Interview: Dodgy – part 1
Published on January 9th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
“No, I don’t know them,” replied the girl who would only have been around eight years-old when Dodgy split up the first time round, with three albums and twelve top 40 hits under their collective belt. “Well, do you know this tune?” I said, and proceeded to sing: “If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for…” She instantly recognised it, of course. “Okay,” I continued, “how about this tune?” Cue: “Staying out for the summer, playing games in the…” Again, a positive affirmation was registered before I’d even made it through half a chorus.
“Right then,” I concluded. “You know Dodgy.”
If ever a book was judged by its cover and discarded without due consideration, it’s Dodgy. Self-deprecating name, breezy melodies, obvious ‘60s influences, peaked commercially in the mid-‘90s, had one or two hits then faded away: Dodgy were shit, right? That’s certainly the conclusion that one unctuous so-and-so came to at the end of this Guardian article. Presumably, he or she never got around to immersing his or her self in the considerable delights of the Midlanders’ 1995 and 1996 albums Homegrown and Free Peace Suite.
Had they done so, they would of course still be entitled to dismiss the band in one fell, sniffy swoop. To Rocksucker’s ears, though, you’d have to be a right miserable sod not to take a great deal of pleasure from these ecstatic, energising, sun-kissed, tangential, masterfully crafted and surprisingly epic records. Had they gone by a name that was less conducive to people making their minds up upon first glance, perhaps it would now be more widely acknowledged that Dodgy were much, much smarter than the average indie band.
On 20th February, they will unleash their first new studio album for eighteen years (eleven if you count 2001’s Real Estate, issued under the name Dodgy but not the product of the band’s classic line-up) in Stand Upright In A Cool Place, and they will also that month embark on a small UK tour which includes dates at London’s Bush Hall and the recently reopened Eric’s Club in Liverpool, a city with which the band came to share a significant mutual appreciation over the years.
They kick off this new wave of activity tonight with a semi-acoustic show at north London watering hole The Boogaloo, so Rocksucker caught up with drummer/co-songwriter/ambassador Mathew Priest for what turned out to be a highly entertaining chat…
Was the prospect of reforming Dodgy one day something you thought a lot about during the hiatus, or were you too busy with your other projects to give it much consideration?
Well, it was always in the back of my mind because there was a gap, a hole in my soul. It’s not something we were actively trying to instigate but of course it was always there, hovering, hiding in the shadows and poking its head out going, “You know, I’m still here!” It wasn’t something we were looking to do at all, but after time passes you start to really miss each other. I was seeing Andy a lot because I was managing his band – and we have a Northern Soul band called The Soulwinners [also featuring Vanessa Best from Ultrasound and members of Mohair] that we play in together – but I was really missing Nige.
You don’t want to be pining so you crack on with your life. You don’t want to be like a whining dog, going “Ooooh, I wish it was happening,”; you want to be strong, to be moving on, so you just focus on whatever you’re doing at the moment. But I’m so glad we got back together.
Are you still managing any bands?
You were managing Misty’s Big Adventure as well, weren’t you?
Yeah. Bless ‘em, I love Misty’s, always will, but they’re unmanageable. They’re like this crazy circus horse; a succession of people have gone in thinking, “I can manage this horse!” but you can’t. They do their own thing, trundle on in their own little way, and maybe in five years there’ll be a huge realisation across the country of, “Fucking hell, Misty’s Big Adventure have been going since 1996!” They’ve got their twentieth anniversary coming up in four years’ time! They’re such a great, unusual, brilliant, unique little band and I love them dearly. I did as much as I could with them; I did the “Fashion Parade” single with them – I played the evil manager in the video – got Noddy Holder working with them, got them on The Zutons’ tour, bits and bobs like that.
What made you decide to go with Strike Back Records for the new album?
We’ve known Maurice [Bacon] for a long, long time. He was the partner of our original manager, so we’d always see him when we went to his office. We’ve known him since 1991 and he’s quite a character. He was the original drummer in The Love Affair and then he went on to play with and manage lots of different bands, John Otway and whatnot. He’s just this brilliant character who’s been around the music business for ages and I sent him some demos because I just wanted his advice, really.
We were getting demos together and I wanted his advice because I knew he’d worked with a couple of bands who had contacts in Southeast Asia and we wanted to get something going there. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a good friend, so I just wanted his opinion, really. I sent him some demos and he replied in capital letters saying: “I WANT TO DO THIS ALBUM, IT’S FUCKING BRILLIANT!” – I wasn’t expecting that! That wasn’t the purpose of it, but he showed such enthusiasm for it that we thought: why not go with him?
Bands don’t get good deals anymore anyway, so you might as well go with someone you can trust. Trust is worth thousands and thousands of pounds in this industry; I’d rather work with someone I can trust rather than someone I have to call up saying, “What the fuck’s happening here?” Someone I can have a laugh with rather than someone who’ll hand over twenty grand then sit back and do fuck-all. It’s about relationships nowadays, so that’s why we went with Strike Back.
I read your blog piece written in response to an article about how major labels will have abandoned the CD format by the end of 2012, in which you said that you were working towards making Stand Upright In A Cool Place “as complete a package as possible”…
There were a couple of things I raised in there: one was that this article was leaked, and of course they all denied it, but of course they want to phase out physical copies of albums and go to downloads, because it doesn’t cost them anything. Probably what they’ll do is keep putting out the big box sets for their heritage artists at £150 a pop, which is fucking bollocks. U2’s box set came with a pair of sunglasses. Just fuck off! I loved U2 when I was 15, but chucking a pair of sunglasses in and charging £140 for a fucking album? Jesus.
In moderation, people do like to get a box set if it’s value for money, and that’s what we’re working on with this album. We’ve worked hard on making a nice package that’s really value for money. One thing major labels always did traditionally was take 15% off whatever money the band made as a packaging reduction, the act of putting the CD in a package and putting the package around. Then there’s a breakables reduction for CDs that get broken in transit, which is another 10%. There are all these reductions for packaging that they take off, chipping away at your percentage.
If you look at record contracts, they still have these reductions, even though the majority of sales are downloads. Chuck D actually took his record company to court over it, because they were still charging him for packaging out of his iTunes income. He was saying, how the fuck are you charging me packaging on a download? Like any kind of big institution, the music industry is a lumbering beast that can’t get its head around anything new, and as a result it’s getting fucked over. All we’re getting from major record companies is Olly Murs and Pixie Lott.
The majority of people in record companies have not got a fucking clue what they’re doing. You’ll get some brilliant ones who are really on top of it, really love music and have an eye for what could be commercial and what could be good. But for every Clive Davis, Ahmet Ertegün or Alan McGhee, you’re going to get nine hundred idiots, wankers who haven’t got a fucking clue. All they know how to do is market something, putting half a million into television, radio, magazines, websites, linkups with Revlon and L’Oreal, blah blah blah: that’s what they know how to do, because it doesn’t take any skill. It just takes money.
So they’re really good at banging out the likes of Pixie Lott and Olly Murs, but it takes skill and guts to find a band, take a chance on them, put money into them and then reap the rewards. That’s the reason major record companies are dying out. Unless they come out with some good bands, some good artists, they’re going to die on their arses. It’s short-term shit: Olly Murs isn’t still going to be around in five or ten years selling shitloads of albums. He might be around doing TV presenting, but he won’t be around music.
And Pixie Lott, god bless her, she’ll maybe marry a footballer, or she’ll be writing songs for the next Pixie Lott. Record companies have decided that they’re not going to bother with bands who could have long careers anymore, because it takes too much money and too much skill to find them.
I must say, amen to every last word of that.
Don’t get me wrong, the music industry worked for us, but back then it was very different. It’s a whole different beast now.
A lot of bands that made their name in the nineties are on their way back now. Does it bother you to see the term ‘Britpop’ welded onto every other mention of Dodgy’s comeback in the press?
Well…personally, a little part inside of me dies because I was never a fan of Britpop. It’s easy to label something ‘Britpop’ because it was from that age, but we were never really part of all that. We sort of pre-empted it in a way; Noel Gallagher said that he took a copy of the first Dodgy album into Oasis’s rehearsal room and said, “If these fookers can do it, so can fookin’ we!” We didn’t invent it, god no, but we kind of pre-empted it. We were certainly caught up in the resulting wave – of course we were, because there was a big, exuberant love of life and music around that time – but it’s a bittersweet thing. What I really hate is when they put “also-rans” at the end of it. “Britpop also-rans”: that really gets my fucking goat.
Some people speak about Dodgy now as if you were some one-hit-wonder band, but everything you touched around the time of Homegrown and Free Peace Suite seemed to turn to gold.
We had twelve top 40 hits!
In the nicest possible way, you’re one of those bands by whom people know more songs than they think they do.
You can be in the music world, surround yourself with music and friends who are into music, and you think that everyone knows the stuff that you do. Take Super Furry Animals: a really brilliant, important band, but you talk to a bloke on the street, talk to a nurse or a mechanic, or someone’s mum, and they’ll go, “Who?” – “Super Furry Animals, they’re fucking brilliant!” – “Never heard of them.” A lot of bands don’t cross over.
The reason Oasis really crossed over was all the headlines, Liam and Noel, all the coke, the battle with Blur, the fights and all that. When they hit the tabloids, that’s when they began to sell millions of records, when they pricked everyone’s consciousness and got the nurses and the mechanics, the everyday people, listening to them. With us, the majority of people will know “Good Enough” and they’ll say, “Oh, was that you?” They don’t know it was by Dodgy, and why should they? They’ve got their lives to live.
Actually, I was going to ask how often you encounter people who react with surprise, perhaps even disbelief, when you tell them that you were the band who did “Good Enough”, “Staying Out for the Summer”, “In a Room”, “If You’re Thinking of Me”…
This is it: the masses don’t know “In a Room” or “If You’re Thinking of Me”. Music fans know those songs, but the masses only know “Good Enough” and “Staying Out for the Summer”. As I said, people tend to know the song more than the band, certainly when you’re talking to people who aren’t big music fans.
“Staying Out for the Summer”