The English Beat's co-founder Dave Wakeling was chilling at home on a Saturday morning when he received a surprise phone call from The Who's Pete Townshend, seeking some guitar advice.
"At first I didn't even believe it was him, I thought it was just somebody playing a joke," Wakeling recalls.
"He said, 'I'm sitting here with David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) and we're trying to work out your song "Save It For Later," but we can't work out the tuning.' I nearly fell over; here are two of my guitar heroes I played my cricket bat along to. I had made up the tuning. I had been trying to find an old blues tuning and had messed it up. So I told them, and they said, 'Oh, that's it.'
Dave Wakeling brings the new version of the English Beat to Lahaina’s Maui Theatre Dec. 3.
"I thought it was most ironic that one-finger wonder Wakeling was showing a tuning to two of his guitar heroes. It was remarkable. So he recorded a couple of versions of it, and I got to see him tell the story and start a show with it at a theater in Los Angeles. The crowd stood up and started dancing, and I stood up and tears just rolled down my face."
With fellow vocalist Ranking Roger, Wakeling fronted one of the earliest and most popular ska revival bands to emerge from the U.K. in the late 1970s. Formed in Birmingham, England, the Beat (known as the English Beat in the U.S.) were a multiracial band whose exuberant sound ignited the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with catchy songs like "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Twist and Crawl," "Stand Down Margaret," "I Confess" and an inspired cover of "Tears of a Clown." With bands such as The Specials, Madness and The Selecter, the Beat were recognized as leading lights of the innovative 2 Tone movement that meshed ska, punk, pop, soul and reggae into an irresistible concoction.
Growing up in Britain's second largest city, by the age of 18 Wakeling had mapped out three life goals - he wanted to be in a pop group, work for Greenpeace and become a Buddhist monk.
"It's worked out pretty good so far," he says laughing. "I had this idea of being a Buddhist monk first and I was going to travel east, but I had lots of dreams about girls and motorbikes. So I thought I should be in a pop group and get it out of my system. There was no point in going all that way, shaving my head and sitting on my hind's tail and thinking about girls on motorbikes.
"Thirty years later I'm happy to say I've nearly got it out of my system. And along the way I was lucky enough to do some benefit shows for Greenpeace, and then I got to work for them full time for five years in the '90s. I'm sure if I keep going, I'll get the third one done. I met a woman who sponsors a nunnery with the Dalai Lama's sister, and she says she can get me an introduction. But I think the trick nowadays is to stay in society and do your Buddhist work as well, more like dharma yoga."
In his own way, Wakeling has followed the Dalai Lama's advice that one can cultivate personal happiness by making others happy. "It is the most remarkable thing because I wrote some songs to try and calm my own bipolar curiosity, not fitting in as well as I might, to really cure my own depression, and I managed it," he notes. "Now when strangers on an airplane ask, 'What do you do?' I giggle and say, I make people happy. It gives me a lot of warmth and happiness.
"We just played a show in Connecticut on a Monday night, and it went off like it was a holiday weekend. It was fantastic, two and a half hours later there were totally soaking people beaming from ear to ear. I feel lucky and grateful to have that effect on people, so you do feel like you're doing service. But I don't think I could have stayed on the road if was singing about death and hell and people getting cut up with chain saws. That might have worn a bit old."
A jazzy, up-tempo precursor to reggae, ska evolved in the early 1960s, pioneered by musicians like Prince Buster, The Skatalites and Desmond Dekker, as Jamaica was gaining its independence from Britain. Wakeling was first exposed to ska's infectious rhythms attending football (soccer) matches.
"A lot of it was played on the football terraces in the Midlands," he explains. "And from there, it was from my first gropings with skinhead girls, it was the music of that part of my life. Then reggae came about with Bob Marley and Culture and Burning Spear, and punk came along, too. We had these house parties with a punk and reggae DJ, and we found if you played all punk you'd get the dance floor packed for 45 minutes, then everyone would disappear, and if it was all reggae, everyone would be leaning against the wall nodding their heads, what we called dancing on the inside. But if you mixed it up the dance floor stayed packed and the energy was wonderful.
"Andy (Cox), the guitarist from the original Beat, wondered what it would be like to have the elements from both DJs in the same three-minute pop song, so the Beat's punky reggae party was born. It was in the process of playing a speeded-up reggae beat with a punk edge and a soul groove that we started singing along to our favorite ska songs. We became hybridists trying to make the perfect black rose out of all our favorite music. My notion was to blend the insistence of the Velvet Underground with the uplifting spirit of Toots and the Maytals."
The Beat's brilliant adaptation of Smokey Robinson's classic "Tears of a Clown" broke the band on the charts.
"When we started we were trying to mix all these different beats and our drummer said, 'Why don't we learn a song that everybody knows, and we then can try one of your weird ones like your 'Mirror' thing?' " Wakeling continues. "So we learnt 'Tears of a Clown.' When we managed to hold this combination of punk, pop, reggae and ska, and soul, there was just a groove that floated in the middle that everybody found irresistible."
On classic albums like "I Just Can't Stop," "Wha'ppen," and "Special Beat Service," they often tackled social and political themes, producing one of the era's greatest anti-Conservative Party anthems, "Stand Down Margaret," which hammered the country's prime minister and her drive to privatize national assets.
"I said I see no joy, I see only sorrow, I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow, so stand down Margaret, please," they implored over a furious beat.
"Because she made everybody miserable we had to try and keep our spirits up," he says. "And it was also stand down off your soapbox as well as resign. We were being dragged into trickle-down economics and in a way I thought it broke British hearts. I felt really bad watching my dad being offered the chance to buy shares in a gas company that he thought he fought the second world war to buy in the first place. It was his gas and water company. They were told they were building a land fit for heroes, and they were proud there was a national supply of clean water and gas. It did something to the social fabric of British life, and she was the agent of change in that. People started becoming competitors instead of neighbors. I thought something was irrevocably lost."
When the Beat disbanded in 1983, Wakeling and Ranking Roger formed General Public, while two other members later gravitated to the Fine Young Cannibals. With General Public, Wakeling continued scoring chart hits with "Tenderness" and a cover of the Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There, " which was picked up by the Bill Clinton presidential campaign.
In the midst of a 30th anniversary, nonstop, dance party tour with a new version of the English Beat, Wakeling is riding a wave of renewed interest in British ska. Madness recently released a new album, and The Specials reformed this year to an enthusiastic reception. Wakeling feels their music provides a perfect prescription for our challenging times.
"We've done a lot of shows and everywhere we see older fans and a whole new set of teenage fans," he reports. "I think it suits recessionary times. There's much to be concerned about, much to get angry about, and ska and reggae gives people the opportunity to celebrate life, whilst at the same time protesting some of the harder details of it. It's upbeat, it has an uplifting effect and makes you look at things more optimistically. Everywhere we go we're drawing more and more people. We're on a bit of a roll."
* The English Beat performs at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Maui Theater in Lahaina. The California reggae band Common Sense will open. Tickets are $27 and $39 from Tickets On The Rock; call 856-7510.
On Sunday evening Amy Hanaiali'i brings her "Friends and Families of Hawaii" show to the Castle Theater. The concert is based around her latest album release, a follow-up to her Grammy-nominated album, "Aumakua."
"Friends and Families" features a remarkable assembly of leading male artists from across the spectrum of the Hawaiian music industry, ranging from Keali'i Reichel and Robert Cazimero, to Henry Kapono and John Cruz, and Fiji to Darren Benitez. And country icon Willie Nelson joined her on the recording dueting on Van Morrison's haunting ballad "Have I Told You Lately."
"I'll be doing a lot of songs from the new album," Amy reports. "And I will dabble into 'Aumakua,' and some of my older stuff, an array of what I've been doing outside of Hawaii on tour."
She will be joined by guest musicians Sean Na'auao, Kaumaka'iwa Kanaka'ole, and brother Eric Gilliom, who all sang on the new album project.
"There will be a couple of other surprise guests with me that I can't really mention because they have concerts coming up," she adds. "I also have the Baldwin High School Drama Club coming up to do a great number with us."
And it includes the winner of an online contest "Amy's Duet Fest," which she created on Facebook.
"I wanted to reach out to my fans to let them be part of my concert tour," she explains. "People submitted songs in different categories of music for me to view, and I narrowed it down to one person who will tour with me in December. It was a lot of fun, practically everyone filmed themselves singing in the bathroom. It was the first duet contest ever held in Hawaii."
Noah Juan, a surgical technician at Queen's Hospital, was the lucky winner. "He's got a great voice," she says. "His first show will be at the MACC."
Blending Hawaiian standards and original compositions with familiar pop tunes, the new CD showcases Amy's formidable talent across musical genres.
"It's doing extremely well, it's number three on the Billboard world chart," she notes. "I think it's because people are used to hearing me a certain way, they haven't heard my other voices, so with this album I could go into styles of music that let me open up."
* Amy Hanaiali`i performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $30, $40 and $50 plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org. A benefit for the Food Bank, folks are asked to bring two cans each as a donation.