy, a factory worker told me, “for us it was never about wanting to be different or standing out from the crowd, it was just about the music.” Mike, who works as a cloth finisher and dyer at a local textile company remembers, “I’d get recognised in pubs years later by people I’d never seen in my life before. They would come up and say you were one of the guys dancing to 2-tone at school discos. They really remembered it.”
I ask them about their memories of hearing 2-Tone for the fist time.
Foxy, “For me it was my big brother Des buying the records and leaving them about the bedroom.” Mike said, “It was the album Dance Craze. (A live album containing all the groups on the 2-Tone label at the time.) My sister was going out with a guy and she borrowed that tape and One Step Beyond, the first Madness album. Dance Craze did it for me because it was the one album with them all on it…and live. It blew me away. It’s an album you can put on today and think it’s brilliant. I paid £2 for it in the school playground. It was guys my age who had older brothers who’d bought the records. They’d bring them into school and sell them. The music was just so brilliant. My brother in law said this to me recently…even nowadays at discos you can play music all night and see only women dancing but if you want the men to get up you need to put something like Madness on and the men are right up there.”
Aiden, a technical plan drawer at a local Estate Agents said, “I was in first year when Mike first played 2-Tone to me I fell in love with it. The rhythm of it. Although 2-Tone had been going for a while it was completely different to anything else around at the time. At that time in the 80’s it was all big hair do’s, Duran Duran, The Human League and New Romantic stuff.”
Mike jokes, “we wernae into make up so we stuck with 2 Tone!”
Foxy - “At the time Dance Craze came out we were too young and it went over our heads but I still remember coming out of my primary school St Peters and seeing a poster advertising the concert…that really stuck with me. The older Mods in the town had put it up.”
Aiden, “I don’t know what everybody else did after school but we just used to go to each others houses and listen to records. We were a bit too young when the bands first came out but after they all began to break up we would follow then next wave of bands like The Fun Boy Three, General Public, Fine Young Cannibals, The Madness. We followed them because it was the same guys producing similar music. For us it was what we still needed. We just missed the whole Specials thing, we just caught the tail end of it but with bands like Fun Boy Three that was our thing. We could actually buy their records when they came out instead of having to try and find them elsewhere.”
Gala’s original Nutty Boys remember saving up money from part-time jobs for shopping trips to purchase records. Aiden recalls, “We’d go up to Edinburgh on a Saturday once a month and go to Rippon Records and go through all the vinyl. We’ve now got the whole collection between the group of us.” Mike added, “I’d spend it all on records…never on clothes…well maybe a pair of socks but hundreds of pounds on records.”
The talk then turns to the music that influenced groups like The Specials and Madness, original ska from Jamaica.
Aiden, “I remember me and Mike going into Woolworths and there was a ska album, it didn’t have the original cover but it was only 40p, I loved it and have still got it to this day. You never get rid of your vinyl. Without the Specials we would never have got to hear those originals.” Mike added, “I’ve still got the Harry J All-stars the original Liquidator. I found it in an old record collection somewhere…brilliant.” Foxy added, “It can then take you in other directions like UB40 and the reggae influence. I’m sort of a Mod as well, (much derision from the others) I was into the Jam as well as 2-Tone but the whole scene has been a huge part of my life.”
The group also spoke about their personal experience of 2-Tone bringing people together. Foxy admitted that although it was the music that drew him to the scene as he got older he thought about the political message of 2-Tone, black and white youth together and its sense of unity. The lads admit that after school they all drifted apart into different jobs, lives and relationships but after a period of years it was 2-Tone that brought them back together again. Aiden said, “It’s funny that even in a small town you can go a long time without seeing people. Then one day in 2008 Mike phones and says the Specials are re-uniting and touring - it brought all of us back together again and we’ve been inseparable ever since. The Specials reformed and so did we. Ska brings people together. It was what brought us together as a group of friends and it was ska that reunited us years later.”
Talk turns to the forthcoming gig and the chance after all this time to see Dave Wakeling and The English Beat. Aiden admitted, “We’ve all been walking around in a bit of a daze all day looking at each other and going is that really Roddy from the Specials and Dave from the Beat, here…in Gala….its mental. Seeing The Beat is a huge thing for us, especially Dave’s Beat as, he is the original voice.” Mike added, “Its no offence to Ranking Rogers band but it was Dave who was the vocalist.” Foxy quips, “it’s like Queen without Freddie Mercury or the Specials without Terry Hall, its good but it’s just not the same.”
Promoter Paul later jokes that the trio have spent all day shaking his hand at pulling off such a coup. “These guys are like my brothers, we were there together through the whole of our school years, bound together by ska, and it ruled our lives. Yeh its been a difficult thing to organise, there’s been pitfalls, I’m certainly not going to make any money but I’m so passionate about this, I want to offer the people of the Borders live music because it’s a shame, we miss out down here. I just love the music. I’m very much if I like an artist I will follow that artist. My record collection, one whole side is Madness, everything they’ve ever done. It’s the same for the Specials, The Beat and The Selecter…everything they’ve ever done. So I have a huge collection but not much variation. For instance I have 32 UB40 albums! Much as I’ll listen to other songs on the radio I wouldn’t go out and buy a Westlife album or even Coldplay or somebody like that. I might like a couple of tracks but it doesn’t do it for me the way 2 -Tone does. I must have seen madness 30 or 40 times and now the Specials a number of times. The Dance Craze stuff was phenomenal. One of my favourite albums, it was huge back then. I remember school discos in 85, 86 when the new romantics had a hold and was the influence people laughed at us saying what we were into was old…but I didn’t care. It was the energy and the passion. It was just everything about it, it was happy and made you want to get up there and jump about.”
The gig is a triumph for Paul and those lucky enough to have witnessed it. The crowd are warmed up by two Scottish Ska bands, Big Fat Panda and Bombscare before Dave Wakeling and his band arrive on stage for the start of an almost 2 hours trip down memory lane. Ably assisted by “toaster” Antonee First Class the band power through the singles (stating with Ranking Full Stop) and best loved album tracks that made The Beat such a superb band.
Joining Dave on stage for the third number in the set is promoter Paul’s daughter Lucy who plays sax on “Hands of She’s Mine.” The eleven year old stated learning the instrument over a year ago having been obviously influenced by her Dad’s record collection. “Growing up I loved The Beat, Madness and The Specials. That’s what made me want to play the saxophone.” I asked her what were her favourite songs from those bands. “I love Baggy Trousers (Madness), Message to You Rudy (The Specials) and Ranking Full Stop and Hands off She’s Mine by The Beat.” What do her class mates think of 2-Tone and Ska? “I’ve tried to tell friends about 2-Tone bands but they like new music, they’re not really into it but I love it.” Lucy admits to being excited and nervous about playing onstage in front the crowd but she does brilliantly getting one of the biggest cheers of the night.
Another huge ovation greets Roddy Byers for the run through of Specials favourites as he gives his own material a new lease of life, his delivery of the lyrics in contrast to the unique deadpan delivery of Specials frontman Terry Hall.
Wakeling is an amiable host chatting between songs and engaging with the crowd throughout the set. He introduces “Whine and Grind/Stand Down Margaret” with the line, “what I really hate about Thatcher is that she won!” Highlights for me included Mirror in The Bathroom, Two Swords, Twist and Crawl and the peerless,” Save it For Later.” In my mind Save It is a little known diamond and perhaps the greatest pop song to emerge from the whole 2-Tone scene. Tonight’s version is a belting 7 minutes long and worth the 30 odd year wait to hear Dave sing it live. In true 2-Tone tradition the final number triggers a mini stage invasion as promoter Paul, his business partner Gary Blair, daughter Lucy and various others join the band onstage.
After the show Dave and Roddy mingle and chat with the audience and it seems a million I-phone selfies, (guilty as charged!) with both are the order of the day. Paul Williams who knows a thing or two about these things confirms it has been a fantastic gig and Dave joins us to chat about supporting Aston Villa in a predominantly Birmingham City neighbourhood. “You needed a good pair of trainers and the ability to run fast” he laughs. He also recounts the tale of Pete Townsend of The Who phoning him up to ask about the guitar tuning on, Save it For Later. Dave said, “I picked up the phone thinking its somebody on the wind up but he says, “hi Dave, its Pete Townsend here and I’m just sitting here with Dave Gilmour from Pink Flyod (as you do) trying to work out how you’ve tuned the guitar because we wanted to do a cover version. For a minute I was thinking, yes, here we go, think of all the royalties, only for his next sentence to be, “Its for a Peruvian Earthquake charity album. Oh well..at least it was fo a good cause.”
For Paul, Mike, Aiden and Foxy it has been one of the best nights of their lives. As the place gets tidied up Paul reflects, “Back in our school days we were ridiculed for liking this music but we stood our ground and we’ve had fun with it and a life-time of friendships because of 2-Tone” It seems that the music that did so much to bring young black and white people together in the 1980’s still has the power to unite and bind people together over three decades later.
Too Nice to Talk To - In Conversation with Dave Wakeling and Roddy Byers
Earlier in the afternoon I sat down with Dave Wakeling (The English Beat), Roddy Byers (The Specials), Paul Williams and Clive Bisland from Specialized to talk about their memories of the 2-Tone days.
Dave Wakeling and Roddy Byers backstage at The Volunteer Hall, Galashiels
Before Roddy joined us Dave explained that he had lived in the States for 28 years and returned every year or so to see family. His Birmingham brogue seems remarkably unaffected by his 28 years in USA.
Dave Wakeling: Most of my family is in the Midlands with some in Newcastle, although I’d be hard pressed to find them now. They’re all spread out. My Mums side of the family are from Consett and Leadgate. They worked in the Ironworks which in those days was a promotion – it meant you weren’t down the mine at 12. My generation tended to work in the Consett Ironworks but my Granddad and my Uncles all worked down the mines. An Uncle found a seam of coal actually, it’s on the NCB map. Quinny’s seam it’s called. If you found a seam of coal in those days you received a small royalty. After my Uncle died in the 1970’s my Auntie Nelly received a cheque. She phoned up saying what’s this for? They said that’s your royalty cheque. We’ve been sending them for 20 odd years. The family had all grown up with Salvation Army shoes and wooden clogs with horse shoes. They went to school sounding like a pack of dray horses. Not many people had a bank account and so you had to take your cheque to someone to cash it. What the miners all did in Leadgate was hand their cheques in at the Hat and Feather and everybody drank free…for 20 years. (Laughing) Nobody knew until Auntie Nelly got the cheque!
I ended up with 13 Uncles and Aunties because every time a miner died the people on their crew would adopt one of their children so that the widow would be left with no more than two kids. If she had more they wee all going to die or at least they would struggle and not last long. So every time a miner died on the shift the other miners would all adopt one kid. They were mainly Catholics so they had big families. I had nine real Aunties and Uncles but I ended up with 13 in total! I had four Uncle Joe’s. Uncle Joe with dark hair, Uncle Joe with bright ginger hair covered in freckles. I was a 10 year old and was like, “what’s going on here? Who’s the milk man around here?” Turned out it wasn’t the same as in Birmingham.
Graeme McIver: It shows that tremendous sense of community in mining towns or anywhere you get heavy industry.
Dave: Yeh, I know. That’s probably what made Thatcher such an anathema to me because it was those most close knit communities that suffered the most. Even though I’ve been away half my life I come back and it’s like she’s still in power. She won, there’s no doubt about it, she’s still in power.
GMc: Tony Benn who died this week always said it wasn’t so much that Thatcher won but that Labour surrendered.
Dave: True but I don’t know what can be done. We tried everything but it’s like a fait acompli. It’s like the working class are in a corner of a ring with their hands by their sides getting continually battered. They don’t know how to react. Its despondency really. It’s sad to see that lack of self determination in English people because I’m used to it in Americans. For them it’s more about the individual rights. You know, “I aint taking that from my government! You aint gonna take this gun out of my cold grey hands! “ Then they worry about over government and intrusion. I don’t know what can be done, it’s like it’s the way of the world. The 5% are becoming the 1% and the 95% are becoming the 99%. If you can get a bloke to make a car in Singapore for 2 bucks an hour then it kills jobs here or in Detroit. All that talk about one world in the 60’s and 70’s but it’s a corporate world that’s made it one world. Globalisation – move the jobs to where it’s cheapest and the sales to where it’s most expensive and cut out the people who used to make things.
GMc: A recent report published here shows that just 5 families own more than 20% of the population. Do you think Tony Benn’s passing represents the last of the Labour old guard who could change all that?
Dave: Yeh..I liked Tony Benn but he was a funny sort wasn’t he? A posh nob who had a hankering for the working classes. But I liked the things he said, simple stuff like money enough to fight a war but not to feed people. I liked it because its obvious isn’t it? I don’t know if I’m a Bennite though, I don’t know about socialism now. I’ve grown out of that I think, it would be lovely if people shared but learn about human nature.
GMc: Were you a socialist?
GMc: Are you saying that you are more cynical now?
Dave: (Laughing) As French say if you not a socialist under 40 then you have no heart, but if you remain one past 40 you have no brain. It’s a shame about human nature. I insisted in The Beat that we shared everything five ways, even though I’d written a lot of the words and a lot of the music. My Dad heard and said, “What? Give it ten years if you ever need a tenner they wont give you it”…and he was right (laughing!)
I think you have to temper idealism with realism. It is a capitalist world but we can still do stuff in there, we can still have a sense of community, I try and do it through things like Specialized, do it through 2-Tone, there are still huge areas where you can make a difference. The nobs (rich) can only be in charge as long as we let them. They are at the top of the heap but we are the heap…they can only be on top if we let them.
The UK now reminds me of Children of Men rather than Dance Craze. But were back though, the Beat are back and I suppose people are still nice and friendly to us.
Roddy joins us.
GMc: It seems to me that there are huge parallels between the socio/economic conditions that exist now and when 2-Tone started. Do you recognise that?
Dave: Absolutely, (laughing) I’m sorry everyone’s suffering but at least my lyrics are pertinent again!” I get told it all the time – “you could have written it about today.”
Roddy Byers: Yeh, songs like Rat Race. People thought I was having a dig at education. I wasn’t, but now the song means more now because unless you are wealthy you can’t send you kids to university.
Paul Williamson: Both acts are more poignant now than they were then I think. Dave talked about Thatcher, I’m from the north and my Father suffered under her. He worked on the railways and I saw what she did to my Dad. He was a railway man through and through.
Dave: She broke a generation didn’t she. Broke their dreams and broke their hearts.
Paul: I hated her and when she died I made sure people knew about it. I had no love for her.
Dave: Even if you worked for a boss at least you had a pride and strength in working. You take that away from people and what have they left?
GMc: You grew up in the Midlands that had a huge motor industry. The jobs might not necessarily be well paid but at least people had employment, better social housing, and the welfare state. After World War II, my Granda’s who both worked in the shipyards at least felt that every generation following them would have it better and easier but now that is no longer the case.
Dave: One of first things Thatcher did was stop university grants. You had a generation of articulate and erudite working class kids going through university and she wanted to put a stop to that. Socialist playwrights like Johnny Speight, she knocked all that on the head didn’t she. We’re back to square one now, can you afford to go to university?
GMc: It plunges young people into debt. Getting a degree used to mean that you stood better chance of getting a job. Now Costa and Starbucks are full of graduates with many more on the dole.
Dave: Exactly, you’re in debt and then you have to “play the game”.
Paul: My brother in law is 34 and its taken him till now just to pay off his uni debt.
GMc: In terms of the music from mid 70’s punk onwards young working class kids in UK bands seemed to articulate an anger that they wanted things to be better. Do you see that now? Could you see a punk or 2 Tone scene happening now even though the conditions are similar?
Dave: You don’t see it in America that for sure. There’s a chill. Ever since the Dixie chicks criticised George Bush. One comment and no radio station. would play them. When the Iraq war broke out the likes of Springsteen didn’t say shit. It has a definite effect. It’s like you can say what you like but your record won’t be on the radio. So you do see some bands with a social conscience but they pay the price.
Roddy: Steve Earl is one who speaks out but I know he would walk out of a bar or a gig and think, is someone going to have a go at me?
Dave: I have great rows with Americans about socialism. They say they hate it but I say look at the freeway system, who built that? Government funds that’s who.
GMc: Many don’t seem to like big government until something like Hurricane Katrina hits then suddenly they are like, “where is the state?”
Dave: Yeh they don’t like it until they need it.
GMc: I was speaking to a group of local lads earlier about the importance that 2-Tone had played in our lives. We were all just a bit too young to have seen the groups the first time round.
Roddy: A lot of the audience we’ve had at specials gigs the last 4 or 5 years come from your generation. Those kids who were 12 when we broke up. A bit too young the first time round but seem to make up a large part of the audience rather than the older ones who can remember us.
GMc: In those days liking 2-Tone I felt like I was nailing my colours to the mast. It seemed like it was a political statement in itself.
Roddy: It did become a fashion thing as well though. I remember coming back from a US tour and all these kids only so-high running after us in all the gear and I thought oh shit, we’ve become a teeny bop band.
GMc: I remember you could get chased just for wearing the wrong badge.
Paul: Yeh, I remember pitched battles with Oi skinheads just for wearing a Specials badge. I went to Madstock, one of the early Madness reunion gigs with my fanzine and was attacked by these skinheads.
GMc: There seemed to be a bit of trouble with the National Front at some 2-Tone gigs. Was it worse with Madness because they were an all white band?
Dave: They were all white but they were all right! I think they were surrounded by a few people who had links to the far right.
Paul: I think Suggs used to roadie for Ian Stewart from Screwdriver. Although at that time I think they were just a punk band then. Before they went Oi.
Roddy: It wasn’t just NF. We once had trouble with the WRP (Workers Revolutionary Party)…a big ruck broke out. Also sometimes we got trouble between football fans. One group would start chanting their songs and a fight would start so it was also a football hooligan thing.
Dave: We took an easy way out. We got a Beat girl (onstage). We tried to encourage more girls to our gigs because it encouraged the boys to behave better.
Paul: That’s true. I remember seeing the Specials and Terry Hall ended up wading into a bouncer with a mike stand. I thought this is mental. Then I saw The Beat in Bradford not long after and it was a different vibe. I went thinking would it be the same again but it was more of a love in. Well..perhaps not a love in but it was different.
Dave: We tried to follow on from The Specials experience and learn from it, we had tactics if a fight broke out. We had the guys on the spotlights ready to light it up and we’d stop playing saying look at these people spoiling everybody else’s nights. Would you like to tell them to stop? These rucks, they wanted them to be in the dark, it was different when you lit them up. It stopped it. That and having more girls at the shows.
GMc: Did anybody from either band ever get hurt on stage?
Dave: Roger got hit by a coin but not really.
Roddy: Not on stage but Lymval was walking along with two white girls in London and got beaten up badly in around about 1980. It wasn’t because he was in the Specials, it was because he was a black man with white girls.
GMc: I live here in the Scottish Borders where it is a very white area where as you grew up in very multicultural and integrated areas. Where you aware at the time that wasn’t the case elsewhere?
Roddy: We were taking about that the other day. For us in Coventry it wasn’t a big deal for black and white musicians to work together. Elsewhere it was.
Dave: In the pubs of Birmingham we didn’t think it was special.
GMc: So it was natural as opposed to you making a statement about black and white together?
Dave: In all the pubs in Handsworth you’d see it all the time. It was because of industrialisation. Men working together on the track. There wasn’t the money to have separate black and white societies, you just went to the same pubs. If you worked on the track with the same blokes then you had the same story didn’t you? If the factory shut and you were standing next to the guy in the dole queue you knew that the darkie hadn’t stolen the job because he was standing right next to you signing on. So there was more of a sense of that in the Midlands. It just seemed normal. But I remember the first time we did a gig in London with the Selecter these skinheads coming up to us saying (put on a cockney accent), “we like that they said, black geezers and white geezers together. So we said, “oh we did it on purpose then…it was a conscious decision (laughing)…we stated off as mates but by the time we got to New York we were a mobile sociology lecture. We never got asked about music at all. They’d say, “and another thing about black and white together on stage” and we’d be like “get over it!” it was fine in the Midlands. It was a bit of a shock in London but by the time it got to America it was like wohooo. Who did “build me up buttercup?”
Paul: The Foundations.
Dave: Yeh them...they did it. Black and white together but not many more groups before us.
GMc: Were Madness the exception because that’s more what London was like at the time compared to the Midlands?
Roddy: Yeh, I think in their area it was, their mates were all white guys.
Dave: Yeh it was just a reflection of where they grew up. It wasn’t them.
GMc: one of the things that stands out about the 2-Tone scene was the electric atmosphere at gigs. Most live albums are shit but on the album Dance Craze for instance the crowd seemed part of it and enhanced the music.
Roddy: The 2-Tone tour was great value for money. You’d get 3 o 4 really good bands for your money and those kids would dance all night. By the end you’d get a sweat mist in the gig and the balconies would be moving with them all dancing.
Dave: When it went right it had all the energy of punk but without the nihilism. Punk at the end, like a lot of great movements, you start off optimistic but end up junkies. (laughing) It didn’t take too long with punk. I was glad 2-Tone came along because it took that energy and protest of punk but you didn’t want to be as angry as Margaret Thatcher otherwise she’d have won. You’d be acting like her, or “them”. I wanted a cheerful revolution. You could protest but life could still be good. If it worked great but if it didn’t at least we’d all have a great dance before the place blew up!
GMc: Yeh, if we put aside the politics and the sociology the great thing about 2-Tone and Ska was it was brilliant dance music.
Roddy: A Lot of younger kids coming to the gigs catch onto that bit, the great dance music but they don’t really have the politics in their generation.
Dave: Mind you, in saying all that, there are not many black people coming to 2-Tone concerts anymore. There was one the other night, so that’s rather odd. It’s not monotone but its not 2 tone either.
GMc: Why do you think that is?
Roddy: Even back then it wasn’t half and half. For a lot of Jamaicans what we were playing was like their Granddads music. For them it was like why would I listen to my Granddads music played by some white guys only not as well. So they’d get into heavy reggae and dub and stuff rather than what we were doing.
Dave: It’s odd for us in America because it’s a very mixed audience. Lots of Hispanics and Asian, black and white…it’s the united colours of Benetton. The main ska contingent in California is Hispanic.
Roddy: I did some gigs with Lymval from The Specials last year and it was all Mexicans…and they loved it. They actually got my cross over ska-billy. Everybody else says you can’t mix those two together but the Mexicans go …yeh…we get it.
GMc: It seems Morrissey has a big Hispanic following over there.
Dave: Yeh…young Hispanic guys with James Dean hair dos.
Roddy, Paul and Clive then had to leave. Dave and I chatted some more about politics and Margaret Thatcher.
Dave: So before when we were talking about politics, what do you think the answer is?
GMc: I believe things can change, I’m not totally despondent. I think it has to come from another mass party to the left of Labour emerging whatever happens in the referendum campaign and I think it could happen both in Scotland and England.
As we were talking we enjoyed a Spinal Tap, “hello Cleveland” like moment as we both got lost backstage in the, (it has to be said) relatively small surroundings of the backstage area at Gala’s Volunteer Hall.
Dave: I believe that we need to treat each other bit better. When Thatcher died I was contacted by Rolling Stone magazine for a quote. I told them that I despised her for what she did but I felt sorry for her family. I got a load of stick over that. People saying how can you say that? But I was like the reason I hated her was because she and “they” were nasty and brutal and I don’t want to be like that. I’m the opposite of that.
GMc: I was working as a carer for older people and was at a funeral of a client when I heard she’s died. For years I thought I’d celebrate on hearing that news but instead I thought that a frail old lady, with a terrible disease has died whilst everything she stood for is very much alive and kicking. I didn’t feel much like celebrating although I could understand those who did. (Read Don’t Celebrate – Organise here)
Dave: Yeh, as I said it would help if we all started by being a bit nicer to each other.I'll tell you what was funny about her though, Thatcher, she adopted that posh accent but she was from near Nottingham wasn't she. And when she got angry that posh accent would drop and you could hear that East Midlands accent underneath.Everything about her was pretence hoping the rich would like her but I was like come off it, stop pretending your posh...we know you're from Nottingham really!
our lives seem petty in your cold grey hands,
would you ever give a second thought,
would you ever give a damn, I doubt it,
stand down Margaret
Special thanks to Gary Blair and Paul Turner from The Covenfords Hotel for allowing The Point full access on the night. Thanks also to the staff at the Volunteer Hall for allowing the use of the office for interviews. Thanks to Lucy, Aiden, Foxy, Mike and Paul Willo and Clive from Specialized. Finally a big thank you to Dave and Roddy for giving up their time to do the interview.
The English Beat website: www.englishbeat.net
Roddy Radiation website: www.roddyradiation.com
Specialized 2 Beat Teenage Cancer: www.specializedproject.co.uk
Other articles by Graeme McIver in The Point can be found here