Ranking Roger: Vocalist with The Beat and key player in the late 1970s ska revival

Roger Charlery, the toaster and vocalist known to music fans as Ranking Roger, came to prominence as co-frontman of The Beat, the Birmingham band who achieved instant success and critical acclaim as part of the ska revival in 1979.

Charlery, who has died aged 56, was born in Birmingham to St Lucian parents. He became the drummer for punk band The Nam Nam Boys and they often supported another local band, The Beat, in concert. Charlery was so enamoured by the headliners skilful, dynamic mixing of ska, soul and punk rock that he began gatecrashing their performances, grabbing the microphone, chatting in patois then stage diving into the crowd. The Beat were impressed by the fearless 15-year-old – Charley had once done the same at a concert by The Damned, leading a chant of “f*** the National Front!” in front of sieg-heiling skinheads – and invited him to join.

In 1979 Coventry band The Specials inspired a ska revival and, sensing kinship, invited The Beat to release their debut 45 on their 2 Tone record label. In December 1979 The Beat’s “Tears Of A Clown”/“Ranking Full Stop” single reached No 6 in the UK charts and the band were suddenly a very hot property.

Setting up their own Go Feet label and signing to Arista, The Beat would go on to score four more UK Top 10 hits and release three acclaimed albums, the first of which, I Just Can’t Stop It, won the band a UK gold album. Mixing politically acute, incisive lyrics with fluid, danceable music, The Beat were considered among Britain’s brightest bands, yet the commercial failure of the band’s third album, 1982’s Special Beat Service, saw them implode. Not wasting time, Charlery and Beat guitarist/vocalist Dave Wakeling formed General Public, a pop-soul band.

Ranking Roger onstage with The Beat in Belgium, 1980 (Getty)
Ranking Roger onstage with The Beat in Belgium, 1980 (Getty)

General Public’s 1984 debut album All The Rage spent 39 weeks on the US Billboard charts and they supported Queen at Wembley Stadium. Follow-up Hand To Mouth (1986) lost momentum and the band split. Charlery kept busy with guest appearances on many other musician’s projects – including Sting, Pato Banton and Big Audio Dynamite – released his debut solo album Radical Departure in 1988, then formed Special Beat with ex-members of The Beat and The Specials. In 1994 General Public reformed to record “I’ll Take You There” for the Threesome soundtrack – so scoring a surprise US Top 40 hit – then recorded the Rub It Better album (1995). It failed and they disbanded.

Charlery reformed The Beat in 2005 with drummer Everett Morton from the original lineup. Adding his son Matthew Murphy – stage name Rankin’ Junior – as toaster/rapper upped the band’s energy and they played Glastonbury festival that year, winning an enthusiastic reception.

From then on The Beat featuring Ranking Roger, as they were billed, constantly toured the UK and Europe. Charlery’s huge energy, good humour and whippet-thin physique made him a compelling performer and he maintained The Beat’s political edge – singing their 1980 hit “Stand Down Margaret”, he would substitute Thatcher’s name with those of current Tory politicians. Live In London (2013) demonstrated how strong their Brummie blend of musical styles remained and 2016’s Bounce, the first album of new music released under the name of The Beat in 34 years, was recorded in Charlery’s home studio and won good reviews. In 2017 The Beat sold out London’s Roundhouse and released a live album of the event. Charlery declared this concert as the greatest success in the revived Beat’s career.

Following a fall in August, Charlery was diagnosed with having suffered a mini-stroke. He cancelled all future dates, instead concentrating on a new Beat album, Public Confidential (released in January) and his autobiography, I Just Can’t Stop It: My Life In The Beat, with the writer Daniel Rachel (to be published in June). In January it was announced that Charlery had undergone surgery for two brain tumours and lung cancer.

Ranking Roger, singer and musician, born 21 February 1963, died 26 March 2019

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