The Dubtones : Legends of the Underground

Pictured Above: Ska / Punk Dublin 3 piece The Dubtones.

Pictured Above: Ska / Punk Dublin 3 piece The Dubtones.

Who remembers the 80’s? Thatcherism, yuppies and sterile Electro Pop! The ‘greed is good’ ethos was rampant and the popular scene coerced socialites to dress in frilly collared shirts that told the world that they were ready to conform.

So what was going on for everyone else? They were listening to Madness, the Specials and the Clash wearing 14 hole docs and stomping to politically and socially aware music blasted through the speakers. This was the theme tune for a lost generation. The Ska and Punk bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s spoke to the gangs of misfits who were soon to be swamped by the decade that would see the music industry begin its evolution into the commodity that it is today.

All’s not lost however. The Dubtones, as the name suggests, are a Dublin band who give more than a nod to the 2-tone and punk era. They are the perfect modern blend of punk, ska and dub-reggae blending raw anger with upbeat riffs resulting in some adrenaline pumping tunes to get anyone to their feet. The lineup changed a couple of times over the years before finally settling on the threepiece that is: lead guitarist and singer, Stephen Whelan (Whelo); Aidan Gibson (Gipo) on bass; and Stephen Cashell (Stanto), the drummer who likes to keep his feet firmly on solid ground.

Pictured Above: The Dubtones live at the Rebellion festival Blackpool 2013.

Pictured Above: The Dubtones live at the Rebellion festival Blackpool 2013.

NewsFour nabbed Stephen Whelan just before he and the band returned to Birmingham by popular request to play in the festival that would showcase their new album, ‘War Music’. “We will be playing with the late 70’s punk band Drongos for Europe. We’ve been invited to play all over mainland Europe and have played many of the big punk and ska festivals so far,” he said.

The band found its beat in Whelan’s hometown of Shankill when he and a friend spent the weekend recording songs on a four track tape recorder in his garage. “One weekend, four songs; two of them we still play today, ‘Last Train Home’ and Rudi” I asked were any of the songs autobiographical? “They all are!” he replied.

The early years were punctuated by band members emigrating and life in general taking centre stage but a galvanising moment came in 2005 when Whelan bumped into Gibson at a gig in Dublin. “Rancid were playing the Olympia when I bumped into Gipo. The Dubtones reformed over a few pints that night.” The following year they produced their first six track record ‘One for the Road’.

US punk band Rancid’s part in the Dubtones story was not over yet. Years later the Dubtones were supporting Devil’s Brigade at Whelans. The bass player was none other than Matt Freeman of Rancid fame who was so impressed with the Dubtones that he made sure that they would be in the lineup when they played Belfast. “That was a big moment for us, Rancid were up there with the likes of Greenday and Offspring at the time,” Whelan told NewsFour.

Music has been a constant in Whelan’s life. He tells the story of saving for months for a silver Pearl drum kit, after bagging his first job, only to be beaten to the sale by a seven year old. “I took another kit, went home and beat the living daylights out of it.”

Pictured: whelo ( vocals & guitar) live at the Academy Dublin.

Pictured: whelo (vocals & guitar) live at the Academy Dublin.

As well as playing with top punk acts at the Rebellion festivals, The Dubtones have played alongside Bad Manners, The Beat, The Selector and Neville Staples from The Specials; all the bands that provided the inspiration for the 11 year old Whelan, back in the day. He tells NewsFour about meeting the heroes of his youth.

“Neville Staples is a really funny guy. He was joking around with us backstage at the Mercantile and isn’t afraid to laugh at himself. Buster Bloodvessel, Pauline Black (the Selecter) they were all really sound, great towards us.”

The band steer away from covers and perform all of their own material at gigs. “We release our own records and do everything one hundred percent our way.” The Dubtones is not full time for any of the band and Whelan’s day job is in Dublin 4 as a graphic designer. “It’s all about playing live for us but there’s a lot of competition out there as the underground music scene in ireland is thriving. You have to be good at what you do, there’s nowhere to hide in a three piece band. Everything has to be at the max.”

The Dubtones are the perfect antidote to the ‘Somewhere’s Got Talent acts, that we’re force fed on a weekly basis. Asking for Whelan’s opinion on these was met with, ‘Like sprinkling gold-dust on dogshit.’ The Dubtones come from somewhere raw and very real. While talking to the frontman I begin to realise that self promotion is not his forte and suspect that the best place to find out about who these guys are, is to look to the lyrics. “You don’t do it just because you’re looking for something to write. ‘Tension’, that song is ferocious when we play it live.

It’s just an outburst. Some say it’s too aggressive but it’s just brutally honest. If there’s something on your mind you can put it into a song. But the thing is you’re open to scrutiny then. Social things, politics, personal stuff. That song ‘Asylum’? What’s Asylum! Asylum is Ireland!”

Pictured: The new Dubtones album entitled "war music".

Pictured: The new Dubtones album entitled “war music”.

Their latest collection of socially aware, boot stomping tunes, War Music, is soon to be launched in Dublin early summer. The 14 track CD has its own story that was put down over a long period of delays and tragedy. “Our main drummer, Kenny Doran, sustained serious injuries a few years back but kept on playing up until the recording of the album was finished. When I came back from England after a year we tried to get the money together to finish it because the songs were good. In the end we got to finish it within a couple of weeks with our old drummer Kenny and got it pressed a week later. We’ll be selling it in Freebirds, Spin Dizzy, Fade records, Tower and HMV. The smaller independent shops are happy to oblige and they sell more anyway because it’s the real music lovers who go into those shops.”

If you are fed up listening to music that doesn’t really say anything, check the Dubtones facebook/website for details of the launch / upcoming gigs or as Whelan himself puts it: “Music for angry bastards.”

Listen to the Dubtones on Soundcloud.

The Dubtones release their new album “war music” in Fibber Magees on Parnell St. Saturday june 4th. Doors open 8pm til late adm 5 euro or ten euro with free cd.

By Maria Shields O Kelly