After spitting out three albums in three years, the English Beat fans have been waiting since 1982 for a new record. Next year, the waiting ceases as the ska rock legends who popularized the hits "Save It for Later" and "Mirror in the Bathroom" will release a new album after a successful crowd funding campaign.
Curiosity seekers will have a chance to hear the new as well as the old as they perform Friday night at Culture Room.
New Times spoke to the band's personable singer and guitarist Dave Wakeling about the new album, why the English Beat originally broke up, and how his alternate guitar tuning stumped two of rock's most legendary ax men.
New Times: When did you first fall in love with music?
Dave Wakeling: When I was 12. I was coming back from a swim meet with my dad, and I won a few medals. Because I won, we stopped in the bar to get an orange soda. I was sitting in the back with the soda and the medals and on the radio came "Don't Walk Away Renee" by the Four Tops followed by "Ruby Tuesday" by the Rolling Stones.
By the end of those two songs, I never felt anything like that, at least as a 12-year-old. Not long after that, my dad bought me a guitar from a bar. Someone who hadn't gotten paid was selling a band's gear from the back of a van. I had the acoustic guitar and learned to play the guitar the wrong way around. I ended up tuning the guitar my own way and making up my own chords and wrote my own songs.
And years later you wrote "Save It for Later" by an accidental alternate tuning on your guitar?
Yeah, I was trying to get DADGAD, which John Martyn used a lot, and I ended up on DADAAD with an A string instead of a G. It was all D's and A's, which is quite similar to a bagpipe, I'm told.
One day I got a call from Pete Townshend who said he was sitting there with Dave Gilmour trying to play my song and they couldn't work out the song!
"Save It for Later" is such a catchy song. Do you ever go back and try to write other songs with that tuning?
There's a song on the new album that's going to come out in March called "Never Die" which we're playing live that is kind of an epic ballad where the tuning helps.
What else can you tell us about the new album?
It's coming out great. We got the first work done in the studio before we came out on tour. We're playing them before we come out onstage. It's nice to hear them on a big PA. I can tell what's got to be added. We've still got a ways to go. It's bare bones.
How different is this album compared to if you never broke up and released the fourth English Beat album in the 1980s?
I couldn't say. I don't know what a record would sound like with all those original guys now. That's always a difficult one to guess. You're always a product of your environment. In 1979, I wanted to sound like Kingston, Jamaica, in 1963. Now it's 2014 and I'm in California, and I want to sound like Birmingham in 1979. You just try to be in the moment.
Do you mind going back into the reasons why the English Beat broke up in the '80s?
Really? You think that story needs telling for a third millionth time?
There might be new fans reading this and would like to know the band's backstory.
"There was more planes" than buses is the phrase they use nowadays. There was a fear that we were becoming professional musicians and we'd have nothing to write about if we were professional musicians, so they wanted to take a couple years off. Me and Roger had just started families, so we didn't want to take time off, and we started General Public. Andy [Cox] and David [Steele] did take some time off and started Fine Young Cannibals, so it all sort of worked out.
What can people expect at the English Beat show this weekend?
It's probably the best show they've ever seen in their life, and that's coming from me as a fairly humble chap. The band is on a roll. The last 30 shows have just been fantastic. We've been performing songs off our new album, and they've been going down gangbusters. People are singing along with the choruses and clapping along, so I think we're on the right track.