Dave Wakeling thinks the unique sound of The English Beat — the highly influential pop/rock/ska band he helped form in the late 1970s — had a lot to do with where the members grew up.

They all hailed from the British industrial city of Birmingham, which Wakeling compares to Detroit, at a time when industries there were dying, poverty was crushing and young people were trying to find their voice.

“In that area, the industrial highlands, questions of ethnicity and race had been worked out a bit more on the floor, so to cross those imaginary lines and have both blacks and whites in the same band was maybe easier for us,” said Wakeling, 54, from his home in Los Angeles.

“We had grown up with ska and reggae (some band members were Jamaican), and the area had a rich rock reputation with bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Plus, punk had just blazed through and destroyed all in its path, leaving the rest of us in the dust.”

Wakeling and his bandmates, including Jamaican native Ranking Roger, came out of that dust with a sound that melded the beat and horns of ska, the aggressiveness of punk and the smooth vocals of ’60s British pop. Starting in 1980, the band had a three-year run that produced a dozen or more hits in England, including “Tears of a Clown,” “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Twist & Crawl,” “I Confess” and “Save It For Later.”

Although The English Beat had a loyal following in the U.S., it never hit the pop charts here. They did make the U.S. dance charts, however, and were staples on college radio.

When the band broke up, it spawned two groups — General Public and Fine Young Cannibals — which both had Top 40 U.S. hits in the ’80s. General Public, lead by Wakeling, hit the charts in 1984 with “Tenderness,” while Fine Young Cannibals had two big hits in 1989 with “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing.”

“I never thought I’d be in one band that people liked, never mind two,” said Wakeling, who’ll be performing under The English Beat name Friday at Port City Music Hall.

None of the other original members are with Wakeling, but he plays both English Beat and General Public tunes at his shows, as well as new music.

Besides the bands it spawned, The English Beat also helped set the stage for a wave of bands that fused ska and rock or ska and punk, such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris.

Wakeling thinks The English Beat’s success had something to do with a backlash to punk by record companies, who wanted music teens could dance to. Plus, even though many of The English Beat’s songs were about social unrest, the tunes were upbeat and happy. Its song “Stand Down Margaret” was a berating of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but kids could dance to it.

“I guess we were lucky that are music was always happy, cheer-you-up tunes, even if we were protesting,” said Wakeling.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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