Meet: Ranking Roger interview and The Beat’s ‘Wha’ppen reissue’

Following on from the critically acclaimed ‘I Just Can’t Stop It’ released via Demon Records in April earlier this year, Demon Records have released The Beat’s ‘Wha’ppen?’. Recorded from the original cassette tapes, it will be strictly limited to 500 copies and comes with the download card that includes bonus tracks.

The Beat’s second album ‘Wha’ppen?’ was originally released in 1980 and reached No. 3 on the UK charts. It features the hits ‘Doors Of Your Heart’, ‘All Out To Get You’ and ‘Drowning’. The 2013 audiophile reissue is pressed on 180 gram heavyweight vinyl remastered from original tapes and includes free download card with exclusive bonus material limited to 500 copies worldwide.

The Beat formed in the late seventies in the poverty ravaged landscapes of a bleak Birmingham. They were part of a ska revival scene that included The Special, Madness and Selector, all signing initially with the Special’s Jerry Dammers’s label 2 Tone before The Beat released their debut album, ‘I Just Can’t Stop It’ on their own Go-Feet label. The Beat sat somewhere between the early, slightly comedic , carnival sounds of North London’s Madness and the more serious Specials – mixing a very danceable ska rhythm with a Jamaican toaster/vocalist (the very dapper be-hatted Ranking Roger), a saxophonist that had played with ska icons from the sixties, a second vocalist (Dave Wakeling) and an unique African-influenced guitar sound. The end result was a set of extremely catchy danceable songs underpinning lyrics that expressed visions of racial harmony and love, politicised but never strident. The Beat achieved a degree of commercial success with their three albums before the two vocalists left to form General Public and the two guitarists formed the Fine Young Cannibals (carrying over their distinctive guitar style). The Beat were a band lauded by their peers, famously receiving a high degree of exposure when Sting prominently wore The Beat’s iconic Go-Feet t-shirt on the Police’s video clip for ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’.

The Beat recently began playing and touring again in the UK with Ranking Roger at the helm. Dave Wakeling moved to the US and formed the English Beat.

I recently asked Ranking Roger a few questions about The Beat and the release of this special edition.

In the late seventies, you were responsible for one of the most iconic anti-Thatcher songs of the time (Stand Down Margaret). How did you feel when she died?

To tell the truth I had no emotion whatsoever but I do know that it was the end of an era.

The two distinctive things about The Beat for me were Andy Cox’s guitar style that brought to mind Johnny Clegg and the South African music scene in the late seventies, and your toasting. Did you ever think these innovations (for the British music scene at the time) would be well received commercially at the time?

No, because the Beat was so experimental with all kinds of different sounds – we had no idea what was going to be successful. I would say that there was probably more of a West African influence on our music than South African, particularly in the guitar style.

Do you recall any pressure in following up “I Just Can’t Stop It”?

Yes – lots of pressure! We had recorded the first album, which we knew really well, and were very comfortable touring for a year and were quite surprised when the record company asked us for new material as we didn’t expect there to be so much demand for new material so quickly. It was a quick learning process that we needed to keep churning out new stuff!

I remember when “Wha’ppen” was first released and being particularly amazed at the sound quality – very crisp and detailed (a sound that had its origins with I Just Can’t Stop It). Was this a deliberate process or a happy accident? Or was everything else I was listening to at the time just badly recorded?

It was definitely a deliberate decision to make the sound quality very polished. We wanted the second album to sound different but didn’t know what direction we were heading in… The album was born out of jamming sessions and came together in a lot less time than the first one so it was important that the sound was very sharp. It was really down to the brilliant producer Bob Sargeant who brought it all together.

The songs themselves on “Wha’ppen” seemed to me to be a lot more polished and commercial. Was this a natural transition or the result of changing writing influences within the band?

I think it was a natural transition. We had a lot more money to spend on the second album so it was inevitable more polished. We also started drawing on personal politics born out of our experiences with love and personal relationships rather than focusing on worldwide politics.

When your fellow bands at the time were singing of their Baggy Trousers, “Wha’ppen” maintained the political anger in its lyrics that were present in your debut album. Is freedom still the new deodorant?

Yes! It is a political thing. The first album lyrics were very blatant but we were more cautious on the second album as we were in the spotlight and didn’t want to be seen to be ramming our politics down people’s throats; just trying to voice our thoughts but at the same time let people make up their own minds. I would describe our second album as “mystical” as opposed to the first one as a “classic”.

Is there any tension between The Beat as it is now in the UK and the English Beat lead by David Wakeling in the US?

Dave lives and works in the States and I live and work over here. We send the odd email to one another and have a much better relationship these days.

Any chance of a reunion with the original line up? Do you know what Andy Cox and David Steele are up to?

I’m not really sure what Andy and Dave are up to; I think they are both still involved in producing albums! I can’t see a reunion happening in the immediate future but never say never! Who knows what will happen in the future…

The release of these iconic albums in record form: why now?

It’s always good to give people more choice and there was a huge demand for vinyl versions from DJs. It was really good of Demon to listen to that demand.

Who has been involved in the remixing process?

There were no remixes, only remastering; all done by Bob Sergeant the original producer.

Is the recently released remastered digital version of “Wha’ppen” cut from the same tapes or, if not, will there be a future release of digital material using the same tapes?

Yes – these were cut from the same tapes and digitally remastered.


If the remastering of this classic album on vinyl is anything like the recently released CDs, listeners are in for a delight. The songs sound as fresh and vital as they did thirty years ago.

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