The man behind Dreadzone, Greg Roberts talks about his new album Escapades, Mick Jones, sampling music, being John Peel’s favourite drummer and appearing on Top of the Pops.
Its Dreadzone’s 20th anniversary this year what would you say is the key to remaining successful in an ever changing music industry?
I don’t know if it’s about being successful, it’s about sustaining it by making music that stays fresh, doesn’t look back and moves forward and also the band has developed with different characters. we started as a two piece, me and Tim Bran and we signed to Creation Records and we made 360 and they we realised that we had to take it live so we got Leo who was kind of a founder member any way – I’d been playing with him in Big Audio Dynamite since 1984 – as times progressed different people have come and go. It’s a case of having the hunger / desire to make something new, I DJ so I’m out there hearing new stuff always, we’ve just got this despite to keep making the music and keep challenging ourselves. I feel very lucky that we’ve managed to sustain a career in the music industry, it’s very difficult at the moment, acts come and go, we’re a bit older, we’ve learnt our lessons and we know how to keep going.
You’ve actually been in the industry since 1984, starting out in mick jones’ (the clash) band Big Audio Dynamite (BAD) how did you get that gig?
Through the Melody Maker, I was semi-professional before that playing in pick-up bands, doing whatever I could – any band, any gig any audition, I’d do it, and I was playing all over the place. So I used to look in the Melody Maker, that was where you’d find those kind of gigs back in the day and I actually put an ad in the Melody Maker myself looking for some likeminded musicians the same week and I saw the ad, went along, went back for a few more auditions and I got the job, I started playing percussion and there was another guy playing drums, then Mick chose me, sacked him and I owe a huge debt to Mick Jones(originally in The Clash) and we’re still friends after all these years even though we left to strike out on our own in 1990. In 2011 we had a BAD reunion tour; it was great going out and doing those shows. When we got back we took the inspiration from the tour and went into the studio to work on an album ‘Escapades’ out later this year. We’ve even done a track with Mick Jones on the new album, it’s called Too Late, its BAD inspired and it’s a bit of a rocker – we’re looking at that as a potential single.
You are a festival favourite; I’ve seen you at Glastonbury Festival on several occasions… Which is your favourite festival to play at? And why?
Glastonbury, it’s like a city that springs up, there are a lot of people that are cynical about it but I love the way it springs up and its magical and one of the best. I like secret garden party, last year we did Coachella and lollapalooza – they’re pretty mad, I’ve never been to Burning Man. I would have to be Glastonbury really; there are good festivals up and down the country but nothing like the original.
What do you think of the Glastonbury line up this year?
You don’t just go for the bands but I’ve never seen the Stones so I think it’ll be great, there’s so much good stuff on. Glastonbury is probably my favourite because we have a relationship with them that started in 1994 and pretty much every year we’ve been there in some form or another. When we first played there in ’94 we opened the pyramid stage at 11am, the bass was turned up too loud accidently and it woke people up, they we’re coming out of their tents and someone said it was the ‘great Dreadzone bass quake’. We had an energetic set that was watched by John Peel and following that he asked us to come in and so a session, he said he loved it and he even said I was his favourite drummer on the radio broadcast – I shouldn’t brag but it was such a nice thing to say. John Peel was a great supporter of the band. We have so many good memories from Glastonbury.
John Peel loved you, he said that Second Light was one of his all-time favourite albums, you must be pretty chuffed with that! What role do you think Peel played within the Beeb? What was he like in person?
He was a down-to-earth character – you could talk to him really easily, you didn’t feel star stuck around him – with a genuine interest in music, all kinds of music. He was an antidote to all the cheesy Smashie and Nicey types in there and he played an important role and he’s been missed ever since – everything you wouldn’t usually hear on the radio is given an airing. In ’95 hi festival top 50 had five of our tunes in there.
Do you think he helped your musical career?
He shone a light on us, our album second light reached out to a lot of people at the time and I’m happy with the response it got. We did a remastered version that we released last year on Virgin with a ‘live from Glastonbury’ recording, that’s something we’re very proud of.
What was the last song / album you bought?
A forty track compilation of opera, without sounding pompous, I love classical music, when I get up in the morning Classic FM is on and I keep it on for the quality of the music. I recently discovered opera so I’ve been focusing in on some arias! The other album I’ve been playing to death is The Drive soundtrack; it has some really cool electro tracks on it.
What format was it in?
I’m buying on MP3 but if I’m DJing I use WAVs and AIFs
Little Britain is the song that made a massive difference to your recognition as a band, how did the idea for it come about?
It was born a few years before we released it, I was listening to Carmina Burana and there is one movement in it, that changes to this strident string movement and I picked up on it, sampled it, looped it and put a baseline to it and that was it. it started as a song for Screaming target which was our band between BAD and Dreadzone, we wrote lyrics and a chorus but we never used it so when it came to putting together the second Dreadzone album I dug it out and we did some work on it and developed it and put it together – it felt like quite a British sounding song. We ended up writing a vocal version but people seemed to prefer the musical version.
The flagship for the whole album Second light of is that this country has been rejuvenated by different influences from all over the world – like it had be reborn.
How much input did you have into the video?
None really, we chose somebody who was able to express what he thought was good, we had a look through some show reels, for him it was all about gold people painted as angels, with an image of Britain in the background.
How do you feel about it as a track now?
I’m very proud of it, we were on Top of the Pops with it and we’re not a popularist group but I like the fact that more and more people ‘get’ our music because we want to spread it out to more people because there is a good message and we want to sustain the life of Dreadzone sharing music and good vibes.
How did you get into playing music and why did you choose the drums?
I started drums when I was 11, I was into The Who and Keith Moon, I liked the whole concept of the who and I asked for a drum kit for my birthday and they wouldn’t buy it, they bought me a guitar instead and I used to pose in my room like Pete Townsend, miming tot eh who and I’d smash it, my brother Steve fixed it up and started playing it and that’s how he became a guitarist. The next year the bought me a xylophone, don’t know what that was about! But there was a little music room as school and it was a magic place and in a little room out the back there was a drum kit and drum kits look amazing, I was taken with it and I found I had a natural flair for the drums. My brother and I started playing together, he bought me a Salvation Army drum kit that I kept in the shed and we used to jam and that’s how I started playing.
I have to ask, Moon or Bonham?
It’s a very difficult question but I would say Bonham, he had such a sound, such a groove in just the way he hit them, you can hear his highlighted drum solos on YouTube, they’re just amazing. It is hard to choose between the two but I’d have to go for Bonham also because he’s a band player, Moon was almost like a lead instrument, all the soloing would come within his playing. It’s hard to choose between the two but I’d say technically, the feel of Bonham and the way he laid into it was fantastic.
What or who inspires you to write music?
I remember writing with my brother when we first started out own band, we were well into funk back in the day. It probably wasn’t until I joined Mick Jones and he gave me a drum machine and said; “work that out” so I did and then I discovered I could use a sampler, then a sequencer by the time I left BAD I was putting my own tracks together. I was motivated to make my own music and my main motivation for that was Mick Jones, he was very inspiring, I learnt so much from him, we left in in 1990 to start our own thing.
Dreadzone started from not having anything, I was sat at home in ‘91/92 with a young child, signing on and I just stared playing around with my equipment – it’s the hard times that inspire you to come up with stuff.
What does the rest of 2013 have in store for you?
Getting the album out there, spreading the word, touring and carrying on playing the music!