LIVE REVIEW: Dub War @ Thekla, Bristol (06/03/23)

Dub War  cross the bridge to rock the boat, in Bristol Harbour.

Tonight, we return to one of my favourite Bristol venues, the four hundred capacity Thekla. Although as I type those words, it occurs to me that Bristol is full to the brim with cracking little venues that I have a soft spot for: The Exchange, Jam Jar, Fiddlers, Fleece and Firkin, Rough Trade, Lost Horizon, Trinity, Chelsea Inn – and that’s just the ones I have been to recently.

It’s a funny old place, Bristol. On the northern edge of the west country, it is never compared to hip places like London, Manchester or Liverpool, but it punches well above its weight when in more ways than one.

It doesn’t have any huge arenas or enormodomes, but they wouldn’t interest me anyway. It does have a couple of okay-ish medium- sized venues that are a bit corporate, such as O2 Academy, SWX, The Button Factory and Colston Hall. What makes it really interesting though, is the smaller venues. Not only is my abridged list of grassroots venues impressive, a fair few of them are community run venues. Which neatly ties in with Bristol’s other interesting feature,  its progressive and radical community.

There is a massive anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian, anarchist community, doing things for themselves and trying to make the world a better place. It is no coincidence that when the eyes of the world watched on as the statue of a slaver was pulled down, it was in Bristol. And the city’s voice of protest over the ‘Police Sentencing and Courts Act’ (which criminalised many forms of legitimate protest) was louder here than anywhere else in the country.

The Thekla, formerly owned by the family of Vivian Stanshall, has been owned by Daybrook House Promotions since 2006. Not a community owned venue by any stretch of the imagination, but independently owned by music lovers rather than a phone company. It is run by the same people that run Rock City in Nottingham and The Garage in Islington.

In the summer of 2019, the venue (which is a boat by the way) was towed away from its historic spot in the harbour to Albion Drydock. Extensive repairs were carried out, including a brand-new steel offset hull, which was welded into place around the original hull. So as we climbed up the gangplank we were reasonably confident the venue was not going to join Colston at the bottom of the dock, but we did have one eye on the skies, for the forecast snow which was threatening to stop us getting back to Wales.

After descending into the bowels of the hold of the former cargo ship, we find that Scarsun are already on stage. They are very metal and not really our cup of tea, but there were quite a few that do drink from that cup and seemed to be enjoying the show.


In the break between bands, we head up to the poop deck to see if there is room on the balcony that overlooks the stage. There is. We then stake our claim to the plot, knowing that if we give it up, we aint going to get it back.

Gen and the Degenerates hit the stage and whilst still quite heavy, they have more of a bluesy, funkiness to their heaviosity. Fronted by a non-binary singer, they have some interesting lyrics and talk about important issues between songs, such as Gen’s favourite tattooist, who is finding it difficult because her landlord won’t repair the lift to her studio. Gen is collecting for her tonight.

Gen and the Degenerates

During the next break I get my homies to guard my spot on the balcony while I head down to the front to get some phots of Dub War before the mosh pit gets too lively.

Dub War had been threatening to reform for a while, with the occasional one off gigs in Cwmcarn and Newport. They started getting serious last year, when they did a mini tour, signed to Earache Records (again) and put out a new album, ‘Westgate Under Fire’.

Tonight is the sixth night of a nine date UK tour. The bus parked outside suggests they are long since passed the days of cramming into the back of a transit van, although with band members having other musical outlets these days, they don’t need to do this tour – so why rough it?

In the nineties the flood gates opened for Wales, with ‘Cool Cymru’ bands not just being prominent in the UK music scene, but in some cases, conquering the world. When the media looks back on that period, Dub War are rarely mentioned though. I have long since given up trying to understand the algorithms of the music industry, but for me Dub War were head and shoulders above many of the bands that have since filled stadiums around the world. I’m not complaining though, I’d rather see them in a hold of a small cargo ship any day.

As usual, Benji winds up his trademark air raid siren to wind the crowd up before bursting into ‘Words of Warning’.

Despite this being the ‘Westgate Under Fire’ tour, the majority of tunes played in the set tonight are crowd pleasing oldies from the original incarnation of the band (1993 – 1999). And the crowd are pleased.

We get oldies like ‘Respected’, ‘Nar Say A Ting’ and ‘Enemy Maker’, with ‘Black Man’ and ‘Fun Done’ representing the new album.

In between songs I am reminded that Dub War live is not just about the music. Benji’s banter with the crowd in between songs is sharp and comical, especially dealing with hecklers. “Newport Helicopter? What you talking about bro? You got the wrong band, fuck off”.


The set ends after a remarkably short set. We all look at each other thinking WTF?

Then it crosses my mind that they might compensate with an extra-long encore. Fingers crossed.

They return, with Richard Glover now brandishing an electric double bass and they rip into a jazzy interlude. When I say jazzy, I mean ‘jazz metal’, of course. We get the likes of ‘Cry Dignity’, ‘Million Dollar Love’ and ‘Strike It’. Benji goads the middle-aged crowd into reliving their bouncier youth, even if it is a Monday and we have work on the morning. It works. The pit becomes a mosh.

Thankfully the long encore theory turns out to be correct, so we don’t end up demanding a refund. We eventually disembark into the snow free Bristol night, happier than a boat load of Saga cruisers that have just had dinner with the captain.

I know Dub War are good live, I have seen them enough times, and they never disappoint. But more than that, they always impress – they still manage to blow me away with how good they are. Every time is like the first time I have seen them.

Roll on the next time.

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