Gig review and photography by Ken Harrison

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It’s a pleasant Sunday night in Birmingham, following a balmy early spring day in the city, and I wade through the massive crowd gathered outside to see All Time Low on the main Academy stage. Tonight though, I’m here to cover The English Beat, who are here as part of a short UK tour performing on the Academy’s second stage.

The Beat first performed in Birmingham in 1979 gaining instantaneous success as part of the Two-Tone movement alongside Madness, The Specials, The Selecter and Bad Manners et al. The original line up of the band consisted of Dave Wakeling on vocals and guitar, Andy Cox on guitar, David Steele on bass, and Everett Morton on drums with Ranking Roger on Toasting duties and Ska legend Saxa on saxophone.

Over a period of four or so years of recording and touring, The Beat released three albums “I Just Can’t Stop It”, “Wh’appen” and “Special Beat Service” and hit the road with many heavyweight artists of the time including; David Bowie, The Police, REM, The Clash, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, and of course fellow Two-Toner’s, The Specials. A band with a deep social conscience, The Beat lent their name (and music) to a number of causes such as Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and as critics of the Conservative government released “Stand Down Margaret” targeting the UK Premier of the time, Margaret Thatcher. The Beat also formed part of the Special AKA, who sang “Free Nelson Mandela”, the classic anti-apartheid song.

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Following the disbanding of the Beat in 1983, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger formed General Public, with Mickey Billingham (keyboards) formerly of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Horace Panter (bass) of The Specials, and legendary Clash guitarist Mick Jones. Other Beat members Andy Cox and David Steele recruited Roland Gift to form Fine Young Cannibals who also went on to have massive success.

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General Public released three albums “All The Rage” (a hugely successful album, charting high in the U.K and U.S. and in 1984 gaining the band a Juno award in Canada for “Best New Artist”), “Hand to Mouth” and “Rub It Better” released after a long break in 1995. Subsequently, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger went their separate ways with Wakeling continuing to contribute to movie scores (having worked on “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, and She’s Having a Baby with John Hughes), artist development, music production and working for Greenpeace.

Currently, Ranking Roger continues to tour as “The Beat” with his son Ranking Junior, whilst Wakeling performs as “The English Beat”. Wakeling takes Lead Vocals/Guitar and is joined on stage by current band members, Rhythmm Epkins on Drums/Vocals,  Antonee First Class as Toaster, Matt Morrish on Sax/Vocals, Kevin Lum on keyboards/Vocals and Larry Young on Bass/Vocals.

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It’s an early set tonight, starting off at 7pm we have The Bluebeat Arkestra, a six piece band from Birmingham. They describe their music as a “their songs blend deep basslines with soaring melodies; sharp disco rhythms with spacious dub – creating an absorbing sound to move both heart and feet.

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The line-up consists of Dave Breeze on Bass, Shaun Hand on Guitar/Keyboards, Chris Inns on Trumpet/ Keyboards, Leonie Rainbird-Tilson  on Viola/ Violin, John Sanders on Drums and Hayley Trower on Vocals.

The band play a short set, but is well received by the audience. The stand out tracks for me were “Zero” and  “Wired to the Grid” a dark but very catchy track.  The band have played a number of festivals including our very own Mostly Jazz…showcased on BBC WM “Introducing” programme,  supported Bastille, Pigbag and Little Dragon to name a few along with a New Year’s set at The Yardbird to bring in 2014.  Keep ‘em peeled for their next outing.

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Tempting Rosie appear on stage at 7.45p.m., it’s a big ska/reggae/pop/party band with plenty of members..8, but could have sworn there were more crammed onto the tiny stage. “Rosie”  formed in school and has grown over time to its current line-up comprising Matt Doyle  on Lead Vocals, Jon Brown  on Guitar, Ben Torrens on Bass, Sebastian Maynard-Francis on Drums, Ewan Whyte on Trumpet and Backing Vocals, Laurence Taylor on Trumpet, Josh Wilkinson on Trombone and Tijhs Jordan – Rapper/ MC.

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“Anyone here from Birmingham?… It’s Quality” cue exaggerated Brummie accents like the “Cupcake” adverts to much laughter from the audience. The audience soon got moving to their songs. Standout track for me was “Deadly Roots” a proper piece of ska music!  The band will be appearing at The Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, Birmingham on 17th April go and check them out, but take your dancing shoes.

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By the time Wakeling and band arrive on stage at 9.00p.m (15 minutes later than advertised), the room is full and ready to ska, having been thoroughly warmed up by the two supports. The set opens with “Ranking Full Stop” and already the crowd are dancing. Moving through the set we get “Hands Off… She’s Mine” (which is so infectious, it has been in my head constantly since the show) with Antonee First Class toasting. He’s not Ranking Roger, but he’s good and he’s whipping up the audience as they sing along. “It don’t matter if you are a Rude Boy, or Rude Girl, or Skin or Mod, sober or drunk..” as the Toaster gets into full swing.

“Click, Click” is introduced by Wakeling as something to “Do yourself in on a wet night in Balsall Heath” and is followed by “Save it for Later” with the crowd joining in the vocals. The temperature is rising and the room is getting more humid as the band play on. Audience members (age catching up with us perhaps) with sweat beaded foreheads head out into the cooler area outside the toilets for a breather before heading back into the melee.

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Special guest, Roddy Radiation (from The Specials)  then joins the stage to many cheers from the audience, for a few songs “Concrete Jungle”, then a tribute to the late Amy Winehouse and  finishing with “Rat Race”. Roddy plays and sings well, but his voice is not Terry Hall’s so for me it’s somewhat different to what I expected.  However, the audience don’t care (and neither should I) they’re lapping up the special guest.

Roddy having left the stage, more Beat tracks follow; “Too Nice to Talk To” “The Two-Tone Song”, then  “Whine & Grine” takes us into “Stand Down Margaret”, Wakeling commenting “She won though didn’t she?” then on to “Best Friend”. Antonee First Class “Represents” Wakeling to cheers from the crowd before a couple of slowies making for a mid-set breather with extended “Doors of Your Heart” and  the audience join in a little “Ska, Ska, Ska…Aha” with the band. Some religious chant sample kicks off “I Confess” then the Smokey song “Tears of a Clown”, “Sole Salvation”, and the Andy Williams gets covered with “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”. The Beat did some memorable cover versions of classic songs, (with perhaps more success/popularity than the originals). Roddy Radiation returns to the stage for the final track “Mirror in the Bathroom”.

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No encores tonight, this is a straight set of an hour and three quarters of classic Beat; a ska, reggae, pop fusion that gets your feet moving and the loud, boisterous crowd have danced their way through it all. The show had a distinctly Birmingham flava, with the two local supports flying the flag for Brummie talent. Ticket prices were a very reasonable £18. The sound quality has been variable through the set, with some vocals and between song chat at times being lost, but this is of no consequence to the crowd, they came to ska!. “You just can’t Beat it!”

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Songs included:

“Ranking Full Stop” ,“Hands Off She’s Mine”, “Click, Click”, “Save it for Later”, “Too Nice to Talk To”, “Concrete Jungle , “Rat Race” (The Specials), “Stand Down Margaret” , “Best Friend”, “Tears of a Clown”, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” & “Mirror in the Bathroom”

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Listening:

I Just Can’t Stop It [1980]
Wh’appen [1981]
Special Beat Service [1982]

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