Although it produced some of the most enduring British music of the ’80s, the 2 Tone movement was clearly not one that was built to last. It’s key bands all fell apart at various points, usually acrimoniously, but the likes of The Specials and Madness have managed to put their differences behind them to great acclaim. Despite previous efforts, The Beat‘s original line up (including Andy Cox and David Steele of Fine Young Cannibals) have never reformed and there are two versions of the band, one in the US and one in the UK fronted by Ranking Roger and featuring original drummer Everett Morton and Roger’s son, Ranking Jr. State spoke to the singer in the studio, where the band are finally recording new material…
“It’s not that we’ve shied away from it, it’s more that we’ve had so many changes in the band over the years that it’s only now that we can go and promote the stuff. We tried to record an album three years ago but half the band either got fired or left for one reason or another, so we’ve had to build it up again.”
Are you very aware of the need to do the band’s name justice?
Totally, as an original member I have to be.
Ska never really goes in or out of fashion, but the audience seems to remain?
There will always be a hardcore, those who were there from the start, but I think because what bands like us and The Specials did by merging ska with other forms of music, it’s been given an even wider variety of people who appreciate it.
Do you see many new bands coming through?
Not really, it’s always gone through phases in Europe. It gets big and then it goes quiet, then it goes big and on and on. Last time it went big was due to bands like No Doubt and The Ordinary Boys. It’s not the same but you can hear the influence.
Are the new wave of black British artists doing their own version of 2 Tone?
It’s not only that but they’re doing it themselves. They don’t care about getting signed, they’ve gone out and proved their point. Now people want to buy them up. Nowadays as an artist you have to prove that you can do it yourself first. If you can show that, then they’ll come and help you. I think they’re even braver now than we were then, but artists now have no other choice. You’re lucky to get a record deal. Somewhere along the line it’s come back to the musician, they can earn 80% of the money as opposed to 10%. I think it’s quite radical really.
One thing that is different is the split between white and black music again…is multi-cultural music dead?
It is at the moment but you do get moments when the two combine and that needs to happen again in the UK. I’ve seen a lot of great white guys rapping, ten years ago they couldn’t do it. I expect to see something happen so. That was the message of The Beat but at the same time we were having the party. It eliminates the fear.
Did the commercial success of 2 Tone surprise you all?
It certainly did us, the first thing we put out went to number 6 in the charts. I’ve still got the silver disc at home. After that we carried on having hits on our own label, I think we were doing really well until we released ‘Stand Down Margaret’. They thought we were a bit too political then, which we always were – we just used to put all the catchy pop ones out as singles. I wouldn’t say that killed The Beat but it definitely stopped us getting played on Radio 1, we were banned. Thirty years later people think we’re heroes for it but I actually think it damaged us, even though it was what people wanted to hear. Looking back I’m glad we did it. We gave CND 40 grand to open an office from the proceeds. It gave us a lot of credibility, more than The Specials or The Selector and the rest. None of them did anything like that.
How do you think The Beat are viewed now, looking back?
We’re still seen as the most diverse. It wasn’t one style of music, it was many styles merged together. Even we didn’t know what we were doing, it just felt right. It felt positive, people loved it and they still do. All I see every night are the crowd smiling and I know what I’m doing is right. It’s been a rough ride but people do remember. They talk highly of The Beat and that’s something to be proud of…
The Beat play Roisin Dubh, Galway (tonight), The Forum, Waterford (Friday), Twisted Pepper, Dublin (Saturday) and Spring & Airbrake, Belfast (Sunday).