By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 1995
After spending nine years apart, General Public have finally re-united to release a new album, “Rub It Better.” Comprised of former English Beat members Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling, General Public are masters at creating catchy pop songs with a strong ska influence. The duo originally decided to start working together again about two and a half years ago, and while shopping for a new record deal landed a spot on the “Threesome” soundtrack with “I’ll Take You There.”
“It was a bit surprising to me when we finally got back together,” says Roger, whose full name is Roger Charlery. “It was a lot to do with the original drummer of General Public, because me and him had always been good mates. He said he didn’t want to play drums for the band anymore but he wanted to produce the band and he’d make sure that me and Dave didn’t fight if he was the producer, I thought ‘brilliant, it would work then.’ For me, I always wanted to make a third General Public LP. When we split up just before we started, I was very disappointed.”
While it is modern sounding, “Rub It Better” won’t disappoint fans of old General Public. The overall style remains intact, with Wakeling’s singing blending perfectly with Roger’s reggae style toasting. If anything, it’s a bit more varied than past albums, due in part to the fact that some songs written separately by Roger and Wakeling prior to the reforming became General Public songs.
During the years apart, both members released solo albums but experienced problems with their former label, IRS. Roger says that much of the IRS’s staff changed, and the artists already on the label suffered as a result.
Wakeling devoted most of his time to Greenpeace, while Roger also collaborated with other artists. This included a “Pato And Roger Come Again” with Pato Banton and “We Play Ska,” an unusual dance track with Child of the Night that fused ska with acid house. Roger is always looking for interesting collaborations, and says he would love to do some toasting with REM and U2.
In addition, Roger had been part of The Special Beat, which teamed him up with former members of The Specials and other ska groups. Fronted by Roger and Neville Staples (of The Specials and Fun Boy Three), The Special Beat was conceived as a live band and never recorded any studio albums.
Though he isn’t sure why General Public originally broke up, he can look back and explain why the duo split from the English Beat. Wakeling intended to leave and asked Roger to come along, and while he could have continued on a singer for the English Beat, there were also financial considerations.
“For me, it was through fear, but at the same time we also realized that things wouldn’t get split up seven ways but would get split up two ways and there would be like 3 times as much,” he says. “When in reality, there wasn’t because the Fine Young Cannibals proved us wrong a couple of years later by selling 20 million copies of their album. If that was the English Beat, then we would have sold 20 million albums, and General Public only sold like 1 1/2 million or something like that. There you have it – because we did it through greed, that was like our punishment.”
Roger says that one of the English Beat’s strong points was the strong sense of democracy within the band. They had their own label, and each member had equal say in business decisions. As a result, none of their albums have been released on CD in England yet.
“The record company couldn’t turn anything from one format to another without our approval,” he says “And to get our approval, they had to get like 6 votes and because we’d split up, obviously we weren’t really on talking terms.”
But the hard feelings are gone, and Roger is regularly in touch with Andy Cox, now of the Fine Young Cannibals. The two are working on some remixes together, and Roger hopes to eventually do a short English Beat reunion tour.
“This time around, we stand a good chance at doing it properly,” he says. But for now, General Public remains the top priority. The group recently completed a short promotional tour, which took them to various radio station festivals around the country. Now they are embarking on their own headlining club tour. Not a band to ignore their past, the General Public live set features a good number of old English Beat songs.See all interviews →