The impending Leeds Ska and Mod Festival is set to be more than just a celebration of two movements that shook British music in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
It will also be a gathering of old friends, says Ranking Roger, leader of The Beat, whose band are one of four chart stars who’ll be appearing in Millennium Square in August.
Joining them will be From The Jam, The Selecter and Bad Manners. Between them this bill they racked up 20 top 10 hits between 1979 and 1983.
“Back in the day, I knew Pauline [Black, singer with The Selecter] really well, we’ve been best friends for years,” says 53-year-old Roger, remembering their two fledgling bands toured together in the late 70s.
“We were lucky to be around at that time doing similar types of music. They were more ska than us, but it seemed to meld in. Merging of music was what 2-Tone was all about.
“When Bad Manners were first big I’d see Buster [Bloodvessel] around but I didn’t know him until later years. The Jam were always big fans of The Beat and vice versa. We’d send messages to each other.”
Birmingham-born Roger was just 16 years old when he joined The Beat. “I was in a punk band called The Dum Dum Boys, I played drums for them,” he recalls. “We’d done about 10 gigs and were starting to get known in the area when The Beat asked us to open for them at their next gig. They blew us off stage and I became really good mates with them. I did some toasting for them.
“I’m an easy-going person, I’m easy to get on with. My relationship with the whole scene at the time was very nice. There was a love and unity vibe.”
Nine months after vacating The Dum Dum Boys’ drum stool to become co-vocalist with Dave Wakeling in The Beat, Roger found himself on Top of the Pops as the band scored a top 10 hit with a cover version of Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown.
“Basically that was pure luck,” Roger reflects today. “Playing at the right places at the right time, talking to the right people.
“Everybody was making ska and punk kind of things. We liked the dub side, we tried to bring that in. We were closer to UB40 than we were to The Specials. With The Beat, because we were so diverse and so energetic as well everywhere we went we had the crowd bouncing – and we still do – that seemed like what people wanted.
“We were singing about social issues at the time – that was a catapult to it all as well. Politics was not supposed to mix with pop, but somehow it did.”
In the late 1970s, 2-Tone was an important meeting point for various strands of British youth culture. It felt like something seismic was happening at the time, Roger acknowledges.
“Also it felt like a fashion – in a way that was good,” he reflects. “We’d go all around the country on tour in 1980, ’81 and everyone was dressed as 2-Tone.
“But that was what happened to punk – first it was underground and survived a few years then everybody wanted to be in the punk brand. That was the death of punk. Since then I don’t know if it ever did recover. So it did with 2-Tone.
“Even though punk and 2-Tone were very socially aware, anti-establishment if you like, if something is going to go big it’s always going to have a fashion element which is going to kill it. It went overboard. Everbody thought, ‘I’m a rude boy’; they didn’t understand what it stood for.”
Though The Beat’s first coming might have been short-lived, they were prolific, releasing three albums and a dozen singles in five years before Roger and Dave Wakeling went off to form the band General Public while bassist David Steele and guitarist Andy Cox enjoyed considerable success with Fine Young Cannibals.
Those first five years taught Roger an important lesson.
“One thing I picked up to go into business was to be totally honest about everything, to be upfront about what you want to say – I learned that from The Beat,” he says. “Thirty-five years later it’s paid back dividends. People work with me knowing I’m an honest soul.”
Since 2006 Roger has fronted his own version of The Beat, that includes his son Ranking Junior and drummer Everett Morton.
Interest in the band has been revived by deluxe reissues of the band’s 80s albums. Roger’s hoping to release a solo album this summer and “on the back of that maybe some new Beat stuff as well”.
The Beat play at Leeds Ska and Mod Festival on August 2 in Millennium Square, Leeds. Doors 4pm, tickets £35. http://www.leedstickets.com/eventinfo/4101/Leeds-Ska-and-Mod-Festival
The Beat facts
Formed in Birmingham in 1978, The Beat were originally a six-piece who fused ska, pop, soul and reggae with socially conscious lyrics.
Their hits included Mirror in the Bathroom, Hands Off She’s Mine, Stand Down Margaret and Can’t Get Used to Losing You.
The Beat were revived in 2006 by Ranking Roger and drummer Everett Morton.
Singer Dave Wakeling fronts his own US-based band, The English Beat.