One of Birmingham's best bands are coming home on Friday. Andrew Cowen meets the Beat's Ranking Roger.
It's now close to 30 years since the nation put on two-tone tonic suits, Fred Perry shirts and pork pie hats and did the moonstomp to the heavy, heavy monster sound that crossed ska with punk. But there's life in the old dog yet.
We were blessed, us Midlanders, with being at the epicentre of the Two Tone label detonation that made stars of The Specials, The Beat and Madness.
The Specials were the soul and conscience of the movement, uncompromising, outspoken and experimental.
Madness were the Beatles, scoring a peerless run of superb hit singles.
And The Beat . . . Well, they straddled both camps, firing broadsides at Thatcher and writing some beautiful love songs as a by-product.
The pairing of Dave Wakelin's increasingly sophisticated song-writing with Ranking Roger's hi-energy toasting made for a formidable front line.
The instantly recognisable sax from Saxa and the band's accomplished grasp of reggae dynamics gave The Beat a unique identity before the band shattered under the weight of expectations.
Wakeling and Roger formed General Public, a less retro-sounding band than The Beat but still a political hothouse for lefty soulboys.
Then relationships soured between the two. Wakeling wanted to pursue a more adult direction while Roger was keen to get back to the jump-up energy of the skanking Beat.
Wakeling now captains the American Beat from his home in California while Roger has remained with original member Everett to tour under the old Beat name.
It's a family affair with Roger's son, Ranking Junior, lining up next to his old man and seasoned players filling up the ranks.
To all intents and purposes, it's business as usual. And business is booming. There's also a thaw in the frostiness between Wakeling and Roger.
"At the end of last year, Dave sent me a lovely email saying: 'Let's get on, we are mates.'
"Besides, we wrote songs together so we'll always have business in common. He's happy doing his thing and I'm happy doing mine."
The Beat are playing at Birmingham Academy on Friday with support from Roger's old oppo in the Specials, Neville Staples.
The band are two weeks into the tour and are thrilled at the reception they've been getting.
Said Roger "We've just played Brighton which was great. The shows have all been packed and there's a really good atmosphere. It's warm and friendly and the age range is phenomenal. Everyone from 16 to 60, all having a good time."
Although there are a handful of new songs in the set, Roger acknowledges that it's the old stuff that people have come to see.
"I love those old songs so it's easy to perform them," he tells me. "It's also encouraging that the new material goes down just as well. The one question that everyone asks is: 'When's the new album coming out?'
That may happen later in the year after touring commitments have been fulfilled, but with Britain's current thirst for live music and bands that put on a good show, don't hold your breath.
Four years ago, the whole band got back together again to play a one-off show at the Market Tavern in Digbeth. It was fantastic to see Roger and Wakeling sharing the stage again.
Although the night was just a momentary reunion, Roger has fond memories of it.
"Wow, you were there?" he asks. "It was mad wasn't it?. Our mistake was to advertise it. So many people came down and it's such a small room.
"In the end we had to turn 300 away. We thought the ceiling was going to come down, with all the bouncing around.
"Later we discovered they had a spring floor, but I don't think the landlord was best pleased with us," he jokes.
Hardcore Beat fans will cite the barnstorming Jackpot or Mirror In The Bathroom as their favourites, but it's the unlikely single Stand Down Margaret that was their signature tune.
At the Market Tavern, Roger was singing: "Stand down Tony", now it's "Stand down Gordon."
The Beat are still very much the street agitators.
"Everyone thinks he's rubbish, don't they?" asks Roger, of Gordon Brown. "He's the guy who was turning the screws behind Tony but there's no-one behind him turning the screws.
"Cameron has said some interesting things but he's not strong enough to lead the country. There's a real void at the heart of politics and I really think the way's open for a complete outsider with good ideas to come in and sweep up.
"Labour are just taking more and more of our money and when we see how many people have lost their homes as a result of the rise in interest rates, they'll be well and truly sunk."
Roger agrees that the current political and musical climate is vastly different to the time that fostered the Two Tone movement.
"Where are the political bands?" he asks, wearily. "There's still every chance that we'll keep our nuclear missiles and nobody's really challenging any of these radical policies.
"Nobody's writing rebel songs any more. I grew up listening to Bob Marley and all this revolutionary music and then suddenly, when I was 22, it all went wishy washy.
"I really thought that after the Berlin Wall came down and Nelson Mandela was released that the world was going to change for the better.
"It's actually a more dangerous world we live in today. I blame computers. Technology has made us selfish. Instead of going out and learning, the youth are staying in and talking to each other online.
"They don't know what's going on on their own doorstep. You just wouldn't get away with the sort of stuff we used to say today. If you say anything about the system now, you're labelled a terrorist."
* The Beat and Neville Staples play Birmingham's Carling Academy on Friday from 6pm.