Dave Wakeling of The English Beat on having a social conscience and Elvis Costello
So tell me about this encounter you had with Elvis Costello and his -- dare I say -- admonishing you for abandoning your "post as a crooner."
[laughs] Well, you know, I'd always been such a big fan. Right before I started in the Beat, I was working on a construction site. I had a ritual every day: Before I got on my motorbike to go to the site, I'd play "Welcome to the Working Week" as loud as my record player would do it. Hopefully, next door would bang against the wall, and that would make it sound even better to me. So he was a hero.
I'd met him a couple of times. I'd been on a TV show, and he said that a line in one of my songs was the lyric of the year in '82 or '83 in a magazine. We'd become pretty...not close, but good, casual buddies. Then I started working at Greenpeace in the early '90s. They had a concert project, and I got involved in that. Elvis Costello was kind enough to have some Greenpeace characters on the tour with a table. And I mentioned in the office that I knew him, and some people asked if I could introduce them. So I said, "Yes," and straight after the show, me and about eighteen other Greenpeacers, half of them playing hacky-sack, went back stage to meet Mr. McManus.
So I said, "Here's my friends at Greenpeace who really want to meet you." And he said, "I could bang yours and Jerry Dammers' heads together." Everybody stopped breathing and said, "What?!" He said, "All this Greenpeace stuff, and this anti-Apartheid stuff, that's all well and good, but you know your place is on the stage, and you know that." All the people were laughing at me because "Elvis Costello told Dave, ha ha."
Two weeks later, a phone call came into the Greenpeace office from a guy I had not met yet, called Ralph Small, who does music for films, and he asked if I wanted to get together with Ranking Roger for a film called Threesome that's coming out. We got a list of songs, including "I'll Take You There," and it went to number one in the dance charts.
Me and Roger got a deal with Sony -- or Epic or whatever they called themselves that week -- and I was back on the stage just as Mr. Costello had told me to. It was odd. It all happened in a two-week period. I suppose he was right, and thank him for it. And how odd that it came to fruition as quickly as that. And I didn't actually have to do anything; it happened for me.
Elvis had a word, I presume. "I've just spoken to that Wakeling character and it seems like he should get back on the stage. Hook him up with something for film or something like that. Nothing too challenging, and I'd like it to go number one in the dance charts." And "Right on, Mr. McManus, we'll get straight on it." It's fantastic when you know people.