Louder Than War Interview: Dub Sex – brilliant ‘lost’ Manchester band and Peel favourites talk about their comeback
The 10th of April marks the return of Dub Sex, one of Manchester’s finest bands, who are set to play their first live show for 25 years at Sound Control. To mark the moment Louder Than War caught up with Mark, Chris and Cathy to get the lowdown on the upcoming show, the band’s history, Manchester music and their feelings on Dub Sex playing live again…
Louder Than War: Hi and thanks for talking to Louder Than War. Your gig at Manchester’s Sound Control on April 10th is going to be a special night for the group as well as your fans … how are the rehearsals sounding and will you be playing classic Dub Sex tunes such as ‘Swerve’ and ‘Push’?
Mark: Yeah, rehearsals have been sounding massive, a real experience. We’ve all taken on new dimensions to our music, and it’s been a revelation to bring it altogether. It’s been brilliant to have the influence of new members Kevin Clark and Stefan Hoyle, two of the most skillful and exciting musicians I’ve ever met. They’ve brought a new life to classics like ‘Tripwire!’ and ‘Swerve’ that’s taken us all by surprise.
Being honest, did you ever think you’d get back together as Dub Sex and play live once again?
Cathy: I always thought we should, and hoped we would. But actually, to answer the question, no!
Mark: The time since Dub Sex last played has been filled with music for all of us – Chris with Hypodelic and Rude Club, who were signed to a major and did some great things, and for me and Cathy. We made two great albums as Dumb, and did a massive tour with Finley Quaye as Ninebar, so we had all kept active, musically. Meeting up with Chris again, and getting on so well, made it very easy to do Dub Sex music again together, but, yes, I think it is something I’ve always wanted, especially the live side of things.
The bands initial come back was the performance at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge last year raising money for the St Marys Hospital Baby Care Unit in Manchester; a fantastic night indeed. Was it the impetus to bring you all back together again?
Mark: Yeah, we were invited to help raise money for the poorly babies at St. Mary’s – what kind of monster says no to that? Ha ha! You can buy medicine with that, and maybe some flowers for the overworked staff. What they need really, though, is a pay raise.
Chris: The gig followed on from the Distant Drums release in memory of Big Si from the Paris Angels. When I heard the Paris Angels and his mates were getting together to release an album to raise money in his memory I had to get involved. I contacted Cathy then Mark and asked if we could put SWERVE on the album, they agreed and it grew from there.
So what was it like being up there playing those songs again at the Ruby Lounge show – how do you feel the songs have aged over the years, did they feel quite fresh to you all or instantly familiar?
Cathy – I don’t think the songs have aged. I’d like to think that people who didn’t know us could think we were a new band. But obviously the songs are a big part of all of us, and playing them again did feel like meeting old friends.
Mark: It was great. The biggest Dub Sex fan on Earth is probably me, and I loved it. It was fresh, vital and we’ve all added something new to the recipe. Not a dry eye in the house!
Chris: When we played SWERVE for the first time we nailed it straight away, almost as if we’d played it for the last time the week earlier, not 25 years earlier!
Dub Sex have sort of been labelled one of Manchester’s great ‘lost’ groups, but where or why has the tag been given and do you think it’s about right, did you feel outsiders during much of your careers?
Cathy: We didn’t feel like outsiders at the outset. In fact, we were more insiders, part of the Hulme scene that spawned lots of great bands. People were listening … but then when Madchester happened, things changed. I remember when we released our last single ‘Time of Life’, we were really proud of it, but the review in ‘City Life’ said something like “The Happy Monday’s sound like they’re having a ball, but Dub Sex are telling everyone off for enjoying it – what a downer” – we weren’t part of their party!
Mark: We’re a funny group to categorise, that’s always been true, but that’s a strength in my opinion, even if it means that people have had to delve that bit deeper to find us. Outsiders drive this world. People brave and strong enough to do just what they want, and listeners hungry and intelligent enough to go and find it. We just do what we want, and I love us for that.
Looking back, what are you most proud of? Is it the sound of tracks such as ‘Tripwire’ or ‘The Underneath’, the recording four Peel sessions, releasing four critically acclaimed EPs or the wonderful ‘Splintered Faith’ compilation album?
Cathy: Well, the fact that some people still remember us so well, 25 years on – that’s something to be very proud of. Also, yes, the four Peel sessions, they were amazing to do. I feel kind of lucky to have been part of it.
MARK: I’m proud of it all; the Peel sessions, all the records, all the TV, and especially all the live shows. Dub Sex fans often get inspired to start bands themselves, and that’s always a blast. It’s really humbling and deeply satisfying.
CHRIS: I’m proud of the recordings and songs and the work we did, but to be honest I’m proud of the way we’ve come together over the last few months and made this work. The songs sound better than ever and without the pressures we had back then it feels right. I’m proud of what we’re doing now and I believe it’s relevant.
Dub Sex were in fact one of the early Manchester groups and you laid the foundation for what came after. You played alongside bands like The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses as they came through. What was it like back then being in Dub Sex and was it obvious early on there was a new music scene taking over?
Mark: Yeah, we were right at the heart of all that, but we’ve always been both part of, and separate from, the surrounding musical landscape.
I worked at the Hacienda for years. In fact, I went from Glass Collector to headlining the place! Ha ha! Me and Chris shared a flat in Hulme and there was a real sense of ‘World Takeover’ in the air. All our friends and ourselves were starting to get in the music press, and on Radio One, and to travel abroad, and we were having the best time ever. We did some brilliant shows with the Roses and the Mondays, 808 State and the like, and it led us to friendships that have lasted until now, and will last forever.
Chris: It was great being in Dub Sex back then, as Mark says, we made friends with all of those bands, those friendships exist today. Once Madchester kicked in I had a strong sense that the band was out of step with the times and as a youngster it did get to me. In 1989 I wanted to be in the Happy Mondays, we had the same mates, went to the same clubs, we took the same drugs. When I left Dub Sex I worked with Nathan McGough, their manager, before setting up Hypodelic. Times changed, we didn’t fit in.
Looking back over the last couple of years we’ve seen a new love in for Manchester groups highlighted by The Stone Roses return, but why and what do you think has caused this new interest, is it maybe because British music today is lacking new exciting groups and artists at the moment, or maybe something else?
Mark: There is a new wave of love for quality music from Manchester, and if you like, you can date it to the Roses triumphant Heaton Park shows, but in reality, you could take any decade since the Second World War and find brilliant music emanating from here.
It is top that Shane Meadows gave us an onscreen name check in the ‘Made of Stone’ movie. Got the shock of my life when I saw that! Nice one, Brother.
Chris: Nostalgia is powerful, the chemical generation has grown up, some of us have made it into our 40s and some are now in their 50s. As a generation we were never going to slip into a pair of comfy slippers and retire. The Manchester family I know and have loved for 25 years ever since we first danced together in the Hacienda is still up for it. British music is still knocking out the best bands in the world; it’s a tough game, music, now more than ever.
Do you think that’s rubbed off, creating interest in the band again, did fans of the band ask about the group, hoping you’d get back together for a few shows again?
Mark: Obviously, the big difference between then and now is the internet. Dub Sex have always received lots of letters from the UK as well as places like Germany and Poland, and these days it’s so much easier to connect with people.
Things really accelerated with the release of ‘Distant Drums’, which contained ‘Swerve’. More and more people wanted us around – new people, people from back in the day, all kinds of people.
Chris: I was shocked to see the plays our videos have had on YouTube, the genuine love and respect for the band and the music surprised me, the web enabled us all to communicate. The web has as much to do with us being back together playing again as anything else.
So can you give us a little info on the set list for The Sound Control gig in April, and have the band been writing and rehearsing new material at all?
Mark: We’re going to play Dub Sex songs that we love, that’s our remit. We’ve been loving ‘Time of Life’, ‘Swerve’ and the darker ones, but we’re blessed with loads of great songs, a real embarrassment of riches, and anything can happen. We’ve got new stuff to get ready, and who knows, it could be ready in time for the Sound Control show.
You’ve recently announced you’re releasing a single with Tim Burgess on his O Genesis label, can you tell us how that came about and what you’re releasing.
Chris: I told my friend Nick Fraser, who runs O Genesis with Tim Burgess, that we had an un-released, un-heard track from 1989 produced by Martin Hannett. He phoned Tim and within 24 hours Tim had listened, loved it and said he wanted to release it! It’s good when things work so smoothly and quickly. The A side is a song called Over and Over that we never released back in 1989, but it’s a gem, it shows clearly the direction the band was heading in before we split. The B side is Time of Life which was re-recorded by Chris Nagle and released as the lead track on our last EP.
There will only be 200 pressed and hopefully it will capture people’s imaginations.
Lastly, will we maybe see more dates to come after the Sound-Control show in April?
Cathy: Well we’re booked in for Strummercamp in May – but other than that, let’s see how it goes!
Mark: There will be more dates, and being the way we are gives us terrific freedom about where we play … who knows where we’ll crop up next!
Chris: Watch this space … and follow us on twitter as @dub_sex!
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by Carl on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.