The English Beat brings its two-toned sound to South Florida

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, few bands were as cool as the U.K. ska-revival band The English Beat, led by singer-toaster Ranking Roger and guitarist Dave Wakeling. The group found success with dance-friendly tracks including “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Best Friend,” “Tears of a Clown,” “Too Nice to Talk To,” “I Confess” and “Save It For Later,” before Roger and Dave left and formed General Public, which produced the hit “Tenderness.”

Roger and Dave have since gone their separate ways, with each currently heading Beat revival bands. Wakeling’s version returns to the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday night; he talked to about the show, having to replace Ranking Roger, and meeting Dennis Rodman, of all people, at the venue a few years back.

What can diehard fans of the English Beat expect from this show?
Well, it’s gonna be a lethal mix of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Smiths and all your ‘80s favorites. No, that’s the other band [laughs]. It’s basically the greatest hits of The Beat and General Public, with a few deeper cuts and fan favorites, you know, the songs that weren’t singles but became popular as time passed for whatever reason. And we’ve started rehearsing some of the new songs that I’ve been working on and recording. Whether they’ll be ready for public enjoyment remains to be seen – we may still be looking at each other sideways during rehearsals – but one of them is almost ripe and ready to go.

Was it difficult to replace Ranking Roger?
It was initially, but I fell very lucky. Antonee First Class – that’s his handle – his dad was a toaster for a band in London, so he’s got the reggae side. And he moved to the Americas in his late teens or early 20s. Because of that, he’s got this uncanny knack for reading audiences in an English way or an American way, or somewhere there in the middle, which seems to work best for us. So he can toast in an English way, of course, but he can also toast and make reference to the things that happen in American culture over the last 20 or 30 years.

He’s got the almost immediate ability to be able to switch between English, American and Jamaican. And very rare for a toaster, he’s also got a really nice singing voice. You tend to be one or the other, and if you’d ever heard me toast, you’d know what I mean.

What’s his stage presence like?
He doesn’t overdo the crowd – he doesn’t try and pump them up like he’s Richard Simmons. He starts off a bit low-key, like Jimmy Cliff, but as the enthusiasm starts to grow in the dancehall, he works it more. And the audience seems to like that – they understand that they’re not being played.

The English Beat found great success covering two Motown tunes – “Tears of a Clown” and “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” What drew you to those songs?
The songwriting, where you’ve got something that’s actually quite complicated coming across as something effortlessly simple. I adore songwriting like that.

What song are you most proud of writing?
I think “Save It For Later,” because it was a teenage cry for help, really, when I was 18. It’s an extremely simple song, just three chords, but I made up my own tune, which makes it sounds much more complex than it actually is. It’s also the song that gets the best reaction from the crowd – it just lifts the floor, and everybody’s moving.

You’ve performed at the Culture Room before, right?
Yes, and it’s a very interesting spot. I like that club very much. Plus, I got to meet the basketball player who played on the Bulls that just went to North Korea and became friends with the head of North Korea – Dennis Rodman. Yes, he’s come to a couple of the shows at the Culture Room, and I sat and talked with him on the bus. And I think it was probably the strongest hug I’ve ever received from a man, when I told him that it was because of him that Michael Jordan had the space to become Michael Jordan. When I was watching the games, it was always like there were two defenders wondering what the hell Dennis Rodman was going to do next. And that gave Michael Jordan the space to become that legend. And he hugged me so hard and it went on a bit long, but he was a lovely chap. I can see how he would get on with the leader of North Korea. So I have fond memories of this club, and I always look forward to playing there.