The Beat and The Specials' 1981 Cork appearance

The Beat and The Specials' 1981 Cork appearance

On January 17 1981, leading ska groups The Beat and The Specials played a sold-out concert at Cork’s Arcadia venue.

The gig quickly went down in the annals, with attendees recalling a good-natured stage invasion that culminated with musicians and fans dancing together.

Dave Wakeling, lead singer with The Beat, has rosy memories of the occasion, though for quite particular reasons. By the time the Cork performance came around, the two bands had endured a bruising Irish trek – a blur of broken bottles, fistfights and worse.

“In Cork there were a lot of people singing and dancing. We were very pleased,” recalls Wakeling who brings The Beat back to the city next month to promote a new album, Here We Go Love!.

“It had been an odd tour.”

The Beat and The Specials had started in Belfast, then in the darkest days of the Troubles.

“We were nervous — of course we were,” says Wakeling, from Los Angeles, his home for the past 30 years. “That afternoon two sets of skinheads came in. Clearly different sets because they wore different uniforms.

"They told us they were ever so pleased we’d come to Belfast as a lot of people weren’t.

"They appreciated it so much that one set of them would stay downstairs and the other up on the balcony, so there was no fighting.”

He remembers heaving a huge sigh of relief. “It was fantastic until the encore. You look up and there is a line of people standing on the balcony pissing over the edge.”

Scarier was to follow south of the border.

“We were driving to Dublin and everyone was bright and cheery. ‘Oh it will be dead easy now’. It wasn’t. We played the Stardust, which burned down about 10 days later. Lots of skinheads got up on stage while The Specials were playing and a fight broke out – beer was being thrown all over the place.

“The band did a runner and the fight carried over backstage. There was blood on the walls and broken glass on the floor. We noticed all the exits at the back were chained up and padlocked.

"There was no way out. So we went back into the dressing room and put up a sofa against the door until they had finished bottling each other. Later we read about the fire.”

Such drama is unthinkable as the now 62 year-old Wakeling brings The Beat (who tour in the US as the

English Beat) back across the Atlantic (a separate version of The Beat, fronted by Ranking Roger, regularly tours the UK).

He’s promoting the new album — a sparkling reminder of his way around a pop song — though he expects the classic material to resonate just as strongly.

How strange, he reflects, that the circumstances in which The Beat emerged — a late 1970s Birmingham in the grip of racial tensions and devastated by unemployment —should feel so relevant today.

Once again, politics is divisive, young people feel abandoned, an air of hopelessness hangs low and all- pervading.

“We’ve been shocked — some of the stuff we were singing about on Beat records back in the day… it seems to have come back again,” says Wakeling.

“Suddenly everyone is thinking we might have a war with Russia – well we haven’t heard that in a while. North Korea is on the edge. Iran is on the edge. Everybody’s on the edge.

"That’s how it felt at the end of the Seventies and into the Eighties. Everybody was on the edge and there was no work.”

The Beat’s music was claustrophobic and naggingly bleak — a sensibility that held a mirror up to a world in the throes of the Cold War and to a Britain about to segue from the three day week to the torched-earth capitalism of the Thatcher years.

There was an exception however —Wakeling’s sweet pop song ‘Save it For Later’, which has gone on to have an afterlife as a radio staple (Pete Townshend of The Who ranks it as his favourite ever track). Wakeling had to fight hard to record ‘Save It For Later’, which was deemed to lightweight by bandmate David Steele.

“That song was considered ‘old wave’ for the late Seventies,” Wakeling says.

“We passed it by for our first album because it didn’t fit in, which I suppose it didn’t. Then it got passed by for the second one as well.

“I thought, ‘Well it could probably have worked there — there were a lot of slower ones on that one’.”

As they started on their third LP, their A&R man intervened: the song was a sure-fire hit and The Beat needed to record it.

In the face of opposition from his band-mates Wakeling did just that. It became a huge smash – and a big earner to boot.

“The last time we checked, it’s not only the song of ours that has been covered the most. It has earned about a third of all of the publishing earnings.

"It made sure I got a bit extra for that. We were socialists who shared everything. But I had fought for that song so I thought, ‘well I’m getting half of that then’. It stood me in good stead.”

The Beat play The Venue, Hanover St, Cork, on Wednesday, Sept 5; and the Button Factory in Dublin on Sept 6.

Twist and Crawl: Five of the best from The Beat

Tears of A Clown

The Beat were known for their enterprising cover versions and their tilt at the 1970 Hank Cosby, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder staple brought them their first hit in the UK.

Mirror In The Bathroom

This dark, brooding single from the band’s 1980 debut album, I Just Can’t Stop It, reached number number four in the UK charts.

Stand Down Margaret

Self-proclaimed socialists, The Beat were never afraid to get political – never more so than this 1982 anti-Thatcher track. “I see no joy, I see only sorrow, I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow… so stand down Margaret.”

Save It For Later

A song about growing up, it has appeared in movies such as Kingpin, Hot Tub Time Machine and, most recently, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Can’t Get Used To Losing You

The song was a first a hit for Andy Williams in 1963. The Beat recorded it for their debut album, but didn’t get around to putting it out as a single until they announced they were breaking up three years later.

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