“One shot, this is it, Did you delay?” Click Click. The Beat.
1980 saw the Iranian Embassy siege in London. My best friend at the time, let´s call her JM, and I, followed it for the five days, smoking weed and listening to music. This included the Special Air Service of the British Army abseiling off of the roof of the embassy and going in through the windows. This was broadcast live, at peak time on a bank holiday Monday, watched by millions of people. We turned the music down and the sound up and watched what would become a defining moment in UK history, and the end of the siege. Journalists from all over the world were gathered outside the building. Exciting stuff back then. The Thatcher years.
1980 also saw The Beat explode onto the music scene, with the album I Just Can’t Stop It, to become one of the most influential bands of the British Two Tone Ska Movement. It was a time of social and political upheaval. Love and Unity was their message, set to a combination of soul and reggae, pop and punk. The Beat came from the industrial, working-class areas of Birmingham, as did JM. She had moved to Bristol early 1979, the year that The Beat’s first single, a remake of Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown entered the charts. JM had been and still was a friend of Roger Charlery, better known as Ranking Roger, toaster and vocalist with The Beat.
When their tour dates were announced JM called Roger and we were on the guest list. The show, first of at least twelve that we attended, was superb.
“Say too much war in the city, yeah, Say too much war in the city, whoa I sing I said a love and unity, the only way, And unity, the only way …. ” Whine and Grine/Stand Down Margaret. The Beat.
Roger and a couple of the other members of the band, plus a few road crew, came back to JM’s place after the gig, where we smoked and listened to reggae they had brought with them, until the small hours of the morning.
We joined them for a fair number of dates on that tour. Sometimes helping on merchandise, sometimes with the catering crew, more often than not rolling spliffs, and always at the side of the stage during the gig. We travelled with them to Belgium and Holland for a few shows too. One of the happiest and most memorable years of my life.
As was the way back in the heady days of the punk scene, reggae music was played before the gigs would start, so heavy on the bass your inner organs would vibrate. That was where I got my early reggae education.
The Beat played the album Heart of the Congos by the Congos before each show. It was produced by the mad genius Lee “Scratch” Perry in his Black Ark recording studios. An absolute masterpiece. It was at the time only possible to get a hold of it on import, if you could get it at all. Many of the Jamaican pressings came with a number of small potholes on the vinyl which although very authentic was quite annoying. My memory is vague as to how The Beat hooked up with the Congos, perhaps I never knew, but they did. And they then released the Congo`s album onto Go-Feet, their own label. so that everyone could have access to it. JM and I were invited up into the studios in London for the laying down of, and mixing of the tracks.
We spent twelve hours in a dark studio, so much smoke you could hardly see through it, listening to the production of the album. The Congoman, the mighty Cedric Myton, was in the studio with us, overseeing the production. This was a pivotal moment in my life, something so amazing and such a privilege that I cannot believe it happened. Each track was shortened for the album, fading out the dub that each track would go into. I was given a cassette of the original tracks including the dubs, but sadly over the years I have lost it. The album is an exquisitely spiritual and beautiful piece of work; Roydel Johnson’s tenor, Watty Burnett’s deep baritone, and Cedric Myton’s luxurious falsetto. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have kept the album with me for the last nearly forty years.
I continue to play The Beat, their music as fresh and bright and politically on-point now, as it was then. I closed my recent radio show with them, saving the best for last.
“Say goodbye everybody, Goodbye everybody, Goodbye everybody, yeah, I say I’m sorry to say but I’m on my way, I won’t be back for many a day.” Jackpot. The Beat.
Ranking Roger. 1963 – 2019. RIP Rude Boy.
CQ of APJ