Ranking Roger & The Beat
6th May 2022
Title: I Just Can’t Stop It: My Life In The Beat
Author: Ranking Roger with Daniel Rachel
I don’t know of too many people who were named after actor, Roger Moore from his stint on the TV show, The Saint. Yet that’s happened to Ranking Roger, a gifted ‘toaster’ (i.e. lyrical chanter, a variant of rapping) as part of the UK ska-revival band, The Beat. A racially integrated pop group from Birmingham, The Beat found fame and success in the UK and in the USA with hits such as Tears of a Clown, Hands Off She’s Mine and Mirror in the Bathroom.
Roger’s family moved from the Caribbean island of St Lucia to England in 1959 while Roger himself was born in 1963, pushed at the boundaries of behaviour as a child and was quickly exposed to rampant racism during the 70s.
Hence, it’s no surprise that this book looks at Roger’s life in the band but it’s also a social history of the times and the culture as well as a reflection of the social mores of the time: he conveys his emotional reaction to Nazi-saluting skinheads during a band concert, his view of a National Front march through his neighbourhood and his views on being that rare thing, a black punk. It’s a timely reminder of 70s’ England and how attitudes were broadcast and digested at the time.
On that subject, it’s intriguing to hear his views on the Rock Against Racism political and cultural movement, that emerged in 1976 and was supported by the punk and independent groups of the time, “Rock Against Racism was for everybody but when I went to an event the majority of the audience was noticeably white. It always bothered me.” He wondered where the black people where. He added “People were cocooned in their separate cultures, there was a lot of justifiable mistrust.”
Which showed how difficult it was to build a solid and tight response to fascist aggression. Roger would exclaim that, “The change would come with 2 Tone (an independent record label featuring racially mixed bands, devoted to the ska revival) and with it the first real evidence of black and white cultures mixing on the dance floor.
His toasting talent would work well in The Beat, although all of that talent was temporarily frozen when the band made its first appearance on the legendary BBC TV programme, Top of the Pops, to sing (well, mime) their first single, Tears of a Clown. On stage, having been told to look at the cameras with red lights a-top because that would be the ‘live’ camera, introduced on the programme by DJ Mike Reid, Roger said, “The song started and I didn’t know what to do. If you watch the footage you can see I was hit by nerves. About 30 seconds into the song I remember I had been told, ‘Make sure you smile’. All of a sudden I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.”
After, the band were delighted to receive a congratulatory telegram from the songwriter of the original version, Smokey Robinson.
Later, this book tells stories involving bands like The Specials, The Police, The Pretenders, Au Pairs, The Clash, REM and more. Then covers the band’s break up and Roger’s later musical projects but it’s his time with The Beat that forms the core of the book and reflects that unique period of UK music when Caribbean rhythms thoroughly infused British music.
A family man and a father of five, it was in January 2019 when we discovered that Roger had undergone surgery for two brain tumours. Health issues struck him from all angles though as he was also hit by lung cancer.
Tragically, Ranking Roger died at his home in Birmingham on 26 March 2019 at the stupidly young age of 56. I, for one, am happy that this book exists to tell his story. It’s a fine memoir and a perfect reflection of the times.
USA – https://amzn.to/3wbnY0h
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3KUe3BF
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