Ranking Roger, 2-Tone pioneer and The Beat vocalist, dies

Ranking Roger photographed by Ian Davies in Birmingham in 2018. Credit: www.iandaviesphoto.com

2-Tone pioneer Ranking Roger, who sang with successful Birmingham ska bands The Beat and General Public, has died aged 56.

A statement by The Beat reported the artist, real name Roger Charlery, passed away ‘peacefully at home…surrounded by family’ on Tuesday 26 March.

The Birmingham-born vocalist and musician, known for his energetic and politicised performances, suffered a stroke in 2018, medical treatment for which reportedly revealed lung cancer and two brain tumours.

Thousands of tributes from fans, artists, industry figures followed a short post on The Beat’s official Facebook page which began ,“He fought & fought & fought, Roger was a fighter”.

Horace Panter, bassist with The Specials, wrote, “Saddened to hear that Ranking Roger has died. I worked with him from 1983 until 1991 in General Public, his solo album project, Radical Departure and 2 years in Specialbeat. He was a great performer and always gave at least 100%……..I’ll miss him”.

Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg tweeted a link to The Beat’s hit song ‘Stand Down Margaret’ following the news of the ska star’s death, also saying, “Very sorry to hear that Ranking Roger has passed away. Rest easy, Rude Boy”.

“The Beat music embodied love, joy, and unity.” The Selecter’s Pauline Black said in an interview earlier today, “He was the epitome of that. He was the baby of the 2-Tone family”.

Described as ‘one of the original black punks’ by Jez Collins of Birmingham Music Archive, Ranking Roger was invited to join fellow vocalist Dave Wakeling in The Beat after a spell in Birmingham band The Dum Dum Boys. 

Collins explains, “Roger started his musical career as the drummer in his first band as well developing a habit of jumping up on stage at punk gigs, The Damned at Barbarellas being one notable occasion, grabbing the mic and ‘toasting’ to the crowd.”

“It was doing this at an early The Beat gig that led to him to being asked to join the band. Roger became the focal point of The Beat bringing his brilliant voice and vibrant energy to the band and illuminating their stage presence. Intensely political, The Beat gained a global audience of their very particular Brummie take on Two Tone.”

Charlery’s Jamaican toasting style contributing to The Beat’s overall style, which embraced punk ethics and messaging, and the structure and vibrancy of ska and reggae.

The Beat were part of the 2-Tone music movement which originated in Coventry, UK in the late 1970s, releasing single “Tears Of A Clown / Ranking Full Stop” on the 2-Tone Records label managed by The Specials’ Jerry Dammers, before self-releasing their debut album ‘I Just Can’t Stop It’ in 1980. 

Renowned UK cartoonist and artist Hunt Emerson, who designed the album cover as well as ‘The Beat Girl’ character, paid tribute to his friend and colleague, saying, “I’m saddened and devastated to hear that Ranking Roger has passed away. He was one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen, he was a delightful, friendly guy, and he was far too young to die yet!”

“This is so sad. I’ve known Roger since 1979, when he joined the Beat at 16 or 17. He was a real original; his energy was one of the driving forces of the whole 2-Tone Ska thing. He liked to think of himself as a Rude Boy, but he was too good-natured and gentle for that. He recently released two albums close together – Bounce, and Public Confidential – which are brilliant. The one complements the other. So much promise…”

“My sympathies go to Murphy – Ranking Junior – and to Pauline, and to all his friends and family. Rest easy Roger – I’ll miss you.”

The Beat went on to release two more albums Wha’ppen? and Special Beat Service before breaking up in 1983.

After The Beat, Charlery would form the Two Tone supergroup General Public with fellow The Beat member Dave Wakeling alongside The Specials’ Horace Panter, Dexys Midnight Runners’ Stoker and Mickey Billingham and The Clash’s Mick Jones.

Ranking Junior and Ranking Roger photographed in Birmingham, 2016. Image: Lyle Bignon

Jez Collins goes on to explain the impact of Roger’s work in the 21st century, saying, “Latterly, Roger had been recording and touring as The Beat featuring Ranking Roger and had just released the brilliant new album Public Confidential. As important and vibrant as his earlier music Roger was looking forward to touring it with his son, Murphy. “

“Although we will remember Roger for his contribution to Birmingham and indeed global music culture, he was also an incredible beautiful, genuine and warm human being.”

“Always happy to stop and talk to people, about music and politics, in particular, Roger will be greatly missed”.


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