words and photos by Peter Nicholson.
With more than 20 years since the band formed, their history, according to front man Barry Ashworth, reads like an A-Z of cautionary tales for any band. There are the highs; “playing huge festival to massive crowds”, to the lows; “drugs, drink and self-destruction”. Despite the roller-coaster ride, and the fact that, if it could go wrong for the band, at some point, it probably did, Barry and the Dub Pistols are still in here.
I had a chat with Barry after the sound check at the Brook:
Have you been looking forward to coming back to the Brook?
“Absolutely, I love this venue. Anywhere with a balcony is great for my ego [smiling]. We used to play other venues in Southampton, but as soon as we got the call to come back here, I jumped at it.”
How’s the tour been going so far?
“I think it’s been our most successful one so far, ticket sales and sold-out shows have been amazing. The gigs have been rocking. It’s so great to be part of this band, considering we’ve managed to destroy so many opportunities that we’ve had, and to still be here and selling out venues is such a buzz. I sometimes feel like a boxer, one that keeps getting put on the floor, but refuses to stay down. We must be the most successfully unsuccessful band ever! [more smiles]. We’ve managed to turn adversity into opportunity. We own our mistakes and we’ve turned fans into family and have a real cult following. We love it.”
Tell me about the documentary that you have coming out.
“What could possibly go wrong”, yeah, that’s out in March. It’s a hilarious 20 year hangover of a film. It’s the whole story of the f*** ups, and believe me, there were plenty, and the triumphs. Even when we started getting it together, we then got hit with Covid, which screwed everything up for so many people, so it’s been delayed a bit.”
How did you cope through Covid?
“I did some streams, some writing, and did a lot of work with Toinc, the Charity that promotes mental health in the music industry, that was kind of a redemption for me. There’s a dark side to the music industry which people don’t see; the hand-to-mouth life of so many people involved in the music industry. It’s a passion of mine to help people get to grips with that side of it all.”
How did you decide to start the band in the first place?
“I’ve always felt that if you want to do something, you should just go for it. I remember watching the Happy Mondays, I was loving it, and even though I was as off my face, I thought, if they can do it, I can. So we gave it a go. We were sh**, but you have to start somewhere. You have to keep going and work on getting better. It’s old cliches, but they’re true. The only real mistake is not learning from mistakes… I’ve made plenty! [laughing].”
Do you still enjoy touring?
“I don’t need to do this anymore, but I still want to. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it. My liver and every part of my body tells me to knock it on the head, but I just don’t want to [more laughter]. I’ve come through some tough times but still want to be here. I think I was an over-achieving alcoholic… is there such a thing? [laughs], well I was one. But I’m still here, I’m one of the lucky ones, I’ve got friends who didn’t survive that part of their lives.”
What’s the best part of being in the band?
“[Pause for thought] I think when I was young, it’s another cliché, sex, drugs and rock n roll. But now, it’s still the buzz of performing. I do love it, there’s no high like it.”
So, what’s on the horizon for next year?
“I’m already planning 2024! We have to get through 2023 first, we’ve got tours in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, as well as festivals. But I do want to get the life balance back. Covid made me realise I want to be able to spend more time with mates and family. It’s gonna be good. Life work balance is the key.”
I’ve interviewed a lot of musicians, and I have to say that chatting with Barry was a joy. He was relaxed, funny, honest and open. It was like have a chat over a beer with a mate.
The show itself started with a warmup set from energetic locals Still Moving DJs, who I’ve seen play a few times, and even photographed them at The Brook before. If anyone can get a crowd in the mood for an evening of live music, Still Moving can!
The support act was Wavysof. Perfect for the crowd. This 22 year-old London based artist was playing to her largest crowd to date, and she took it all in her stride. Energetic beats and a strong confident vocal performance. Well-rehearsed with an assured stage presence.
Then the Dubs hit the stage and the room jumped into another gear. It was clear that the family that Barry spoke of were out in force – what a reception. Smiles from the whole band as they began an evening of doing what they clearly love.
Last on stage were Barry and Seanie Tee, looking cooler than any front men I’ve ever seen before. From hats to boots, cool! From the first track, the room was jumping. As I moved to the middle of the floor to get some shots of the stage, I could literally feel the floor moving in time with the beat. The atmosphere was electric. As I moved around to get some other angles, I bumped into the tour manager, Olly, who suggested I get some shots from the stage. It’s always a thrill when you’re invited on stage to get some photographs. It’s never something to do without an invitation, but once it came, I jumped at the chance. As I entered the stage area, I could see the faces of the audience, completely lost in the stage craft and music of these seasoned pros. Barry and the boys were playing to the crowd and to the camera.
The amazing sound system at The Brook complimented the performance, as did the light show. I’ve said it before, but The Brook has a sound and light set up that is the envy of many much larger venues.
At the end of so many gigs, I see the band disappear and never really interact with their fans on a personal level. That certainly wasn’t the case here. Barry climbed off the front of the stage and immediately started chatting with as many people he could. Selfies and signatures abounded. Joined by Seanie, the two worked the crowd, not as aloof artists, but as artists who valued their audience.
It was a pleasure to meet the band, to interview Barry and to photograph the show. I hope they’ll be back at The Brook soon. I’ll be there!
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