It is always a total joy to see The Beat and this gig was hugely exciting as it was a chance to hear material from their excellent new album ‘Bounce’ performed live. Before the gig I spent time with Ranking Roger talking about the album and how the material came about, read on to see how we got on....
Your new studio album Bounce is out now, how did that come about and the collaboration with Mick Lister?
Mick Lister was a big Beat fan and we were on the same record label at the same kind of time, but we never actually met, we were like ships in the night. Finally met him and realised we had a lot in common and he knew so much about my music, my history – the guy had done his research. I thought I really want to work with this guy, I felt like I could trust him.
So we got together and tried to write four tunes and obviously they came out. Within two days we had acoustic guitar and vocals that we could play to management – they were already going, ‘This sounds great as a song, imagine when the band gets round it.’ So that is how the album first started.
I wanted to take it from a different angle; I had tried to bring a Beat album out a couple of times. I had various different recordings of it but I felt I needed to start from scratch with the focus on The Beat and the sound of The Beat. It worked! Really hard work but it worked.
Bounce has many different genres of music like Ska, 2-Tone, reggae, even a bit of pop, was that intentionally or did it happen organically?
Everything I do is intentional and mixed from Beat day one. The first Beat album you’ve got reggae, you’ve got punk, you’ve got a bit of Ska – the second album you’ve got a bit of calypsos, African mixed with a bit of disco. Every album there is some kind of difference in the music, but it is all based on dance and that’s what I like about Beat music most. It gives me a lot of different styles to play with.
It is great that people don’t just go, ‘You’re a punk band and that’s it.’ But we do incorporate punk into it. We are not just a reggae band because I’ve got dreadlocks, we are far from it, but we do have a reggae flavour.
How is the new material going down live with the fans?
Brilliant, they love it. Last week we played London in place called Under The Bridge, it was sold out and the crowd absolutely went mad for the new ones. I was so surprised because they say London is one of the hardest crowds, takes a lot to please them, but they were very raucous.
People were singing along with the words, which is great because it means they have bought the album or seen it on YouTube, because it is everywhere and you can’t stop that.
For me the main thing is that the message gets out, The Beat message of;
‘Love and Unity, Anti War, not judging a man by the way he looks or by his colour but by what is inside and what he brings to the community. And being yourself.’
Was there a main inspiration behind ‘Walking On The Wrong Side’?
Definitely, everywhere you go now there are cameras watching you and this whole surveillance society that we live in, and mixed in with that the fact that our freedom of speech – if you really want to say something you have to be very careful how you say it. You can get in trouble, you can end up in prison just for saying something – so that is not freedom of speech. All that is gone now.
You can still say stuff but you have to watch how you say it. ‘Walking On The Wrong Side’ is really clever because it is saying a lot and you have to hear it and listen to the lyrics four or five times before you start getting it. Then you are like, oh that is actually quite deep. And I feel sorry I can’t say what I really want to say – or I can say what I really want to say but I have to find the right way of saying it. But I can’t come straight out with it, with emotions like it should be said, I have to beat around the bush and come around again.
I think as a lyricist you do have to sensor yourself a bit, and the one thing I have never wanted to do is shove it down people’s throats. I’ve always said, this is what I think, now what do you think? You make your own decisions. I think that is the right way.
‘Walking On The Wrong Side’ kind of leans to that, but it is kind of about me, if you like, being paranoid about the technology and the surveillance that goes on – even though I’ve done nothing wrong. So there is no reason for me to feel paranoid about it, but I do, even though I have done nothing wrong.
When writing years ago you could say what you wanted, there was a sense you could say what you really felt and write it as it actually came. Now you write it as it comes but then you have to go over it, re-arrange it a bit and think ‘you can’t say that now’. As a lyricist I feel in a way I can’t say things I really want to. But at the same time I have taken a risk and I have said things I want to and got it across, like ‘Close The Door’, ‘Walk Away’ are both anti-war and ‘Fire Burn’ is the whole Middle East situation and what’s happened there. And Guantanomo Bay and at the end of wars we were meant to release the prisoners but we are still holding them – we are breaking the laws.
It’s profound that when we made the video for ‘Walking On The Wrong Side’ there is a mural of Trump and Boris Johnson kissing and it is like we almost pre-saw what would happen or that we are in with the times. So the lyrics are in with the times even though they were written ten years ago. Especially ‘Fire Burn’ which as far as I am concerned was written a long time ago – you can write something and if it comes out at the wrong time, it’s not going to go anywhere, this is the right time for it, but I didn’t know. It was just another album track, but it has been receiving great response and people are going ‘it’s right on with now, how did you know?’ – but it has actually been going on for a long time now.
You mentioned your video and in the upbeat video for ‘Heaven Hiding’ you are roller-skating, is this something you still do a lot of?
Not enough actually. Obviously it was the love of my life because I am environmentally conscious – I had two cars at one time and I was like, no that’s it and I gave up the cars and skated everywhere for four years. As long as it was around Birmingham, you would see me on my skates going to town and back, sometimes twice a day. And I got really fit because of it.
I ended up becoming an instructor and teaching loads of people. It was like a love and a way life and I met a different community, which was a skating community. None of them knew me from Adam, they didn’t know I was Ranking Roger from The Beat and it meant I could have some real friends. By the time they realised or found out who I was, it was too late, you can’t change that friendship, you know what I am like and I know what you are like so we are going to stick with it – and I think those are the best friends.
It was great, I found a new lifestyle that kept me feeling young still, if you like, whilst all my mates were getting old!
At this point in the interview we ended up going off subject and a long talk about US politics and the current situation, Ranking Roger did go on to say…
Music can be more powerful than Politian’s, and people ask, ‘What do you mean?’ – look at Nelson Mandela, no one could free him – but once Jerry Dammers wrote that tune ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and it came out and it went viral as it were, it was the tilting position, and after that everything went up for Nelson Mandela. He came out of prison and became the president. And what a good man he was, after all that hardship and being treated like dirt, he still had the humility within him. That is honourable.
This is the first album you’ve recorded with your son Ranking Jr (aka Murphy) how was that experience?
It was good, he has got three tunes on the album and obviously on the next album there will be more. But the thing I am a bit disappointed with is that there wasn’t more father and son interaction. There are Ranking Roger tunes and there are Ranking Jr tunes, and I think the next album we have to get more together – because we are good like that. There are times we have stopped out show before and just gone right lets freestyle freestlye, and just gone into it and there is this little competition and the crowd really go for it. It only lasts 40 seconds but it is a part of the entertainment and part of the show.
At home I’ve got my studio in the garden and his studio is in his bedroom, where he has got it all set up. So we go write separately but then a tune like ‘How do You Do’, he bought it to me originally and it sounded like grime music and I was like, ‘I really love it Murphy, I really love it, but in order to play this it needs to sound like The Beat, so we had to ska it up. Luckily it worked and he didn’t think it could ever work like this and we have captured that sense.
Even when I write I have to take it out of Ranking Roger mode and bring it in to Beat mode. Beat-a-fie it, otherwise it can’t work. So in the future that is what has to happen. There is a certain style and a certain sound for The Beat, we know we can maintain that.
We waited over 30 years for this album, what is the time scale for the next one?
I’ve already got four tracks in my head and writing bits. There are some great ideas, unique. Writing this album gave me even more inspiration. The record company reckon this album will last a year, and that’s good as far as I am concerned. So maybe this time next year we might be in the studio recording the next album!
Interview by Molly-Mole
Pics by Mimosa Photography