Gentlemans Dub Club interview: "We miss Glastonbury so much"
We caught up with bassist, keys player and record producer - Toby davies to find out how the celebrated festival act have coped without live music, and to discover what the band have planned for 2021...
Last updated: 5th Mar 2021
Chances are if you've attended a festival in the UK, you've probably either heard, seen or skanked along with Leeds-based raggamuffins - Gentlemans Dub Club.
Up there with the best and most exciting live reggae-dub bands in the UK, the 9-piece collective have deservedly earned themselves a solid reputation over the past decade and more, touted by seasoned festival goers and reggae fans alike as one of the finest festival acts in Britain.
Recognised by their Specials-esque suit attire and renowned for their energetic performances, the group routinely provide an unrivalled party-starting atmosphere at large scale music events up and down the country, throughout the festival season and beyond. Performing raucous sets loaded with catchy feel good summer tracks that move you involuntarily - it's little wonder why tickets are so hard to come by, to see this lively dance music outfit.
Having entered the studio as news broke of the UK entering its first lockdown back in March 2020, the group were subsequently forced to readjust and regroup to the 'new normal' way of life. A life without live music.
Spending the most part of the past 12 months remotely writing, recording and preparing their seventh studio album - the follow up to 2019's critically acclaimed album, 'Lost in Space' - Gentlemans Dub Club look poised and ready to make a huge comeback in 2021.
With the release of their latest full-length 'Down To Earth' now just over a fortnight away, we grabbed at the opportunity to catch up with the band's bass and keys player, producer of the new record and owner of Crosstown Studios - Toby Davies.
Continue reading to find out what Toby had to say about the collectives new record. Learn about the struggles the band faced throughout lockdown and find out what Gentlemans Dub Club have in store for the coming months...
We’ve heard that you’ve conducted interviews from some, let’s say, unusual locations in the past. The public restroom of a café for example. So, let’s begin by determining where you are speaking to us from today
Toby: "I’m here at my studio, Crosstown Studios in North London. It’s snowing, so I’ve got the heating on and I’m drinking tea to stay warm!”
It’s a question that you’ve probably had to answer quite a lot in recent times - How has lockdown been for Gentlemans Dub Club? Has it affected your creativity and/or output?
Toby: “Lockdown has obviously been pretty terrible for us and for everyone. That said, we wrote ‘Down to Earth’ just as it kicked in, so it gave us plenty of time to get stuck into the writing, and was a welcome distraction from the madness. It’ll be interesting to find out if people can hear the difference between albums we’ve written jamming together and this one which we wrote remotely…”
You’re renowned amongst music fans for your high-energy live performances, and rightly so. You’ve been quoted in the past, stating that ‘live music is the essence and life force of the band’. How have you managed without this essential outlet/platform?
Toby: “I would say that having gigged and hung out together for so many years, that life force exists within us whether we’re on stage or not. It’s a bond that is far too powerful to be broken by physical separation. Even though the connection with our fans has been greatly missed, we are still able to stay in contact with our followers online. It’s not the same but it’s amazing to be connected in some way and to communicate back and forth.
“More recently with the release of our first singles ‘Castle in the Sky’ and ‘Honey’ ft. Hollie Cook, the connection has intensified as we experience people reacting to the music we’ve made. We’ve absolutely loved watching people dancing around their rooms to the tracks and hope that we can provide a bit of respite from the dire situation the world is in.
“We also did a live streamed gig at the Kenneth Moore theatre just before Christmas: the feedback from that has been awesome and it was so much fun being able to make some noise again! You can still watch it if you go over to our website www.gentlemansdubclub.com.”
It’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll all see a return to some form of normality in the UK this year (Hallelujah), and with that normality, we’ll also hopefully see the return of gigs, festivals and tours. If we’re lucky and festivals do return, is there one in particular that you can’t wait to play or that you’d like to play? Do you have a favourite festival? And if so, why is it your preferred event?
Toby: “We miss Glastonbury so much. We’ve played there maybe 8 times, and it feels like a big part of our development as a band. The lineups, the diversity of the arts on show and the sheer enormity of the event are completely mind blowing. We were booked there last year, which rolled over to this year and we were devastated to hear it wasn’t going to happen for the second time. We will be back, and it will be beautiful!”
The ‘Down To Earth’ tour, which has now been rescheduled to 2022, has been named after your forthcoming LP release, due out on Friday 19th March via Easy Star Records. What can fans expect from the new record?
Toby: “We wrote it during lockdown so the lyrical content of the songs carries a heavy significance to us. Everything felt totally different to our usual schedule of insane touring, and we had time to delve into those feelings. That said, our job is always to uplift and entertain people, so we decided to write with the hope that we could provide an outlet for both our listeners and ourselves amongst the chaos.
“The ‘Down To Earth’ name came about when we started exploring the idea of being grounded and appreciating the peace you can find in making life simple and not taking anything for granted. Part of the writing was done mid-summer when lockdown had let up a bit, so we were lucky enough to spend some of the time outside immersed in nature. A lot of the lyrics refer to natural beauty and human connection.
“Musically we wanted to keep to that same uplifting vibe, so the songs still carry our characteristic driving reggae / dub feel with big choruses, horn lines and heavy bass. We’ve also added strings to a few of the tunes which sound super lush and help push the organic feel of the record.”
Listen to the title track of Gentlemans Dub Club forthcoming album - Down To Earth below...
We’ve listened to your latest single from your forthcoming album - ‘Honey’, featuring vocals from Hollie Cook. It’s got us all yearning for those hazy days spent in the summer sun, warm festival beer in hand, watching you guys tear it up on stage. How did you come about collaborating with Hollie (who is apparently the daughter of Sex pistols drummer - Paul Cook. That’s some good lineage)?
Toby: “Thanks for the kind words, glad you’re feeling it!
“We’ve known Hollie for years via the London music scene and the reggae community in general. I think she was making her debut album with Prince Fatty at the same time as we were recording our ‘Open Your Eyes’ EP way back when. And yes, her Dad is Paul Cook, who’s a proper legend!
“Hollie is the Tropical Pop Queen, relentless in her attention to detail and artistic vision, so we are hugely grateful to her for blessing the record.”
We get a sort of sense and feeling of longing when listening to ‘Honey’. Is it an ode to the absent live industry?
Toby: “I hadn’t really thought of it in that context…the track is about the sense of longing felt when you meet someone special for the first time - that physical attraction that is uncomplicated and carnal - compared with the more complex feelings that often kick in later in a relationship. It’s interesting you thought that though, because everything in the record is designed to point towards our situation when we wrote it. There was a deep feeling of loss to do with the live industry, so it makes sense that it comes across that way. The power of music eh?”
Watch a clip of Gentlemans Dub Club performing Honey live with Hollie Cook, at the Kenneth More Theatre below...
What has inspired and influenced the content of the new record? Is there a specific theme to the album or any specific track?
Toby: “The track Night Shift ft. Gardna is all about touring: the relentlessness of the rollercoaster and all the ups and downs of travelling together on no sleep, playing to wild crowds in sweaty venues and battling to keep our heads above water in an industry dominated by the mainstream and hindered by industry chancers. We’ve been through all of this so the song is straight from the heart!”
We’ve watched the Gentlemans Dub Club rendition of Bill Withers - ‘Use Me’, featuring London-based singer-songwriter Kiko Bun, hundreds of times now. Who knew that it would translate so well in a reggae/dub format! It’s a light-hearted and yet genuine nod to the late great.
You’ve said that Withers had a huge impact on your music. Have there been any other artists or records that have been vital to the creation of ‘Down To Earth’?
Toby: “Kiko absolutely killed that version, big up Kiko!!
“Our influences are extremely far reaching as we’re all fans of many different styles, but if we’re talking reggae, they are very much the same they have always been: greats like The Twinkle Brothers, Johnny Clarke, Dennis Brown and the giant of the genre Bob Marley are big influences alongside more recent artists such as Finlay Quaye, Prince Fatty, Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Expanders, Aba Shanti and Iration Steppas.
“Sonically, ‘Down To Earth’ probably contains more influence from the “Golden Era of Recording,” especially Soul and Jazz. Nick (guitarist), Matt (Trumpet) and Luke (keys) played a big part in the writing and bring with them a deep knowledge of the music of that era.
“We recorded at my studio - Crosstown Studios - where we have loads of old analogue gear, and Crosstown engineer Ben Mckone - a proper old school music aficionado - was key in keeping the sound crispy and sparkling. I also played a lot more live bass on the album as opposed to my usual bass synth setup, and as I said before, we got some strings in to compliment the retro vibes (big shout to violinist extraordinaire Alicia Berendse!).
“We also pulled in Brad Baloo from The Nextmen for the mastering - he is another sonic genius and a big influence on us from our time writing the ‘Pound for Pound’ collaboration album, so big up Brad!”
Are there any records or artists that have been essential in helping you get through the past 12 months? Is there anyone you want to shout about or someone you think we need to hear?
Toby: “I’m not gonna lie, if I hadn’t had music to turn to in the last 12 months I genuinely think I would have lost the plot by now!
“At the start of lock down I discovered Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes vocalist) and became completely obsessed with her album ‘Jaime’. She reminds me of the great Billie Holliday with crazy psychedelic modern production. Highly recommend!
“Another record I had on repeat was Texas Sun by Leon Bridges and Khruangbin. He’s got this butterscotch delivery that’s so classic and dreamy, and Khruangbin are an outrageously talented group of musicians. I was listening to it driving around the hills of North Wales in the mid-summer sunshine, and for a moment everything melted away.
“I’ve also just caught wind of Liam Bailey’s new album - Ekundayo (shouts to Josh from The Skints for the tip-off!). He’s a British artist with an incredible voice and this album is a beautiful reggae-tinged journey. Go search the track “Champion” and play it loud, I guarantee it’ll lift your spirits!”
Finally, we’ve recently been asking other artists to bestow some wisdom for the benefit of those reading. So, do you have any tips or advice, or perhaps a life affirming motto, that will assist and guide us through these somewhat miserable times?
Toby: “Look after yourself. Look after each other. Don’t get sucked in by social media and the relentless news cycle, they’re all fighting for your attention which is better spent in the real world. Read a book. Go for a walk. Check in on a friend. Hang in there, it’ll all be over soon!”