Ranking Roger at Godiva Festival (Coventry), 2015
|Birth name||Roger Charlery|
|Born||21 February 1963|
|Died||26 March 2019 (aged 56)|
|Genres||2 tone, ska, new wave, punk rock, electronica|
|Associated acts||The Beat, General Public, Big Audio Dynamite Dum Dum Boys|
Roger Charlery (21 February 1963 – 26 March 2019), known professionally as Ranking Roger, was a British musician. He was a vocalist in the 1980s two-tone band the Beat (known in North America as the English Beat) and later General Public. Later, he headed up a reformed Beat lineup.
Roger Charlery was born in Birmingham, England, and grew up in the Small Heath area of the city. The son of Jean Baptiste Charlery and his wife Anne Marie, he was of West Indian descent; his mother and father being from Saint Lucia. He attended Archbishop Williams school, and while still at school began deejaying with reggae sound systems before becoming a drummer with the Dum Dum Boys in 1978.
Roger became a punk rock fan as a teenager and was the drummer in the Dum Dum Boys before joining ska revival pioneers the Beat in the late 1970s. The Dum Dum Boys‘ first gig was with the Beat and his burgeoning friendship with them meant he began to gatecrash their gigs, take the mic, and start toasting. He had appeared on stage, toasting and singing with them, many times before officially joining the band. His energetic style and Jamaican-influenced vocals, paired with Dave Wakeling, were crucial in distinguishing the band from the other second-wave ska bands. The Beat released three albums: the critically acclaimed and seminal I Just Can't Stop It (1980), Wha'ppen? (1981) and Special Beat Service (1982).
Music journalist Richard Grabel wrote in 1985: "In the Beat, his role was mainly to 'toast' — Jamaican slang for the rhythmic raps that Roger would interject into the middle of the Beat's songs. But those toasts often contained the songs' most important emotional messages. Beyond that, Roger was the one whose looseness and humor, great dancing and general presence made the Beat happen on stage."
After the Beat's 1983 break-up, he and Wakeling formed General Public with former members of Dexys Midnight Runners and Horace Panter of the Specials. Roger took more of a leading role with vocals in this group. They released the album All the Rage, aided by the single "Tenderness". In 1986, they released Hand to Mouth, which was less successful, and the band split up. In 1995, Roger and Wakeling reformed General Public with a new supporting band, and released the album Rub It Better. Roger and Wakeling also worked on various projects and reunited for the 1994 Threesome soundtrack, recording a cover of "I'll Take You There".
Roger released Radical Departure, his first solo album, in 1988 which included band members Horace Panter and Fuzz Townshend. On 2001's Inside My Head, Roger pursued a more dance/electronic sound.
In the early 1990s, Roger joined members of the Specials to form the new band Special Beat which released two live albums. In 1996, he sang back-up and toasting on the new version of "The Bed's Too Big Without You" on Sting's "Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot" CD-Maxi single. The rock band Smash Mouth featured Roger on their song "You Are My Number One" in 2003.
In 2005, the Beat re-formed, with Roger and Everett Morton of the original line-up, with Roger's son, Ranking Junior also on vocals. Performing some new material, the Beat performed at Glastonbury the same year, where Roger was joined by Ranking Junior.
Roger sang on "Roxanne" on stage with the Police on their 2007 world tour. He was a guest performer on Big Audio Dynamite's seventh album Higher Power in 1994 when the band were known as simply 'Big Audio'. He later became a member of Big Audio Dynamite for their final studio album Entering a New Ride (1997).
Roger contributed to Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge, written by Daniel Rachel and published in 2016.
Roger continued to lead the Beat and tours throughout Europe as well as works on solo projects. In his last years he released a series of new albums. 2013 saw the release of Retrospective, an album of solo work recorded over the 25 years since the break-up of General Public, featuring various artists and producers including Sly and Robbie, and songs such as "Bubbling Hot" (the 1994 hit collaboration with Pato Banton) and a cover of "The Bed's Too Big Without You" (first recorded with Sting for the 1996 film The Truth About Cats & Dogs).
Live in London was released in 2013 – a live recording of the Beat playing at 229 The Venue, featuring some of their greatest hits as well as new tracks by Roger and Ranking Junior.
2014’s Pop Off the Head Top consisted of entirely new compositions, including additional vocals and song writing from Ranking Junior. They recorded tracks for this project with Hugh Harris from London, Dopegrinders from Brighton and Mr. Anonymous from Colorado. Other key tracks involved the Italian producer AleXannA whose version of “16 Tons” features vocals by Roger, Ranking Junior, and Roger’s daughter Saffren Murphy.
“Rock the Casbah”, released in 2015 in collaboration with the charity Strummerville (founded by the friends and family of Joe Strummer to support aspiring musicians and projects that create social mobility through music). This five-track EP featured a previously unheard version of "Rock The Casbah", which Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash, had asked Roger to sing on back in 1981, re-recorded by the Brighton producers Dopegrinders, using the original stems donated by Mick Jones. The EP featured new tracks by Roger, Ranking Junior and Hugh Harris as well as a re-working of "Muscle Ska", co-written by Roger and Neville Staple from the Specials.
In September 2016, DMF released Bounce; the first new album by the Beat in 30 years. Written by Ranking Roger, Mick Lister and Ranking Junior, it was produced by Mick Lister and mixed by Tim Hamill and Mick Lister, with the exception of "Side to Side" and "My Dream", which were mixed by Dennis Bovell. The album was recorded in Roger's 'eco-friendly hideaway' – a round recording studio in his back garden, which he called The Pod. The album received generally positive reviews with reviewers typically praising the band's 'passionately political edge' and pointing to how the album 'encompasses every aspect of one of the most musically diverse bands to come out of the multi-racial, multi-cultural explosion that made British pop music what it was in the 80’s'.
The band continues to tour and currently features Roger’s son Ranking Junior (real name Matthew Murphy), with drummers Oscar Harrison of Ocean Colour Scene and Fuzz Townshend of Pop Will Eat Itself. The line-up is completed by Chiko Hamilton on sax, bass guitarist Andy Pearson, guitarist Steve Harper and Bobby Bird of Higher Intelligence Agency.
In early August 2018, Ranking Roger was hospitalised with a suspected mini-stroke. He recuperated at home, but cancelled planned live shows in the United Kingdom and United States. The band had just finished recording an album and Roger had written his autobiography, I Just Can't Stop It, scheduled for publication in mid 2019.
Personal life and death
Roger had five children, including son Ranking Junior (Matthew Murphy) and daughter Saffren who both featured with their father in a Beat revival band.
In January 2019 it was announced that Roger had undergone surgery for two brain tumours, and was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. He died at his home in Birmingham on 26 March 2019 at the age of 56.
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