Thursday, January 25
Two tones of 2-tone bands on the one bill and it seems The Beat and The Selecter take it in turns to headline; Pauline Black bounds onto the stage, her energy palpable instantly. It’s The Selecter’s turn to start the night, it’s hot and the band is going to create the soundtrack for a very good time. That’s instantly clear. Black is the real presence of the band, but co original lead singer, Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson, has his style. And as the MC he gets to toast and boast in and around the crisp horn-lines, the feel-good ska vibes, the range of hits from the band’s first album (Three Minute Hero, Danger) and cherry-picked gems from the band’s very decent new album (Remember Me, Daylight).
The audience is on its feet from the first song – and of course, as is often the way, this raises the question of why this gig was staged at this venue. But the often-officious ushers would have had no chance flashing their torches and shaking their heads in annoyance. Not tonight. Black and Hendrickson continued to hype the crowd, the band continued to tear through terrific music. Their take on the James Bond theme was a near set-closing highlight, and if a well-meaning cover of The Ethiopians’ Train to Skaville dragged a little with its insistence on audience participation then the epic Too Much Pressure/Pressure Drop was the perfect tonic.
They looked and sounded the part and despite the fact that this is billed as a co-headlining tour this evening’s context had The Selecter as the opening act. As such they were one of the very best opening acts I’ve ever seen.
The Beat – featuring Ranking Roger – took the top honours tonight. And any thoughts around The Selecter being a tough act to, er, beat were swiftly silenced as Ranking Roger, and his son (Ranking Jnr) brought their version of a feel-good vibe straight up to speed with anything offered by the previous group. And, yes, sure, you could nostalgically pine for the vocals of Dave Wakeling (who runs his own version of “The English Beat”; rivals) but this version of the band featured the killer rhythm section of Andy Pearson (bass) and Fuzz Townshend (drums). They kicked things off with good grunt that just did not let up. Guitarists Andy Perriss and Bobby Bird were great too and saxophonist Mark ‘Chiko’ Hamilton was dynamic, his horn blending through every tune and providing not only the dulcet sax tones but approximating melodica, harmonica, piano and guitar in various places.
The Ranking frontmen were a blast – Junior so clearly knows his place. Ranking Senior had huge energy and his between-song banter was part of the appeal, winning over the audience with every joke or note of praise (he wants to retire in New Zealand – well, that’s part of the show anyway…)
The hits arrived straight out of the gate – Too Nice To Talk To, Doors of Your Heart, Stand Down Margaret – those supple, intoxicating rhythms; Townshend was working hard, Pearson was masterful as the band switched-up several times to interpolate lines and licks from The Clash and The Police. There were a couple of new songs too, and as with The Selecter’s recent material it passed the test, went over fine.
But it was the big songs from the classic era that people wanted to hear. And Ranking Roger served them up.
Superb covers of The Tears of a Clown and Can’t Get Used To Losing You reminded of how great The Beat was at choosing – and interpreting – pop standards. And then when Mirror in the Bathroom hit it was just the best, the guitarists riding along on Andy Summers-styled licks as it morphed into The Bed’s Too Big Without You before Roger called for a return to The Beat’s own classic.
Shit this was a great gig. Just infectious energy, joyous, so fun to feel part of – both bands were brilliant. But The Beat’s rhythmic dexterity had them deserving of the top spot on the bill.
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