Sunday 15th September⋄ ⋄ Main Stage
Sometimes you have to go through the mill to realise why you were put on this Earth. So it is with the Dub Pistols, the reggae-breaks-jungle mashup, the gangster-swaggering festival stalwarts whose rollercoaster story reads like a rock’n’roll cautionary tale on a grand scale. When big beat ruled the clubs the Pistols were snapped up for $1.5m by legendary Interscope magnate Jimmy Iovine and anointed Geffen Records’ priority act for America. But Geffen put their album out the week that 9/11 happened, so the Dub Pistols ended up broke and label-less instead of US superstars. This is how it happens. They get knocked down — but they get back up.
Over an 18-year career the Dub Pistols have worked with heroes like The Specials, Busta Rhymes, Horace Andy, Madness and Gregory Isaacs. They’ve burned through different members and hundreds of thousands of pounds on assorted capers and hedonism, and done — in the words of dapper frontman and prime mover Barry Ashworth, a ducking, diving South London graduate of the Summer of Love generation who started a band because he loved Happy Mondays and never looked back — “more fucking drugs than we knew what to do with.”
It should have been a recipe for oblivion. “We’ve got a saying in this band,” says Barry: “Whatever can go possibly wrong, will go wrong.” Instead it was the making of the Dub Pistols. The band that started out in the mid-90s with Barry DJ’ing while musicians jammed over the top (“a right fucking racket,” he laughs) has metamorphosed into a mighty reggaematic bass-driven live machine, a super-tight festival regular that keeps winning over new fans at Glastonbury, Bestival, Beat-Herder and across Europe.
And that hard-won discipline gets its showcase in their new, sixth and best album, ‘Return Of The Pistoleros’, released on Rob Da Banks’s much-loved Sunday Best imprint on June 1st. From the armagideon horns and implacable bass march on opener ‘Real Gangsters’ — with guest MC Neville Staple of The Specials — via the Ennio-Morricone-goes-drum’n’bass title track, the pure skank of ‘Sticky Situation’ and collaborations including MC Earl 16, Lindy Layton, Jamaican stars Chezidek and main vocalist Seanie Tee AKA Dark Horizon, it’s a full-on dub-quaking anthemic extravaganza built for big fields and summer sound systems.