Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Dubstar

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: singer Sarah Blackwood of the reformed Britpop indie-dance duo takes the test

1
When Dubstar performed ‘Not So Manic Now’ on This Morning in 1995, which band did host Judy Finnigan say the song reminded her of?

Oasis – bless her cotton socks! [Laughs].”

CORRECT.

“You did all sorts of bonkers TV then, like singing with the puppets Zig and Zag on The Big Breakfast, or finding yourself swapping make-up and styling tips with Dannii Minogue backstage on children’s Saturday morning shows.”

What were the most surreal moments during the ‘90s for Dubstar?

“The whole thing was insane. At the first party we went to, Björk was running around with her little hands on her head pretending they were horns and charging into peoples’ stomachs pretending to be a bull. And then there’s the unforgettable sight of the Spice Girls sitting crossed-legged gazing up at me as I sang live at an industry do where us, them, and Kavana were entertaining people at the EMI pressing plant. The Spice Girls hadn’t released anything yet and I was standing next to [Spice Girls manager] Simon Fuller. As we watched them perform, he asked: ‘What do you think?’ – to which I responded: ‘I think they’re the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever seen!’ [Laughs]  Weeks later, they were the biggest pop sensation since the Beatles!”

2
Which metal band covered Dubstar’s 1995 song ‘Stars’ on their 2000 EP ‘Halflife’?

“Was it Lacuna Coil?”

CORRECT.

“I think I went to see them but I don’t remember much about it because I got really drunk because somebody said: ‘She [Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia] sings it better than you do!’ and I was really upset! [Laughs].”

3
Name the three guests that appear on your post-Dubstar electropop band Client’s 2004 ‘City’ album.

“Bloody hell! Martin Gore from Depeche Mode, Carl Barât and Pete Doherty.”

CORRECT.

“I wrote a note to Martin in my nice handwriting asking if he’d do it, and we were so excited when his vocals [for the track ‘Overdrive’] arrived in our inbox. Pete came into the studio and was just dancing around and singing, making the lyrics for ‘Down to the Underground’ up off the top of his head. With Carl, I got to gaze into his eyes for an entire day because we did the video for ‘Pornography’ together. We were on a revolving platform, and had some whisky on-set, so we were clinging onto each other for dear life so we didn’t fall off ![Laughs].”

“The beginnings of Client was bonkers in itself. The band Technique had lost their singer, and were due to support Depeche Mode in three weeks, so it was suggested I step in and meet with [Technique’s] Kate Holmes. So my first gig was in front of 45,000 Depeche Mode fans in Germany, and I was terrified. Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher warned me before I went onstage that their fans liked to throw things at the support bands. He cautioned: ‘If they throw coins at you, stay still. Don’t run until they start throwing shit!’ [Laughs]. But Kate and I went on that tour as Technique and came back as Client, because we decided to work together. And then Depeche Mode kept asking to play more gigs with them, flying us around on their jet, which was amazing.”

Advertisement

4
How many flowers adorn the original banned cover of Dubstar’s 1995 debut album ‘Disgraceful’?

“Wasn’t it one in each corner?”

WRONG. It’s 11 – not counting the ones in the corners. The original cover was a furry pencil case with a balloon inside which resembled a labia, which was replaced by a bunny slipper design.

“I treasure that first cover and was upset when we had to change it. We used to play universities and some student union heads – who were all male – took [posters of it] down for fear of upsetting the female students. I said: ‘I’m sure if the female students found it offensive, they’d take it down themselves, thanks! You don’t need to police us.’”

Looking back, did you face a lot of that kind of sexism during Britpop?

“Yes. I felt like the ‘female-fronted’ bands were treated as a sideshow to the main event, which was the boys. We were brought in as a token gesture, and pitted against each other, and it felt distasteful. The music press would do things like try and play me and Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell off against each other, hoping for a catfight. When both of us were at one industry event, journalists were waiting for the claws to come out, and Sarah walked up to me and gave me a big warm hug really graciously in front of all the photographers.”

5
Which singer turned down duetting with you on Dubstar’s The Last Song’ because he thought the track was “too camp” for him?

“I didn’t even know that song was supposed to be a duet! [Laughs] Blimey!”

WRONG. According to ex-Dubstar member Steve Hillier, he asked Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Holly Johnson to sing it with you – whose response was that ‘it was too camp for him – have we considered Marc Almond?’.

“I had no idea about Holly Johnson or Marc Almond – both of them would have sounded wonderful on that song.”

6
Dubstar covered ‘Poupée de cire, poupée de son’ with the late French crooner Sacha Distel for 1998’s A Song for Eurotrash. What year did the original win Eurovision for Luxembourg?

“Oh my God – I’ve no idea!”

WRONG. Singer France Gall won Eurovision for Luxemburg with it in 1965.

“There you go! Sacha Distel was lovely. I was really hungover on the day we did it. I was panicking before recording A Song for Eurotrash, because the song wouldn’t go in my head and I couldn’t remember the words, so I’d got drunk the night before. The director said: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll have the words on autocue for you’, but the crew knew I felt rancid and removed the autocue. [Laughs] Sacha was such a gentleman, especially considering I must have stunk of alcohol. He said: ‘You have a far better French accent than my friend Dionne’ – meaning Dionne Warwick! If you see the performance, I look like a frightened rabbit with my mouth moving formlessly over these words.”

“I don’t have an aptitude for languages. Years later, I did a duet with Die Krupps, ‘Der Amboss’ – which was a version of Visage’s ‘The Anvil’, and I couldn’t get my head around the German lyrics. Ralf [Dörper, Die Krupps] from the band reassured me: ‘Don’t worry, it will be OK.’. I remember as I was singing, I looked over to the control room and I could see Ralf and Jürgen [Engler, his fellow band member] rolling around the floor crying with laughter!”

7
Dubstar headlined the NME Stage at 1996’s Reading festival. Name any other three acts who played your stage before you.

“No, I can’t! I get so consumed by nerves before I play a show that I get tunnel vision. I do remember having a fight with the security guard before I went onstage though [Laughs].”

WRONG. You could have had: Northern Uproar, Mazzy Star, Catatonia, Salad, My Life Story, China Drum, The Brotherhood, Ben Folds Five or Dweeb.

“That was when Billy Bragg came and joined us to sing our version of his song ‘St Swithin’s Day’ which was a real honour. He forgot the words, bless him! We were all star-struck because he’s a hero.”

Advertisement

8
Melody Maker once dressed you as Diane from Trainspotting in a mock-up of the film’s famous poster. Can you name any two of the other four artists you appeared alongside.

“Gordon Bennett! I remember Tim Burgess, because they left his photoshoot until the end and threw a bucket of water over him. A guess, but The Prodigy‘s Keith Flint? I’m trying to remember who Sick Boy was.”

CORRECT. Keith Flint was Begbie, and your one-time Client duet partner Tim Burgess was Renton. Sick Boy was Cast frontman John Power, while Spud was Dennis Pennis [aka Paul Kaye].

That film was about addiction, and you’ve spoken openly about your alcoholism during and after Britpop…

“I suffer badly from imposter syndrome and I’m naturally shy and not great at communication, so I drank to make myself more interesting – except I didn’t ultimately because I just used to shout my mouth off then fall over. I ended up going to rehab and I’ve been sober 16 years. Carl Barât helped. He said: ‘Sarah, I think it’s time you should go to rehab and sort yourself out’. When a Libertine tells you that, it’s time to listen! [Laughs]”

In the ‘90s, everybody was expected to drink heavily…

“Absolutely. At [Food Records Boss who signed Dubstar] Andy Ross’ funeral, I went around apologising to people going: ‘I’m so sorry, I was drunk….’ And everybody replied: ‘Sarah, everybody was drunk. It was the ‘90s!’ But it was the ladette culture then as well – the men set the rules and you were only allowed into their world if you played by their rules. And I sometimes wish I’d been more like Sarah Cracknell and Beth Orton who said: ‘No, I’m not doing that’”

9
What number did Dubstar’s 1997 single ‘Cathedral Park’ reach in the UK charts?

“I don’t know.”

WRONG. It was 41 – although arguably Dubstar’s cheeriest single was released at the worst possible time…

“And the demo of it was called ‘Potential Number 1′! [Laughs] It was released the week Princess Diana died. The irony was I wanted to release our song ‘Ghost’ instead. Although we would have had problems performing it live, because every time I get to the line: ‘I still cook for two, you know’, I burst into tears. It still gets me. I thought it should be the single but everybody else insisted: ‘No, we need something upbeat’. And then Diana died!”

10
Complete the following lyrics: ‘I’ve waited for years / I’ve harvested tears for every glass on the shelf’…?

“‘I’ve wanted to tell but I buried my fears / Forsaking my mental and my physical health’ – that’s from ‘Token’.”

CORRECT. Which is the opening track from Dubstar’s forthcoming album ‘Two’, your second since you reunited with original member Chris Wilkie in 2018. It also sees you team back up with producer Stephen Hague for the first time since 1997…

“That was lovely. Because we knew each other, we were able to work remotely [during lockdown]. It felt like we’d picked up from where we left off years ago. A lot of people are saying the album sounds very Pet Shop Boys – but I think that’s just inbuilt into mine and Chris’s DNA.”

Some of the track titles and lyrical reference in the likes of current single ‘I Can See You Outside’ and ‘Hygiene Strip’ seem like references to the pandemic…

“With ‘Hygiene Strip’, we didn’t set out to write a COVID song, but it seemed churlish to ignore what was going on outside. ‘Hygiene Strip’ is about how the one time when you’re looking your worst and haven’t made an effort with your appearance is the one time you’ll bump into the person you really don’t want to see. It’s also a play on words, like Hollywood Strip, and it builds like an old-fashioned musical.”

 

The verdict: 5/10

“That’s impressive given the state of my foggy post-COVID brain!”

– Dubstar’s new single ‘I Can See You Outside‘ is available now. The album ‘Two‘ drops on May 6

Advertisement
Advertisement