The autumn tour began with some sad news. Chris Compton, the lead guitarist has hung up his spurs and will focus on his own music and his young family. It is not an acrimonious separation, just the end of a season for the band and they remain great friends.
So how on earth do Dreadzone replace the sound of the man who filled the void left by the untimely death of Greg’s brother Steve? The answer is found on their latest Album Dreadtimes which reached the top 40 in the album charts earlier this year. The answer has been in their opening tune for the most of the year. The band have gone back to their roots. Leo now opens the set with the thudding bass riff of "Rootsman", the opening track to Dreadtimes. "Rootsman" has an epic bassline, and paves the way for the new sound with its message: “Back to my roots, just like back in the day”
Dreadzone have never stood still, their sound has never been the same, it has always evolved and now it has gone full circle. I am fortunate enough to own copies of their earliest live album; Performance and their John Peel Sessions. I have watched their new set emerge and evolve this year and the sound that Steve and Chris brought to the band has morphed, it had not disappeared, it is still there, but it has been reconfigured under Bazil’s skillful touch into an electronic version of its former self. It is now much more faithful to the original sound that John Peel fell in love with in the early 90s.
Leo now commands the left side of the stage and leads with a bass sound that, as my son puts it; “makes your insides wobble”. The distinctive drumming of Greg is, as ever, centre stage and the heartbeat of the band. With the help of Bazil, mixing the samples seamlessly into the live sound, Greg has taken the Dreadzone sound back to its roots. It is back to Dub, epic beats and bountiful bouncing. The bass has become the tune. MC Spee is as irrepressible as ever on the right side of the stage and I have never seen him give as much of himself as he did in the opening two dates of the autumn tour.
The Palace at Bridport made for a stunning opening night, it was hot, tight and intimate, with the crowd pressed tight against the stage. The Factory in Barnstaple is a truly excellent venue with a massive PA that simply shook the entire building and the band were as full of energy and power as I can ever remember in all the years I have been watching them. For me, the highlights were the tracks from Dreadtimes, which have been refined in the live set during 2017. Standing out most was 16 Hole in which Greg manages to make his drums sound exactly like gunshots. MC Spee put his heart mind and soul into "Mountain", letting slip that is a window into his own mind. "Black Deus" is chilling and beautiful. The remixed "Captain Dread", with the new digital production laid over the top was, as always a magnificent finale.
Greg and MC Spee make incredible efforts to keep in contact with the fans, the looks I shared with fellow House of Dread mates were enough to move me to tears. Greg puts out a facebook live DJ Set every other Thursday between 7-30 and 9 in which he educates hundreds of listeners with music that he loves. Greg and MC Spee can always be found mingling with the fans after gigs, willing to sign merchandise, set-lists and pose for photos. They truly follow their own mantra, “Life, Love & Unity".
So if you are heading off to see the boys play either this winter or through into the spring of 2018, expect a different sound, expect to be reborn, Chris is missed, but not missing from the sound. We are moving inexorably towards the band’s 25th Anniversary and I am certain that the best is yet to come.
Review by Pete Yeomans