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Across three albums and five top ten singles there is one song which really underlined Birmingham six-piece The Beat’s lasting legacy – and also proved their undoing in the UK.
Stand Down Margaret was an impassioned – but polite – request to the then Conservative prime minister to vacate her position of power.
The lyrics to the upbeat reggae tune referred to a potential third world war, adding, “our lives seem petty in your cold, grey hands” and “I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow”.
“We did a version on the Tiswas TV spin-off OTT,” remembers Rankin’ Roger, the band’s original vocalist and toaster. “We told them it was an old Caribbean calypso song and they believed it!
“We got away with it, although there were a lot of complaints about this political song on a kids’ show.”
Two weeks later the song was banned from the radio airwaves by the BBC, and the band, which had been gathering a following across the UK with a string of hit singles including Tears Of A Clown, Hands Off She’s Mine and the classic Mirror In The Bathroom, found they couldn’t get their songs played.
“Twenty years on, people were saying how brave we were but we weren’t brave,” says Roger. “This was what was going on at the time.
“The same rubbish is going on today, just with a different style. We have inequality, racism and crime.
“It might be part of the reason why lots of younger kids are coming to The Beat gigs and drinking it in. Hopefully they will go off and make bands of their own, writing lyrics to make their generation aware. We made our generation aware but we didn’t make our kids aware, so it has all come back.”
The band went to the US where, as The English Beat, they established a cult audience and the support of Talking Heads, The Clash and The Police.
“They loved us because we were rebels,” says Roger. “We grabbed a lot of audiences from them.
“When we came to the US, we became very rich but were making tunes like Big Shot [about a rich businessman]. I remember thinking, ‘That’s not what I sing about.’ There had to be a balance somewhere.”
Unfortunately, the band split fairly acrimoniously after their third album Special Beat Service, with Roger and fellow vocalist Dave Wakeley becoming General Public, while guitarist Andy Cox and bassist David Steele formed the hugely successful Fine Young Cannibals with Roland Gift.
“I think we were overtired,” says Roger looking back. “All we needed was six months or a year off. It happened so quickly, we made some rash decisions which I don’t think about now.
“The fourth Beat album would have been massive in the US.
“It is a huge regret that The Beat split in the first place but we had fun and I have kept my integrity whatever I have done.”
He puts the success of The Beat down to its combination of a punk energy and reggae roots.
“We couldn’t change the sound of our first album,” says Roger talking about I Just Can’t Stop It, which is now regarded as a classic. “It came from the band jamming together.
“I remember when we were doing Mirror In The Bathroom, Steele saying to [current Beat drummer] Everett Morton to play a punk beat. He came up with this steppers reggae beat. We instantly said, ‘That’s it! Keep playing that!’ To Everett that was punk.”
The politically charged lyrics were also important.
“There was always a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Roger. “There are some songs that were doomish but there was always hope somewhere.”
He admits, with their jam roots, The Beat weren’t always the best band live.
“We could be a bit hit and miss,” he says. “Our gigs got the audiences moving, though. Everyone loved the vibe and our mistakes didn’t matter. It wasn’t the quality, it was the atmosphere.”
That said, Roger drilled his new version of The Beat to play the songs exactly as they were on the record, before giving them space to explore. The band is based around him, Morton, Roger’s son Rankin’ Jnr, and former Dexy’s and General Public keyboard player Mickey Billingham.
“When we get to the show, we have dub sections in there,” he says. “Mirror In The Bathroom has been extended into an 18in version – it goes all psychedelic.
“This version of The Beat has the Rankin’ Roger essence written all over it – love, anti-war, anti-nuclear and equal rights. People come to our concerts and know that integrity is there.”
Wakeley is behind The English Beat, which is based solely in the US, while Roger has the freedom to go all over the world.
“We have played Russia, Australia and New Zealand – places the original Beat didn’t go to,” says Roger.
“When we went to South Africa people were so grateful. It was one of the best times of my life.
“I remember in the 1980s we wanted to play South Africa but we couldn’t because of the boycott. We would have been blacklisted, even though we wanted to play to black audiences, and we had black and white members in the band.”
The Beat has even been working on new material, although a 2006 album recorded with Adrian Sherwood has had to be re-recorded after a line-up change.
“Now the back catalogue has been re- released we don’t want to put our new stuff out at the same time,” says Roger.
“Rankin’ Jnr and I will be in the studio in January to write some new songs – it would be nice to have another album ready in case this other one does really well.
“We’ve played some of the new ones live. They go down as well as the original songs.”
Support from Meows Meows, Too Many Crooks, The Piranhas and Madness Tour DJ Darren Bennett playing ska and reggae anthems until midnight.
- The Beat play Concorde 2, Madeira Drive, Brighton, on Sunday, December 23. Doors 7pm, tickets £18. Call 01273 673311