Once a year during Winter, Portsmouth’s Wedgewood Rooms plays host to one of the finest live acts on the circuit. I met up with Greg dread and Spee of the mighty Dreadzone to talk past, present and future ahead of their live show.
Welcome back to Portsmouth’s Wedgewood Rooms. You’ve been an annual end of your fixture for many years, what keeps you coming back to our small Island?
Greg: Is it an Island? We keep coming back here because the promoter Ian Billington is a firm supporter and we’ve been building it over the years. We’ve had smaller crowds, but we get a good crowd every year and they’re always up for it. We come down this way, obviously we play Southampton, The Brook and Bournemouth but this is the main one we come to on the South Coast. Great crowds, nearly always sells out, always a great gig and good sound on stage.
Spee: It’s a great fan base, people come from Hampshire and they come from all over, wherever we are playing, the Towns and little Villages around it and they come in from there. We’ve gotta tip our caps really we’ve got a good fan base.
Your Autumn 2015 tour has taken you the length and breadth of the UK including a reunion with Megadog in Manchester a few weeks ago. How was the tour for you guys?
Greg: The tour has been brilliant as usual, it’s what we do, our lifeblood. We go out every year, we do the Spring tour, festivals and the Autumn tour. But it was great to do Manchester. We normally end the Autumn tour in Manchester at Band on The Wall, we’ve been doing for the last few years. We took on the Megadog thing for the Manchester show this year so that was exciting. We’ve just done 5 dates with The Levellers and Ruts DC so with the Megadog thing we were playing to a much bigger crowd than we normally do.
Spee: Listen, I’ve gotta say the 5 days with The Levellers and The Ruts DC was a big eye-opener. You sort of realise that even though Dreadzone, we’ve been going a long time and we’ve got some classic tunes out there, but that’s the next level and it’s amazing to see and be part of. The Summer comes and goes and when we’ve got a period of silence, we go into the studio and start writing for the new album. There’s no wasted time. So it’s like right OK let’s pull our fingers out we’ve got a couple of months here or a few weeks there let’s get in and see what we can do. Through all that time in between the tour and writing, the new album is starting to take shape.
You mentioned the Summer, you have been responsible for some of my favourite festival memories of late. The Old Mine at Boomtown last year, wicked venue and a great weekend.
Greg: He’s saying last year already, I keep getting flashbacks about the Summer, that’s the thing.
Spee: And they are only flashbacks
Greg: It’s gone so quickly, that’s the thing about touring every year. We were only here a year ago but it seems to have gone so quick. Now I’m looking forward to going back to the Summer and getting warm.
Which brings me nicely to my favourite festival memory which was Glade 2007. I managed to get in quite early and I think I arrived before you guys did. The video of how you arrived is brilliant. You were the first live act to kick it off on the main stage.
Greg: The Glade river run. We were the first band there, apparently Ben from Ben and Lex did a six hour set. I don’t know why we ended up going at midday but I think they wanted us to open the whole festival. But I remember that whole day and it was a deluge.
Spee: Coming down the motorway there was a bit of panic in the van. Reaching that pub where we started from, the strangest thing was because it was on a hill, I watch the water rise and go up the hill. Then it came in the pub and it was lucky it was stone floors so they just swept it away. When the A-Team music starts we had to decide.
Greg: It was a culmination of different things. First of all we saw a Mercedes van pull out but he went the other way. The luck was we had a van that managed to drive through the water and I was driving and my foot didn’t slip off and everything came together and it worked.
I remember watching Ben & Lex Djing shin deep in water when you arrived and starting plugging in to line-check. It was a proper festival atmosphere when you got going.
Greg: Didn’t we do a DJ set that weekend as well? Which is up on my soundcloud to download for free. That was one of the best sound systems we did, with Earl.
This year you remastered and re-released the 2001 “Sound” LP, hows the reaction been?
Greg: Brilliant, yeah really good. It’s a re-release so you don’t get as much attention as you do with a new album, but it’s something we needed to put out as it was deleted years ago and a lot of people want that. We did on vinyl and it’s remastered there’s bonus tracks , it’s digital download, everything.
Spee: Plus, It’s the first album I appeared on as well. Just very very briefly in track one with Brinsley Forde, Return of The Dread. So for me it’s like wow, having that remastered.
Greg: What’s really great is taking tunes from that album and putting them in the live set, how many of them actually still work. Digital Mastermind still works, but we’ve taken Crazy Knowledge, Different Planets, Dread Pon Sound and we’ve done Return of The Dread before, so putting them back in the live set is really great to be able to play them again. Also it represents quite a good time for us, because we were loving all the breakbeat stuff and running a club night called Dubwise. Once Upon A Time is quite breakbeaty as well, that one kinds nails it, with the dub bass lines.
Spee: That’s where the song writing started I think, with me and Greg. Before the writing process would be an instrumental and we’d put guest vocals on it. Once Upon A Time was the first sort of endeavour so to speak of the Roberts and Graham sound.
That’s where I found you guys. I started Djing breakbeat around 2004/5 and bought the releases on Functional.
It was a great time for all that. We still do sound system stuff together and I still buy different things, we mix up the set with Dreadzone stuff, house, drum and bass and garage. But lately I don’t know what’s a happened to breakbeat, but I love pulling out the old stuff from the 2000’s.
I think it’s having a bit of a resurgence at the moment with people like Lady Waks. Barry from the Dub Pistols is still championing it.
Greg: There is some good stuff coming out but some of it got a bit kind of booty shake. That was the time when we were using a lot of vinyl and there was some great records at the time, all the Cut N Run stuff, I still love all that.
Spee: Cut N Run that was the one, cheeky bootlegs. Listen I’m gonna love you and leave you, I just popped in to say hello and give you a few little things.
Formed in 1993, Dreadzone’s line-up has changed with Greg and Leo being joined by Spee, Earl 16 and more recently Chris and Bazil. How would you describe the Dreadzone sound and how has it evolved?
Greg: It was born out of before, you’ve gotta think the context of where we came from with Big Audio Dynamite, Mick Jones and the rock and roll guitar, hip hop beats and dub bass. So we stripped it back and Don Letts was around at the beginning so I’d say it was very much a dubwise thing. We were formed in the white heat of rave, the early progressive dance music thing around 1992 when it was all getting very interesting with the likes of Underworld, Leftfield and Renegade Soundwave. It’s very hard to define our sound, it is the Dread sound, it’s the fusion of the things that we’ve grown up with. The new album that we are working on, we feel we’ve gone back to that but also even further into the dub and reggae. I think the next album is going to be mostly dub and reggae steppas, not all of it but we’ve delved into that more and we’ve found it’s quite inspiring to go there. Also now having Bazil on board, he’s an artist in his own right, we’ve gone back to having Don Letts who did lyrics on sound and has always helped out. We are going to obviously work with Tim still, and my son Marlon who’s played on the last two albums, he plays guitars and keyboards and he’s very much an integral figure. Then we’ve got the rest of the band, so it’s going to be a really good album. We’ve evolved and it’s like when you come out on the road you need to do a new album every few years, I’d like to a new one every year but you know, Escapades came out in 2013. It’s our lifeblood touring, but in order to do that you have to come with fresh material, keep the Dread sound rolling.
Support tonight comes from Solar Wolf, what do you feel they bring to the live show?
Greg: They don’t bring any trouble that’s the main thing. No, they are a great support band, actually quite an original sound. They do quite a few with us because the minute they get up and play, you could say it’s kind of trip hop but it’s not, they’ve got a lot more than that. We don’t always have lot’s of support, DJs are always good.
Aside from yourself and Solar Wolf who else would you recommend that people go and see?
Greg: Ruts DC, we saw them a few times when we supported them. They are brilliant, the three of them, that kind of punky reggae, dancy vibe they’re really good.
You’ve been remixed by the likes of Trolley Snatcha, Soul of Man, Drummatic Twins and more recently King Yoof on the Escapades album. Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, remix or be remixed by?
Greg: Ultimately one day, I’m a huge fan of Trentemoller from Denmark. I love what he does and I’d love to get a remix out if him, that’s one of my dreams. Bazil of course has done some great remixes for us and will probably do some more. With the next album being quite dub and reggae, people like Vibronics, I got to meet in Greece. Mungo’s Hi-Fi people like that, that new reggae sound.
One final question, you’ve touched on it briefly with the new album, but what does 2016 look like for Dreadzone, what’s next?
Greg: 2016, new album, more dates, more remixes, more projects. More of the same.
Big thanks to Greg, Spee, Bazil and the band for the interview and superb live show. Keep up to date with Dreadzone HERE
Thanks to Ian, Geoff and the Wedgewood Rooms crew as ever. Keep informed of upcoming events at The Wedgewood Rooms HERE
Photography courtesy of Stefano Pollina Photography. Thanks also to Jim Holland.