The Beat Goes On

Ranking Roger

Ranking Roger

Part two of our interview with Beat frontman Ranking Roger.

The Beat spilt in 1983, after which Roger and guitarist/singer Dave Wakeling formed General Public, who had more success in the US than in Britain, then Roger played with Mick Jones’ post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite. He released a couple of solo albums, worked with other musicians including Sting and collaborated with former members of the Specials in Special Beat. Then in 2003 came the opportunity to reform the Beat.

“Mojo magazine put it together at the Royal Festival Hall. Dave came over, Andy Cox was up for it although he backed out about a week before the gig, but he did sort out a great PA for us. At this time me and Everett (Morton – drummer) were playing as Twist and Crawl, and people were calling us the Beat anyway. We asked the audience one night and they said we should be the Beat and that’s what we’ve been since then.

“Dave plays as the English Beat in America. Me and him at the moment don’t talk. People ask why, but we have differences, musical and others going on. Maybe one day we might get back together, who knows? As it stands, last year I heard he was coming over to England to play some shows and I tried to stop him doing that. Now he’s only doing one in London as the English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling, which is a lot better.”

What’s the chances of the original Beat getting together again?

“If someone offered us loads of money the opportunity could always be there. You saw it with the Specials – money talks more than anything else. All the friendships which break up over the years come back together when you’re out touring and you’re making money so it’s possible if the right people come up with the right offer to make it happen. At the moment I’m doing well enough by myself, we’ve been doing it eight years and it’s getting bigger all the time so I don’t need any more. But if the right offer came I would reform and get all the original members together.”

You’re playing the Assembly in Leamington soon. What’s that venue like?

“We’ve done it a few times and it’s great to play that sort of place. It’s not like the corporate venues where you could be in Liverpool, Manchester or Birmingham and the venue is the same. You’re right in front of the audience, the security’s not as heavy. It’s more like the old gigs used to be.”

Then you’re at Birmingham Town Hall in November. That’s hardly the sort of place you’d expect the Beat to play.

“No, we’ve never played there. But our agent knows the people who run the place, we wanted to play somewhere different this time and it was available. It’ll be good to try it out.”

Pauline Black’s with you. Is she as lovely as ever?

“And so is her voice. She’s sounding better with time and she’s got Gaps who used to sing with the Selecter with her as well.”

What do you listen to now?

“Loads of ambient dub, things like the Orb and HIA who are from Birmingham. It’s from the late nineties, that sort of time, so I’m probably about five or six years behind. I find that when I’ve been working and hearing ska and punk all day I want to listen to something different when I get home.”

Everybody seems to criticise things like the X Factor, but have they got any redeeming features at all?

“No. It’s karaoke. We come from the old school, where you work to your own rules, you do what you want to do. They have their rules made for them, they’re told how to dress, how to eat, everything. I’ve seen some talent on there and thought they could go far but they’re given the wrong songs. Let them do what they want to do.”

We spoke earlier about the lack of opportunities for bands in Birmingham. When the Beat started out you had plenty of venues plus Robin Valk every night on BRMB having sessions from local bands. They did those gigs at Cannon Hill Park with the Specials, Joan Armatrading, Steve Gibbons, all in the charts and playing on the same bill. You don’t get anything like that now.

“There’s a lot of stuff in Birmingham but it’s all very underground, very rock based. There’s no really commercial pop music. It needs to be re-established in the mainstream. With new technology there’s more music available so there should be more variety on the radio, but the radio is still controlled by suits, who are thinking about the business rather than what the community wants. But in the long run they’d do better by playing what the community wants because that’s what they would listen to.”

Birmingham was, as we said, an industrial, hard city and the music reflected that. Black Sabbath, the Beat, bands like Spencer Davies and the Moody Blues right at the start were rooted in hard rhythm and blues. Does the way the city’s changed mean that the music coming out of it will change as well? Can you still be edgy if you’re serving coffee in Starbucks?

“Yes you can, because it’s still about  your attitude. All our bands came from industry, but Birmingham is known for conferences and electronic now. It’s different, the city is different but the people are the same. It only takes another merging of the musics to create what happened thirty years ago. All the right things are happening. There’s more racism, unemployment, the Tories are back in. All the factors are there.”

Rising unemployment, racism on the increase, riots around the corner and a royal wedding. Will we see a ska revival just to get the whole early eighties feeling back?

“Maybe. Maybe I should write an anti-royal wedding song. Or we should do Stand Down Cameron. We did Stand Down Margaret, then we did Stand Down Tony and Stand Down Gordon. Once Tony Blair started the war, that’s when I went off him. And Gordon Brown wasn’t really a leader. Cameron is just a total joke. I voted for Nick Clegg, and what a con that was. I always vote Labour but I voted Lib Dem last time, and why?”

Music always goes back to four young lads, playing guitars and singing. Can you imagine any time when where we might get back to how it used to be, with loud, angry young men like that on TV?

“If they bring back programmes like Ready Steady Go and Top of the Pops you might. Because programmes like X Factor are killing it, just more karaoke and boy bands. The whole thing about punk was that people got a band together because they were bored then they learned to play their instruments and they got into bands. You’ll need all that again but the kind of anger we had, kids now don’t have that because it’s smothered by Play Stations and X Boxes and DVDs. That’s why the younger generation won’t protest. The students did that and I thought ‘Great, they aren’t all scared of the system’ and that’s what’s needed. The alternative is the government controls us and that’s not what democracy should be. It should be the other way round.”

With that we were off to listen to mixes of the Beat’s as yet untitled new album, due for release later this year and including a version of the Clash’s Rock the Casbah which if there was any justice will be bigger than Simon Cowell could ever dream about.

You can read the first half of this two part interview here.

The Beat are playing Leamington Assembly ( on 31st March and Birmingham Town Hall ( on 18th November.