A VERY DODGY LIFESTYLE
WHEN it comes to music, the best the most of us can do in life is sing along with a song, right?
Clearly, that beats being confined to a lifetime of silence; but it's not quite as magnificent an achievement as making more than a million people move to your tune, is it? And, more than that, hear that song again and again each time they recall the moment that they first heard it, possibly until the day they die. Kinda heady notion, eh?
Cue Dodgy, who have provided not one, but two such songs over the past two summers: Good Enough, which is currently one of the most played songs on radio and Staying Out For The Summer, which has already been described by some of their fans as the "theme song" of their school holidays last year.
Songs do that, totally," enthuses Nigel Clark, songwriter and lead singer with Dodgy. "Like, I heard Don't Go, by the Hothouse Flowers, the other day and that took me right back to the time I first moved to London and started to do music and knew I could make it - even though, musically, things were pretty crappy, in general, at the time. All it takes is one song to bring back those good times. And that's what Dodgy is all about, spreading that good vibe through our music, not simply being part of the music business. Dodgy is a band that belongs to us, to the people, not to the music business. As such, we have a responsibility to pass on something positive, good, especially during down times like the `apathetic Nineties, y'know what I mean?"
Let's not belittle such intentions, particularly when you consider some of the alternatives for young people these days. On hearing that certain rural areas of Ireland have an abnormally high level of suicides among teenager, Nick claims that he "totally understands" the pressures that might push people in that direction.
"Well, I come from a town I described as `the most miserable place on earth', because I absolutely detested it, growing up," he explains, referring to Reddich, on the outskirts of Birmingham. "So I see why people might feel that way. Because there is no security left, anywhere. It's not there in your family, job, society in general. So the only place you can find a centre is within yourself. At least, that's what I've learned. And, as a band, we do songs like One Of Those Rivers for times when you are that low, because we really, do believe that music can help.
But has Nick ever felt so low that he contemplated suicide? "I know how it feels to have no hope and I've gone through all those questions about life and death - but feeling so had that you'd want to kill yourself is even a scary thought, talking about it now, to tell you the truth," he says, tentatively.
"But what I believe now is that I've got a lot more to offer by staying alive and doing what I do. And you can be quite spiritual about this. I've had friends who committed suicide, but I know they're still around. Same with one of our biggest fans, who killed herself last year. You have to believe that the spirit hangs around, even though I don't mean this in any strict religious sense. But, yeah, definitely, I did grow up with a lot of negativity. Yet I never really gave in to that."
Nevertheless, Nick has gone on record as claiming that he, like many young people, first started doing "magic mushrooms" when he was in school and remembers when grass cost him only "eight quid a week". And even their record company press release boasts about how, at one point, the "Dodgy Club Combivan became the scourge of London's drug squad". So is all this just part of some neo hippie kick or was Nick using drugs, from the outset, as a form of escapism?
"That's just experience," he responds. "For me, magic mushrooms was probably the greatest learning experience I ever had. And we make it illegal! But it can stay illegal, for all I care. Because I'm still going to take it. And everyone else will, because the law has become an arse, no one cares about it anymore. Especially over here, where we've all been hauled into Europe and have no choice about anything. All we need now is a European Parliament (sic) and the process will be complete. The revolution has happened and we're too apathetic to do anything about it."
Asked if this is why, as part of the "Dodgy lifestyle" the band is selling, they place on CD covers declarations such as: "The way of Dodgy No. 18: The only nation you should have pride in is your imagination", Nigel replies, "Yeah, that's exactly it". But wait a minute, Nige. Surely such notions feed directly into the perspective on the use of drugs which suggests that people are so concerned with sitting on their arses, getting "out of it" that they forget to get back "into" the "revolution" and, at least try to change the necessary political institutions? In other words, the "revolution" happened in the post Thatcher Britain of the "apathetic Nineties" he is always bitching about, but too many young people were too stoned to do anything about it, much to the delight of the state.
"Point taken. And I totally agree," he says. "But let's not forget that it also serves a government well to have people fighting among themselves, like land owners battling against travellers, or whatever. The British government maintains its power by keeping people fighting in the name of British nationalism, and, say, religion in Northern Ireland. That's why so many of us really don't believe in any form of Government, over here, and feel you should just dissolve Britain. Governments don't talk for people, they talk for the big corporations, for money.
Whereas Dodgy "belongs" to and presumably speaks for "the people", as Nigel claimed, earlier, right? So let's get back to the core question of what Dodgy is actually saying to "the people", in relation to drugs, and politics. Is it "get into the political fray and try to change things" or "get out of your head and don't worry?" And if it's the latter, can Good Enough really be described, as it has been, as a "Socialist love song"?
"I'm glad people see it in those terms because I wanted it to be a song people would take to their hearts, pure and simple, like something Bob Marley would have written. But `socialism' is an old word and pretty meaningless these days, isn't it?" he says.
"Whereas music is one of the few celebratory things that works, along these lines, even in a non denominational way. It doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor. It's more, `come in, enjoy the gig, celebrate with us'. And pop culture, in Britain now, is our folk culture. It's also as valid a belief as religion, for many young people. So what I'm saying is `we believe in music, in caring, and sharing, but make your own security, however you see fit'. And how each person does that is up to themselves, whether it involves politics, or not. Same applies to drugs. Though, in a way, what we say there is `don't take them, we'll take them for you!'
THAT said, even though Nigel himself may see the word "socialism" as "meaningless" these days, aren't many commentators noting the element of"working class revenge which links some of the most potent music being made in Britain right now, from Goldie through Pulp to Oasis?
"Again, I don't describe myself as `working class' because that, too, is an old, worn out phrase and excludes someone who is worse off than me," he responds.
"Yet that aspect is definitely there in the music, though I think Goldie's music is too dark. And if Oasis want to prove that they are part of what Pulp calls the `common people', then they should go out to Bosnia and play to the `common people' as we did. But the problem for me, with Oasis, is that I've not heard one Oasis song that means anything. And I don't think the common man in the street would know what a song like Wonderwall means. Or care. And, no matter what happens to us, I'd really hate it if we lost touch with the audience we have now, at a street level, as in playing in relatively small fields over the past months. What really matters is the music, at the end of the day.
And, at the end of this particular day, does Nigel really believe that Dodgy have what it takes to be "one of the greatest bands in the world" as he has previously claimed?
"Well, I'd hate us to become like, say, the Cranberries, who play huge gigs like the NEC in Birmingham and it's £18.50 in, and they're crap! No, spirit, no soul. Because they're just a band who got taken on by the American business machine." Although Dolores O'Riordan is very rich now, he says, her music has no soul. "That's why, to me, the Cranberries are everything we don't want to become even though we do want to be huge!" he continues. "But not if it means losing, touch with the people, or our music.