One of the highlights of Badfest 2005 was The Beat's performance on Friday night.
This year they're back and will be performing on Ska Saturday with Bad Manners, The Selecter and Neville Staple of The Specials, the fist time ever that these four bands have appeared on the same bill!
The Beat were at the forefront of the 2-Tone ska movement in the late-70s/early-80s. They hit the big time with their first single, Tears of a Clown/Ranking Full Stop and quickly followed this with a record deal, a debut album "I Just Can't Stop It" and several hit singles including "Mirror in the Bathroom", "Can't Get Used to Losing You" and "Hands Off She's Mine".
The six-piece comprised of Ranking Roger with Dave Wakeling, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Moreton and the 60-year-young Saxa. They released three albums,
and called time in 1983.
After that, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger formed General Public, Andy Cox and Dave Steele formed Fine Young Cannibals with Roland Gift, while Everett and Saxa formed International Beat.
After these many incarnations, in 2001 Ranking Roger, Everett, Saxa and Neil got together again along with Tony O'Donnell and Andy Pearson who had previously worked with Roger.
At the beginning of 2003, the band were joined by Dave "Blockhead" Wright on keyboards and in May 2003, after the departure of Tony O'Donnell, they were joined by Roger's son "Ranking Junior" on vocals and Mark Hamilton aka "Chiko" on sax to ensure that The Beat goes on!
Ranking Roger told us all about how The Beat have got to where they are now, what you can expect from their Badfest performance and what it was like being one of the only black punks in Birmingham!
How did The Beat first come about?
Ranking Roger: Dave Wakeling and Andy Cox were the original members who went to school together in Birmingham. They then went to the Isle of Wight where they wrote "Best Friend" and "Save It For Later" I think.
They then came back to Birmingham and met the drummer and then me so it was by around March 1979 that The Beat found their voice.
The Beat has seen many incarnations over the years, who will we see at Badfest 2006?
Ranking Roger: From the original line-up there's me, Everett Morton (drums) and Blockhead (keyboards). The guitarist Neil Deathridge is from International Beat which was another incarnation.
Saxa (saxophone) is retired now, mainly because he is older and the touring gets tiring but when we're in Birmingham he still gets up with us!
And your son does vocals with you as well doesn't he?
Ranking Roger: Yes - Ranking Junior, aka Mini Murphy - he's really going to have to get his nickname sorted out or people will get confused! He's a talent in himself but I let him do whatever he's doing and he always comes up with the goods!
Is it something that he always wanted to do?
|Ranking Roger with Ranking Junior at Badfest 2005|
Ranking Roger: I knew he wanted to be in music but I just didn't think it would be with me! I thought it would be with drum and bass people - he appreciates a different style of music in his life to me but we appreciate each other's. But he's been listening to Beat music since he was a baby [he's now 23] so I guess it's natural.
But he's also featured with the Ordinary Boys, he was on "Boys Will Be Boys", and Preston is talking about doing another track with him so we're trying to get that sorted out so hopefully in the future he will also be standing out with other people as well.
What can people expect from your set at Badfest?
Ranking Roger: It will be a mixture of classic stuff and some new ones. We've just been in the studio recording and we've laid down the tracks but we need to mix it now. So we will play some of the new stuff but you have to play the hits because that's what people will want to hear. When the album's out they'll want the new hits though!
But the atmosphere will be electric. On the Saturday night there'll be us and The Selecter, Neville Staple from the Specials and Bad Manners so it will be a pukka ska fiesta.
Then on Friday it's punk night and Sunday it will be mod so it should be a good affair with a good choice. Some festivals that you go to are a bit samey but this will be a bit different. All the music - punk, ska and mod - are all connected in some way. In the early 80s they were seen as separate but now you can see that the roots of one come into another.
On the Saturday night the ska line-up is one which has never been done before, even when the 2-Tone tours were on. This is the first time ever that these four bands [Bad Manners, The Beat, The Selecter and Neville Staple - The Specials] will be seen together isn't it?
Ranking Roger: Yes - it will be the biggest ska bill I've been on in 26 years - I hadn't thought about it like that!
I get on really well with Pauline [Black of The Selecter]. I did the 2-Tone revival show "Stars of Ska" with her and Roddy Radiation so I've had a great relationship with her and I 've also worked with Neville Staple of The Specials - he's a really hard worker. So we've all worked together before along the line so we'll all feel responsible for each other.
But we will all be trying to be the best. The Beat know that we have to be the best that we can be every time we play and everyone will be doing that, so everyone will be really good. We all know that we have to be good so it will all be amazing.
Why do you think that ska is still so popular?
Ranking Roger: I think it's because its roots are in the most popular music - rhythm and blues, just like reggae and punk are, so that's why it really catches people.
But bands like The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter and Madness are new wave ska and this is what has kept it going with the younger kids because it's so mixed. It's not one style, just different interpretations and it's dance music.
It will be a great weekend of punk, mod and ska merged together and people will be able to see a connection between the three.
I was going to ask you about that because you started out as a punk didn't you?
Ranking Roger: Yes I was one of the only black punks in Birmingham, there were three of us I think! I knew another one called Paul and I think he got as much grief as I did but we didn't care because we understood what the music was about, it was about freedom of expression and we loved that. But it got me where I am now because I took that risk to be different, I had a go and I earned respect.
I used to jump up on the stage at punk and reggae gigs and grab the mike and toast that everybody should get on, and that it was all about love and unity. At 13 or 14 I was rapping this in clubs but people thought I was mad. But now people began to see the link.
What is the connection between punk and reggae then?
Ranking Roger: It's about freedom of expression. I didn't completely see the link until I heard John Lydon on Radio 4 saying that all punks should listen to reggae because it was giving out the same message, we were basically saying the same thing.
As a black punk I thought "Wow, that's profound". Reggae was about struggle in everyday life and you can hear the same in punk but I didn't make this connection until I heard Jonny Rotten say it. There is this unity in the music, the two styles merged and it worked and it still works today - that's what keeps it timeless.
What do you consider to be your big break?
Ranking Roger: It depends when because I've had two or three big breaks!
But I think the first time was when I jumped on stage with The Beat and brought a crowd along with me.
They had just got this residency at a pub in Birmingham and I went along and there were about three people there so I went to get some more. I went to my local pub, The Crown, which was packed with punks so I brought 50 or 60 back with me for the free gig! We had a police escort and everything, they [the police] were a bit worried but we were simply bored in one pub and going to another.
Then I went on stage and the crowd went mad so I went on again. They made me a member of The Beat eventually. I'd been hanging around with them and going on stage, then at a band meeting they asked if I had anything to add and I said "I just want to know if I'm in or not". They said of course I was - they had just assumed that I was already!
Within three months we were touring with The Selecter and then we were signed to 2-Tone and by Christmas we had a single out which went to number 6 and we got a silver disc.
From the first time I jumped up with the band to the tour to the record deal and being at number 6 was about nine months.
It almost sounds like it was all down to you?!
Ranking Roger: No - it definitely wasn't all down to me because everyone had their own magic and talent in the band. And everyone came from different backgrounds but everyone in The Beat got the same money - the democracy in the band, well nothing I've done since has ever surpassed it.
But I think we did it the right way and I think that we eventually split because of greed and because we were touring too much in the US and were getting too big.
We were massive but had no hits, which was the record company's fault, but we did a sell out tour of 20-30,000 seater stadiums and me and Dave [Wakeling] thought it would be better if we formed General Public because we would only have to split the money two ways and not seven.
Everyone in The Beat was well looked after but it's my honest opinion that it was a bit of greed from me and Dave that split us up. I've said that before and I maintain it.
I regret doing it, but now we're back and I can sort of put it right. And now it's very similar to how it was then but if anything we have more freedom of expression. But everyone knows their role and what's expected of them.
Do you think it's a case of being older and wiser?
Ranking Roger: Definitely older and wiser yes! And over 20 years in the business you get to know who is dodgy and who is serious - you can tell that within ten minutes of talking to them. As a musician I prefer to deal with other musicians rather than business men because we all know what it's like to be ripped off.
Is it good that Badfest is basically organised by musicians then?
Ranking Roger: Yes - it is organised by musicians which gives it a certain credibility but also there's an element of un-organisation in that things will go wrong but we won't worry about it, we'll fix it and the show must go on. It won't be 100 per cent perfect but everybody will be thinking the same way - the show must go on and as long as the audience and the bands are happy then that's OK.
Have you still got an ambition?
Ranking Roger: Yes, my true ambition is to be a top ten producer and that will come. I know about harmonies and atmosphere's in a track and I'm doing more and more of it. So it's sounding like I'll be more in the background now and let my sons do the hard work.
What's the best advice you've ever been given as a musician?
Ranking Roger: I was told never to sign anything without a lawyer or someone else professional going through it first, because you are bound by a contract and you may not notice small print such as how long the contract will last.
You may sign your first deal because you are desperate for a contract but then you may be successful and realise you're not getting any money but that your record company is getting 95 per cent to your 5 per cent!
So that's the best advice I've been given as a musician and the best advice I could give to anyone.
If you're producing, won't you miss performing?
Ranking Roger: I think I'll always be a performer but I just may not jump up and down as much, but I will still do as much as I can.
I see it as exercise. I just try and get the crowd going and egg them on. There's no point just standing there, people have to be involved. It's very special the vibe that The Beat put across but we have no control over it really!
Half way through the set come to the front of the stage and look backwards and look at people's faces. They will all be smiling and dancing. The songs are about the world ending if we don't look after it but people are still happy because of the music. And that's why I'm still doing it - because of the smiles and the looks on people's faces. That's what's special - and I love it.