Dub Pistols interview: it's no secret that I liked to party and still do

Henry Lewis caught up with legendary party starter Barry Ashworth to find out how he keeps the energy high as his group celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 11th Jan 2017

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Since the 1990s, Dub Pistols have been firing on all cylinders as pioneers and figureheads of electronic music in the UK. Riding high upon a big beat scene that included the likes of Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, Barry Ashworth's party rocking posse dropped debut album Point Blank in 1998, before going on to work with the likes of Horace Andy and Terry Hall on 2001's Six Million Ways To Live

The Specials' front-man was to work with the group again, not only on third album Speakers & Tweeters, but also during many live ventures - for which the band are notorious. A common name on festival line-ups up and down the country, Dub Pistols' display of high octane antics go hand in hand with their pumping basslines and hard hitting beats.

In 2015 the group released their latest studio effort, The Return of The Pistoleros and in early 2017 they hit the road for a UK tour that sees them take on Bradford's The Underground on Friday 27th January, during Independent Venue Week. We caught up with the group's talismanic leader Barry Ashworth to find out what keeps the fire burning.

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Congratulations on making it to 20 years in the biz, have you got anything extra special planned to celebrate your anniversary? Will your sets be an in depth journey through Dub Pistols’ career?

We are planning on digging deep into the band's archives and playing tracks that we haven't for sometime from our early albums. We're also bringing back old members of the band for different shows throughout the year. 

We have our 7th studio album recorded and are just mixing that down over the next few weeks for release in 2017 and we're finishing off the WCPGW (What Could Possibly Go Wrong?) documentary, which has been crowdfunded and due for release at the end of 2017. It's looking like a very hectic year indeed.

Where did your love for dub sounds come from? What was the first song or record that made you think “yep, this is exactly the type of music I want to get into”?

I grew up listening to 2 tone bands such as The Specials, Madness and The Selecter and their sound was heavily influenced by the Jamaican Studio 1 sound of The Skatalites and such. I started to search out the original music and that's when I got deeper into dub and reggae music and the sound of Studio 1, Coxsone, and all the amazing records coming out of the country.

I used to go shopping on a Sunday up at Petticoat Lane market as I knew that was when all the latest imports would come in. I also got into the UK artists and labels such as Carroll Thompson, Donna Rhoden and the lover's rock sound.

You’ve won awards for Best Live Act from a few different publications - what makes a Dub Pistols show so electric and captivating?

Dub Pistols live shows are like a big party and everyone is invited. The shows are high energy and big vibes. The crowd are very much part of the show, we feed off their energy. There is something unique about our shows and I think that is the way the crowd interact with the band.

How do you get pumped up for your high-octane shows, do you have a special pre show ritual?

We don't really have a pre-show ritual, we normally have a party backstage with friends which can get messy at times. It all depends on what time the rider arrives.

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When you think of the 90s, you visualise pretty hedonistic times. Firstly, what was it like being an electronic musician/group back in the 90s? And do the decades since seem pretty tame in comparison?

For me personally, the late 80s and 90s were very hedonistic indeed. It's no secret that I liked to party and still do. I think from the summer of love in '88 onwards it felt like the whole country was raving, it was like a non-stop party. I used to go out every night of the week to a club somewhere.

It wasn't the multi-million-pound business that it is now, everyone was just getting on one and having the time of their lives, it was all about getting loved up. I made so many friends back then who are still friends to this day. People like Dave Beer from Back to Basics in Leeds. We have been mates from the first time I met him at a Basics party, probably going back over 25 years. He is still the same today as he was then: a mad fucker with a heart of gold, hysterically funny and knows how to throw a party. 

I don't think you can compare then and now, then everything was new, the music, the drugs - money wasn't the motivation. Nowadays it's a massive industry and I think that has made everyone more professional and probably less reckless. I think the drugs are also different, and not for the better. The world's changed, everyone wants to be a DJ or a reality TV star.

Return of The Pistoleros is a class album. What drives you on to keep creating music and where do you find your inspiration to write new tracks?

Making music is just something I do, I don't really think about too much, I believe every track you make should be better than the last otherwise you are going backwards and that wouldn't be a good thing eh? Obviously though that isn't always the case.

Inspiration comes from everywhere and I'm also lucky enough to be surrounded by great musicians and artists who help me massively.

I’m a massive fan of your remix of 'Dolphins Were Monkeys' – has Ian Brown ever said anything to you about it?

It's a funny one. The deal with Ian was we would remix that song and he would come and do a guest vocal for us. As I'm a massive Ian Brown fan I was delighted; we put a lot of work into that mix and I think you're right, it is certainly one of our best.

Something changed in that period for Ian and he decided he didn't want his tracks remixed anymore so it never came out officially and he never did turn up to record with us. We are friends with him and he is still one of my favourite artists of all time so I still hold out hope of getting him in the studio one day.

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You also covered some pretty notable songs on Speakers and Tweeters, one of which was the Specials’ ‘Gangsters’ – how influential have they been on your love of music? In addition to that, how did Terry Hall end up joining you for some of your live shows as well as multiple tracks on that record? That must have been a dream come true!

It's been well documented that The Specials were my favourite group growing up, it really can't be overstated how much they influenced my life. The 2 tone sound was so perfect for the mood around the country at that time. Britain was broken, there was rioting all over the country, Thatcher was at her worst and the ska and punk movement was the voice of a jilted generation.

Terry was one of my favourite artists and we happened to have the same publisher so I asked if he could have a word with Terry, which he did, and the rest is history. Terry came around my house we recorded 'Problem Is' and became friends.

We got asked to play a show for Rizla where bands worked with the favourite artists and it just went on from there. Terry then invited Lynval Golding to join us for a show in Finsbury Park. That was the first time they had played together in nearly 20 years I think, the show went down a storm and I believe that was the seed for them to reform the group.

You’re playing at The Underground in Bradford for Independent Venue Week, how important are the UK’s small venues to the whole culture of British music in your eyes?

It's been a tough few years for small venues with so many falling victim to property market because of the money the venues are worth as real estate. It's so important that they are kept open as it's where all the new talent gets to learn their trade. Everyone should support these venues and music is such a massive part of the British culture. It's something we are very good at exporting around the world, but without venues to play in bands, and the music, will die - and that would be a very sad day indeed.

Like this? Check out The Selecter will headline Positive Vibration 2017

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Bradford - The Underground, Friday 27th January

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Sheffield - Yellow Arch Studios, Saturday 28th January

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