Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dave Wakeling's Solo Album 'No Warning': A Cautionary Tale Of Record Company Greed

The kick-off of the London International Ska Festival in one month's time will give ska and reggae fans in the U.K. a chance to experience a resurgent Dave Wakeling, who will bring his version of The English Beat to the U.K. for a show at the Clapham Grand Theatre on Saturday April 23rd and then for a proverbial homecoming at 2-Tone Central in Coventry on Saturday April 30th.  U.K. ska fans are in for treat as Wakeling's band is road tested, tight and play with an energy and enthusiasm that should have fans remembering the good old days of 2-Tone.

Wakeling has been a busy man playing up to 140 shows a year for the last several years.  He has recently recorded and digitally released a single titled 'The Love You Give',  his first since the very last General Public album 'Rub It Better'.  The band has also been in the studio of late and is readying a new release sometime in 2011 or early 2012.  With all the touring and recording, its hard to believe that 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Wakeling's ill-fated solo album 'No Warning'.  What?  You weren't aware The Beat and General Public front man ever released a solo album?  The story behind the recording and release of 'No Warning' is a moral case study in how awful the music business can truly be.

I remember picking up the 7" single of 'She's Having A Baby' which was the title track from a John Hughes movie of the same name released in 1988.  While the single was a pleasant slice of late 80's literate pop with Wakeling's trademark witty lyrics (e.g., 'Mixed drinks and mixed emotions') the movie was a flop and the single never charted.  And then nothing.  Silence. Years passed. Then without warning 'No Warning' suddenly appeared on record store shelves in 1991 nearly three years after the release of the single.  As a long-time fan of The Beat and General Public, I eagerly bought the album and though it wasn't ska, there were a number of songs that I liked, particularly 'One + One + One' which could have been a General Public outtake.  Interestingly the album contained no liner notes and listed no musicians (we'll get back to that). As the AllMusic Guide review summed up:
"Wakeling's trademark, likable baritone is showcased here, as is his sweet lyrical ingenuity, but this album certainly doesn't hold up to the standard Wakeling set with either of his previous groups. Shortly after this ill-received effort, the British native would drop out of sight for a long period, living in California and pursuing his environmental interests."
And drop out he did, leaving the music behind for nearly five years to work for Greenpeace (read a recent interview Wakeling did where he credits Elvis Costello with admonishing him to get back to making music).  While all musicians and artists take time off (or should), its clear that something had happened and it turns out that the recording of 'No Warning' finally took its toll on Wakeling.

Wakeling shared all the dirty details of the skullduggery that doomed the recording of the album in a tell all interview with Popdose a few years ago.  Following the demise of General Public in the mid-80's, IRS Records and Miles Copeland offered Wakeling the chance to be 'Sting' by providing him with a bevy of studio musicians who would help him record a solo record. Wakeling met and rehearsed with musicians. A producer and studio was located and booked.  And then according to Wakeling:
"I went back to IRS, and we figured out our budget, and everything looked like it was all going to be happening, with Greg Ladanyi producing at George Massenburg’s studio, and everything was state of the art, with top-flight musicians. And I was really excited! And IRS, now with a few top-40 hits, had started to get involved in the movie business – which is often a mistake – and they’d sunk a load of money into some films, and the films weren’t doing anything, so they found themselves really short of cash. So they asked me to go back to Greg Ladanyi and these guys and see if they’d do the same record for less money. And I said, “Well, I don’t do this. You should talk them. I’m a singer.” And they said, “No, no, you go. You’ll get better out of them. You go ask them.” So I did. I was embarrassed, but I went and asked them, and they agreed. They said, yes, they’d do it on a lower budget. They’d have to cut some corners, we’d have to do some of the recording in the B-room rather than in the huge master suite, but it’d still be the same quality, so, yes, they’d do it."
Following several more instances where IRS and Copeland asked for additional budget cuts, Wakeling soon found himself writing and recording songs in a kitchen!
"So then I ended up with not enough budget to really make a record, and I’d wasted months languishing! And I’d written some songs with a guy named Mark Goldenberg, who had a great songwriting record, and I got on very well with him and written a couple of nice tunes. And with the money that was left, all that could be done was to program the songs up in his kitchen and try to overdub on top of it. But he wasn’t an accomplished programmer, and it didn’t quite work very well. And we struggled, and it was battling through a veil of tears. I was starting to feel as though IRS had promised me the earth and I’d come halfway ‘round the world and been given a bucket of dirt instead. Similar, but not quite the same thing! We got about halfway through it, and then I just gave up, frankly. 
And so understandably after unfulfilled promises and disappointment, Wakeling decided to quit the project only to find out several months later that the album was being released without his knowledge, input or permission!
"But about six, maybe nine months later, a friend of mine phoned me and said, “Oh, I hear you’ve got a new album coming out.” I said, “I certainly do not.” And he said, “Well, you certainly do, because I have a CEMA number for it right here!” The guy worked at CEMA, and he said, “I have a number for it. It’s in the pipeline. You have a record coming out called 'No Warning'. It comes out in a month!” And I went, “Oh, my God.” And it turned out that the half-finished tracks that IRS had got, they’d given them to another band, who owed them money, and said that if they finished this record off for them, they would forgive them their debt."
It turns out that Copeland hired a few songwriter producers to spice up the songs with a few guitar parts and solos, and then IRS released what was essentially unfinished demo tapes without ever notifying Wakeling.
"And they brought the record out, and I tried to stop it. I found a litigator in New York, because certainly what IRS were doing was a breach of every contract or clause ever, and it would’ve been preventable, but at some point, the litigator said, “Look, here’s your options. You can take on a megalomaniac millionaire in a New York court for the next two years, and you’ll win, but you’ll be broke for the rest of your life. Or you could just put your head under a rock and cry for three months, then it’ll all be over and we’ll get you off IRS Records, because what they’re doing is a total breach of contract as well as being totally disgraceful morally, and you’ll never have to deal with them again.” And, so, I thought about it for a minute, and I said, “Okay, pass the rock!” I had nothing to do with the record, I didn’t promote the record, I didn’t do any interviews about it. I just pretended it wasn’t happening. And at least I was off of IRS Records."
Wakeling has had the last laugh though he is still owed money by the label. IRS Records went belly up in 1996 long before the slow, sad decline of traditional record labels. Wakeling continues to tour and perform songs from The Beat and General Public's catalog (though don't expect to hear any songs from 'No Warning'!)


davidblunt said...

Very interesting story. Thank you.

eskanga said...

Great read. Thanks. I maybe in a minority here but I think "No Warning" is a very good album."I Want More","Remember In The Dark","One+One+One" and "Everytime You Look at Me That Way" are great songs. It makes you wonder what could have been had IRS delivered on their promises. Cheers.

Steve Bringe said...

Dave's had a rough go of it. And yet he's still the most sickeningly upbeat, optimistic musician I've ever known. :)

Good article, Marc.

peter said...

I just got a copy of No Warning. Amazing to put this together - I was wondering about the BIZARRE guitar solo on "Sensation" as well as the suitable but odd drum tracks through out - this explains a lot. Still, I love Sensation, I'm Not Ready & Look at me that way. A shame he's only had one solo album in all these years - and that one he didn't even complete.

Jack Marse said...

Given how the 'No Warning' album was put together it came out rather well. There are some great songs on there that with proper treatment probably would have been hits then (1991).

Jeff Katz Sez said...

Got it today at Goodwill for .99. Never knew of it.