Listen up. I realise it’s late notice if you didn’t already know, but this Saturday, November 14th, marks the end of an era, with the final show by The Dubious Brothers.
I’ll take part of the blame – not for the fact that this cult collective are calling it a day, more the case that I’m only mentioning it now. It’s been on my list for a while, but time overtook me, and I only finally got in touch with the band’s founder, leader and singer-songwriter, Monty, last night. The result was an entertaining three-quarters of an hour chat (some of it even relevant to what I planned to cover).
Time is against me now to transcribe all that in time, so I decided towards the end of our chinwag that I’d do this as a two-parter instead, with the first instalment flagging up the gig itself. Because I’d hate for anyone who can actually get there on the night to see this too late and miss out.
Part two will follow on this site very soon, and will involve more of a personal nostalgic retrospective of the band, and a bit of a potted history of the life and times of Monty – before, during and after The Dubious Brothers.
But first, the rudimentaries – the where, the when, the why and the how, including a little biog for those who might not have had the pleasure, first-time around, or those who need reminding. It might even inspire you to get to North London this Saturday night and see them in all their pomp and finery. Think of it as the last chance saloon.
Then, when you get back (and no doubt have something to tell your grandchildren), I’ll carry on and give you more, maybe even calling Monty back for a few words on the whole emotional experience this weekend.
Sigh. It’s only just sinking in that I won’t be there on the night to revel first-hand in all those great songs, the likes of classic DB tracks like South America Welcomes the Nazis, Falling Masonry, You’re Wernher Von Braun (And I Claim My Five Pounds), Britannia’s Grand Machine, Inspector Le Strade, My Goodness! This Bazaar Is like a Jumble, and A Heck of a Dubious Day.
So just who are this ‘cult ’80s’ anarchic music hall act back by popular demand to play for just the second time in 25 years, for one night only at the Assembly Hall in Islington’ (not my words, but about right, I suppose), formed around Banstead way in my native Surrey all those years ago? Well, let’s delve into their own official press release:
“The Dubious Brothers have to be seen to be believed. Between 1986 and 1990 they amazed and bewildered audiences all over Europe with their anarchic, satirical pre-War sound and spectacular theatrical stage show.
“Whilst the band played a heady mix of music hall foxtrots, tangos and waltzes, surreal Greek dancing surgeons flung themselves into the frenzied audience whilst ghostly Victorian gentlemen rode strange upside-down bicycle machines on stage. The set was reminiscent of both the misty docks of Victorian London and the inventing room of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s Caractacus Potts.
“Although their dance music looked firmly backwards in time, the lyrics were rich in biting, modern political satire. The Dog Ate My Poll Tax Form and What A Lovely Day For A Hunt Sabotage were particular fan favourites, and The Dubious Brothers took particular delight in mocking the British Establishment.
“No judge or freemason was safe from their gaze. As a cult indie act, their vinyl releases are now collectors’ items, but the recent success of the album Antiques- The Best Of The Dubious Brothers has led to this one last glorious night of twisted dancing sing-a- longs and chaotic delight.”
Right, now we’ve got that out of the way (which is good, because they’re bloody hard to explain to people who haven’t chanced upon them before), did you make note of the bit that said, ‘second time in 25 years’? Well, yeah. I missed that last comeback gig, and as I’ve already mentioned, circumstances as they are (not least geographical ones) I won’t be able to make it this time either. Shame on me, and for me. But a few of my mates made it to last November’s packed-out show in the capital (which was supposed to be a one-off), and were full of it.
That included my namesake, Malcolm Smith, the esteemed graphic artist who was my right-hand man in the days of the Captains Log fanzine I wrote and self-published back in the late ’80s. In fact, it was my fellow Malc and his mates who first introduced me to the wonder that was The Dubious Brothers, and a scan through the diaries this week reminded me I went on to see them 10 times between mid-July 1987 and the end of March, 1990.
Those first and last outings were just two of six DB gigs I saw at the Fulham Greyhound, along with one at the nearby King’s Head, and one at Guildford’s Lockwood Day Centre, the charity gig at which I interviewed them 27 and a bit years ago. That leaves two others, one supporting The Corn Dollies at the Marquee, and the other at midnight (or thereabouts) on the Saturday at Glastonbury Festival in the summer of 1989. Heady days.
It was only looking through Monty’s sleeve notes and past interviews this week that it struck me that their previous last-ever gig at Warwick University in October 1990 was just a couple of weeks before I headed off on my world travels. It was the end of an era for both of us.
Yet they came back eventually, and now they’re doing it again – with a few promising tweaks by the sound of it. And from what Monty’s told me, it’s going to be a night to remember.
The first time we properly talked, the head honcho of The Dubious Brothers (on that occasion joined by band-mates Simon and Steve) came over all pretend-John Lydon-esque snarly when I showed him an earlier copy of Captain Log and he spotted a review in which our star rating at the time suggested they were a ‘good night out’.
You got the feeling that level of praise was beneath him. You can understand that too. They played their little hearts out night after night, and all they got was a ‘good night out’ rating. But – as I explained at the time – that was a positive review for our standards, and surely it was a very British way of doing things, something his band could surely appreciate.
They were bloody good though. They were clever, they were witty, they were musically adept, and they were of the now. In fact, all these years on, the edge they had then still shines through, and their songs seem somewhat timeless (despite some of that ’80s sound on the recorded output) – even the one about poll tax non-payment.
But enough of that for now. Let’s just talk about this weekend’s big event. So, Monty, why now? You’ve had your farewell gig already … twice. Who do you think you are, Frank Sinatra?
“Well yeah. Last year was supposed to be the last one ever. When the Dubious Brothers Fans’ page on Facebook was set up, people started joining and talking about the band, and emailing or messaging me asking about a reunion and when we were going to do it all again.
“And the way people talk about it all suggested that the band meant a lot to people at the time, for various different reasons. For example, people going to university for the first time who might have come to see us, and we might have been the first band they ever saw.
“We appealed to them, and there was a social side to it … ‘a good night out’, as you would say! We kind of reminded people of that exciting time, of being young and going to see gigs. We said we’d just do one show – the one we did last year.
“But because of various factors like illness, and not all the original members being available to play, we drafted in Dominic Luckman from Cardiacs on drums. And because I didn’t want everyone to have to learn all 16 or 17 songs we had Jackie Carrera, formerly of Girlschool and The Flatmates, playing bass on a few tracks, and Des Burkinshaw from theghostorchestra, and various original members and other guests.
“We even had Tom Dolan, who started the fan page, on keyboards. So it was a family affair. And it was a great night, virtually sold out. Everyone had a fantastic time, but we weren’t really happy with the sound on stage as we were hearing it.
“It sounds fine on the DVD of the show, but we struggled on the night. The stage was quite cramped too, with it being such a big show. So although it was a fantastic night there were lots of things for me personally that didn’t quite hit the spot, professionally.
“I think we did put on a great show and had a great time, but I just kind of wanted a few other things, and it was a shame we didn’t have the Time Machine and that we didn’t have more room to muck around and dance.
“People ended up saying, ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ and I did a little straw poll in a bid to make sure that they would turn up. They promised they would, so we decided to do it, and as it turns out one of our people has rebuilt the time machine from new, and it looks absolutely incredible – far better than the original.”
So has there been a lot of hard work to get things ready in time for Saturday?
“Absolutely, and we have a children’s choir to kick off the show, which is mainly children of the band and others drafted in, all dressed as street urchins, basically lamenting why I sing about Nazis, and all that.”
Fantastic, and very Lionel Bart meets Monty Python, 21st century style. In fact, here are the actual words:
Why do you sing about Nazis? Why can’t you sing about love?
Why don’t you sing about wonderful things like daisies and butterflies and doves?
Why can’t you be more like Coldplay? Then we’d be very rich.
The way things are going, with record sales slowing, you’re sure to end up in a ditch.
Inspired, and apparently, with that, Monty comes on and asks if the choir would like him to sing a nice song instead. But to find out what happens next, you’ll have to pop along this Saturday night.
You mention family members. Any of those belong to you, Monty?
“Yes, my little boy is one of them. He comes on and sings during Oh! Mother Borden.”
Brilliant, one of my favourites, and it turns out that this particular Victorian urchin has the wondrous line, ‘God bless yer, guv’nor, d’you fancy a pie?’ What’s more, young Joseph also has another line later, but again I’ll leave that for those who are there to find out. And there won’t be a dry eye in the house, I’m guessing.
Word has it that there will be several more surprises and new highlights on the night, with some of the more obscure songs represented via a new extra medley.
“Not this time, no. It was very expensive, and the last one is great, so that will be our epitaph … testament, whatever you want to call it.”
I’ll stop there for now. Otherwise, no-one will get a chance to read this before the event itself. Stay tuned for part two, and in the meantime, if you can possibly make it to Islington on Saturday night but haven’t quite tracked down tickets yet, they’re available via this link here.
And for more about Monty and The Dubious Brothers – not least how to get your hands on the best of CD and his own solo material – try his website via this link.