Pop: Bottled blonds

Beach Boy harmonies, well-meaning politics, psychedelic softness: Dodgy are on a mission to the village greens of England, where true nastiness abides. By Charlotte O'Sullivan
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The Independent Culture
When people talk about Dodgy they use fluffy words like 'breezy', 'sun-drenched', 'infectious'. Those stretching themselves on the rack of inspiration may even throw in 'fun'. And why not? Dodgy's lead guitarist and singer both have yellow, baby chick hair - a la Bros - and their lyrics make Orphan Annie sound like a doom-monger.

Except it wasn't always this way. Well, OK, the songs were. Long before Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene, Birmingham-bred Dodgy were kneeling at the altar of 1967, with three-minute tunes full of uncluttered jangly guitar, Beach Boy harmonies and psychedelic softness. But back then, they all had basketfuls of brown, hippie curls which made them unattractive to the charts and 15-year-old girls. After rapturous appreciation on the part of journals like NME, articles began to appear saying Dodgy would never make it.

Now, however, they've got our attention. The Butlin's sing-a-long single "Good Enough" is currently at number six in the charts. And the fiercely political trio who are, among other things, pro black civil rights, anti the Criminal Justice Bill, the Tory government and Tony 'Middle England' Blair, have embarked on a Big Top Trip tour. Their intention? To spread their vision to the village greens of Britain - first stop, Stockton-on- Tees.

Spotting the pop stars at Kings Cross proves easy. Nigel Clark, all affable Ryan Giggs face and untoned Baywatch body, slouches over a buggy, while Andy Miller creeps around like an angelic Nosferatu. Alongside, Nigel's beautiful wife Jaqui, a rave child in white go-go boots, cuddles their astonishingly fair-haired baby, Marley (as in Bob). Drummer Mathew Priest is the band's only non-blond.

An endless train journey leaves time to talk drugs and show contempt for the lead singer of a rival group. "He took an overdose. An overdose of 15 Nurofen. And he rang, or this friend of his, rang for an ambulance. 15 Nurofen? That would hardly get rid of one of my headaches! What a wanker."

The trip isn't over (we're now in a taxi), and an increasingly happy Clark has put on his silver-encrusted helmet. "He looks like Donovan in drag," spits the driver helpfully, and then tells us that he nearly crashed into "a Pakistani driving a multi-coloured Datsun. That's the thing about our service, the cars are black but the drivers are white." "Fuckin' racist tosser," mutters Mathew.

Meanwhile, down at the village green, grubby caravans lie at drunken angles and the clouds darken. The Circus of Horrors tent that Dodgy are using tonight is on loan from Gerry Cottle, and aside from a smattering of Oasis fans, the Hammer horror decoration seems to have attracted a largely heavy metal crowd. It has the queasy richness of a vampire disco.

The gig itself is a no-frills affair. Meantime, the Oasis fans are dancing contentedly with the metallers. "Staying out for the summer, playing games in the rain..." Against the odds, peace and love suddenly seem workable and the Dodgy boys finish with an enthusiastic version of (Bob) Marley's "Stir It Up".

Retiring to their caravan, Dodgy are joined by Gerry Cottle, who pronounces them "very tuneful". Some local lads have also arrived. Two bug-eyed brothers drape themselves around the doorway. They want to go and sit with the band but Jaqui doesn't want them in with Marley. To calm things down, Mathew gives them a beer. One of the brothers smashes the beer bottle against his sibling's neck. Blood spurts.

We're back at the hotel. Nigel is now depressed. "I asked those brothers what they did and they said 'drugs'. They're 26 and they've never had a job." And part of the problem, he believes, is that "no one comes to Stockton - that's why I'm so excited about this tour". Currently reading Will Hutton, he feels everyone should have a share of the good things in life. It's time for Marley to go to bed. Mother and child disappear as Nigel sighs: "They give me so much focus and drive and belief."

Nigel is more than confident about the Dodgy dream, which includes a plan to connect British people with Mexican revolutionary Marcos on the Internet. At the same time, he's not frightened by the idea that Dodgy now have mainstream appeal. Mathew, who has joined us, agrees that Dodgy have always wanted to be in Smash Hits, to appeal to "ordinary people".

Nigel then slopes off leaving Mathew to it. He's trying to concentrate but can only come out with statements like: "The trouble is, the health service is so good that there are more old people alive - and old people vote Tory." Eh? A startled look suddenly crosses his face. He gets up suddenly and rushes off crying "Toilet!"

When he returns, refreshed, I suggest that it's intriguing that a band who say they love Bristol's trip-hop scene because it involves "mixing black and white", and who cite black people as their major heroes, should make records that appeal so explicitly to a white audience. Wilting fast under the lurid neon lighting, he attempts to explain: "Well, there's not a lot of black geezers up in Stockton anyway." (He appears to have forgotten its Asian community.) He thinks extra hard. "But I know what you mean. When I was young and idealistic, I thought, why can't black and white live together? And then I moved to Hackney and got mugged by four 17-year-old black guys. I started to realise that a lot of white people and black people didn't get on."

That's Dodgy all over. Whether it's drugs, race, women or politics, they're in chaos. They're extending their friendly hand out over John Major's Britain in an attempt to reach out and touch. But it would appear that they're not reaching as many as they'd like to believe they are, despite the rapid growth in sales. And it may be that they don't like those they do reach. Ruthlessly ambitious, sweetly self-deluded, utterly charming - they seem less likely to change a brutal world than momentarily cheer it up.

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