If you had told me ten years ago that I’d see these two-tone ska legends live, I’d have laughed in your face. Partly because I was really heavily into pop punk at the time, and also because my parents had a CD with both of these bands on when they were younger. They couldn’t possibly be any good 40 or so years on, could they?
Well, it turns out that I was completely wrong. Both bands had plenty of energy on-stage to spare, and the Selecter were in full suits as well (except for lead singer Pauline Black who was in a shirt and leather jacket – she must have been sweltering)!
Both bands had plenty of on-stage energy to spare
If some of you are wary of how The Beat are now called “The Beat ft. Ranking Roger”, don’t be. It’s not a Sublime-With-Rome situation where the sound has changed completely from the original band – The Beat’s sound is very faithful to the 1980s original line-up, despite Ranking Roger being the only original member in this incarnation of the band. (To further confuse matters, there’s another band called The English Beat that contains the other lead singer from the 1980s, but they weren’t here so never mind).
The Beat kicked off the night with some fan favourites like ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’ and ‘Tears of a Clown’, new songs like ‘Firebomb’, and a cover of the Clash’s song ‘Rock the Casbah’. While the guitarists seemed less upbeat than what is requisite for a major two-tone ska band, both Ranking Roger and Ranking Junior (I assume that’s his son) ran around on-stage with tambourines, bringing the insane energy that ska lives on.
As for The Selecter, well, they’ve always had enough energy to power Milton Keynes. Like The Beat, this band has two versions; Pauline Black’s and Neol Davies’, and the one I saw had Pauline Black. This was the “real” Selecter, as her vocals were the unique selling point of the band way back in the 80s (not to diminish Arthur Hendrickson’s contribution to the group).
Again, there was a mix of fan favourites, new songs, and covers – most perplexing of which was ‘Too Much Pressure’ (one of the Selecter’s songs) morphing into ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ by The Proclaimers and then ‘Pressure Drop’ by Toots and the Maytals. The final song was a cover of Madness / Enjoy Yourself by Prince Buster, when they brought on the two singers from The Beat to join them. Pretty cool, but I wish they had all the members of both bands playing. Five guitarists. Two drummers. Three saxophonists! It could have been a ska version of McBusted crossed with Adam and the Ants.
Try a live show- everything is more souped-up, frantic and generally joyful
If you’ve listened to either of these bands on CD (or one of those Internet apps that the kids are into these days) but thought that their studio recordings were a little too slow-paced for your taste, try a live show. Everything is much more souped-up, frantic, and generally joyful. I listen almost exclusively to ska-punk these days but live two-tone seems to fulfil the same niche. The Beat and The Selecter are two of the biggest British ska bands ever and seeing them both live in the same package is a real treat.
Anything else I should mention… oh, the crowd was unlike one from any gig I’ve went to. The median age was probably about 43, and I’ve never seen so many men in hats and suits in one place before. There were no mosh pits or anything, although one guy did do the “Newport helicopter” and let go of his shirt by accident, sending it flying across the room like a sweaty missile. And let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a 30-year-old woman grinding in front of you and a 40-year-old bloke dancing just behind, sidling along mid-dance and simply forgot about your existence.