The lights went out, searchlights lit up the sky and the sound of an air raid siren pierced the air. But it was not the Luftwaffe that was coming, it was Dub War.
Twenty years ago Blackwood Miners Institute was an essential stop off for any touring band looking to make a name for themselves. It was also second home to Newport’s Dub War, who tore the roof off the venue several times in their short but explosive existence.
Fitting then, as the Velvet Coalmine crew try to reinstate Blackwood’s place on the national live music circuit, that Dub War, playing only their third gig in eighteen years, should step up to the plate.
From 1993 to 1999 Newport’s Dub War ripped up stages around the world like sonic dervishes. Initially releasing an EP and an album on Newport based Words of Warning label they soon moved on to metal label Earache Records, released another two albums then split. Front man Benji, Guitarist Jeff Rose and drummer Ginge, went on to form Skindread who are still touring and recording to this day, although Jeff and Ginge left the band quite early in proceedings.
Dub War were talked of with reverence and much nostalgia for many years then, out of the blue, they popped their heads up In Newport for a one off show last Christmas (minus original drummer Ginge). In June 2015 they made a last minute appearance at Download then, for only their third gig in eighteen years, they were lined up for Velevet Coalmine, the arts, music and literature festival in the south Wales valley town of Blackwood.
In its heyday, Blackwood Miners Institute hosted gigs on a regular basis, mixing local, national and international artists. Names like Stiff Little Fingers, Ocean Colour Scene and Rocket from the Crypt were common place on posters around the town. Coldplay even played a support slot at the venue to local band Terris. Blackwood ‘Stute sat comfortably in the NME gig guide next to venues like Northampton Roadmenders, Camden Dingwalls and Dudley JBs. Then there was a change of staff at the venue and the gigs disappeared almost as quickly as they had appeared a few short years earlier.
Velvet Coalmine appeared on the scene in September 2014, with the aim of putting Blackwood back on the cultural map. And they came back again in 2015 with a bigger and expanded programme. The Keynote events of the festival were three nights of music in the Stute, but there were also film screenings, poetry readings, punk rock legends Q+A sessions, classical music in the church and a full menu of live bands in pubs throughout the town. The valleys equivalent to Brecon Jazz meets the Hay Literary Festival in a punk rock style.
Whilst there had been events throughout the week, our first taste of the event was when we caught Gweno, opening act in the ‘Stute on the Friday night. Making sure the crowd did not burn themselves out too early, solo artist Gewno combined vocals and keyboards to produce an ethereal soundscape falling somewhere between Clanad and the Cocteau Twins.
We then made a quick diversion down to the Foresters Pub to catch Dodgem X, Bargoed’s shoutiest punk band. In recent years The Foresters have been regularly putting on live bands but this is the first time we have made the effort to check it out. Sitting above one of the busiest pubs on Blackwood High Street, the venue is a nice size for a small local gig, although the layout of the room leaves a lot to be desired with the audience basically split into two rooms. The presence of two pole dancing podiums also add to the ‘character’ of the venue.
Dodgem X start out fast loud and angry and we assume carry on in that vein, but we have to head back to the ‘Stute to catch the main attraction of the night.
Once the sirens start to die down, Dub War burst into Psychosystem, from the first album. Old heads grin as the nostalgia transforms to the present day and the uninitiated are blown off their feet by the dub metal rap fusion that is like a wall of sound. This first outburst (our favorite Dub War number) lays down a marker, we are in for a no holds barred night of wave after wave of incendiary rock and roll numbers that are more war than dub.
Between numbers we get a chance to catch our breath back as charismatic front man Benji engages in banter with the assembled masses and trots out a few tales of the old days. Before you have a chance to warm down though, we are back on it with the pace never letting up. Mental, Enemy Maker, Strike It, Words of Warning and more. The tunes keep coming in wave after relentless wave of audio air strikes.
The old heads love it, the kids that were in prams last time they played Blackwood love it, the locals love it and those that have travelled from afar, including a double decker bus from their hometown of Newport love it. And you can see from the ear to ear grins on their faces, the band love it.
At the end of the night as the crowd pours out onto the streets, soaked in sweat and faces like a hoard of Cheshire cats, the feeling is unanimous. This was no Dub War by numbers set just for the money, they really meant it and they still gorrit. It was only half an hour after the show people started thinking about the next night and asking, “will Slaves be able to top that?”