As the enigmatic frontman of the multicultural band The Beat, Ranking Roger represented the youthful and joyous sound of the post-punk 2 Tone movement. As well as his illustrious career with The Beat and its subsequent iterations, this absorbing book explores Roger's upbringing as a child of the Windrush generation, touring America and his outstanding collaborations with artists such as The Clash, The Police and The Specials.
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About the Author
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The Rub-Up Upbringing. St Lucia. School
I was born Roger Charlery on February 22, 1963, at 51 Grantham Road in Sparkbrook, less than two miles from Birmingham city centre. I didn't have a middle name. Mum said I was called 'Roger' after the actor Roger Moore. My dad was a big fan of the television series The Saint, which was first broadcast on October 4, 1962, the day before the first Beatles single, 'Love Me Do', was released. We lived in my uncle's house and Mum and Dad rented a room from him when they first came to England a few years earlier. It was a big four-bedroom house and we had one room downstairs; four of us in one room. You may have thought after my sister, Equilar, was born in 1961 that these sleeping arrangements would have acted as a natural form of contraception. They didn't. I came along two years later. The house belongs to my auntie now and I have always felt that there is something important about the property. I was born there and I wouldn't mind dying there. The house number '51' is significant too: 5 + 1 = 6. I've noticed a pattern in my life of '6's, and '7's: flight numbers and hotel rooms I stay in always add up to six or seven; I was born on the 22nd day of the 2nd month: 2 + 2 + 2 = 6. The Beat's first hit single, 'Tears Of A Clown', peaked at number six in the UK charts. I feel comfortable when I see a six or a seven. I see them as good numbers.
My parents, Anne Marie Louison and John Baptist Charlery, met around 1957 in St Lucia, a French-speaking island in the Caribbean, where they had two daughters Sandra (b. 1958) and Annie (b. 1960). Greta, my half-sister, was born to a different father in 1955. St Lucia is a Catholic island. The British and the French ruled there for over four hundred years. Seven times British. Seven times French. It gained independence in 1979. Twenty years earlier, in 1959, when the British government were calling out to the Empire countries for labour to run the National Health Service and British Rail, Dad came to England followed by Mum in early 1961. They travelled alone and Greta, Annie and Sandra were left with my grandparents; I would be almost four before I met them. In St Lucia, family was tight-knit and everybody looked after everybody else's kids. You would never have a problem with babysitting. Many St Lucians came to London when they arrived in England. I don't know why Mum and Dad settled in Birmingham. All they wanted to do was work and make enough money to bring over their children from the Caribbean.
Dad was a musician. My older cousins would say, 'Your father used to play a mean saxophone. He also played the guitar, but as soon as he came to England he gave it all up to work in a factory.' There was a heavy machine factory in Deritend and all I remember is him saying he worked on a capstan lathe. Dad always used to dress smart in a tie and shirt and jacket. He would say, 'I've come here to make money.' He may have put his instruments away but he remained a total music lover. The living room at home was filled with records and he had an eclectic record collection. It was the first time I ever heard the funk of James Brown or the pop of Manfred Mann or Motown. Dad also listened to a lot of country and western. Artists like Charlie Pride, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette. I used to love Brenda Lee, especially the saxophone parts. He also used to listen to a lot of African music. I'd get into the catchy rhythms but I didn't have a clue what they were singing about. I don't think Dad brought any records with him from St Lucia. Most of his records were collected in England, probably because most calypso records were pressed in London, before being shipped out to the Caribbean. Records were played on the stereogram downstairs. It had valves so you had to wait fifteen seconds for the large dark wood unit to warm up. It had a great bass sound. We weren't allowed to touch it but music was always in the house.
I first heard ska from Mum, and at parties when I would have been about six or seven. All the relatives took it in turns to have everybody round. We would go to Uncle Henry's every other weekend. His real name was Hesbury, but everybody called him Henry. He had a big detached house in Palmerston Road, which he would open up and blast out calypso and reggae records with the odd country and western tune thrown in. The adults would usher us kids out of the living room so they could dance but it was always exciting to watch them through the crack in the door. There was a dance called the 'rub up' where a male and female would dance pretty close to each other, whining and grining in time to the music. It was very sexy. Along with records like '007' by Desmond Dekker and 'Double Barrel' by Dave & Ansell Collins, I must have heard 'Cherry Oh Baby' by Eric Donaldson a billion times. It was a classic tune and it would be played five times straight. It was a perfect tune for the 'rub up'. The parties would go on till two or three in the morning. We would fall asleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms and in the early hours be woken and have to struggle back home, half asleep.
When I was about four years old my parents sent me and Equilar to St Lucia. They wanted to save up enough money to bring all five of us back, 'To live,' as they used to say, 'a better life in England.' I wasn't old enough to appreciate their sacrifice or to even understand why Mum and Dad weren't coming too. We were simply told we were going to live with Grandmother and then we would come back to England with our sisters. That was a shock in itself – 'I've got three more sisters!' How you take that in as a four year old, I don't know.
I don't recall much detail about the voyage to the Caribbean except Equilar and I had a guardian allocated to us and I remember being lifted up onto the boat by a stranger. I was scared because of the water and I was crying. The man said, 'You'll be all right.' On the ship we were handed these strange-tasting eggs. I didn't know what they were but they tasted wonderful. All the kids slept together in a huge room and we were all given a toy and a small bag of sweets. I ate all of mine straightaway and at night I got out of the bunk in the dormitory we all shared and walked around to this other boy's bed. He hadn't touched his sweets so I swapped my empty bag with his full one. It was my first taste of crime, but not my last.
When we docked in St Lucia, where we would spend the next eighteen months, Equilar and I met our sisters, Greta, Annie and Sandra, and grandparents, Laura and Frederick 'Pedro' Augustin, for the first time. There are two big families in my history, the Moneros and the Augustins. Mum and Dad were clearly black but my maternal great grandmother was fair skinned. Grandmother could understand English, but she didn't speak it and she would speak in her broken French. My great grandfather, Pa Deveaux, was a comedian. He played banjo and sang songs that would have people in stitches. Everywhere Pa Deveaux went people knew him. He would write songs about folks he encountered and make them laugh by making things up out of the top of his mind. That was something special. I'm told it's from him I get my cheekiness and perhaps my ability to ad-lib on a microphone.
Ma and Pa Deveaux lived in a wooden house and although there was electricity and running water it was one of the poorer properties on the island. My biggest memory was the night of the great hurricane. The whole house was shaking and you could hear bashing and see great sheets of lightning illuminating the sky. I really wanted to open the front door and go outside. I distinctly remember an adult saying, 'Don't open the door because there is someone out there and they'll take you away.' In my head the hurricane became a person.
I cried a lot for my parents. I was bought a brown and white puppy who I called Lucky. It made me really happy because I had a friend. Not that I was lonely; there were lots of other kids to play with in the area. I started school and my best friend was a boy called Lodger. Everywhere we went, it was, 'Here's Roger and Lodger.' When I went back to St Lucia when I was about nineteen, they said, 'Do you recognise that man, over there? That's Lodger.' I'm over six foot but this guy was smaller than me and had dreadlocks all the way down to his feet. He was looking at me out of the side of his eye. Then he said, 'Wha'ppen,' and it was big hugs. As kids we used to fight each other all the time but apparently we were inseparable.
I distinctly remember the smell of St Lucia. It was a pungent odour of green and earth. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced in England. It was most likely a combination of scents from the banana and coconut and palm trees. And the air was really thick and musty. The Windward Islands get a lot of rain but it's really hot as well. The rain would come and then within about ten minutes it would be as dry as a bone and you would have thought it had never rained. On the same trip I reunited with Lodger I had diarrhoea after stupidly drinking unclean water – before I arrived there had been a drought and mosquito eggs and bacteria had collected in the dry water tanks. Once it started raining the fresh water was contaminated. Auntie Ta instructed people to get the plant the goats ate together with a collection of herbs and then she boiled them to make a medicinal tea. I suppose she was what we call an herbalist. Auntie Ta was Mum's eldest sister and my favourite auntie. Despite her age she was still hip and was in with the young ones. All the other aunts and uncles were very heavily against marijuana, but once in a while Auntie Ta would have a smoke. She was on our generation's level. She listened to country and western and merengue. She was one of the personalities in the family. Auntie passed away in 2017.
Dad grew up in Malgretoute by the sea about three miles away from Micoud, where Mum and Dad first met. When I was about nineteen I went to the village to visit Grandmother, Ma Eliwick, and some of my relatives and to learn about my culture and history. Malgretoute was more or less all bush; underdeveloped and full of mosquitoes; a small village of no more than fifty houses made out of either tin or wood or sometimes brick for the larger dwellings. There were a few stores but the nearest church was a good five mile walk along the dirt road. Grandmother lived in a house that had been built for her by her sons and we sat and she held my hand the whole time. I looked so much like Dad it would have been very emotional for her. While I was there I met many cousins. Coming from England, I was seen as a money magnet. I had to show that I was still well-balanced and as normal as them. People would expect me to buy small things, like a round of drinks, which I happily would. But then I'd say, 'Come on, let's see your money, then.' Of course, I'd spent a lot of my earnings on the air flight just to get there. One of my cousins was called Shellos. He took me to the top of the big hill with a magnificent view of the sea. During my visit I heard so much musical talent and began to imagine building a studio and releasing records for the people of St Lucia. Shellos said, 'All of this land belongs to the family. You could build wherever you want.' Then I started thinking, 'Yeah ... until the hurricane comes!'
I remember very little about leaving St Lucia and returning to England. It was 1968 – I was five years old – and we flew back on a BOAC. We were entranced to be on a plane and as we descended over London I remember looking out of the window and not knowing what the houses were. Equilar said, 'They look like rows of tin cans.'
All of a sudden there was seven of us all living in England. We lived on the top floor of a house on Claremont Road in Sparkbrook with a front room and a narrow corridor which led to a kitchen and a bedroom. It was crammed. My four sisters and I shared one room and Mum and Dad used the front room. From the landing, staircases led downstairs where some African people lived. Mum threw a party to celebrate our return from St Lucia but we weren't allowed to stay up because it was too late. We lived in Claremont Road for about a year but I don't have any memories of adjusting to life back in England. Or even the fact that Equilar and I now had three older sisters living with us. Children are very resilient to change and my life happily trundled on.
When I was about seven or eight we moved to Cattell Road in Small Heath, and a year later Dad left Mum. I was nine years old. I still don't know why to this day. I've never asked him. I saw him leaving, I grabbed on to him and said, 'Don't go. Don't go.' He said, 'I've got to go. Let go of me.' He kept pushing me away, and saying, 'No, I have to.' A friend of his came and put all his belongings in the back of a van. My last memory was seeing Dad sat in the passenger seat as they drove off.
My parents splitting up must have affected me but I still had Mum and I reasoned there was nothing I could do about it. I was used to Mum and Dad arguing but I hadn't thought anything of it. It was normal for parents to bicker. Although they didn't argue in front of us I would hear them in their bedroom having spats and trying to keep their voices lowered. The house was often filled with the silence between them. Divorce was inevitable, but it took them seven years to actually do it. In the meantime, we still had a good time as a family and their love for us never waned. But Mum would continually cuss Dad under her breath, 'You could have done this ... you might have cleaned up that ...'
In retrospect, I think Dad must have been fed up or one of them must have been having an affair behind the other's back. Dad certainly had one affair, if not a couple. One of them was with a friend of the family, which I unintentionally discovered when I heard them rowing when I was about seven or eight. The woman was a friend of the family and there was a picture of her in the family photo album. Oddly enough Mum never took it out when she learnt about Dad's infidelity. Mum would never talk about their separation and offered no explanation. She would just simply say, 'Your dad left.' Mum continued to cuss him and we would stay with him at weekends. Later, Dad remarried, and in 2015 I met his new family – my half-sister and half-brother, Sarah and Kevin – at their home in Billesley.
Dad had to get away for his own reasons, and as a young adult I reacted to his departure by subconsciously challenging figures of authority. His leaving gave me a sense of freedom to be mischievous knowing that he wasn't there to tell me off any more. I did a lot of naughty things. I once took a piece of wood from the coal fire and used it as a poker to set fire to the back of Sandra's dress because she had wound me up. Fortunately, just as the flames were beginning to take hold, they were extinguished by one of my other sisters and Sandra wasn't hurt. I was given such a beating. It wasn't that I was angry in myself, it was more to do with testing boundaries and learning new barriers. Dad had been very strict and was always on my case. It is possible that had he stayed with Mum I would never have joined The Beat. As it was, I walked out on Mum to get away from her and our deteriorating relationship. I had to become a stereotype before I could shape up and change my ways. I had to go out into the wilderness and find out about life and make my own mistakes.
When I was about fifteen I stole a couple of mod shirts from a shop on Bull Street. I had a coat on – I stuffed the shirts inside it and zipped it up. I even talked to the salesperson before and after, 'Goodbye,' 'Yeah, see you again.' I kept one shirt and gave the other to a kid who dared me. He was few years older than me and I had met him knocking around in town. He said, 'I can't believe you did it!' It was a one-off. I was misguided and soon after I began to get a bad vibe from him and distanced myself. The incident reminds me of a song we'd later write in The Beat called 'The Limits We Set':
shoplifting my little brother shoplifting my little sister said all you got to do is just a forward through the door but when they come fe check you out you no come back for more tell me which one would you prefer one hundred pound fine or three months in prison me old cock sparra?
When I became a father in my twenties I had to ask myself, 'Am I going to be the same as my parents and beat my children?' There's a fine line between punishment and learning a lesson. Many is the time I have had to stop myself, and say, 'I don't want to beat my kids.' They've had the odd slap on the back of the legs when they've done something really bad, but I was westernised. I was the next generation. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It acts as a deterrent so that next time you can use it as a threat, and say, 'Do you want another slap?' I've never used a stick or a belt. Not because of what happened to me but because I see everybody as a human being. One day, when my son, Matthew, was about four or five, I was shouting at him, 'Don't you dare do that!' I felt like beating him. He looked up at me and his eyes welled with tears. I would have looked like a giant to him. I crumbled, 'Oh no. Don't cry.' I grabbed him, pulled him up to head height, and gently said, 'This is why I don't want you to do that. Daddy loves you. I don't want to shout at you. I have to explain it to you.' He took it in and from that day that boy has never been scared of me.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Just Can't Stop It"
Copyright © 2019 Omnibus Press.
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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION: Noise in This World,
PART ONE: The St Lucian Connection,
THE RUB-UP Upbringing. St Lucia. School,
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME? Punk. Sound systems,
IRE FEELINGS Toasting. Rock Against Racism. Dum Dum Boyz,
SHAKE SOME ACTION The Beat. Life in Moseley. The Selecter. John Peel Session,
PART TWO: Punky Reggae Party,
RUDE BOYS DON'T ARGUE 2 Tone. Saxa. Tears Of A Clown,
MR FULL STOP Ranking Full Stop. Sexism. Hands Off ... She's Mine,
PART THREE: This is Beat,
WHICH SIDE OF THE BED? I Just Can't Stop It. Stand Down Margaret,
THE NOISE IN THE WORLD British and European tour. The Police,
STOP YOUR SOBBING Pretenders. Special Beat. Talking Heads. Specials in Ireland,
A QUICK BURN WITH THE BEAT Wha'ppen? Hit It,
THE LIMITS WE SET Songwriting. Special Beat Service,
PART FOUR: America, Roger and Out,
AN ORGANISED REVOLUTION The Clash. US festival. Rasta,
THE BAD ANGEL REM. Beat split,
PART FIVE: Can't Get Used to Losing You,
COME AND JOIN THE FEDERATION General Public. Madonna. Groupies,
EAT TO THE BEAT Drugs. Spirituality,
NEVER YOU DONE THAT Nelson Mandela. Beat reunion,
END OF THE PARTY Postscript,