Hang out at the right places and Manchester can seem like its never quite shaken off the Britpop dream: Oasis blasting in 42s and Stone Roses posters lining the walls of Afflecks, you’d think it was 1994 if not for the prices on said posters. Dodgy are one of those bands of the era that are often shoehorned into the Britpop bracket – their anthemic hit songs ‘Staying Out for the Summer’ and ‘Good Enough’ cast in a nostalgic nineties glow. Speaking to Nigel Clark, lead singer and bassist of Dodgy, it’s clear that this one-dimensional characterisation doesn’t quite give the band its dues.
“They only have about two bands that they keep getting out of the box from the nineties, you know Blur and Oasis. But they weren’t the important bands to me at the time,” he tells me, “I thought the early nineties were a lot more fun, before it all sort of took a step backwards and just went a little bit too laddie.”
Nigel Clark, and the rest of Dodgy, are taking to the road again this spring. They’re not only playing their own gigs (Manchester on the May 27), but are appearing at a number of festivals.
“It’s nice to be busy, but not too busy. I don’t like being too busy… anymore!” Clark says. Dodgy were famously big-time giggers, pounding the motorway and hitting up small towns for shows throughout the 90s. They were said to have played something like 300 gigs in one year, a number which Clark laughs at, but tells me is not too far from the truth.
They’re being supported by The Supernaturals and Chris Helme from The Seahorses, both of whom Clark views as underappreciated at the time. He tells me that he hopes to soon have an album in the works with Helme, who he says has “an outstanding voice and is a great guy”.
It’s this acknowledged mutual respect that seems so distinct from the murky, often egotistical culture of Britain’s Britpop years.
From talking to Clark, it’s clear that music is not just one vein of his life, but the beating heart of it.
“It’s everything to me. It’s like the best drug in the world, better than alcohol, than anything. […] You can’t explain it [but] you hear it and its like we know what it does for us.”
He’s at his most enthusiastic when talking about music itself, the hard work that goes into the craft of making music, and the joys of creativity. He’s just as eager to talk about other’s music as his own, telling me that Panda Bear and Sonic Boom’s new album Reset is currently on repeat, whilst he’s also a big fan of Billie Eilish.
On songwriters like Eilish, he tells me, “I think they’re brilliant, because they’ve got everything. Yet they still work really hard on their songs. […] These people are multi-millionaires, yet they still have to go into a room and write a new song. I just love the fact that in music, it all condenses down to melody, the words, the chords.”
When he talks about the influences on the band during their early period, he tells me that they wanted to “celebrate” music such as The Beatles, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones, rather than purely feeding into the zeitgeist.
Whilst he spent many years as a music teacher with disabled children, he tells me that he’s recently moved from England to Wales, in part due to a lack of funding for schools and the arts.
“I needed to get away from the toxicity of England,” he says, “It’s division, the politicians have divided people. The thing is we have an unfair disparity [in the] wealth distribution system in this country. […] It’s just not right, is it. I think, and I think a lot of people are thinking at the moment, that the people who took us down this path deserve to be in prison.”
“Where is the culture? Culture is everywhere, but if you can’t afford it because you can’t afford to buy a guitar, because you’ve got to work two jobs to feed your family, or just feed yourself, culture becomes different doesn’t it. Until it becomes like survival.”
Listening along to old favourites like ‘Staying Out for the Summer’, Clark’s lyrics have a resurgently relevant political pulse to them. Between bolshy chorus lines, a more embittered voice emerges:
“I’ve had enough of lining
Pockets I’ve never met
They’ve got me working all hours
I ain’t earned nothing yet”
Clark’s eager to talk about his newer projects too, of which there seems to be a never-ending mine. Dodgy’s last album What are We Fighting For was back in 2016, but it sounds like there’s a lot of new material in the works from Clark.
“I like electronic music”, he says, “I’ve got a lot of drum machines, and I like them connected and all the lights flashing. I got out walking a lot, I take samples of trees blowing, and then you put those into your sample, get them running […] I’m sort of trying to put together an electronic band together at the moment, [but] you normally get adverts for people saying ‘I’m as bass player’ on the scene, you don’t get many who are like ‘I like drum machines’”.
I ask him how he got into electronic in the first place, and he says that his love for it stretches back to the nineties.
“’Good Enough’ was written on a sampler, well the beat was originally.”
When I ask if he’s got any advice for student musicians looking to break into the scene, he’s enthusiastic and lively:
“When I teach people music, it’s like ‘Get this learning, and then soon you’ll be able to jam with other people.’ And then it all comes alive. Music comes to life when you play with other people. Just get another person involved, because it strengthens everything […] You’re unstoppable.”
For all the walls set up against young musicians – Brexit, Covid, The Cost of Living Crisis – Clark seems to have some hope for Generation Z.
Dodgy will be back in rehearsals in April, just in time for their Spring tour. Clark will be front and centre, doing what he loves best, and playing what we love best: soaring anthems that capture the joy and spark of British rock.
Buy tickets for Dodgy’s tour here.
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