Special Beat with the Toasters, 8 p.m. Saturday at Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show.You can't keep a good beat down. Just ask Ranking Roger. The former singer with the English Beat and General Public has enlisted fellow ska veterans John Bradbury, Horace Panter and Neville Staples, all formerly of the Specials, for a rhythm revival to beat the band.
Special Beat plays the music of the English Beat, known simply as The Beat in England, and the Specials, two British bands that spearheaded the ska revival in the late '70s. These bands injected punk and rock into already passionate reggae rhythm, creating music that is painfully easy to dance to.
"The original idea of Special Beat was just for fun," Ranking Roger said in a recent interview from his home in London. "But there seems to be a lot of interest. We've been offered three record deals in England already."
Ranking Roger said that he found the audience for ska as strong as ever in a recent show in San Francisco. "The turnout was great; just the amount of people still interested in it is amazing. That's what inspired me to come (to America) with Special Beat."
Ska has had a strong youth subculture following in England since the '60s. Still, Ranking Roger said that he thinks that ska has developed a wider range of appeal, "because it's based on rhythm and blues, like rock 'n' roll. I think if the Specials and the Beat had stuck together, they would have really made it in America because of that."
Ranking says that his audience now "is very mixed, including black, white, old and young."
As for the sound of Special Beat, Ranking Roger said: "The blend is good, the samples sound great, but we'd prefer a real brass section instead of recorded samples. If we do this again, we'll get one." He says that "basically we're a dance band; you can come to our show and bounce around, or if you don't like to dance, you can stand in the back and watch."
After the English Beat broke up, Ranking Roger formed General Public, which disbanded in 1987. Ranking Roger had embarked on a solo career and released an album called Departure. Before Special Beat, he worked with Staples, who had been with the band Fun Boy 3.
The two also performed English Beat and Specials songs at that time, and Ranking said that he feels that "we've tested the ground and we know it works."
The difference with his collaboration with Staples, and Special Beat, is that "last time we did it for fun, this time we're taking the whole thing on the road. It's more serious, more concentrated."
Although the band began with only old English Beat and Specials songs, Ranking Roger says: "We have other songs which we've been rehearsing." Inspired by the the three offers by English labels, Ranking Roger said: "The interest seems to be there; we might as well carry on. But we're holding out for an American label."