The English Beat
Orlando, Fl • Sept. 28, 2006
Ska was pronounced dead over a decade ago, yet the tours go on and the crowds keep coming. For The English Beat’s current refusal to fade, Dave Wakeling and crew have brought along a couple of surprise UK ska legends to help fill the set with some of the best ska tunes ever penned. Whom should you expect to see on the stage? Lynval Golding, guitarist/vocalist for The Specials, and the frontwoman of 2-tone, The Selecter’s Pauline Black. Add to the bill a current Hellcat Records band who sound, thankfully, behind the times- Westbound Train – and you’ve got a night that’s slow and groovy.
Boston’s Westboud Train are seven guys who borrow the 60’s Jamaican ska sounds andd color it with America soul, funk and R&B. Vocalist/Trombone man Obi Fernandez has a voice as smooth as an old Stax record, and the positive vibes evoked from he and his bandmates sets the whole room in irie-mode. The boys are joined onstage by Lynval Golding, who proclaimed them “the best ska band around today.”
After a crowd-pleasing set that included the brand new sing-alongs “I’m No Different” and “The Runaround,” Feranadez confesses to me his only complaint of the tour. “We’re used to having the kids right up in our faces… and we also hear a lot of kids saying, ‘Man! The ticket prices are so much!’” But it’s a small price to pay to be the special guests of some of the originators of the scene the band is carrying the torch for.
The English Beat began in 1978 as The Beat (the name change was to avoid issues with another band of the same name) in Birmingham, England, right in the middle of the 2-Tone blowup. Led by Wakeling, the band’s members have been in constant flux over the years but the saturation of reggae, soul and ska sounds has never faltered. The current tour packs a respectable- if not terribly packed- crowd into Orlando’s House of Blues, and offers a best-of set with songs like “Tears of a Clown,” “Best Friend,” and “Monkey Man.”
The stage is dominated by Golding, for whom age has not caught up. He runs from end to end, duck-walking the lip of the stage, and generally looking like he’s having the time of his life. The show’s opening song had Golding on lead vocals for The Specials classic “Message to Rudy.” From that moment on it was clear that this was not just about The English Beat, but about UK ska as a whole.
Towards the end of the night, The Selecter’s Pauline Black strutted onto the stage and thanked Wakeling for “letting me borrow his band every night.” A three song Selecter set was served up included “Three Minute Hero.”
The teens were skanking, the older folks dancing and swaying, and there wasn’t a frown in the place- especially not on my face.