It was standing in the middle of Handsworth thrusting a stick through a letterbox when Dave Wakeling reflected on his future.
Hours before he had been on stage for the final time with his band The Beat supporting David Bowie at Milton Keynes Bowl in 1983.
But a dream opportunity which could have seen the Birmingham band tour America with the rock legend led to Dave’s desperate attempts.
“I knew I was leaving but I hadn’t really told everybody,” the singer explains.
“We did two shows with David Bowie and the very last one he ran up to me and said we were the best band ever and could we tour the US with him for three months.
“I had already put my notice of resignation through the office door because it wasn’t working, we weren’t really up for doing it anymore.
“I went back to the Birmingham office in Handsworth and I got a stick of willow from a tree and I stuck it into the letter box to try and get the letter back because David Bowie had just given me this wonderful offer.
“ But every time I put the stick in, the letter went further away.
“There I was in Handsworth at 3am in the morning with a stick through a letter box and I just thought, this isn’t working and perhaps it is time to go home. It was the right thing to do but I regretted it enormously.”
For the previous five years The Beat had been pumping out their working class anthems to ska beats and reggae rhythm.
As a multi-racial band much of their repertoire reflected the tension of the times, singing about unity, unemployment and politics.
One track in particular, Stand Down Margaret, became a focus for dissent against the Thatcher government. There have even been recent attempts to revive it through a campaign on Facebook but replacing the name Margaret with David.
Although the six-piece joined the likes of The Specials and Madness in the early 80s Two Tone movement, differing decisions on how to move forward saw them eventually split.
Dave’s thirst to tour the US led him to establish a new band with fellow singer Ranking Roger while guitarist Andy Cox and bass player David Steele remained in the UK, forming Fine Young Cannibals.
“If I had retrieved that letter there would have been no Fine Young Cannibals,” says Dave. “Greater forces were at play that night and some good and some bad came out of it.”
Dave eventually went on to form The English Beat in the US while Ranking Roger continues with his version of The Beat in the UK.
But Dave is making a rare trip home with a series of UK tour dates, including Birmingham’s O2 Academy on March 9. Although he describes himself as a “yank”, having spent 28 years in the US living with his wife and two children in Orange County, California, he has not lost his Brummie outlook or accent.
“I just like to walk around the city when I come home,” he says.
“I remember growing up in Harbury Road in Balsall Heath and we were right at the back of the cricket ground. We used to sneak into games and managed to see three international games for free.
“I dream of that street a lot. It is now a really happy place for me.
“I was never very keen on the weather in Birmingham, I do like the sunshine and beaches of California.
“But there is something about Birmingham. I like that gallows sense of humour, and a lot of my song-writing came out of that lovely raised eyebrow of Birmingham irony.”
Dave hasn’t lost any of his political will either, and has been active in Obama’s election campaigns.
“I followed Obama and was very active in his first two campaigns. I married a black American woman and our son is in his 20s now and the same height and look of Obama.
“I was fascinated by Obama long before he ran for President. I listened to an early speech he made and it made me cry. I am not often duped by that kind of thing but he took my heart,” he says.
“I visited Obama HQ in Chicago a couple of times before the first election and met staff to talk about the youth vote and music.
“I was not keen on the election theme of hope as hope is just the other side of the penny from fear and both keep you out of the moment - the only place real change ever happens. My daughter Ingrid, another Dudley Road hospital alumni, had made this point to me.
“Two weeks later, the campaign changed its theme from hope to change, and I think our Ingrid might have saved the world,” he adds.
But despite his rallying against Thatcher in the 80s, Dave expresses disappointment at a lack of activism in the UK.
“I think it has been bled out of people since Margaret Thatcher,” he says. “The Government just says, ‘let’s leave it to rich people to sort out – they know how to look after themselves’. Unless you work as a team you get the Government you deserve.
“Every time one of those bright new ideas comes along it is about rich people getting richer and working class people suffering. There is nothing anyone can do about it. There is no mass movement. I just see people getting ready for hard times.”
And will Dave be seeing Ranking Roger during his trip home?
“I would love to meet up and have a cup of tea with him but I think he is in Holland when we are over in the UK,” he says.
“When we went our separate ways we decided to share the name so I could tour the US and he could do the UK and we would work together if we came to England. I suppose we never really thought it through. Both of us have bands so if we worked together half of our bands would be sat on the side of the stage having nothing to do.
“As for us, as far as I understand there is no animosity. I sent him a nice email a few weeks ago, although I haven’t heard anything bad but then I haven’t had anything back either.”
He admits that fans would want to see him and Roger perform again together.
“It is what everyone wants to see,” he says.
“We get to sing about unity and tolerance so it is important that we act in the same way as we were advocates of that 35 years ago. We are obliged to do the same.”
* The English Beat perform at Birmingham’s O2 Academy 2 on March 9. For more details visit www.02academybirmingham.co.uk