During the 1990s, Dodgy rose from being indie favourites to bone fide pop stars, on the cover of NME and on Top Of the Pops. Over the course of three albums, their star rose and rose. At the height of their popularity, lead singer Nigel Clark left the band. Despite continuing with another singer, their star faded. However, 2007 saw the original line-up of Dodgy get back together and tour, and next week will see the first album of new material of the original three-piece since Free Peace Sweet, entitled Stand Upright In A Cool Place. 17 Seconds caught up with drummer Mathew Priest to find out about what led the band got back together, why they are avoiding the nostalgia circuit and how Denise Van Outen is to blame for the band all bleaching their hair back in the 1990s…
I start by asking him how things are going, and the tour went.
‘We did a tour before Christmas, for two months. It was an old man’s tour, we played every weekend.’ (As a father himself, Mathew knows how things invariably slow down slightly when you have children and your focus changes.) ‘We did the tour and we knew we’d done something special. We [the band] knew that the problem was going to be convincing people that the stuff we’d done was as good as, if not better than the stuff we’d done before [the first time round].’
Reunion tours can be tricky affairs, reunion records even more so. But Dodgy felt comfortable enough that when they went out on tour, they would play Stand Upright In A Cool Place in full. There seems to have been some debate about playing their old songs – with Clark not wanting to play ‘Good Enough’ – their biggest hit, reaching no.4 in 1996. During the course of our interview, it will become clear that Priest is extremely proud of the new record.
Of course, it no doubt seemed that there was unfinished business. I ask him about the years inbetween 1997, and picking up a decade later.
‘At the time [of the original split], Nigel said he didn’t want to do it any more,’ Priest explains. ‘I’ve always regretted that I didn’t say ‘Let’s take six months off. He [Clark] loved being successful, but hated dealing with fame. He had two kids, and was looking at me and Andy (Miller, guitarist) who were then single, still going out and having the time of our lives.’
‘Me and Andy were pissed off that Nigel left,’ he says. ‘We found a different singer [David Bassey, at this time the band were also augmented by keyboardist Chris Hallam, and bassist Nick Abnett], but it wasn’t Dodgy. We couldn’t carry on without Nigel and he couldn’t carry on without us.’
This line-up wound down at the turn of the last decade – I suppose the story reminds me of Echo and the Bunnymen doing Reverberation without Ian McCulloch.
‘I made sure we got an album out. Real Estate was met with indifference. ‘ In 2001, he started managing bands, as well as touring with both the Electric Soft Parade and The Lightning Seeds. Andy Miller, meanwhile formed Hey Gravity ‘who did quite well in France.’
So how did they get back together and how did it feel? It transpires that it was the death of a close friend that brought them back together, not just as a band, but also as friends.
‘It was our lighting technician, Andy Moore, who was with us since 1993,’ Math reveals, explaining that Moore died of a brain tumour. ‘He had a testimonial before he died – got me and Nigel together in the same room. Banged our heads together! He died the week before our reunion tour,’ he adds, sadly.
There’s been several years since reforming and getting the new album out. I tell him that I enjoy the new record, but that it seems rather different to the Dodgy of before. Exactly the right thing to say to him, as it happens. ‘I would hate people to say we sound like we did before.’ The approach and situation was different in so many ways.
The first time round, he explains, over the course of the three albums they did together [The Dodgy Album, Homegrown and Free Peace Sweet] they had a producer and a record company. There was none of that this time round. Priest says ‘Because we were doing it ourselves, we had everything to prove and nothing to lose.’ As they set about maklng the album, Clark advised them to take their time. ‘No one was waiting for the new Dodgy album,’ he says, matter-of-factly.
But what Dodgy are doing is going out on their own terms, and firmly avoiding the nostalgia circuit. ‘We couldn’t do it, we literally couldn’t do it,’ he says, firmly. For some people it may be the only financial option they have. ‘With the state of the music business now ‘the money is always dwindling…if all you’re gonna do is ‘Good Enough’ and ‘Staying Out For The Summer’…it doesn’t appeal. Nigel’s too creative,’ he adds. Firmly he tells me: ‘I would rather drum for a band doing Britpop covers than hit the nostalgia circuit with Dodgy.’
We discuss the idea of reunion tours. We both agree that there’s a certain inevitability to the Oasis reunion, which seems to have been mooted over the last few weeks. Perhaps surprisingly, the parallel he draws is with Take That, and how they really have managed to reinvent themselves. ‘Their old stuff doesn’t matter!’ he says, sounding genuinely pleased for Gary Barlow and co. ‘That was our goal from the outset, that this album is as good, if not better. It’s the same three art harmonies, it’s still the same basic influences – the Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin – then the pain of life gets added and the pace of life slows down.’
Stand Upright In A Cool Place is most definitely – and I mean this as a compliment – an album made by three men in their forties. He’s thrilled to bits that Mark Ellen in The Word has said that they were good before, and they’re now better. ‘It’s the three of us – and that’s what people are picking up on. There’s grey, there’s autumnal [elements to the sound.’ He adds, firmly: ‘If I die tomorrow this [album] is testament to what we have done.’
And finally, I have to ask, what about the drastic image change that happened about the time of Free Peace Sweet? ‘I didn’t like it!’ he says, comparing it to the Hitler Youth. Harsher than my comment – that it was like The Police in their days of Wrigley’s adverts. ‘Andy Miller was going out with Denise van Outen at the time, and dyed his hair. Then Nigel dyed his hair. I was really upset!’
Stand Upright In A Cool Place is released on Strike Back Records on February 20.