DUB PISTOLS INTERVIEW – BARRY ASHWORTH TALKS ORIGINS, COLLABORATIONS & WHY HE LOVES BEATHERDER FESTIVAL

The Dub Pistols have spent the past seventeen years rocking audiences around the globe with their big beat, dub-wise sound. Morphing from a Happy Monday’s era band into a studio only duo and then back into a band once more, whilst collaborating with everyone from Horace Andy to Busta Rhymes and furnishing movies including ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ and ‘Blade 2’ with tracks, these guys have done it all. Now with their sixth studio album on the way and a summer of festival bookings ahead of them, founding member Barry Ashworth has taken some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us at JAM. We hope you enjoy the article.

JAM: Hi Barry. How are things with you?

BARRY ASHWORTH: I’m good, apart from a slight chest infection. Four shows over the last couple of days in Eastern Europe and no sleep, that’ll do it.

J: I should imagine it would! Can you tell me if there is a specific time that you can remember which catalysed you into a career in music, when you knew that was what you had to do?

B: When I was growing up, being a musician or being in a band always seemed like a dream that was out of reach of someone who grows up on a council estate in south London. It was something you could never imagine doing. Then in 1987 I went off to Ibiza and had a summer of love out there and then came back and got inspired to start throwing parties.

J: So you came from the freeparty scene then?

B: No, no. I went off to Ibiza and then got loads of mates and starting running a club called Ziggy’s in Streatham. Nosher Powell used to be on the door and Paul Oakenfold had just stopped running it so we moved in. Then I started running a thing called Naked Lunch, which was at the South West One Club where Pacha is now. We used to put on everyone, we used to pay The Chemical Brothers fifty quid, and I remember when everyone started charging three hundred and fifty, I thought everyone was getting greedy! I thought it was over.

J: So you came very much from the early club scene.

B: Yeah, in ‘87, ’88 the Happy Mondays and that came along and I was running a club called Monkey Drum that they used to come down to. It was after watching bands like the Mondays, as much as I love them and as good as they were in terms of atmosphere, they weren’t the best band in the world and I just thought, well, if they can do it, so can I. I had no musical background aside from running clubs for a couple of years at that stage as a young lad so I just started a band. We started off shit and when we were shit everyone said we were great and as soon as we got good, everyone said we were shit! When people like NME and Melody Maker and ID Magazine first discovered us, everyone was all over us and to be honest, we weren’t that great but by the time we got our act together, that’s when everyone turned on us because we weren’t the next big thing.

J: Do you think that the eclecticism displayed in The Dub Pistol’s music has anything to do with your past as a club promoter, being exposed to so may different genres?

B: Growing up I was into so many different bands, obviously The Clash, The Specials and the whole Reggae sound was a huge thing for me but when I went to Ibiza in ’87, the Balearic sound that Alfredo was playing in Amnesia was very much eclectic, it was everything. It was anything goes, everything would be thrown in. So then when we started doing Monkey Drum which was when the Roses, the Mondays and The Soup Dragons were all around, it was as much of a live music influence as it was a dance influence. For me it’s always been about throwing things in rather than just being of one sound.

J: It all sounds like quite a D.I.Y. ethic, forming a band and finding a sound that fits.

B: Yeah, it comes from that Punk background, not Punk in sound but in ethic, that everything goes, that you can fuse whatever you want together and just see what comes out. I hate to be pigeonholed, I mean, being pigeonholed in a band or even in the dance scene is the worst thing that could happen to you. The minute you’re pigeonholed, you’re stuck in a cul-de-sac that you can’t get out of and the scene will move on around you but you’re not allowed to move on with it.

J: How did you make the jump between professionally promoting and professionally performing music?

B: When you’re young you just think that you can do anything and because we were quite big club promoters in London at that time, our first gig was The Astoria being filmed for TV, so we never had to go through the pub route.  We were promoting shows for fifteen hundred people every week anyway, so for us to put our band on was easy, we were lucky like that. It was just a fearless, hedonistic decision while off your head.

J: No one told you that you couldn’t, so you did.

B: Basically yeah. We just went for it. My philosophy at that time, when everyone was getting out of their minds, was that you just got on stage and did it. It was shambolic but it was that Mondays’ attitude, just the energy and the pure vibe was what got you through and what the crowd fed off. I think the NME described us as ‘a bunch of football hooligans from a discoing hell, with the mod-like demeanour of the Mondays, only infinitely more wired’.

J: That’s a fucking brilliant description! The Millwall of the dance scene!

B: Well that’s it. I was just like ‘What a fucking review!’.

J: I’m not sure how many people will be aware that the Dub Pistols have furnished movies such as ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’, ‘Blade 2’ and ‘Bad Company’ with tracks. How was it that you came to be approached for this?

B: The director of ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’, Alfonso Cuarón gave us a call from nowhere and said that he really loved our music and that a band called Molotov, who I didn’t know at the time but were the biggest selling artists in South America, were massive fans and would I like to fly out there for a month and do some music. So I said ‘which hand do you want me to bite off first’ and off we went.

J: The Dub Pistols have worked with an extraordinary range of musicians including Busta Rhymes, Neville Staple and Rodney P; is there a favourite artist or a favourite musical moment that sticks out in your mind?

B: Rodney is brilliant to work with but I’ve worked him a lot so I’d say, Terry Hall from The Specials who are my all time favourite band, that was awesome to have him come round and sing in my front room. That was just a hairs-on-your-arm moment. Horace Andy was amazing; he came and spent a couple of days with us but didn’t tell us he had narcolepsy! So when he kept falling asleep on the mic we thought he hated the track, I mean, all we could hear was snoring coming back! I live in London in a big Afro-Caribbean community, so him turning up in his big gold låme suite was a big deal and I was the talk of my street at the time. Then we had a terrible experience in a south London crack den waiting for Gregory Isaacs, that was hell!

J: What happened there?

B: It was just before he died and we had to wait in this crack den for twelve hours, then he finally turned up and did one take. So I said ‘lets work on the song’ and he was like ‘no, it’s just one take, it’s all you’ve paid for’. We had to give him the money in a carrier bag and basically had to do a runner in the end due to a disagreement.

J: Your DJ career has taken you to an inordinate amount of countries including Singapore, Dubai, Australia and Serbia, and I assume some of those must have been festival bookings. How does music and more specifically festival culture around the world equate to that in the UK?

B: I just don’t think there’s any better place than England in a field in summer. The English just go for it, the English are insane, no matter what the weather is, no matter what, they just go for it. Compared to America where if you have drink you have to go in this area, or that area, it’s just such as good vibe. I don’t think you can beat the English in a field.

J: Do you have a favourite UK festival?

B: I have a few. Beatherder is definitely in my top five, maybe top two. I think the guys at Beatherder are my favourite. The first time I went and it started raining and suddenly the farmer has come running out shouting ‘get in there, its bloody buzzing!’ and the tour bus is stuck in the mud and the organisers are pushing, the wheels are spinning and they’re getting covered in it. Just the pure enthusiasm at Beatherder really gets me, and the fact that every time we play there it goes crazy. Actually yeah, that’s my one.

J: You’re playing a DJ set at this year’s Beatherder and you seem to have a habit of concocting some interesting on-stage collaborations. Do you have anything up you sleeve for this year that you can tell us about?

B: Not yeah, I’ll just keep that under my hat until the day but like I said, every time I’ve ever done anything at Beatherder it’s been one of the highlights of the summer, so watch this space. I’m really excited about it.

You can catch the Dub Pistols in one incarnation or another this summer at: Beatherder, Bestival, Waveform, V-Dub Festival, Glastonbury, Kendall Calling and Sunrise Festival. We highly suggest that you do.

Interview: Benjamin Smith,   Image: Scott Salt 

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