An interview with the late Garry DS, shortly before he was taken from us.
On 1st August, 2011, the following message appeared on the SCRAP records website: “It is with great sadness we inform you of the untimely deaths of Gary, his daughter Caisie, friends Kath and Talei in a motor accident in Trelawney, Jamaica. Gary’s daughter Josie is in serious condition in Falmouth hospital and her medical insurance has run out. Gwyn is too ill to travel. Caisie’s boyfriend Luke was injured in the crash. Words don’t seem enough. Our thoughts are with family and friends”.
A few weeks prior to this, we met up with Garry as he was rallying the troops ready for the Cardiff leg of the Great Wreck and Roll Circus tour. Below you will find the result of that chat.
For those that did not know Garry, it will be a peak through the keyhole into the life of one of the underground’s unsung heroes. For those that did know him, it will hopefully be a reminder that although his departure was premature, whilst he was with us he squeezed a lot into his few short years with us.
Something of a nomad, Garry was at home everywhere, and nowhere. But everyone has to start somewhere and Garry’s journey started in South Wales, a few short miles up the road from Newport. “I am from Cwmbran”, our chat begins, “I was into punk rock and used to go to all the gigs in the early days and had a great time. Then things changed in the 1980s. I found it tough with all the different styles and fashions that wanted to kick fuck out of me, mods and skins etc”.
He describes a scene we remember all too well. Youngsters these days don’t realise what we had to go through in the punk wars.
“I just decided to get out of the country and moved to Amsterdam for a while. When I came back I found the traveller scene, which was more of an open book really, more welcoming, with free stages and free festivals and music any time any place. So it was all an escape route from Cwmbran and getting kicked around, but it turned out nicely”.
It was through this traveller scene that Garry met his partners in grime and formed his first band, 2,000 Dirty Squatters – hence the DS moniker. We have never quite worked out how they came up with the band name; cos clearly there were not 2,000 of them.
The DS website describes their formation thus – “2,000 DS started off in a field full of renegade travellers being chased and pushed around the UK in 1987. At a time when techno and ecstasy hadn’t quite reached the teenagers and live music was still thriving in the free-festival and squat scene. We moved into the London squat scene keeping our traveller style and attitude. Before squat evictions the Crow Posse would usually take lead, copper, zinc, brass and aluminium to the scrap yard; weigh it in and purchase music equipment and buses. Hence the first single, late ’87: SCRAP the CHURCH’.
“We got together in a dirty skanking squat in Hackney, Bruthon Road”, Garry recalls “which was a squatted street, next to a squatted bus station so there was quite a traveller scene going on”.
He was not the only Welshman in the DS posse. “My brother (Paul DiSease) was in the band, he lives in Bristol now. We don’t make much music together anymore, but without him it would have been impossible, he is a top drummer, he joined us when he was 16”.
“I miss the old festival scene, but 2,000 DS was really hard work, the travellers thought we were punks and the punks thought we were travellers. We got stuck in the middle of it all. Our style of punk rock was quite fast with double bass drums and hard-core orientated. The old skool British punk bands didn’t like us because we could play our instruments and were really fast and hard. The free festival thing was good ‘cos we could just do whatever and it didn’t matter”.
“All that is gone now, with all security everywhere, but there is not really any point yearning for it. If someone takes over a field these days it will be for a rave and that just bores me. I do miss the old days, but then again I am happy now. I have kids which is cool. It was hard in the old days, it seemed like everybody loved you at the time but the minute you turned your back they would slag you off. It was hard to know where you stood”.
We could not help bring up the subject of Treworgey Tree Fayre, held in Cornwall in July 1989. Technically an official festival but with all the craziness and anarchy of a free festival, perhaps the swan song of that scene before rave took over and the government stepped in with the Criminal Justice Act to make partying in a field illegal. The line-up was a who’s who of the festival scene, including Ozric Tentacles, RDF, Gaye Bykers on Acid, here and Now, Hawkwind and – yes – 2,000 DS. Mr and Mrs Iguana went there for their honey moon (Romantic or what?).
“Well, we were there for six weeks”, Garry remembers with a grin on his face, “we working on site helping put the site together and such like. We had a 40k generator on the back of our truck. It was taken out of a squat in London. The police came and we had to shift it somehow so we stuck it on our truck and took it to Treworgey. These travellers stopped us leaving with it with scaffolding bars and such like but they ended up giving us money for it. Treworgey all in all felt like the last of the free festivals, even though it wasn’t a free festival, it was run in that sort of head space. I have about five or six hours of video footage from there which I have not done anything with yet – I am hoping it will get used in something one day. Everyone looks dirty and scruffy, but that’s the way it was, festivals are a bit clean cut these days”.
While with the DS Garry Set up SCRAP records, which continues to this day. SCRAP brings together ‘producers, promoters and musicians with an ethical edge and an aims to promote upcoming bands as well as working with the best of the UK festival scene over the past 30 years’.
The birth of SCRAP is an all too familiar story. “We put out the first DS single on another label and got shafted so we decided anything we put out would be on our own label which was SCRAP records. Sub Cultural Radical Arts Productions. It sprung from there. A few people were about to help me with the paperwork and the organisation, putting on underground shows and free festivals and stuff – so SCRAP is just a bit of an open book, a platform for people to get information and do stuff”. It soon became more than a vehicle for 2,000 DS, other releases on the label include psychedelic punk dub outfit Head Jam from London and US hard-core outfit Broken, together with a shed load of compilations and DVDs.
“SCRAP takes up a lot of my time, especially at the moment with doing all these shows (Wreck and Roll Circus). We have a show every weekend for the next five or six weeks and they are all quite big. Lots of bands and performers and trying to do it all with a cheap ticket price, affordable to everyone, cos it is very expensive out there these days whichever way you look at it. Many of these gigs are all-nighters with ten bands, performers and DJs so people get their money’s worth”.
“It also helps give a platform to the bands. If I wanted to put on any of these bands in town we would have to put them on in a little pub or something, where as if I get them all together we can take a chance on hiring a bigger venue and give them the platform they deserve cos they are all top bands”.
The Wreck and Roll Circus has been knocking around in various forms since 1999, initially a one off gig but becoming a touring unit in 2002. As well as the cream of the underground big names like Asian Dub Foundation, Fun Loving Criminals and Lords of the New Church have dipped their toe into the festering water.
Artists involved in the circus in its 2011 incarnation, included Tribazik, Here and Now, AOS3, Spanner, Dead Silence Syndicate, Desert Storm DJs and various circus freaks. It was an interesting set up, with two stages, one at either end of the hall, and as one band came off, the next would come on straight away at the other end, to squeeze as many bands as possible into the night.
We talk of practicalities. “If we can break even that would be really good, that would mean we can afford to keep going forward with this. The bands and the performers are willing to play quite cheaply but you still have to pay for the PA, lights and venue etc and they don’t come cheaper for anyone. We need to try and break-even at least – then we can keep going, put on more gigs and put more records out”.
Given the roots of SCRAP, it seems strange them putting on gigs in official venues. The early gigs were in places like London’s Millennium Drone. Tonight we are talking to Garry in the historic surroundings of the historic Coal Exchange, one of Cardiff’s premier live music venues. “There are definitely people interested in squatted gigs in UK but it is difficult. I was at a legal venue last week which felt like a squat, but as the night wore on people started sliding down the wall on ketamine, which is not a good sight – it gets a bit boring. People just step over each other and nobody seems bothered about helping each other. I think that is a lot to do with dance music and dance culture which has taken over everything. That scene was never much to look at, just lights and a DJ, no bands too look at so I think people have just got used to not much going on. Hopefully we can kick a bit of life back into the scene”.
Up till now the circus has been touring the UK, but given the nature of the traveller’s scene, we wonder if there are plans to go further afield. “I am hoping to get enough publicity from this tour to be able to take it out to Europe. It’s not easy with the bands these days, everyone seems to be working or have kids and such like. There are very few bands which can stay on the road and if a band wants to get anywhere they have to virtually live on the road. A lot of bands don’t do so much of that these days; there are a lot of one off shows. It would be nice to take it to Europe because you get fed and they have nice beer”.
The European squat scene has always had a reputation for being more organised that the UK, so we wonder if there is more chance of a European tour taking in a few squats. “I think the euro squat scene is still quite organised, not as much as it was but they tend to carry it through into their normal venues anyway. A lot of the venues we play, especially in Germany are social centres. A lot of these venues are run by young people who are out there to learn how to run venues. When you arrive they throw you a case of good beer and some food and look after you. Half the time you can’t tell if you are in a squat or legal venue because you get treated the same. I don’t think the squat scene is as big as it was anywhere, but with prices going up and things getting difficult again maybe people will turn back to squats – but then again the police are a bit more clued up these days – so it is difficult to tell”.
After the Dirty Squatters Garry did not stick to just SCRAP. For a while he fronted Crow Zone who went missing in action around 2008, then he joined up with the Dead Silence Syndicate, who he describes as; “a six piece drum and bass outfit from London, but very much a live band – very punky – with the drum and bass beats, but all live. After all these years it is nice to be able to stand back and not have to scream your head off for an hour – which can get to you after a while, it’s a nice break”