We Delve Deep With The Dub Pistols Frontman And UK Music Legend About His New Album ‘Addict’, The Future Of Club Culture And Much Much More
Dub Pistols have just released their new album Addict, an essential collection of eclectic songs that takes in Dub, Reggae, Ska, Drum & Bass and Jungle with the style and vibe that the band are renowned for. We caught up with Dub Pistols main man Barry Ashworth to hear all about Addict and it’s creation as well as the new documentary featuring some of the many highlights both with the band and along his own musical journey, he also gives us his insight on the pandemic’s effect on music and club culture and what is next for Dub Pistols.
Your new album Addict is out on now. How did the creation of the album go?
I mean, it was recorded over two, possibly three years, but I think probably more like two. We worked with various different producers. One of the guys that I’ve worked with, Will Hensel, I’ve got a studio at my place and he used to come over and spend three days with me recording over here. When I kind of thought I’d finished the album for the first time, and I’ve worked with Will for many years and three day we finished recording the album, he went home and wrote a post that this was the best record he’d ever worked on and the best that we’d ever done. I got a phone call in the morning from his father to say that he’d found him dead in his studio so from that point of view, it was horrendous. It was a horrendous feeling losing one of your friends the day after you finished recording. Generally the way it works is I normally come up with various different ideas.
Every poet is a thief, as I’m sure you’re kind of aware and having been a DJ and into so many different bands and music and different styles for years, subconsciously or consciously I tend to have an idea in my head of how I want a song to sound. We start building an idea. I’ll then send that idea to different musicians in the band, like Tim Hutton, who writes for Groove Armada and Prodigy. He’ll tend to do the horns for me. Dave Budgens, our bass player will embellish on the basslines that we’ve written and give us a little bit more tone. Then I will send a track off to various different vocalists and we’ll either get them into the studio and write together, the ideas lyrically, or they’ll come up with an idea and we’ll record it from there. I also worked with a couple of other producers as well, one being King Youth and the other being Bill Borez from Zero B.
You work with everyone from the Ragga Twins, Lindy Layton and Seanie T to Natty Campbell and Navigator. Did you have these artists in mind when you were creating the tracks or did it just happen organically?
Well, I’ve worked with Seanie T before, I’ve worked with Navigator because he’s toured with us quite extensively and I’ve always been a fan of his and Lindy Layton, obviously we’ve worked with many, many times on various different tracks throughout the albums. I had them in mind and then the others, like Horseman and Mikey General, I’m a massive fan of their work. I love Horseman and the stuff he’d done with Prince Fatty so the grooves were written definitely with him in mind, so yeah, they were people that I wanted to get involved and Rhoda Dakar obviously with the Specials connection and the ska sort of thing. It’s a continuing theme from where we’d been at with Terry Hall and Lynval Golding, and Neville Staple to some degree. It was just like a natural progression, she’s such a fantastic woman. she’s got fantastic attitude and very clinical so it was just perfect to get her involved.
With that song Stand Together that Rhoda features on, obviously it’s got the very strong anti-racism message, did you always want to include such a song especially with the climate being as it is, in terms of racism at the moment?
Well, the thing about Stand Together, it was a song that was written two years previous, and obviously the message was exactly the same. It might take two years to come out but It just so happened that the week it was released, the George Floyd incident happened and it’s like anything in history when you’re writing about these kinds of things. It’s the same when we wrote World Gone Crazy and 9/11 happened, that song wasn’t written for that moment, but it just happens at that moment. It became a very powerful message at the right time.
How has that track in particular being received?
It seems to have gone down absolutely fantastically. It’s a great pop song. It’s a great ska song and the message couldn’t be clearer and couldn’t be more relevant now than it’s ever been. It’s one of those things. Yes, we have come a long way, but there is so much further to go and I think with people like Trump being in power and the rise of the far right, the message, couldn’t be more today.
With Addict, did you want to make a collection of uplifting music in contrast to what’s going on at the moment with the world?
No, Many years ago we had a really bad experience with a lot of songs that we used to write back in the day, round about The Six Million Ways To Live album were very political in their message and after 9/11, really came back to bite us on the bum, like, the album was scrapped because 9/11 happened the week of release. After that, I kind of wanted to stay away from politics. When we were writing songs and it was Worshipping The Dollar, that changed when the banking systems and everything crashed, I think we started to touch on it more and more with Worshipping The Dollar and songs that we’d written with Akala and things like that but the Dub Pistols predominantly really are a party outfit. It’s very much that our performance is based around energy and having a good time and making sure everybody else has a good time. I think it was kind of a combination of both like Dark Days, Dark Times which is again something I wrote two years ago and to be honest, it was more about the gun crime and knife crime happening in the UK and the situations that have developed since, and history and caught up, and it’s more relevant now. Most of our songs were uplifting, but there are things like Dark Times and Stand Together where it’s just obvious what’s going on in the world and it’s like you’re not going to not say anything.
Are you pleased with how the album has been received?
Amazed, I mean, you always want every piece of work you do to be the best work you’ve ever done. I don’t think you can ever write anything or go into any kind of challenge where we’re not, whether it’s music or anything that you do in your life, you want to do the best you possibly can. When I was writing the record, every record has to be the best record you’ve ever wrote, it can’t be that way but that’s the intention.
Dub Pistols have always been one of those bands that, because of our party reputation and because of the way that we’ve lived our life, it’s been very hard to ever get anybody to accept us apart from that lifestyle, it’s very hard to kick off that sort of party animal image so it’s nice to actually be, suddenly, received well for your music rather than your lifestyle because to be honest, we moved away from that quite a few years ago, we can still party, but generally, we’re pretty professional in our approach now.
You’ve been going since 1998 and have a documentary coming out called What Could Possibly Go Wrong. Can you tell us a bit about that and is it always something you had planned on doing?
No. It’s something that we started filming quite a long time ago. Well, I think we’d always be filming and I’d always been carrying a camcorder around and it’s amazing how much footage we actually found from the early days. Like I said, I think the fact that we were completely reckless back in the day, it was very much party first, show second but I guess it’s the story of every single band that’s been out there, you go for through your highs, you go through your lows. One minute everybody wants to know you, next thing they don’t. One minute you seem to have the world at your feet and next thing you seem to have shit on your feet! It was something we started filming but like I said, it was never meant to be a documentary and then it started to become clear that there was actually a story to be told, and there was actually and we did have have this footage.
So we started putting it together, possibly as much as nearly ten years ago and it’s been ongoing. It was supposed to be out this year. We had a happy ending, which was suddenly this band of complete fuckheads who had done everything in their power to try and mess their careers up had suddenly gone in for rehab and sorted their lives out, rebuilt the band because it was pretty much on its knees and actually ended up with a sort of successful career, you know, and that was going to end with with us having our festival this year and the launch of the album, obviously with that fantastic ending, but of course, 2020 happened with the global pandemic and that whole story changed. Our whole year collapsed as it did for everyone, our festival never happened everything just collapsed again, so the endings now got a different ending and we’re just working on that now.
With the festival, is that going to happen next year now?
Yeah, I think we were really lucky in that only 5% of people asked for a refund. I say it’s going to happen again next year, obviously that is pending on whether this situation changes. If it doesn’t change, I fear for the industry as a whole and society as a whole, but yeah, at the moment we are planning to go the second week in September, people have already been buying tickets. The lineup will slightly be increased a bit more and the capacity should be increased more. But again, like I said, we’ve got every plan for it to go ahead, but really we’ll see how the situation changes because it just doesn’t seem to be getting any better at the moment and we look for a cure but is that going to be the answer? I don’t know.
Have you got any other tentative gig dates sort of in support of the album and are you just waiting and seeing what’s going to transpire?
Our diary is completely full, but I can’t even look at it until someone says that first shows on, you know, because we had got tour dates lined up throughout the whole of the year, and then we got second pencils and third pencils on that. It just keeps moving back as it has done all year. So yes, we intend to start again, I think in March, but again, it really depends on what happens and what the situation is
You did do a record release gig at Banquet Records with Lindy Layton and Seanie T for the new album. How did that go and how did it feel to be at least doing something again in a live capacity?
Yeah, you don’t realise how much you actually miss it. It’s really weird, because when you’re in the pocket of a whole band and you spend your whole life together, you can really start, like any kind of relationships, really start getting on top of each other and dissing each other but you realise that after a very short period of time, you are family and really miss each other and you almost miss what you do, which is being a performer. I’ve been a performer for the best part of thirty five years and spent my whole life on the road, normally eleven months a year so to have that taken away has been horrendous. At first it was nice. The weather was nice and it was nice to walk around the countryside but now I miss it more than anything. So many of my friends who are musicians are really suffering mentally as well as financially, and yeah, I miss performing. It’s what I am and it’s what my purpose in life is. I’m lucky I’ve been doing a lot of work for charity. That’s been my focus and helped me keep my sanity but yeah, there’s definitely been dark times when my heads wandered through this.
Going back to even before Dub Pistols, what were your first experiences with dub and Soundsystem culture?
Well, I was into The Clash and The Specials, I’m sure you know, and they were heavily influenced by the Studio One and reggae sounds and that made me investigate more. I got into GreensIeeves, I used to go to Petticoat Lane and Notting Hill as a child and buy all the latest imports that were coming in. Then I moved to West London, so I was surrounded by that culture. I totally immersed myself in it as I did for many things because obviously I went through the acid house scene in 87, went to Ibiza and didn’t come back and spent time as a club promoter and into that scene. I’ve always liked fuse dub music with an electronic sound.
With the club nights you ran in London, what are your memories of those days?
Not much, can’t remember much now! I used to run Studio One, Southwest One Club, Cafe De Paris, Park in Kensington. Every major venue at one stage and they were some of the happiest times of my life. I remember, like I said, going to Ibiza in 1987 and that changed my life, I decide that’s what I wanted to do and that was run clubs. It was totally different times and at the time then, it was a cottage industry. I remember when Andy Weatherall or Carl Cox started charging £250 pounds and I thought everyone was getting greedy because it was just the cottage industry then. Everyone did it for love and Boys Own were massive and it wasn’t a mainstream thing, it became a mainstream thing.
The big Illegal raves to me originally, they were the antichrist and anything that took it away from the underground, I didn’t want that to happen. Obviously, as you get older and you get wiser, and those illegal raves, there weren’t illegal raves. The government just didn’t know how to tax them and once they realized they could make money out of them, they became festivals. I think I find it really horrible that the fact that you walk into Heathrow airport and all over the walls are the best of British and it’s all music culture, arts culture, and the same with when they’re going to showcase the Olympics, it was all the British bands and all the artists that were brought in to showcase and highlight the best of the UK. Now that this pandemics happens, that’s telling every musician and DJ and wherever they need to retrain that they’re not viable, which I just think is a complete scandal.
How do you think that nightlife in the UK will recover whenever the pandemic gets under control?
First of all, I didn’t think there would be a problem and obviously there’s more and more social distancing gigs happening but I think a lot of the venues are gonna wind up being closed. It’ll be interesting to see what, in terms of venues and nightlife there is. It’ll be interesting to see now that the the focus isn’t on that whole thing, whether or not it does actually have a massive longterm effect, but it’s quite terrifying that it could possibly destroy the whole of the UK nightlife industry and the club culture that we have helped develop around the world on a global platform, so many venues, so many DJs and everything are really, really struggling. It’s terrifying and it’s not only just struggling financially, but mentally.
With Dub Pistols having been going since 1998, did you ever think you’d still be making such vital music after all this time?
No, I don’t think you’re ever going to think that. It’s weird because it feels like a couple of years. I’m 55 but I still feel like 25 but no, I don’t think I ever thought that I’d still be going now or that I would have made eight albums. It’s a pretty weird situation. It’s the only thing I know and I feel very privileged about it. I feel very honoured, the fact that I think because we’ve never had really major mainstream success. If you like, we’ve had a few hits here and we’d done all right globally and that kind of worked in our favour because we’ve always been bubbling under, so we’re kind of underground and we’ve become more of a cult thing than necessarily mainstream. I think that’s what’s worked in our favour.
What have been some of the sheer highlights of your time with Dub Pistols?
The highlights? There’s been a lot. We played to a quarter of a million people in Poland on New Years Eve live and that went out to four million people on TV. Electric Castle in Romania. I think it was fifty to a hundred thousand people there. That’s always been incredible, one of the biggest stages you’ve ever seen. I’ve had some fantastic times at Bestival. Spore festival in New Zealand, I absolutely loved. Working with Terry Hall obviously, and doing the Rise festival to 50,000 people with him and Lynval when it was the first time they’d ever played in about twenty years together, just before they reformed The Specials, apparently that was the catalyst for them to reform The Specials. That left the hairs on my arms standing up. There’s so many, I guess it’s been that long. It’s kinda weird because you remember the bad ones more than you do the good ones.
Words:Gavin Brown for ukbassmusic.com