The English Beat
Who: The English Beat and Bigger Thomas
Where: The Sellersville Theatre
When: Thursday January 6th, 2010
Let me start by saying I am an unashamed fan of ska and reggae music. Growing up in Long Beach California, I was very fortunate to be witness to a huge ska resurgence known as the 3rd wave. From 1989-1995, Long Beach and Orange County were producing awesome high energy acts such as Suburban Rhythm (watch this whole clip…Suburban Rhythm Live, “Lust”), Skankin’ Pickle, Hepcat, and a whole slew of others that coupled dizzying stage antics with awesome musicianship. This era of music in the 1990′s eventually produced mega groups such as No Doubt, Sublime, and Reel Big Fish, while essentially bringing ska back into mainstream pop music. These bands drew their influences from Jamaican rock-steady, reggae, and the 2-tone groups of the 70′s and 80′s via likes of The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, Bad Manners, and The (English) Beat.
The Beat, known in North America as The “English” Beat, released three albums: I Just Can’t Stop It (1980), Wha’ppen? (1981) and Special Beat Service (1982), along with a string of singles, including “Mirror in the Bathroom“, “To”Too Nice To Talk, “Can’t Get Used To Losing You”, “Hands off She’s Mine” and “All Out To Get You”. The group broke up in the mid-eighties, and were reunited in 2006. The English Beat are now back and touring, fronted by founding-member and singer Dave Wakeling. When I got word that The English Beat were going to perform in the Philly area, I jumped all over the opportunity to shoot and write-up one of my favorite early influences.
Opening for The English Beat was New York based ska band Bigger Thomas. Fronted by acrobatic lead vocalist Roger Apollon and toaster Roy Radics, Bigger Thomas did a proper job of setting the tone for The English Beat. Having been together over 22 years (!), they got a surprisingly diverse and crowded audience off their feet, and to the front of the stage. If you are a fan of reggae and ska music like I am, Bigger Thomas is a must see. On a side note, they are all incredibly cool guys, and were generous enough to do an impromptu photo-shoot outside in the freezing cold north east winter air immediately after their set. I will be making a point to cover more of their shows in the upcoming year. This first shot was from the impromptu outdoor portrait. See the rest of their photos here.
The English Beat followed Bigger Thomas opening with their hit “Too Nice To Talk To“ and a number of songs from their later EP’s, including a few tunes that I didn’t recognize (new material?). Dave Wakeling was backed by a solid rhythm section led by drummer Rhythmm Etkins (his legal name), bassist Wayne Lothian, Toaster Antonee First Class, keyboardist Raynier Jacildo and saxophonist Matt Morrish. Although the band stuck relatively close to their 2-tone roots, they often veered into alternative genres spanning from contemporary pop to traditional rock and roll. Although not quite as high energy as their opening act, The English Beat had a very strong stage presence, and seemed eager to engage the crowd between songs.
I was hoping to see more original members including Ranking Roger and/or Everett Morton, but Antonee First Class did an admiral job of keeping the crowd hyped while showcasing his authentic Jamaican vocal styles and pocket harmonies. Saxophonist Matt Morrish was intense to watch and photograph, and pulled off some very tasty solos while adding percussion and backing vocals. The English Beat closed their set with “Hands Off She’s Mine“, and their staple “Mirror in the Bathroom“, which of course blew the roof off the building.
Overall, this show was a blast to be a part of. I was pleasantly surprised by the diverse number of people in attendance varying from baby-boomers to young teenagers. I would have loved to see The English Beat stick a little more to their traditional 2-tone roots, but their overall performance had a lot to offer in terms of eclectic mix and variety.
Big thanks to photographer and future TSI contributor Mark Register for his lighting expertise and professionalism.
- Photos and write-up from TSI Contributor David Turcotte