Back to my own personal ‘tracks of my years’ and a tie in with one of the musicians we lost last year.
The Beat were the perfect pop group for a couple of years. Luckily for them the Two Tone movement exploded just when they were hitting their stride catapulting them to a kind of fame just at they hit their creative peak.
Birmingham has never been a fashionable city, but it’s spawned some great bands which considering its population is only right and proper. My old schoolfriend Duncan was at university there but a visit to the city never really got my pulse racing, it seemed huge and grey. The city centre dominated by the concrete monstrosity of the Bullring and most of the pubs just seemed miserable . Given the environment you see how it spawned Black Sabbath but the Beat coming through the ranks a decade later were a far sunnier prospect.
Left to their own devices the skinny white boy element of the band may well have ended up as an early indie band but never underestimate the importance of the right drummer. Everett Morton was originally from St Kitts and despite being employed in a sheet metal factory in Birmingham had brought some of the Caribbean rhythms with him. Added to the mix was a teenage ranking roger on vocals and good vibes and the geriatric Saxa on, well, sax. Saxa provided a bit or gravitas to the band having played with genuine ska artists back in the day. He was always portrayed as the wise old man of the band older and wiser than methuselah, in fact he was turning 50 when the band started to appear on Top of the Pops- times change!
Their first album ‘I just can Stop it’ is virtually a greatest hits album but also one of those rare records which I can listen to all the way through without wanting to skip a track or two. Despite the ska influence its not hugely apparent, there’s even a couple of tracks of high energy jangle pop which hint at where the band couple originally have been heading without their key members .
My own person track, partly because it fits into my 70’s agenda is the first single ‘Tears of a Clown’. Recorded not long after Saxa joined it is, of course, a cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles peerless hit. Covering something as wonderful as that is a high risk strategy but somehow they created a track just as great in it’s own way. Perhaps I was just in the right place at the right time but I went out and bought the single right away. As a bonus it was paired with ‘Ranking Full Stop’ , 2:47 of pure fun. Despite it getting to no 6 in the UK singles chart it wasn’t even on the first album.
That’s how good the Beat were in 1980.
I don’t know why but they never really recaptured the heady rush of their early days. For a while they were pop enough to be in Smash Hits but still credible enough to play Rock against Racism benefits They had a good looking front man, great songs, great musicians, hi energy performances and a 50 year old guy on Saxophone. It wasn’t all the bands fault, they still had some good singles in store but the general public, which included me, just didn’t want that much more of them. Such was the nature of music in the early 80’s, they’d done enough, time to split up.
They never managed a full scale reunion -which was fine. Now Roger,Saxa and Morton are all gone so has the magic, for some reason the hired hands in later amalgamations just couldn’t recreate the feel but we’ve still got the legacy of one great single and one great album.
Which should be enough for anyone.