As the decade draws to a close, Dub War pop their heads out of retirement for an intimate rare gig in Cwmcarn.
The Cwmcarn Hotel has been raising eyebrows and expectations for around two years now. Until the arrival of Chiska and Anja Franco it had been a typically unremarkable pub in typically sleepy valleys town. But the last few years has seen the venue putting on a series of unfeasably cool live bands, including Regime, Captain Accident and the Disasters, Buck and Evans, Kilnaboy, Junior Bill and The Last Tree Squad.
Earlier this year they added a string to their bow by opening up the highly reccomended Fork ‘n Tune Restaurant.
Much of the venue’s success can be put down to Vinny’s background working at festivals. And there is no doubt that tonight’s gig is only happening because of Vinny’s long term friendship with Benji, singer with Dub War and Skindred.
Between 1993 and 1999 Dub War’s brand of ragga infused punk metal set the world alight, with them tearing up stages, clubs and festivals throughout the UK, Europe and America. But despite their success they have always remained true to their roots and they fly the Newport flag wherever they go.
In 2014 they came together for a one off show in Blackwood Miners Institute at the Velvet Coal Mine festival. As far as we can tell, they have not officially reformed, but they have performed a handful of exclusive dates and released two singles since.
The prospect of a rare appearance in an intimate, one hundred capacity, valleys pub saw tickets fly out – they were all snapped up before half the world had woken up to the fact that it was happening.
On the night the pub was buzzing from the minute the doors opened. Dub War fans from all over Wales mingled with locals with no interest in the band, but stoked to see that their little pub was the place to be.
Christmas is always a time to catch up with friends you have not seen all year but tonight there are faces we have not set eyes upon for three decades. Names are recalled, social media details are exchanged and long forgotten memories are dragged out of the mists of time – although some of them should have stayed where they were.
As the back room filled up the gathering punters were entertained by a solo set from Carlton Brodin, then an enthusiastic Tommo doing some spoken word.
The ever sociable Dub War bass man Richard Glover mingles with the crowd and does a stint selling t shirts. But eventually the old faithful air raid siren is cranked up to warn of the impending sonic attack and the band take to the stage.
Being a cramped little pub there is no dramatic entrance, other than the siren, the band have to walk through the crowd and climb up onto the stage, but nobody cares. This is a down to earth band playing a down to earth venue for a down to earth crowd.
There is some banter between band and audience and some mutterings about the sampler not working, before they tear into Psycho System off their first EP on the Words Of Warning label. The, up to then, excited but subdued crowd burst into life. History is already made and Cwmcarn will never be the same again.
Respected and Words of Warning quickly follow, and the decades fall away. We are reminded what an intense, irresistible, tour de force this band were. Like being compelled to dance whilst a tornado is tearing apart the world around you.
Benji has none of the airs and graces of a traditional rock star, but his down to earth connection with crowd around him make him the consummate front man. Between numbers having a laugh with his homies and sharing self deprecating anecdotes, then suddenly putting one hundred and ten percent into his performance with a polish few punk bands could compete with.
Benji brings a reggae vibe to the party, but there is no doubting these guys are far more war than dub.
Jeff Rose on guitar brings a metallic edge to the sound that might explain why Earache signed the band all those years ago.
Richard Glover on bass pulls the band back from falling into that metal pigeon hole, laying down a punky dubby rhythm that winds up the mosh pit down the front whilst getting the heads at the back nodding in time.
Drummer Mikee Gregory, the only non original member, lays down a solid back beat doing the original material proud.
Someone comments to me how tight the band are. Of course they should be, they have been doing this for over three decades – but then I remember that these tunes are mostly a quarter of a century old and sounded every bit as sharp first time around.
They tear through numbers like Nar Say A Ting, Murder, and Crack, and throw in the 2014 single Fun Done. The set is ferocious with very little quater given. An electric Double Bass is pulled out for Fools Gold and the mighty single Strike It.
They pause for an encore, but leaving the stage is pointless. In a venue like this actually leaving the stage would be more hassle than it was worth.
After a brief pause for everyone to catch their breath, Enemy Maker builds slowly, then we go into the full scale assault of Gorrit before appropriately ending with Over Now.
I’m always dubious about bands reforming, but there is no doubt these guys have still Gorrit. In the last twenty years they have all moved on to different projects and as far as I can tell this isn’t part of a full blown reunion, just mates getting together for old time sake. Is it really Over Now? Time will tell. But it really would be a shame if we have to go through the rest of our lives with out having the occasional dose of Dub War.
In 2019 we have seen some pretty amazing gigs up and down the country and through Europe. At this stage I’m pretty confident that 28th December marks my last gig of the year. It’s a long time since last January and memories fade, but Dub War might, just might, have come in at the last minute and stolen the crown of gig of the year.