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The English Beat will signal you to dance

Published February 21, 2014 2:50 pm

Music • Ska-revival band leader Dave Wakeling reveals the keys to his show.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dave Wakeling, the leader of pioneering 2-Tone ska-revival band The English Beat and later General Public, has performed in Utah scores of times. He now can lay claim to being one of the Beehive State's biggest draws and beloved adopted sons.

Nearly every casual music fan in Utah has either seen Wakeling onstage or considered seeing the band in action, so we got to wondering.

What does it take to make Wakeling one of the most engaging frontmen around?

In a phone interview from Southern California — which he has called home for two decades — the 57-year-old Brit walked us through his show routine:

Before the show, take care of your voice • "I continue to smoke cigarettes and worry about it," Wakeling admitted. To alleviate the dryness that cigarettes bring, he tries to avoid "sticky" honey and prefers a brandy with a squeeze of lime. "It helps when the voice is shot." On occasion, Wakeling will alternate his drink order and quaff an Old Grand-Dad (bourbon distilled at the Jim Beam Plant in Kentucky).

Superstitions are important • Even weird ones. Wakeling always carries three guitar picks in his left pocket. "Not two, and not more," he said.

When the show begins, set your sights on six audience members randomly stationed around the room • His immediate goal is to get each of those six strangers to "dance" with him, making eye contact and willing them to shake their hips. It usually works, and the ultimate goal is to get everyone in the crowd dancing.

Don't rely on a setlist • Rather, Wakeling said, adjust the order of the songs by how the crowd is reacting. Sometimes, he will call out the next song so his band members know what to begin playing, but just as often, he and his band have developed a hand-signal system to communicate what song to perform. "It's my answer to baseball," he said. For example, to count off the song "Hands Off … She's Mine," Wakeling touches his chest with one hand and uses the other hand to push away the hand. (Which brings up the question I wish I had asked: What hand signal is used for the song "Hit It (Auto Erotic)"?)

Encores are dumb • "Encores are so 20th-century," Wakeling said. "Why pretend to say goodbye?" He likened it to the awkward fumblings of a teenager. The English Beat will play and have fun for two hours, he said, without the need for an encore.

After the show, shake hands, sign autographs, meet fans, then take a moment for yourself • Wakeling immediately showers and then takes a spot on his tour bus to watch the news on MSNBC (because he believes CNN is too liberal and Fox News is too conservative) or catch a soccer/football game on his satellite sports package. And, because he's an Englishman, he drinks tea, sometimes with a dash of caramel. What kind of tea does he drink? "Dark, strong and little bit bitter." The way he likes his women, he added with a laugh. —

Rock steady to The English Beat

When • Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 8 p.m.

Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $21 in advance, $26 day of show, at SmithsTix