Dub Sex – Search For The Right Words
Released 5th April 2019
The complete studio recordings by one of the great Manchester bands of the late 80s Dub Sex, led by Mark Hoyle. This set also includes previously unreleased Peel Session tracks. LTW’s Ian Canty gives the crowd a swerve and follows instead the Hulme Heroes…..
I think Snub TV was possibly the last great TV music show. Part of the BBC2 post-tea-time Def II strand, it offered the unusual, veering far away from the chart bound sounds of the late 80s. Even so, some of the acts featured went onto mainstream success. There was a terse and exciting interview with the Manic Street Preachers, J Mascis giving us the rundown of his all-action lifestyle and a fascinating window into the world of the Throwing Muses was also provided. The music itself was outstanding, I remember Ride playing an explosive version of Drive Blind, Mark E Smith sneering out Deadbeat Descendent and a devastating Fanciable Headcase by King Of The Slums, which was a real eye opener.
One performance that I found extraordinary was Dub Sex, playing their song Swerve at the Boardwalk venue. I truly don’t know if anyone else felt it like me, but I was riveted: before me was a clearly discernible a mixture of passion and real assurance (not to be confused with over-confidence), plus heavy-duty music that lodged itself in my head almost immediately and indelibly. I got the feeling that they truly believed in what they were doing and they stood out because of this true sense of purpose. I can only compare it with when I saw the Young Marble Giants on Something Else about a decade earlier, the music was much different of course, but the belief in what they were doing and the feeling that they arrived “fully formed” appeared similar to me.
They also gave me the same sort of feeling as when I saw Punk bands on Top Of The Pops in the late 70s – “This is our lot”. I can still see that performance in my minds eye, as fresh as when I saw it first. The very evident charisma of the band punched a hole through my TV set right into my mind.
Being stationed down the other end of the country meant that I never got to see them live, which was a shame. I don’t know if they played down this way, but if they did it was well before the internet and constant reminders of who was gigging in town, then it was either in the local rag, music press or didn’t find out about it until after it happened. I got the records though which fulfilled the promise of that TV appearance and make up the bulk of this compilation. The world might not have been listening, but those with any nous were. Dub Sex didn’t storm the charts, but more importantly they stuck relentlessly to what they wanted to do.
Despite being very much their own creation, they were steeped in the musical history of their surroundings. In their songs there are hints of Joy Division’s slate-grey industry, the stubborn individuality of the Fall, the grimy romantic abandon that marked out the best of the Smiths’ work and even the head-first manic rush of Stackwaddy.
Singer Mark Hoyle had played a gig with Post Punk legends Ludus and also was part of Vibrant Thigh, with bassist Cathy Brooks playing in the Performing Ferret Band at around the same time. For drummer Roger Cadman and Dave Rumney on guitar Dub Sex was their first band and they completed the initial personnel of the outfit (Rumney was replaced in 1988 by Chris Bridgett and Tim Costigan nudged them up to a two guitar line up a year later). They quickly became Peel favourites and gathered a following after recording a flexi-disc of Tripwire!, which accompanied the fanzine Debris, had started the wheels rolling. TV appearances (the aforementioned Snub TV spot and also on Tony Wilson’s The Other Side Of Midnight) and rapturously received live shows followed, with the band releasing 4 EPs and the Push mini-album over the course of just over two years.
Swerve is superb, a true anthem that captures the band’s elusive, metallic (with a small “m”) beauty and power in one memorable and hugely enjoyable package. But it’s far from the be-all and end-all of this collection, there is much that is diverting and they never seemed to have recorded a duff track. Tripwire! is as punchy and catchy as early Fall and North By North-East is powered along by a driving bass line (the bass playing throughout is brilliant and the guitar and drums are not for behind in terms of innovation either) and concludes “So come to the big city….and fall”, whilst earlier referencing Fontella Bass’ Rescue Me (Man On The Inside quotes Give Me Just A Little More Time in its outro…the Soul of Dub Sex…..).
The deftness and power of the music is enough to take one’s breath away, but Mark Hoyle’s lyrics also stand out. He eloquently manages to express emotional and highly personal observations in relatively few words, sometimes oblique, sometimes short and to the point. On for example Play Street, a stunning evocation of the cruelty of the playground where he simply states “somebody pushed me” or “and one conclusion I’ve reached is that the power of belief can slice through steel and cut a path through the trees” from Believe, which is delivered a backing that recalls the early, wired Buzzcocks. The tribal pounding and guitar shimmers on Snapper are glorious, before almost became ramalama Punk with a strikingly impassioned and tormented vocal from Mark. He pulls everything he can out of Splintered’s lyrics, singing, screaming, squealing and bellowing, an incredible performance.
Everything that Dub Sex did was purposeful, everything they did was unique. No “easy money” drift into Madchester for them, they had integrity. It would be crass and incorrect to say “they should have been massive”, because they were. Massively creative, massively addictive, massively underrated. Luckily they have resumed operations and hopefully will zoom forward like they did all those years ago. This excellent compilation (which has a great sleeve note by Heath Common and a 1989 piece by Mark Hoyle about the band) works both as a reminder to those of us that listened at the time and jubilant wake up call for the unaware. Dub Sex were and are important and the good thing is there’s still time for you to catch up. Search For The Right Words will enrich your life. Not one of the great lost Manchester bands, just a great band.
Dub Sex are on Facebook here
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here