It is just over a year since the mighty Dreadzone last played Exeter Phoenix to another sold out crowd. Well done to Biff of Beatz and Bobz the gig promoters for putting on another superb night. We caught up with MC Spee, Chris Compton and Greg Dread before the show, the full interview is HERE
Alternatively, you can watch the video interview below;
With the recent release of their fantastic 8th studio album Dread Times landing them back in the top 40 album chart for the first time in 20 years, it feels like Dreadzone are at a career high and very much on top of their game.
Dread Times is a 12 track wonder; from the moment it starts you are hooked to the beats, lyrics and emotions it conjures. As Greg Dread said when I interviewed him before the gig, "This one I wanted to focus more on dub and reggae and by doing that it has come out with that early Dreadzone sound even though some of it like ‘Mountain’ and ‘Battle’, you could say they are rockers reggae, which we have never really done before. It’s always been a fusion."
The album has been so well received with many describing it as their best work since 1995's ‘Second Light’ and others calling it their best yet. It has been on my stereo and played non-stop since it arrived two weeks ago. So it is with great excitement that we pack out the venue tonight hoping to hear some of the new material, thankfully we are treated to three off the album, the show opener "Rootsman", "Mountain" and "16 Holes" – these were greatly received and a huge success, but I am definitely eager to hear more in the future.
The guitarist Chris Compton said, "I am really looking forward to playing ‘Area Code’ and I know we have got ‘Battle’ coming, I’d play as many of the new tracks as we can get into the set really. It is quite a process of rehearsing to make sure they are right. I’d play them all if I could!"
Dreadzone are seen as forerunners of dub and bass with a unique blend of electro and reggae with their music incorporating dance, classical, folk and film soundtrack sound bites.
Greg describes their music, "You could say it is dub orientated dance. It’s always got that energy of dance music. But it is Dread music, with a capital D."
The band originally formed by ex-Big Audio Dynamite members Greg Roberts (Greg Dread), Tim Bran and Leo Williams in 1993. Today Greg is on drums, with Leo on Bass, the melodically mesmerizing Jamaican singer Earl 16, the ever charismatic Mc Spee also on vocals, with Chris Compton on guitar and Bazil mixing and sampling.
Talking about the longevity of the band Greg said, ‘I think the fact me and Leo have been playing together as a rhythm section for 33 years…finding the right people and getting on with them is great. When we are in the van there is no egos, we’ve grown out of all that stuff.
"Friendship and having a desire all the time to create some new music." Greg
Tonight’s support is local band The Barefoot Bandit, dare I say it; The Barefoot Bandit are my favourite band I have seen as a support for many years. Catching them for the first time last year when they played with Dreadzone again, I immediately became a fan. They can easily hold their own for a two hour excellent set as I discovered when we booked them for my mum’s 70th! Not a song passed when the dance floor wasn’t packed. I could not highly recommend them enough for the energy and enthusiasm they bought to the booking.
They are an incredible tight four piece reggae/dub band from Exmouth, Laurie Ward, Harry Dearsly both on guitar and vocals, Blinksy on bass and Joe Cook on drums.
They attended the same secondary school and six years ago began playing as a band. They perform regularly at festivals, places like London and all over the South West, if you get a chance please do go and see them, you will not be disappointed.
As soon as they take to the stage a large crowd has formed and people are dancing and cheering. Towards the end the room is packed which is a great achievement and afterwards when I was talking to Laurie, people were passing and congratulating him on an excellent set.
Playing tracks from their ‘Call Me A Liar’ EP this title track is a catchy tune that soon has the audience singing along. Laurie and Harry take turns on lead vocals, at times harmonising complementing their sound. Harry also raps on some of the tracks.
There is a political content to some songs like ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ where Laurie says, ‘Fuck the Tories’ for trying to bring fox hunting back. You can see the video to this song here;
They played a couple of new tracks like Hard Life that will be on their forthcoming EP to be released in May. Like their Facebook page and keep an eye out for the new EP.
It was great to see Chris Compton in the audience for their set and Spee meeting and greeting long-time fans whilst enjoying the music. Part of the Dreadzone appeal is their belief in ‘Love, Life and Unity’ and the fans being the Dread family. At one point Spee was on the balcony sitting with loyal fan Lynne Leader who I always bump into at their gigs. It is this interaction that makes you feel part of something and not just an audience member.
The age range in the auditorium spans 6 decades with young 10 year old Reuben Yeomans being centre stage with his dad Pete. Talking to them Pete said his son has been to 4 Dreadzone gigs in the last year, whilst he has been to 8. He said, "Dreadzone is the soundtrack to our relationship, we use their words to explain what we are thinking and feeling."
There was something about the immediate energy and crowd response that made tonight one of the best Dreadzone gigs I have been too. Maybe it is the recent success of Dread Times or the fact there were multiple Dread-generations in the audience – but somehow we witness a bit of magic last night. Even Greg was swept up in the momentum as he took off his t-shirt, swinging it over his head and threw it into the audience – this left Leo last to leave the stage in fits of giggles at what he had just witness Greg do!
Spee is a true showman and master of the stage and has our attention from his first grin. Still using a walking cane from knee ligament surgery some years previous, Spee sits on a high stool, exuding energy, passion and entertainment. He taps his new skull topped cane and orchestrates the crowd from his throne to bounce, or wave our arms in the air; clap or sing-along and we all happily obey as his humour and vocals has captivated us all.
It is a 13 song set with 2 extras for the encore, a mix of old and newer materials performed to perfection. We kick off with new track "Rootsman" from Dread Times which goes down a storm. "Return Of The Dread" from 2001's Sound, "Life, Love and Unity", then straight into "Rise Up" from their more recent 2013 album Escapade, this is a particular favourite of mine and one that the audience finds impossible not to raise their arms up to. We are treated to classic anthem-esque "Iron Shirt" from 2005's Once Upon A Time.
New song "Mountain" starts with Earl’s beautiful vocals, it is a stand out on the album and the gig, with words of strength and hope;
"You have to just reach inside. Face the fears that you always hide. All together on the mountainside. When you reach the top, don’t stop. This is not the journey’s end, can make your own life bend. You are not alone my friend. When you reach the top, don’t stop. Start again."
A chance to catch our breath during "Dread’pon Sound" before "Escapades", "Fire In The Dark", "I Know" and the 3rd of the new material "16 Holes" with a fantastic beat the audience are bouncing.
"Dancehall Priority", is followed by Spee saying, "Who is a virgin, here for the first time? Don’t be scared I’m not going to come down into the crowd – BUT if you are here for the first time most importantly you become part of the Dreadzone family" – Spee smiles and points down to young Reuben before singing "Zion Youth" . Then one of their earliest hits "Little Britain" from the 1995 Second Light album brings the show to an end.
Returning to the stage for "Digital Mastermind", giving Chris a chance to rock out for a moment. There are cheers and cries for more and I think we all know we are not leaving until we have pogoed and ‘Ahoy-ed’ our hearts out to "Captain Dread" the final encore song. The atmosphere was so infectious it was hard not to get carried away with the best of them as literally the entire audience was leaping about and singing as one. Dreadzone definitely have one of the most energetic, interactive crowds I have seen at the Phoenix – a testament to an excellent gig and their loyal fan base.
Chris is always bouncing about playing guitar, full of energy. He does seem to always have a cluster of female fans standing on his side of the stage! Leo is so cool his smile never leaves his face. Earl 16 barely breaking a sweat as he delivers such enchanting vocals, at times his voice and Spee’s are quite beautiful together. Bazil is all business, keeping the mixing and sampling on pace in an unassuming manner. It is always great to see Greg standing up at the end of songs and smiling with his bandmate. Spee is the showman orchestrating us with his cane, he is the puppet master and we are all too willing to obey.
Immensely enthralling gig, never to be missed. For anyone who hasn’t bought Dread Times – well, I leave the last words to Spee;
"I just want to say again thank you to everyone who has supported Dread Times, now go and buy another copy because I know where you fucking live!"
Review by Molly-Mole
Pics by Mimosa Photography