The late 1982 tour, on which I saw the band ten days later in Birmingham, was primarily to promote the album Special Beat Service, but the band only had three albums of fairly short songs. With 90 minutes to fill, and taking into account the almost obligatory live Two-Tone-era trait of speeding up the tracks to a pretty frantic pace, there wasn’t a huge amount of the band’s repertoire which didn’t sneak its way into the set. For fans of the band who are interested, here’s what The Beat played at the Oct ‘82 Bradford gig, in order of performance…
Hands Off She’s Mine, Big Shot, Doors of Your Heart, Jeanette, I Confess, Spar Wid Me, Get a Job morphing into Stand Down Margaret, Sole Salvation, Tears of a Clown, Drowning, Twist & Crawl, Walk Away, Save it For Later, Ranking Full Stop leading straight into Mirror in the Bathroom, Too Nice to Talk To, Two Swords, Rough Rider, Best Friend, Jackpot.
The set at the Birmingham gig I attended was almost the same – the most notable difference being that in Birmingham The Beat were joined on stage by Pato Banton (whose band had performed as one of two support acts) during the final track – Jackpot. Extending Jackpot, but without changing the chord structure, they worked in a version of the song Pato and Roger Ago Talk, which I thought came off fantastically well. I also seem to remember The Beat playing End of the Party from Special Beat Service at the Birmingham gig. Can’t be absolutely sure about that, but I’m convinced I heard that track played live somewhere back in the ‘80s, and I can’t think where else it would have been. I did also see General Public live in 1985, but I don’t think they were playing End of the Party.
Anyway, leaving that in limbo, there’s a reason why The Beat were Sting’s favourite band in the early ‘80s, and one of John Peel’s favourites too. Peel once described The Beat as “the best band in the universe after The Undertones”, which, from such an extensively knowledgeable guru of contemporary music, really was some accolade. The style was a mixture of reggae, ska, soul, punk, funk, and some African elements – but it all blended together perfectly. The sound wasn’t really punk, but the fast paced feel certainly was. The songs Twist & Crawl and Two Swords on this recording would rival any punk group for energy, and most for beats per minute. Very fast and furious, but there was a lot going on rhythmically and musically.
The line-up was Everett Morton (drums), David Steele (bass), Dave Blockhead (organ and piano), Andy Cox (guitar), Dave Wakeling (vocals and guitar), Ranking Roger (vocals), Wesley Magoogan (saxophone).
The drum parts often had pumping, four-on-the-floor foundations with intricate, offbeat stickwork, and the bass would lock in very tightly with that pumping feel. But the bass lines were very patterned and again, intricate. It was clearly a demanding job being drummer or bassist with The Beat.
The high level of musicianship continued into the keyboard work, and perhaps most noticeably of all, the sax playing. Most of what Blockhead did on the keyboards was utilitarian and subtle, but there was a difficult arpeggio and run he’d play in Jeanette (originally played by Jack Emblow on an accordion for the single, but Blockhead played it live on a Vox Continental Super II organ). You couldn’t play that passage unless you were a highly accomplished keyboardist. Saxophone player Wesley Magoogan, formerly with Hazel O’Connor, had replaced The Beat’s original sax player Saxa for live gigs. They were both fantastic musicians, but the much younger Magoogan had an energy in live situations which was undeniably suited to this blazing tour.
Andy Cox’s guitar work was probably the most rock orientated element in the band. Never any wailing lead, and plenty of reggae-orientated rhythms, but a lot of the damping and picking techniques he used would have fitted straight into a new wave rock act of the day. What I loved about his playing was that it was invariably supportive of the music and never remotely self-indulgent. Dave Wakeling’s highly distinctive guitar sound was another defining factor for The Beat. Most of the time he’d be tuned to open G, and often playing high up the neck at the twelfth fret, which could sound almost like a higher-pitched, short-necked instrument of some kind. What he did was normally pretty simple, but he didn’t sound like anyone else.
Wakeling was of course also part of the vocal team, alongside Ranking Roger, who brought the Jamaican variant rap style known as ‘toasting’ into the UK pop mainstream. The duo worked together very well – there was never a dull moment.
As for the highlights… the whole thing basically. Among those who remember early ‘80s music, original singles such as Save it For Later, Mirror in the Bathroom, Best Friend, Hands Off She’s Mine, Doors of Your Heart, Too Nice to Talk To and Jeanette, along with the Smokey Robinson cover Tears of a Clown, will all probably be recognised as great numbers. And many of the B sides were too good for B sides, finding themselves denoted as second A sides instead (Ranking Full Stop, Twist & Crawl, Stand Down Margaret, etc). But lots of The Beat’s album tracks could easily have been successful singles too. Walk Away, from the second album Wha’ppen, was a truly brilliant piece of songwriting, and the out-and-out reggae blast Spar Wid Me really came to life on stage, with the most infectious groove.
It’s easy to look back at this material in the light of what’s happened in the three decades since and regard it simply as great music. But it was more than that. In their day, these bands were doing something which was new to UK audiences – fusing musical styles from different cultures and races. Not only were the multi-racial line-ups of huge benefit to the advancement and development of new music, but they were also of great importance socially. The era of The Specials, The Beat, UB40 et al, was a turning point, afterwhich white musicians were more cool if they were in bands with non-whites. It was during this period (late ’70s and early ’80s) that a wave of disgust finally started to drive insensitive racial stereotyping and cheap, racial jokes out of mainstream culture here in England. The above bands weren’t the only catalyst for those changing attitudes, but they struck right at the heart of the young generations, where it mattered. The bands didn’t need to say that multi-cultural Britain was something to celebrate. You saw them play, and you knew it.