Interview - Cross Rhythms Magazine

Pain in the Ear (From Cross Rhythms issue 24: April/May 1995)

They've done storming gigs at the last two Greenbelts, lead singer Benji has given his Christian testimony on a Harry Secombe-presented TV programme and their single "Gorrit" was NME's Record Of The Week. Now their Sony distributed album seems set to take DUB WAR to more unexpected places. Benji spoke to Andrew Long.

Man! It's so hot in here, hotter than a blast furnace, hotter than the Ghobi Desert on a particularly sunny day. The place stinks of sweat and smoke and the sparse lighting reveals a mass of bodies, recklessly careering into each other. My eardrums are being assaulted by a merciless wall of sound which commenced a short while ago with an air raid siren. Man! I'm in the pit!

Fear not, gentle reader, I speak not of the pit of hell, but rather "The Pit" at Blackwood Miner's Institute. Wales' finest, Dub War, have taken the time between a hectic European touring schedule to play for the home boys. Respect to Dub War!

Am I amidst this sea of writhing moshers, leaping around in frenzied excitement? No way man, I've spent enough time in hospital, I'm halfway back tapping my foot with the longhairs, watching Benji, the colossal lead singer shaking those dreads and screaming blue murder. Can this be the same man who just an hour ago sat backstage with me sipping orange juice and giving me the lowdown on the band?

The Newport-born singer began by telling me about his own background and by explaining to me about the incredible changes that took place in his life after his conversion to Christianity.

"I grew up on the Ringland Estate in Newport and got into smoking and all that," began Benji. "I thought that was just the way of being, you know. One day I was selling dope in Newport and it was coming to a stage where I had no mercy no mercy for anybody. I just wanted to make money constantly. Then my missus got saved. She went to church one night out of the blue and got saved, and when she came home the God-ness in her just made me feel like crap. So I kept on asking her about God. I always believed in God, I always knew he was there but I knew there was something more to it than just smoking a spliff and saying, 'Yes God, nice one!' I knew that what she had, which was Christ, I needed to have in my life."

So fairly soon the inevitable happened, Benji went along to church with his wife and became a Christian. It proved to be a major turning point in his life in more ways than one.

"I had no intention to stop smoking or nothing," continued Benji, "but as soon as he comes in something gotta go, and the crap had to go outta my life, so the desire for smoking just went away from me and then I had nothing to do 'cos I wasn't selling no blow. A lot of my mates were scoffing at me but at the end of the day I knew that God had something for me. I've had a good voice all my life, used to sing on reggae sound systems and with a rock band. But it's only the anointing of God that's pushed me and I'm blessed in everything I do. Then the band came along."

The band that came along was called the Blood Brothers. Having recently lost their singer they invited Benji along for a jam at their rehearsal rooms in St Joseph's boxing gym. Within 10 minutes they knew they had something happening going on. The Blood Brothers became Dub War with the line up of Clive 'Benji' Webb (vocals), Jeff Rose (guitar), Richie Glover (bass) and Martin 'Ginger' Ford (drums). Dub War quickly built up a reputation as one of the leading lights of the alternative scene in South Wales, their blend of anarchic guitar and reggae-influenced punk rhythms with Benji's ragga style vocals was truly original and the critics soon labelled it "thragga". London gigs and good support slots soon came in. Dub War were on their way.

A local label, Words Of Warning, put out Dub War's debut EP in vinyl and CD formats. It sold in lorry loads and drew an incredible response, with great reviews from all around the world. Cross Rhythms had already named them as the best unsigned band at Greenbelt'93 and when I came to review the EP I was stunned by the originality, commitment and energy and said, "Look out for these boys, they're gonna be big, very big and remember, you heard it here first." (I like being right!)

The EP was followed at Christmas with a one-sided 12" single, shared with hardcore punks the Cowboy Killers, to which the band contributed versions of "Dub War" and "Mental". A very limited pressing (I've got one!). Soon afterwards came 'Dub Warning', a second Words Of Warning CD/vinyl release, featuring six tracks and depicting the infamous air raid siren on the cover. More rave reviews followed, including a somewhat controversial "Pick Of The Pile" in Cross Rhythms, of which more later. Record companies were now beginning to sit up and take notice. It was becoming difficult to get in to a Dub War gig because of the army of A&R men waving their cheque books, but the band played it hard to get.

"Yeah, we knew what we were doing," Benji explained, "'cos we'd been in the business a bit and we knew what to say to people and how to react. We had a lot of problems with our old manager, which are still being sorted out. He wants to take us to court now, which should be fun, but I know who's on my side. Who's on his?"

So having turned down several companies, Dub War eventually signed a two-album deal with Earache Records, a label most well-known for death metal acts like Bolt Thrower and Godflesh. The Dub War deal is reportedly the biggest advance that they have ever paid to a band. I asked Benji why the band thought Earache was the right label.

"We never signed through an A&R man, which is very rare. We signed for the guy who owns the record company and he said, 'Listen guys, if you don't sign to me, I'll still be your biggest fan.' So we knew he was genuine, he didn't want to sign us and shelf us, he was looking to work us. The first single we released with them was "Mental" which got to number 15 in the charts. It's still happening in Germany. They're still playing it on the MTV equivalent quite often. We went over there the other day and did a week's press in Koln, Hamburg, Berlin and Munich."

The 'Mental' EP featured some remix tracks, a radically different sound from the band's usual style. I wondered whose idea they were.

"Well, the record company said they wouldn't mind doing a couple of mixes, 'cos record companies like to milk everything you've got. So they gave us a list, there was the Beastie Boys, Prodigy, Jamiroquai, and we said, 'Right, we'll have the Beastie Boys for a start, the Brand New Heavies and three others.' And they were sent away but the only ones who could do it were Senser and Jamiroquai and for me I think they're pretty cool."

The second single "Gorrit" stuck closer to Dub War's punk sound and included a live version of "Respected". It achieved single of the week in NME and Kerrang and was also seen on ITV's "Chart Show". The debut album for Earache, 'Pain', was released in February and (hopefully) is reviewed elsewhere in this issue, so I won't ponder on it repetitiously. It was recorded in a studio called The Chapel and mixed in Liverpool, the producer was Brian New (The Cure, Pwei, Fresh Claim, Neneh Cherry). Benji was enthusiastic about Brian's input and told me that he almost became a fifth member of the band.

That's pretty much where Dub War are at the moment. Now let's take a few steps backwards and clear up an area of confusion. It would seem that because Cross Rhythms is a Christian music magazine, and because the earlier reviews of Dub War material were sizzling, that readers naturally assume them to be a Christian band, maybe even the new evangelical hope for British music.

I have to take some of the blame for that, as the reviewer. Some readers who bought 'Dub Warning' were offended by the literature sent out by Words Of Warning. Fair enough. The truth of the matter is that Benji is the only Christian member of the band and what makes them of interest to Cross Rhythms is the fact that he writes most of the lyrics, as well as the fact that they are an incredible band. Benji shares Iyric writing with his brother and a co-writer, Stephen Draycott.

"Most of the lyrics are about unification of mankind," explained Benji. "Not everyone's gonna believe the gospel but I believe everyone can make a little change. I had a major change, I gave up the crap in my life and it made me more of a man. I don't care what anyone's got to say, it's made me a responsible human being whereas before it was just, 'What's happening? Where's the party?'

The singer's faith comes through quite plainly in quite a few of the songs. Take this slice from "Crack" for instance:- "Early '93 me. stop smokin' ganja/An' now me get my vibe from the highest power" or "Respected", which proclaims, "In the Almighty sight violence is wrong." The album contains a powerful track subtly titled "Spiritual Warfare". I asked Benji whether the fact that he was the only Christian in Dub War caused any tension in the band.

"Oh yeah, definitely. Sometimes Richie says, 'You ain't singing none of that God crap no more, I'm telling you now!' And if I'm on stage and I say, 'I'd just like to say God is alive,' he gets off stage and says, 'What'd you say that for man, they'll think we're a Christian band', but I think if anyone's gonna throw stones they're gonna be at me, but we can hold our own as much as the next band. We got what anyone else got and more, so there is tension there, a spiritual battle too."

Following the 'Dub Warning' Pick Of The Pile review one irate Cross Rhythms reader wrote to the magazine and the record label to complain that Benji had used the 'F-word' on the song "Psycho System". Following the complaint my wife and I sat and listened to the track over and over about 15 times. We couldn't find it. Benji is adamant that it's not there.

"I phoned the guy up and said, 'I'm the singer from Dub War and I want you to know I'm as much a Christian as the next man. I'm really upset that you thought I swore, I'll go through the lyrics word for word with you if you want. I never swore, I'm sorry about the propaganda my record company sent you but that's nothing to do with me, it's the way of the world. I'll put you on the guest.list for the Manic's gig, it's the "Holy Bible" tour - how's that?"

Dub War are now embarking on a major tour to promote 'Pain'. Look out for them in your area soon. It's entirely possible that they will keep on getting bigger and bigger, they have a fresh and truly original sound and they're ready and willing to go for it 100 per cent. Keep on funkin' it boys.