Dodgy interview – What Are We Fighting For? ‘Good vibes, that’s what we’ve always been about’
Dodgy’s new album, What Are We Fighting For, is released on 2nd September, on Cherry Red Record. It’s the fifth Dodgy album by the definitive line up of Nigel Clark, Andy Miller and Mathew Priest and comes four years after their critically acclaimed comeback album Stand Upright In A Cool Place. New member Stu Thoy joins them on bass, giving the record a louder, rockier feel than past material.
Craig Scott met Nigel and Matt round the corner from BBC Broadcasting House, just before they kicked-off a round of radio interviews. “It gives us a shot to get on the playlist alongside Bryan Adams,” says Matt. Coincidently, it was also the same day as the 20th anniversary of Oasis’s era-defining Knebworth gig. So, what better time to discuss Dodgy’s association with Britpop, the band’s mid-90s brush with celebrity, political activism and what to expect from their new album.
Is the title of the new album, What Are We Fighting For, a reference to your history of standing up for social causes?
Nigel: In the 90s we did get involved in a lot of things. From the start we were against the criminal justice bill. We did a gig in Hyde Park and Matt and Andy got arrested for the cause.
Matt: It was the age when the NME did matter, and just to get a bit of attention you’d do some kind of stunt. We did this gig with an amplifier in Hyde Park for the criminal justice bill protests and we did it with the intention of getting arrested. The police turned up with five riot vans. Me and Miller got arrested and Nigel ran off.
Nigel: Someone had to be free. The police compounded our van – we had a flatback lorry. I walked back into Hyde Park and I saw the lorry with all the gear on and the keys were still in, so I stole it back off the police. Then we went to Bosnia – almost 20 years ago to the day.
Matt: We’d been asked to be play Knebworth with Oasis, but we’d already agreed this trip to Bosnia. People were saying: “Everyone who is anyone is going to be at this gig in Knebworth – it’ll define the 90s.” And we were in Bosnia!
We had big-top tent and we were taking it around the UK as a travelling festival. These people got in contact and asked if we’d take our tent to Bosnia. They said: “Look, if you can get your tent over to Bosnia, it’ll be amazing, the kids haven’t had any culture for six or seven years.”
Nigel: The war had literally just finished – it was the week Good Enough was in the top five – and we were scuttling over pontoon bridges like action men in Bosnia, seeing burned-out villages. We’d ask the driver why he was driving so fast and he’d say: “Last week, six UN people were shot here.” OK. Keep driving!
Matt: We had to dodge snipers in the hills.
Nigel: We came back from that and on the Monday we played in Liverpool and were asked to do an interview. I’d just read an article by John Pilger about the Liverpool dockers, so we went down to the docks with all the journalist who didn’t know there was a strike on. The next day I was on breakfast TV wearing a dockers’ T-shirt.
The least you can do when you’re in that position is to give something back. I actually feel the experiences we’ve got from those things are higher than an Oasis gig with people throwing piss at you – I’d rather be under the snipers’ rifles.
One of the singles, Now Means Nothing, off the new album was described as being a “response to Brexit”. You must have written that long before Brexit, but were you tapping into the same mood?
Nigel: Think about the word “now”. “Now” was a big word in the 60s, the psychedelic generations’ word and the beatniks before the hippies, it was their word. There’s this quote: “If you don’t control now, you lose control of the future and you only have the past to remind you of what you’ve lost.”
Now is so important. It’s nice having a five-year plan with your missus but, for anything else, it has to be now. We plan all these things and it takes our mind off now. Now is important. What are you fighting for now? What do you need now to live? I really don’t think politicians have that in their game, they’re always about 15 years in the future.
There doesn’t seem to be many bands that are into politics these days …
Nigel: If that’s your calling then you’re going to do it. If you’ve grown up with people like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Joe Strummer, you want to be like them. You know, they did it for me; you have to have an opinion.
Matt: If you hear a band saying something that chimes with you, to have someone saying: “Take them on and win” and “It’s love that we’re fighting for”, I think it’s a better message to put out than what Bastille are putting out – “I miss you”. Put a good message out. Especially at times like this when truth doesn’t seem to matter. Put out good vibes, that’s what we’ve always been about.
Would you still be doing this if the “comeback” album, Stand Upright in a Cool Place, hadn’t been so well received?
Matt: It was a departure that album, it did sound very different. It sounded like the three of us, it was the most Dodgy sounding album we’ve ever done. You kind of do know. We didn’t put it out thinking: “I wonder if anyone will like this?” We spent a lot of time making sure – like we did with this one – that it was as good as we could possible make it.
Nigel: I don’t think we’d ever do anything that would be laughed at. We wouldn’t put it out, we’ve got too much control over that.
Who would you say influenced What Are We Fighting For?
Nigel: This album is more of a band album, the band sound is coming through more. This is more what we’ve learned playing live over the past five years.
Matt: We had a bit of a short, intense Black Sabbath phase as well, which I thoroughly recommend to everyone really. I think that was influenced by Stu our bass player who’s come in. We’ve always had the rock, but Stu pushed us a bit. We won’t go as far as some of the shit he listens too, Guns N’ Roses and what not.
So the new album is a bit more rock sounding?
Matt: We have Stu in the band, we’re now a four piece so we can make a lot more noise. Before when we were writing songs and rehearsing it would be Nigel on bass, Miller on guitar and me on drums. So it was always quite restrictive in the amount of noise we could make. Suddenly with a bass player, we can make a lot of noise, it’s as basic and simple as that.
Nigel: The last album was acoustic and when you’re playing acoustic, people are talking through gigs. I thought the idea would be to go louder so you didn’t have to listen to people talking in the audience.
The single You Give Drugs a Bad Name contains the line: “Got a feeling we’re not in Camden anymore.” Was that a deliberate reference to the epicentre of Britpop?
Matt: A few years ago there was a whole host of documentaries and articles about Britpop and we didn’t get mentioned, and that was great because at the time we never really associated with Britop. The idea of just British music and Britpop, we didn’t like it – it was a bit xenophobic. I think the bands who were into Britpop wanted to be part of that scene. Suede, Blur, Elastica and Menswear, they were aware of the Britpop scene and were trying to encourage it, whilst we were like, “No thanks”. I think The Charlatans were like that as well.
You Give Drugs A Bad Name was a mixture of a lot of things. It was a Bon Jovi pisstake for a start. Then it was piecing together a lot of lyrical ideas with a character who was big on the scene in the 90s and has ended up in a crack den.
Is it based on anyone in particular?
Nigel: I think it’s based on quite a few people we know, although not directly.
Matt: There are a lot of people we know, and for the grace of God some of them are alive and some of them have died. Even some famous ones, I’d see stories about Pete Doherty in his flat in east London and he’d be spurting blood syringes on the wall and you think: “That looks horrible, look at the state of him.”
I heard you played a great small gig at Kendal Calling this year, how did you find that?
Matt: We much prefer these littler gigs. The chances are the highest we’d get on the bill at a big festival is 2 o’clock on the main stage in front of 1,500 people who are still sober, and it’s alright, but not it’s not the right environment to play a gig. So we’ve been playing festivals like Isle of White and Kendall, but we’re playing inside in a tent or cafe and it’s rammed and people can’t get in, so it’s already causing a bit of a commotion. Everyone is going away going: “That was amazing, best gig of the weekend.”
Nigel: At Kendal, there were a load of Scottish blokes outside dressed as Mexicans, it was brilliant.
Matt: That reminds me of the time I met Lulu at Elton John‘s 50th birthday party. Lulu was dressed as Tinker Bell and I was dressed as a Mexican.
How come you ended up at Elton John’s 50th birthday party?
Matt: Oh man, back in the 90s it was stupid, we’d get Bond premieres, musical premieres.
Nigel: As you go up the charts, a door opens: top 40, oh … top 30, another door opens … top 20 … and it just goes on like that. Get to the top five and you get invited to Elton John‘s house.
When you were going to these celebrity parties and Andy was dating Denise van Outen, where you thinking, This is a great laugh”, or did you think it was selling out?
Matt: I think as a kid from Neasden like Andy Miller, sitting in your room smoking dope and the first band he joined was Dodgy – that was the first audition he went to – and then literally four years later he’s got Denise van Outen … You can’t blame him. But I don’t think it was universally loved by everyone in the band.
Nigel: I don’t remember much of the 90s.
Matt: But you get to that point and, as Nigel says, a little door opens and someone says: “Gentlemen, VIP this way”. We were behind the ropes. But this is the point: we were only ever tourists there. I was well aware that I didn’t really belong behind the VIP rope.
They were some of the most insecure drug addled people you’d ever meet, these proper celebrities, and I loved it because I was a tourist there, I knew I wasn’t going to be there long because I didn’t like the kind of people and didn’t necessarily get on there, but fuck, when I was there I was going to really enjoy it. Go to all the parties and see what it’s all about, because if I didn’t, I’d be thinking, “Oh, I wish I’d went to Elton John’s party”. But I know exactly what it’s like, and I’m really glad I don’t go to any more.
So when did the partying stop? Did the VIP rope get pulled back across?
There is a classic story that I do tell. It was six days after my son was born 1999, and I hadn’t been out to wet the baby’s head. The Who were playing at Shepherd Bush Empire doing some sort of anniversary show. Entwistle was still in the band and Daltrey still had his voice – they were phenomenal. It blew my mind how good they were.
Afterwards, it was the backstage party and I was talking to Gem from Oasis, who we knew from years back, and Noel Gallagher was there. Ronnie Wood comes up and he goes: “Alright fellas, party back at my place, Guinness on tap, as much of that [mimes snorting a line] as you like, snooker table …” I was like, I’ve reached heaven! When you think of all things you want to achieve in a band, a party at a Rolling Stones’ house is it. He said: “You up for it?” I said: “Of course I am.”
The phone rang.
I said, hang on fellas – and I’d just told them about the baby being born – and I answered the phone. All they could hear is me going: “No, no, he’ll stop crying soon … He will … He will … No, he will stop crying soon … I can’t come back … No, don’t you cry.” And Noel and Gem are looking at me.
I had to make a decision then and there: do I go off to the Rolling Stones’ house; or do I go back because the missus is crying and the baby is crying? So I got a taxi home. When I told that story to Stu, our bassist, he said: “Well you clearly failed, mate. You failed. You should have let the little bastard carry on crying and gone to the party.” But I made the decision there and then.
You can say now that obviously you’d go to the Stones’ party, but as soon as that kid comes, your priorities change and your whole world goes up in the air and you just don’t know.
Why did you break up all those years ago?
Nigel: We sort of don’t talk about that, but we didn’t have to – the better question is why did you get back together again.
So, why did you get back together?
Nigel: We got back together because one of our mates was really poorly who’d been in the band with us as a lighting guy, and he had terminal cancer and he’s now dead God bless him. I think we got back together then, and really a lot of the problems that existed in the 90s were not transferrable, it didn’t matter.
The band became more of a business in the 90s and if you feel like you are losing control of something, for me personally, it’s not a good place because that’s not what it should be about, it should be about being happy and enjoying your time doing it, that’s the important thing.
If you had a Dodgy museum, what would be the highlight?
Matt: There are so many, I think it would be ridiculous to say one thing stands out more than any other. Travelling around Europe in a big tour bus with your mates is a massive, massive buzz. I just have such fond memories: going to Canada on a never-ending tour; going to Japan with all your mates on tour; playing Glastonbury; listening to Staying Out For The Summer for the first time; little things that you buzz about. Writing a song like Long Life in the studio and going, “That’s amazing”. So many different things, it would be hard to pick one.
Nigel: For me it would be quite simply writing songs, just being in that place – the travelling on the tour bus was fun, but my real love is having time to write songs and being in that space where you can create something, where you have a day in the studio and you wake up in the morning and you’re singing that song, that’s probably my highlight. That has always been Christmas Day for a five-year-old for me.
Interview by Craig Scott, August 2016.
Photographs by Simon Jay Price
Dodgy are on a UK tour starting in September.
Album order links:
Deluxe Vinyl: http://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/what-are-we-fighting-for-limited-deluxe-vinyl-edition/
Deluxe CD: : http://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/what-are-we-fighting-for-limited-deluxe-cd-edition/
Official Store Packages: http://www.dodgyology.com/