Well Dodgy Geezer..
Staying Out For The Drummer..
It was the summer of 1994, Staying out for the Summer hadn’t hit the charts just yet, and I bought an album called ‘Homegrown’ by a band called Dodgy. This was just before Britpop hit when indie music was still independent. That album didn’t come off my mate’s car stereo and a love was born. To put you in the picture my love of music really kicked in a couple of years ahead of the Britpop boom. I was 16 or 17 and started getting into bands like PJ Harvey, Kingmaker (the best thing to have come out of Hull), Manic Street Preachers, The Auteurs, and many other British-based independent bands. Along with my close friends, we started seeking out music that spoke to us. We were middle-class kids with an idea that we were cooler than we actually were, proto-Inbetweeners if you like.
Free Peace Suite followed at the height of Britpop and Dodgy were everywhere. But then it all seemed to disappear, just as the optimism of this British music scene dimmed loads of bands vanished from the charts (and their record companies books).
Without this turning into Spinal Tap I had the chance to talk with Mathew Priest (the drummer from Dodgy) and ask where are they now, what’s been going on, and what are their plans for the future.
WHEN THE HYPE MET DODGY
DBTH: So I’m fan of Dodgy, I bought ‘Homegrown’ on tape.
Mathew Priest: On tape?
Yep, it was on my mates car stereo for the entire summer. I’m really interested in that period of music personally when there was a huge influx of British bands. And you’ve been going a long time so what’s your last few years looked liked? The mainstream press moved to other bands so what has Dodgy been up to?
Well, we split up before we got shit about 1998. Our singer (Nigel) left and me and the guitarist (Andy) lived on. We put a new single out and we put a new band together, still under the name of Dodgy and we got another album out a couple years later. In hindsight we really shouldn’t have called it Dodgy, it’s a shame because that little collection of musicians was great and the single we had was great for what it was, but it wasn’t Dodgy
It must have been odd to carry on without Nigel?
I think me and Andy were quite hurt by the fact that Nigel left because we were literally at our peak, we were at our most successful. We had been climbing this ladder since 1991 and then we finally broke through in 1996 with ‘Good Enough’ and then it all started to go wrong about a year later. We were suffering because we built the band up and worked hard and so we were sticking our heels in and refusing to have the band split up. And the new Dodgy fizzled out 2001 and then we got back together with the original lineup in about 2008.
And is that the line-up now?
Yeah, Stuart Thoy joined us in about 2012 but for 4 years we were just the three piece, which was great. It was like starting again, getting to know each other and playing gigs as just the three piece and we wrote ‘Stand Upright In A Cool Place’ that got really good reviews, probably the best reviews of our career. And fans loved it. We were gonna take it on the road and we realised we had to get a bass player so Stuart turned up and he’s been in the band ever since.
It sounds like you’ve gone through quite a different journey to a lot of bands. You said that it felt like you were starting again so did your relationship reset as you introduced the original trio back together?
Yeah, it started again but we had to readjust and get used to each other. There was a lot of bad water that had gone under the bridge, there were a lot of bad feelings and that had to be, not explored, but emotions had to be sorted out and it took a time. It took a while for us to say “right, what is it that we’re trying to achieve here and is it worth us still being pissed off with this or that”? We just drew a line under it and started afresh as mature, responsible and wiser people. And it generated a lot more respect for each other. Without record company management around it was literally the three of us, and if you listen to that album (Stand Upright In A Cool Place) it’s the three of us in our forties. It’s us talking and writing songs about regret and about our lives and how we deal with each other in relationships, and I think a lot people really related to that because it was us now.
Was there a temptation to try and be the younger Dodgy?
It wasn’t us trying to be Dodgy in 1996 and yeah and there’s an honesty to that which we tried to keep. I think that the honesty to Dodgy’s music is a double-edged sword because pop music has always been about pretence, for some of the best pop stars it’s about pretending to be something you’re not. Like David Bowie, or Damon Albarn pretending to be a cockney when he’s fucking not.
Where do you think that comes from?
It tends to come from a suburban middle class and a lot of the great pop bands do that. Essentially they are suburban and they pretend to be American black artists. There’s a lot of pretence there and the thing with Dodgy is we were never really good at pretence and that was our downfall in a sense. We were just 3 blokes that were a bit fucking stupid, we were fucking good sometimes, really shit sometimes, but honest. If I compare Dodgy to Suede I choose Dodgy any day.
“We never knew the game”.
And Suede had a definite image.
They knew the game they were playing. Dodgy never knew the game, and I think people like that about us.
I remember reading an interview years ago where Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals said they were at an airport one day, stood around in their parkas, and they turn around and there’s Suede in leather looking like a rock band and they felt like “God we just can’t compete with this”.
Well, the Super Furries are my favourite band of the nineties. I fucking love that band and again, they didn’t have that pretence, they were working class lads from Wales. Just like Oasis, originally they were raw and there was a difference with them.
Do you listen to new music as well?
Yeah, it’s a lot easier having access to Spotify and Youtube and everything like that. I’m a great lover and listener of the radio so I get a lot of stuff from there. I also come around Britain to play, so we get to hear of new bands coming through and we got a lot of people sending stuff into us as well.
Do you think it’s harder for new bands today?
I would hate to be a young band nowadays, I really would, it’s a whole different ball game.
It’s probably easier to find new music nowadays than it ever has been but is there a flipside to that from a band’s perspective?
It’s a different beast in the sense that you do it because you love it and you do it as a hobby but you have another job. And in the old days of rock music, you had these amazing fucking gods, that kind of doesn’t really happen now. It’s like the smart guys back in the ‘60s and ‘70s they got into rock music. That’s what they did, but smart guys now don’t go into rock, they go into fucking iTunes, they go into computer games and that kind of thing, so it’s a different beast. Music is not as culturally important as it used to be.
Do you think that matters?
It’s a shame but it is what it is. We spend more time on the phone and whatever else than listening to music, and people don’t buy albums like they used to at all, it’s just a whole different base now.
Do you think part of it is down to the choice available as well? In the ‘70s, you had bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, those really big bands that came through, so then there’s a very narrow focus of music that was in the mainstream at that time. I suppose the counter is that with so much access and so much availability of music it’s hard to pin down one mainstream thing anymore. Britpop was arguably the last time in Britain where one genre was everywhere, you don’t seem to have that same sort of scale to a movement anymore.
Yeah, absolutely and the bands don’t become as successful. In the 70s you had bands like Yes who were really experimental, bands who had time and produced albums that were really challenging and progressive. And they were playing to three hundred and fifty thousand people in Philadelphia. I just can’t get my head around this, these really experimental bands were massive rock stars. And that was what gave birth to the progressive bands like Pink Floyd.
And so it’s different now?
It’s such a different thing to be successful now it really is. Some bands know what they have to do to be successful. They have to do music that sounds like everyone else, and fair enough if that’s what they want to do to be successful it’s up to them. But it’s in very narrow parameters. You’ve got loads of great bands out there, really interesting music, but they don’t break through enough into the mainstream. And I think music was at its best was when it would really affect a lot of people, like The Clash. They’d be on the radio, the family stereo, where it could really affect a lot of people and get a reaction, affecting people around the world.
You were saying earlier about Dodgy coming back to that original three piece, and with the addition of your bass player, it sounds like you’re comfortable with who you are so are able to do what you want to do.
We’re comfortable as a band and we know what our capabilities are. We know how good we can be and we push ourselves. We released a new album last year called ‘What Are We Fighting For’ which took a bit longer because Nigel this time wanted to mix it himself.
What was the reason for that?
He’s never done it before. He’s always allowed other people to mix it and he really wanted to do it this time, and that took a long time but you’ve got to give people freedom. And we felt we could get it out a lot quicker and it sound a lot more polished, but we wanted it to sound right. And you know what, Nigel’s the singer of the band and he wrote most of the songs so go for it. And back in the ‘90s, we would have found it very, very hard to be able to have the freedom to do that.
Does that translate into gigs?
This year we’re getting more offers for gigs than we’ve had in the last 8 years. There are some really good paying gigs you know, they are offering us some good money and that’s great to see. You know that it’s still earning, there’s still an interest there and people still want to see Dodgy and we can still do it. It’s all about keeping it keeping it respectful with us and still giving the audience value for money in the fact that they’re not gonna turn around and go, “You know what, I saw Dodgy and they were shit”. As soon as word gets around that you’re shit, it spreads very quickly.
So how do you balance the greatest hits versus wanting to play people your new material?
It just depends on what gig you play. If we play at a festival in front of people that have probably never seen us before then we’ll bring out the hits and slip in as many new ones as we think we can. But if it’s all Dodgy’s fans then we have a lot more freedom to play a mix of stuff. When we went on tour with ‘Stand Upright In A Cool Place’ we played the whole of that album in full.
A lot of bands are doing it, it’s become quite popular.
I think the Pixies started off, The Stooges did it then so everybody joined in and we thought that we love this album so much why don’t we perform it from start to finish. It was challenging but it was fun doing it.
Do you think Dodgy have a specific audience or has it grown with you over the years?
We’re still in contact with a lot of fans who’ve been there since the start. They’re a bunch of really, really great people and what’s nice is that we’ve always been quite a safe band for girls. We’re not pop stars in the Justin Bieber sense, but they can come to our gigs and feel that they’re not gonna get groped and feel that they’re not gonna have someone landing on top of them. I think our gigs are always a 50/50 male/female split. I like that. I like the fact that it’s not blokey.
It sounds like you’ve got a lot of fans who stayed with since the start?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a girl who was the first person to ever write to us back in 1990. She used to write a letter us every week, she wrote all these letters and told us all about her family and we found it amazing that this girl would love us because no-one knew about us back then. She’d send us little gifts and we stayed friends with her and she would come to our gigs when we played up north and bring sandwiches for us. We’d get her on the guest list but she refused that, she always paid for her ticket and it’s lovely because we’ve been in people’s lives for a long, long time.
“We were just 3 blokes that were a bit fucking stupid”.
What are the things you didn’t expect as a band when you started to get attention?
What the mainstream stuff?
Yeah, as you grew.
When we started to go bananas?
Yes! Was it literally overnight?
No, because every single we released got a little bit higher on the charts, every album released sold a bit more. It was a kind of slow process which is great and that couldn’t necessarily have happened now, because unless you hit it straight away then you tend to get dropped. There was a lot of money flushing around the industry and they re-invested in us. So when it did finally happen it was expected, it wasn’t overnight. But still, nothing prepares you for that kind of scrutiny and press and screaming people, and front pages which is what Andy got. And we’d get invited to parties, to all the premieres with flashbulbs going off and ending up behind the VIP rope, and suddenly you’re sharing that space with people that you’re looking at and going, “Fuck you, you paranoid drug addict”.
Did you feel part of that scene?
I’m glad we were tourists and we didn’t stay there. It’s a very strange place and I think that when we got there it was the start of our downfall. I don’t think we were meant to be there, as I said before we didn’t have that pretence. We didn’t come with armour on. We went there, and thought “fucking hell, what’s this life”? It was mental, and of course, we loved it, we loved it while it was happening. You’re hanging around with TV stars and Pop Stars and comedians, which is who I used to love to hang around with, and we’d end up in ridiculous situations but we knew there was always that sense of certainty looking back now that it was never really gonna last at the level.
Did that contribute to the band splitting up?
When that was happening Nigel had 2 kids in quick succession and his life drastically changed in the sense that he wasn’t going out. He wasn’t being the pop star, he was being quite responsible and that drove a bit of a wedge between us and yeah, it was a strange time and I think that added pressure, as well as Nigel, being the main creative source of the band. I think he certainly felt a lot of pressure that he had to come up with another ‘Good Enough’. And I don’t think he liked that you know. I think he liked to just do things at his own pace.
“We’re Really big in Chile”.
Is it just Nigel who got kids or have you?
No, no, I got a seventeen-year-old boy.
How has that changed the dynamic? Since becoming a father myself my entire world’s changed. I do a 9-5 job so actually, it’s manageable in the sense that I know exactly where I am at any given time, I imagine it’s slightly different when you’re in a band?
Yeah but this time around we only really do weekends. It must have been really hard for Nigel when he had his kids and he was on the road all the time. I would imagine it’s a very, very hard thing and that’s why a lot of people split up and so the fact he’s managed to keep his marriage together is amazing really. We’re a weekend band now and then I’ve got a job during the week. The thing is when you’ve got a kid is you realise what your priorities are and your priorities are your kids. Simple as that. So my priority’s been to make sure that I can provide for him.
Does he have an understanding that his Dad’s in this band, does he get that?
Yeah, yeah, he’s always on Spotify telling me where our songs are played the most and it’s invariably Santiago or Mexico City, or something like that which is really weird but he’s a bit of a stat man. And then he’ll also say, “Your tracks have been played 4 times on BBC Radio this week and BBC World Service really love you, and on Spotify you’re being played seventeen thousand times in Chile.” And so he’s great, he loves all that, he really loves the media aspect and how it’s spread around the world and with the last album he was a really important pair of ears.
One of the questions I want to ask you is that there’s been a resurgence of bands from the 90’s either reforming or re-touring a lot of material recently. Is that something you’re doing at the same time or is it just a coincidence because it sounds like you’ve been gigging without pause for a long time.
We did a gig last year and Alan McGee (founder of Creation Records) took us out for dinner and he was great, he’s a total legend. and he was like, “Matthew, the ’90’s they are coming back man”. And this time around we‘ve been touring for a little bit and then this year they all fucking getting back together! I think the only ones that haven’t got back together are Supergrass and when they do that’s gonna be massive. Pretty much everyone has got back together now. Oasis will obviously get back together again at some point. The thing is if you know a band will say “No we’re not gonna get back together” but then a promoter will say, “Well we’ll give you a hundred grand each” or in the Stone Roses case we’ll give you seven million pounds each, what are you going to say to that? Are you going to turn around to you kid and say, “No I’m not taking the money”?
And there’s an audience for it.
The ‘90s are back in the sense that the people who were out in the ‘90s now have income, their kids have practically grown up, they don’t have to get babysitters for them anymore, and they’re having a second youth and they’ve got money to spend. As I said we’ve already released two new albums so we’ve been around again for a little while and we can surf that wave for a little bit. We don’t mind that.
Dodgy play St Paul’s Art Centre In Worthing on the 22nd September.
And for those of you ‘90’s kids who have made it this far, check out these interviews of Ocean Colour Scene, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals and The James Taylor Quartet.