An Interview with Mathew Priest of Dodgy
The 90s were a brilliant time for British music. Everywhere you looked guitar bands were bringing out music that were the soundtrack to an era, and Dodgy were a big part of that scene. Songs like “In A Room” and “Good Enough” have stood the test of time and Dodgy are still touring. They join Black Grape and Cast in Millenium Square for a gig this summer, and we caught up with drummer Mathew Priest to talk about the 90s and now…
You came on to a lot of people’s radars during the mid 90s in the surge of Brit-Pop, but Dodgy weren’t a Brit-Pop band. How was the music scene at that time?
Well that’s right, to tell you the truth we didn’t hear about Brit-Pop until we went to Germany in about 1994, and they asked us about it. Brit-Pop was kind of Blur, Menswear, Elastica… and we never felt part of that. We were never a Brit-Pop band, and generally people don’t lump us in with it when they talk about it – which is nice in a way. But it was a great time for British music, and we certainly rode that wave! It was just before the internet, there was lots of money in the music industry, and there was lots of great music around. And people forget that Radio 1 had just got a new producer in Matthew Bannister and he was getting rid of all the older DJs like Simon Bates, Gary Davies, Dave Lee Travis and all that shite. He had to bring the age demographic of the listeners down. So he brought in Zoe Ball and Chris Evans and he wanted a sound to soundtrack Radio 1. And boom! Right on his doorstep were all these bands. The Charlatans, Dodgy, Oasis – and he very much championed that sound that was coming out. And it was exciting, it was brilliant. And it wasn’t that all the other bands were crap, all the other bands were good, you know. And if bands had the chance to get in to the charts nowadays, I’m sure they would. But they don’t really get the chance any more.
You’ve been celebrating 25 years of your Homegrown album over the last year or so. How did you find the whole re-visiting thing?
It’s something within the band where we reconciled the whole ‘doing the nostalgia’ thing. And we were just completely blown away by the reaction of the fans. And the thing is we’re better musicians and we’re better singers now. It’s almost as if we wrote these songs 25 years ago for us to perform now! I think we’re playing better now than we ever did. And you know, people want to be reminded and they want to travel back to the time they were 16, 20 or whatever and enjoy those times when they first fell in love, took their first drugs or had their first drink and we soundtracked that. It really was a beautiful thing – it doesn’t stop us being creative, and doesn’t stop us doing what we want to do now. And we’re looking at 2021 to celebrate 25 years of Free Peace Sweet which was a big album, with ‘Good Enough’ and ‘In A Room’ so there’s talk of us doing something for that hopefully. It used to be uncool for bands to reform, but I think The Pixies broke that, so we all thought “Ok, we can reform!” Bands don’t earn money from selling albums any more, and if they want to put food on the table, it’s about performing live at an arena.
‘Grassman’ is a hardcore favourite. But what’s it about?
Ah, do you know what – that’s for you and for others to think what it means for them. I know why I wrote ‘Grassman’, and I know what it’s about but I’ll never tell anyone. People come up to me and tell me it’s about this and it’s about that and the amount of different versions of what ‘Grassman’ means that I’ve heard over the years, compared to the reason I wrote are all very different. They all interpret it in different ways, and I’ll just say to them “Yeah, that’s it!”
Free, Peace, Sweet is probably your best known album.
Yeah. I remember recording it in Wessex where The Clash and Queen recorded and we were being incredibly creative. And I remember ‘Good Enough‘ just completely taking off, and being a big, big song. And you know Paul McCartney’s got his story about when he went to get his milk and his milkman’s whistling ‘Yesterday’? Well I went to hire a car at Kings Cross, and the engineers were out the back working on the cars and ‘Good Enough’ came on Capital Radio. They all started singing along and tapping their spanners. And when I took the car back a week later it came on again! And they all started singing again, and I thought “Fuck – this is actually real! This is a hit” and it was one of the most played songs on radio in 1996. It really took us in to a different realm that song, it was ridiculous! And you can walk up to anyone in the street and sing that song to them and they’ll know the song, but say Dodgy to them and they might not know who we are. The song is probably more famous than the band.
You play Leeds Millennium Square in a few weeks in a triple header with Cast and Black Grape. Do you know them guys well?
Yes! Back in 1995 when it was all kicking off for us and we could kind of choose what bands we wanted to support us. And I’d been to a club night at the Astoria 2 in London and this track came on called ‘History’ and I heard this track and went “Who the fuck is this? It’s brilliant!” and they said it’s Cast, and so we asked them to come on tour with us. So we got to know them and that was great. And Black Grape, we’ve done a bit with them and know their guitarist Seth Leppard who’s a rather remarkable, lovely guy. So we’re really looking forward to this show, and I’ll be booking a couple of days off afterwards as well so we can really enjoy ourselves. Because it’s going to be one of them!
Will you be playing new material?
Well we’ve got lots of new songs, but it all depends on Nigel when we do the soundcheck. I can say “Let’s play this song” but if the singer doesn’t want to sing it, it’s not going to happen. So yeah we’ve got lots of new songs, and some ideas for covers.
And how about playing Leeds? Do you enjoy coming to this part of the world?
We’ve played Leeds so many times, you know. I love it. We’ve played the Town and Country Club, to that place underneath the arches, The Cockpit. We’ve played everywhere. Some brilliant pubs. It’s a fantastic place.
So finally… if you could pick one Dodgy song, and one performer or band – dead or alive – to cover it, which song and which artist would you pick, and why?
Oh what a question. I’ve never had that one before. Wow. ‘Grassman’. Led Zeppelin. And I can’t tell you why!
Mathew Priest is the drummer in Dodgy, and they’ll be playing with Cast and Black Grape at Millenium Square, Leeds on August 2nd 2019.