Join Mucky Weekender with Dub Pistols' Barry, Bez and former Prodigy man Leeroy | Big Interview

The Tribal Gathering festival in Panama should have been a slice of hedonistic heaven.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 4:54 pm
Barry Ashworth of Dub Pistols, Leeroy Thornhill and Bez at the launch of The Mucky Weekender. Picture by Paul Windsor

Taking place on a beach at the edge of the jungle, the epic three-week bash was billed as being in a location that is ‘truly a paradise on Earth.’

And Barry Ashworth, the ringleader of big-beat party-starters The Dub Pistols, was there to perform a DJ set.

However, Tribal Gathering was taking place in March 2020…

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Barry recalls how he made his lucky escape: ‘I was in the middle of Panama, in the rainforest, surrounded by a load of people, naked, tripping on acid, and then suddenly these armed police turned up with M16s and said: “It's off.”

‘The promoter said it was just the government turned up for payola, but having just flown in there and having started to see what was going on around the world, I had an inkling of the way things were going, so I decided to call a taxi into the middle of the rainforest to get me out of there.

‘And I got the last plane home.

‘There were still people there five-six months later!’

Hundreds did indeed end up stranded in the Central American country as the world went into lockdown.

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However, next weekend Dub Pistols host their own festival, one which will hopefully run rather more smoothly – The Mucky Weekender will take place in a rural idyll near Winchester on September 10-11.

Named after the band’s anthem to a big weekend, they decided to create and host their own festival in 2019, using it as a way to connect with their fans, The Pistolero family, and showcase both established and new musical artists over the two days.

Chilling with (from left) Leeroy Thornhil, Barry Ashcroft and Bez at Vicarage Farm for the Mucky Weekender launch on June 15, 2021. Picture by Paul Windsor

Originally held in East Sussex, this year it is moving to Vicarage Farm, better known as the home of award-winning boutique festival Blissfields from 2011 to 2017.

Speaking with The Guide at the festival's launch on a balmy day in the field where all the action will take place, Barry says: ‘The site we had in Sussex was incredible, but we needed to grow and Mel and Paul (Bliss) kindly offered to let us come and use this location.

‘I think we've got it exclusively for... how long?’ he calls over to his manager standing nearby.

‘That depends on how well you behave,’ comes the deadpan reply.

Dub Pistols at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea on March 6, 2020. Picture: Paul Windsor

‘Ah, so not very long!’ says Barry descending into laughter.

The Pistols were practically the festival’s house band, playing there numerous times.

‘As soon as I knew that the site was available, I jumped at the chance to move it here. It's probably the place I've played more than anywhere else.’

As we talk, Barry is joined by Leeroy Thornhill, the former Prodigy dancer-turned-DJ and electronic artist, and Bez – Happy Mondays’ iconic dancer. Both are performing at The Weekender.

Between the three of them, getting a word in edgeways is difficult, with many jokes and tales told that are far too rude for a family publication.

So, what have you been up to over the past year or so?

‘Mainly stressing!’ says Leeroy. ‘I actually wrote two albums last year, so I can't really complain, I wouldn't have done that otherwise.

‘I wrote two concept albums – there was no gigs, so there was no point in writing albums to play live, so I wrote them to cover all the genres of music that I like.

‘I just focussed on what you can do and how the world's changing with the online stuff, I came out of my shell a bit and thought you can't rely just on the gigs.

‘You reinvent yourself and get involved in lots of different things.’

He also returned to England after several years living in Germany.

‘I was in Stuttgart for six years. It's a lovely city and all that, but I missed England and the sense of humour and my mates – and the music. It is just techno there...’

As talk moves on to the state of the music industry, Leeroy gives a colourful metaphor for how artists are treated less than favourably before saying: ‘It's 0.0002 cents for a stream and then you give 10-30 per cent to a distributor, and whoever else is involved – it's just a waste of time.

‘So I took some time out and just did it on Bandcamp.’

‘I think the whole music industry is fundamentally broken,' adds Barry.

‘That's half the problem with what's going on now and why we're in such a terrible state as an industry.

‘Because of (the lack of) sales and streaming, we basically have to be touring to make a living, whether it's as a DJ or a band. Bez is lucky because he's got his telly work and his celebrity work...’

‘Telly's bailed me out this year,’ says Bez, before adding a little surprisingly: ‘But I hate it – it's the worst job ever!’

‘Don't say that!’ cuts in Barry.

‘I know I shouldn't say that,’ Bez continues, ‘but I normally say “no” to a lot of the TV stuff, but this year I've had to yes to everything! Even Pointless, I did!

‘They just call me Pointless...’ says Barry, mock sad. ‘Surely one of the great TV goals is Bez cheating on Bargain Hunt?’

This was back in 2018, for a Music Day special, where Bez and Mondays’ singer Rowetta were pitted against Pulp in the BBC’s daytime antiques contest.

‘The funny thing about that,’ recalls Bez, ‘one of the producers really kicked off at us and said we've ruined the show, she went beserk at us. But they've never had so much press in all their lives!’

‘We need you on TV Bez! you're perfect for it,’ say Leeroy. ‘But I know what you mean – when you perform, you get a drug from it. When you're doing TV stuff, you're standing around most the time, unless it's live. Until they go: “Action!” it's rubbish.’

‘I have been really fortunate,’ Bez admits. At the time we spoke, Bez was on Celebrity Gogglebox with Mondays’ frontman and life-long friend Shaun Ryder.

‘That one's actually enjoyable to do,’ concedes the singer. ‘You're sitting there with your mate, having a whisky, chatting nonsense and getting paid for it.’

Another one of Bez’s lockdown exploits has been the launch of Get Buzzin’ With Bez, a YouTube fitness class. He explains: ‘I actually had a PT training me, but that really worked for me.

’I spent the whole of lockdown drinking cider. I live in Hereford these days, so we're surrounding by cider farms. I drank a lot of cider and put a lot of weight on – it was nice to have a change of direction.’

Back on the musical front, Barry says: ‘I've finished another album, but I've decided I'm not going to release it this year. I've got the Jungle Cakes album out at the moment,’ a mix album for the the respected jungle/drum’n’bass label, ‘so I'm just waiting to see what I want to do next.

’Again talking in terms of the industry, whether I want to go through a label, or release it independently.’

Last autumn Barry and Bez took part in a wing walk in aid of Tonic, the Portsmouth-based music and mental health charity. Barry is one of its patrons and it is the Weekender’s official charity.

As a man notoriously familiar with chemical highs, how did this literal high compare, Bez?

‘That's like the biggest rollercoaster ride you've ever been on in your life. It is thrilling and scary at the same time. I was scared my eyeballs were going to fall out!’

‘There's no chance you're getting me up there,’ says Leeroy.

‘Bez is a thrillseeker, he's a petrol head, he will totally embrace it,' says Barry. ‘We're talking about what we're going to do next, and we've been discussing it with Leeroy earlier on. We now want to be fired out of a cannon – I want to be a human cannonball.

‘What a stage entrance!’ Bez cackles.

Mucky Weekender takes place at Vicarage Farm, near Winchester, on September 10-11.

Attendance will be limited to 3,000 – 60 per cent of the site's capacity, and proof of Covid vaccination or a negative lateral flow test will be required to attend.

Tickets £120. Go to mucky-weekender.co.uk/tickets.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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