Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Exclusive: Interview with Tony Beet of The International Beat

The break-up of the original version of The Beat in 1983 seemed like a great loss at the time. The band was close to breaking big in the U.S. and had they stayed together probably could have approached The Police in terms of popularity, Instead various members went their separate ways and the musical world ended up with General Public and the Fine Young Cannibals. Often overlooked in the divorce of The Beat were saxophone player Saxa and drummer Everett Morton, who in my humble opinion were just as responsible for the unique sound of the band as any of the other members.

Enter Tony Beet who through a happen chance meeting with Saxa in a pub in Birmingham one night helped to launch the International Beat. The band was formed in 1990 by Tony along with ex-Beat members Everett Morton and Saxa and featured Ranking Roger as a special guest at select shows. Tony, who was the the guitarist/vocalist and songwriter for the band was also able to recruit ex-Dexy's Midnight Runners/General Public piano player Mickey Billingham as well. They toured in the early 90's and also released a studio album called "The Hitting Line" in 1991.

I always had a soft spot in my heart for The International Beat. The sound of the band was very reminiscent of The Beat and seemed to fill the hole for those of us in the U.S. who missed their unique sound. Tony's songs and the overall sound of the band helped to carry on the great legacy of The Beat while adding their own spin. In my mind, they were responsible for keeping the flame of ska and the spirit of The Beat alive as both Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger often joined the band for live shows before reforming General Public a second time in the mid-90's. Ranking Roger has said that a sold-out show he played with The International Beat at the Greek Theatre in LA in 1990 prompted him to start Special Beat.

Tony was very happy to answer my questions about his days in the band. Enjoy the interview below.

Can you tell me about your introduction to music and ska music in particular?

Yes the first record I managed to get my hands on was "War In A Babylon" by Max Romeo and the Upsetters, I thought wow! What a tune, I love this rhythm and this was where it seems to start for me, I was about 13/14 years of age at the time, from then on I was listening to more reggae through the 70's Dennis Brown/Bob Marley/Delroy Wilson/Big Youth/Lovers Rock etc!

How did The International Beat form? Did you know Everett Morton and Saxa from before you started the band?
I met Saxa first at a pub in Birmingham one night, I happen to walk in, I could hear some cool music coming from the pub, and when I went in to check things out, there was this old guy blowing some old style blue beat on his horn! Along with another old guy on guitar just the two of them, it sounded really authentic and magical some how! When they had a break I introduced myself and asked if I could play a song on the guitar and sing, I had written a couple of songs in a ska style, I remember the tune it was called "Revolution Boys" and Saxa backed me on his horn, it was magic, a treasured memory! We became very good friends from that day and have worked together and stayed friends ever since, but he is now retired. I linked up with some friends of mine: a poet called Louie Campbell and my brother Alan Beet who also played keys in The International Beat and Neil Deathridge who played guitar in The International Beat. We needed a drummer and Saxa Introduced Everett Morton to me. We met and he was in, it was great, we recruited a bass player and then we started rehearsing some of the songs that I had written "Rocksteady" "Making Plans" "Stand and Be Counted" etc. The band was called The Elevators at that time. We started giging for about 12 months and we were going down really well! Ranking Roger started to join us onstage and also Micky Billingham. We eventually signed a deal with Blue Beat Records. Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners owned the record label at the time in the late 80's. The name was changed at this point to The International Beat. We recorded our debut album for Blue Beat called “The Hitting Line” and toured the UK and USA and faired quite well!

Here is a rare video clip of The Elevators which includes a short interview with Tony

Here is a video clip of The International Beat performing "Rock Steady" from their first album "The Hitting Line" which also features an interview clip with Tony:

Micky Billingham from Dexy's Midnight Runners and General Public played keyboards for the band. How did you meet him? I first met Micky Billingham through Saxa and Dave Wakeling back in the General Public days. We became good friends and he started coming to the rehearsal sessions with The International Beat. We wrote several songs together and he just became a part of the band and toured everywhere with us! Great times.

As the main songwriter for the band tell us how you approached the song writing process. Was it easy or hard given the history of The Beat? Did you feel like you had to walk a fine line between embracing the legacy of sound created by The Beat vs. injecting your own sound into the mix? First I would pick up the guitar and mess around with a few idea’s chords/ rhythms and search for a real cool melody, then when I felt that this was right I would start writing lyrics and generally the song, if it was good, could almost write itself! I would arrange the tune then bring it to the rehearsal and play it to the band and everyone would then put their feel to the song, and if it sounded great it worked! The next stage was to play it live and then record it, that’s how I seem to remember most of it! The International Beat did have leanings towards The Beat as Everett and Saxa were so unique sounding. There was always a flavor all of our own in there -- new wave ska pop! And a touch of rock steady. I did not worry too much about the comparison; I probably took it as a compliment.

Here is a video of the song "Magical Feeling" that Tony wrote:

What were your first live shows in the UK like and what was the UK ska scene of the late 80's and early 90's like? Amazing! I just remember so much energy, maybe enough to light up a whole city. Ska the 3rd wave was happening, some great bands popping up all over, I was really having a great time playing loads of gigs, ska festivals in Europe/UK touring with Bad Manners and The Selecter etc! Enthusiastic dancing audiences everywhere.

Can you share any unusual stories about touring with the band? What was it like to play and tour with Saxa and Everett? Too many to mention really, but me and Saxa always shared the same hotel rooms. He would always invite people back to the hotel after the gig to our room to party! Sometimes I was so tired, I was not always amused, but Saxa the original party people loving man would insist! I would crash out on the bed, while Saxa would feed me Kentucky fried chicken at 4 am in the morning!

Tell me about recording "The Hitting Line" album. How did you get Ranking Roger to produce it? Ranking Roger liked what we was doing and got to know most of the songs as he was regularly appearing with us, so when we signed to Blue Beat Records, we felt Roger was the obvious choice to produce and also appear on the album, along with Micky Billingham. We kept it all in the family! All this played a part in The International Beat sound. The album took 6 weeks to record, in-between we played the earth day festival in San Francisco with Dave and Roger on the bill with us, and Bad Manners. I also remember The Grateful Dead being on the bill. It was magic!

The International Beat played a number of amazingly high profile sold out shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the early 1990's. What were those shows like and what was it like to have both Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling join you on stage. The Greek Theatre show looked like an absolute madhouse with the audience going insane. I remember this well. It was crazy. I was nervous. Bad Manners was also on the bill along with many other ska bands from the states, but we was top of the bill. The energy was wild really, and the all night party after in some warehouse, wow!! It was great that Roger & Dave were on this show with us all together.

Here is video of The International Beat performing "Ranking Full Stop" and "Mirror In The Bathroom" at the Greek Theatre in LA in 1990:

Here is video of The International Beat performing "Best Friend" with Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling from November 1991:

How and why did the band come to an end?
I think we had run our course as The International Beat. We was together for about 4-5 years. I was writing more and more songs with Micky, and was looking for a different sound, and the magic was slowly going in some other direction. As Saxa would say “all good things must come to an end”

Are you still in touch with any of your old band mates? Yes I see them form time to time. Alan my brother still plays keys with me. Neil Deatridge plays with Ranking Roger in The Beat and I catch up with him now and again. He played with me earlier on in the year with The Acoustic Theatre. Him and Dave Wakeling joined me onstage for several songs. It was great!.

Tell me about your current band The Acoustic Theatre? I wanted to get another group together but with a different sound and approach. I have always written my songs on an acoustic guitar and wanted to play some sort of unplugged set, but with a big sound still happening. I wrote some new songs like “Rudie Fall Down” and “Ska Injection” and then rehearsed them with some fellow musicians, with acoustics/melodica/organ/percussion.double bass etc! And started to play ska and rock steady in this format, it sounded so fresh to approach ska in this way. We have now really developed our Acoustic Theatre sound, and audiences have been dancing as well as feeling that something special is going on here, all because of the intimacy of it all! It’s great. We have been busy recording and have just finished the album “acoustic calling” must send you a copy! We have also done some TV over here, so all is looking cool for The Acoustic Theatre. www.myspace.com/acoustictheatre

Here is a video of Tony's new project The Acoustic Theatre performing "Rudie Fall Down:

Finally, what is your take on the current state of ska in the UK/US? Some really good vibes are going on, and ska seems to be capturing different audiences. Even the younger generation are loving it. Bands like The Specials and The Beat play a big part in influencing some of the up and coming bands, I think, well I know, ska will never really die, because people love to dance and smile!


Anonymous said...

Well done, Marco, really like the interview

Anonymous said...

great stuff

cj hards said...

Definitely a true Legend of Ska. Up there with the very best. Rude Bwoys live forever!!