BESIDE THE SEASIDE: THE SOUP DRAGONS
The Soup Dragons are a little bit worried and it shows. Bass player Sushil Dade laughs nervously to himself and a look of concern sweeps over the face of singer Sean Dickson. On a desolate looking stretch of beach, spitting distance form a nuclear power station and a pebble’s throw from the English Channel The Soup Dragons are shooting the video for their ‘Mother Universe’ smasheroo.
Trouble is, the director has the Soupies scripted to go wild in a psychedelic Mk2 Triumph Vitesse Convertible (1962 model), and no one seems too confident at the prospect of Sushil behind the wheel. He’s the only driver among the quartet and, as he shyly confesses, it’s been a couple of months since he was last on the road.
Automobile accidents have brought several great musical careers to a premature end, turning Marc Bolan and Eddie Cochran into legends, but Sean Dickson is quite convinced that he doesn’t want to join the list of great rock & roll auto deaths of our time.
As the band clamber into the compact four-seater, Sean surveys the strange Kent beachhead. “It’s wild,” he says at last. “It’s the only place in the whole world that looks like this.”
In truth, this is the Soupies’ second attempt to immortalize Dungeness Beach. They had actually spent two days here filming their ‘I’m Free’ promo, but all the coast location work ended up on the cutting room floor. This time they’re hoping it’ll stay in.
‘We really want to use this place,” insists Sean, a cold sea breeze lashing through his flopsided hair. “It’s just so unique. And it’s desolate.”
“It looks like the American mid-west,” chips in drummer Paul Quinn from the back of the car.
“It’s like ‘Paris Texas’,” continues Sean, referring to the cult film that was indeed shot in the American mid-west. “Nobody wants to stay here. If you look that way it looks really nice, if you turn round there’s a big nuclear power plant. We’ve even found a road sign over that’s bleached out! Where do you see bleached out road signs? It’s all really weird, man. Look at the plants. Rubber plants!”
To illustrate his point he touches one of the bizarre mutant-looking plants on the floor. “Feel the texture,” insists Sushil. “You saw the size of the fish in the chip shop,” adds Sean, ramming his point home with a piece of strangely oversized cod. “You know what I mean?”
Switching his mind from the disturbing by-products of life next to a nuclear power station, Sean gets back to the job in hand and joins the band in the car. With the camera firmly strapped on to the front of the bonnet, the band proceed to drive – cautiously at first along the single-track coastal road. But before they’ve even rounded the first bend, the car comes to an abrupt halt.
Momentary panic crosses the face of the director, but it seems it’s just a minor problem: the gear-stick knob has come off in Sushil’s hand! Knob reinserted, the Soupies are off for “take 2”, drawing fascinated looks from a series of American tourists whose sightseeing location seems as bizarre as the mutant rubber plants themselves. “What are they called?” asks one middle-aged lady from New Jersey. “The Super Drugs?”
Well, if the Soup Dragons’ name hasn’t yet reached household status on the other side of the Atlantic, their ‘I’m Free’ single looks likely to finish the year as one of the UK’s biggest selling hits, with the follow-up ‘Mother Universe’, possible surpassing those achievements. Not at all bad for a band who were, six months ago, still merely promising to deliver their first chart hit, despite four years of trying.
‘Mother Universe’ is actually a song currently undergoing its second life. The original version was released as a single in February, but following the success of ‘I’m Free’, the band totally reworked and re-recorded the song, giving it the same kind of “up” treatment (in other words, the song remains the same but it has been embellished with the same magnificent over-production that made ‘I’m Free’ such a great record).
We’ve all seen how the stonking new version has fared, but was Sean disappointed that ‘Mother Universe’ didn’t “happen” the first time round? “It happened in all the right places,” he counters. “I suppose there wasn’t the right kind of marketplace for those kind of people to buy that kind of record then.
“When it first came out it was just looked upon as being a well weird record. And three months later I read in a magazine that it was the ‘seminal indie dance record’. I find that quite insulting because it wasn’t meant to be like that. It was just meant to be a good record.”
Since the success of ‘I’m Free’, many who remember the jangly, indie guitar roots of the band have, to say the least, been cynical of their new style. But in truth, the Soup Dragons’ jangly roots had long since been left behind, and their most recent dance records are just a final conclusion to Sean Dickson’s big production vision. “The people that know a lot about us and knew us five years ago don’t see it as such a drastic change, because they’ve seen it happen.”
Still with an established track record longer than the average chart career, accusations have come thick and fast. But did The Soup Dragons really create a pre-meditated chart hit, jumping on the dance bandwagon along the way? It’s funny that few other acts have faced the same kind of cynical press criticism meted out to The Soup Dragons. Criticism that Sean insists is unfair.
“There’re loads of contradictions in everybody’s argument, which because we’ve been on a ‘dance’ record label for five years – which was looked upon as being a really uncool move. And then in the space of a year, suddenly it’s supercool!”
Even promoting records through the usual dance outlets is not new to The Soup Dragons. As early as ‘Can’t Take No More’ (their fourth single, released in 1987), they were promoting themselves through white label 12inch deejay promos. “We put it round all the dance clubs,” Sean explains. “No-one had done it in our field of music but it went down a storm. If that was now we could have got it in the top 40 because there’s a bigger base of people going to clubs that buy records now.”
If a new market place certainly now exists, it can in part be attributed to the conversion of the indie scene, as the narrow mindedness that dogged it in its heyday was swept aside by the dawning of the rave age. Indie fans have at last been given permission to cast off their anoraks and get funky.
“That’s just pathetic isn’t it,” spits Sushil, angry at the narrow mindedness of elitist fans.
“That sort of thing was really black and introverted,” continues Sean, recalling the negative side of the ‘80s indie scene. “It was about people looking on the negative side of things.” Something The Soup Dragons never did? “We were always kind of loud in what we did: the way we did the videos and things, always trying to make them more positive and more kinda natural. I think people who try to take themselves pretty serious are pretentious and just make arses of themselves. People are not stupid, they have the intelligence to see through it. You know somebody when they’re trying too hard on a record or video, when they’re doing something that doesn’t come natural to them. I hope – and I think – we make records which sound natural.”
One of the most important by-products of the current “indie dance” wave is that good music is back, both in the charts and on the streets. Watch ‘Top Of The Pops’ now and it’s almost like SAW never happened! “Youth movements come about when there’s been a period when rock music has been crap,” says Sean. “It just gets good again through attitude. People get fed up listening to crap music, so they start making it themselves. When we first started, there was fuck all about and we wanted to hear something. We though we had the potential to actually do it.”
And “do it” they did. But is fame and success what the Soup Dragons expected?
“You turn up at soundchecks now and there are queues everywhere,” says Sean, almost in disbelief. “You walk out after soundchecks and go to dinner and you’ve got to find a way to get out of the place. Glasgow, that was the wildest! I got a taxi in from home. The taxi turns up at the gig and drops us off at the font and I was thrown into the middle of 400 people who were locked out of the gig, trying to fight their way in…”
“’Can you get us in, can you get us in’”, quips guitarist Jim McCulloch, impersonating the crowd.
“If I can’t even get in,” laughs Sean, “and they’re trying to pull your pass off your bloody troosers.”
Back at Dungeness Beach, The Soup Dragons have survived the ordeal of Sushil’s driving, and the owner of the Triumph Vitesse is looking mighty relieved. There’s an air of optimism about them, and it isn’t really the result of a second chart hit. Sushil is keen to point out, “It’s a bonus if it hits, if not it’s no big deal.” No, the band and Sean in particular – are more pleased with the product of their latest recording sessions, which, more than providing a series of chart hits, has given them what they feel to be their most “complete” recordings ever. Totally and utterly pleased with the overall sound of both ‘I’m Free’ and ‘Mother Universe’, Sean Dickson can do no more than point to the monstrously huge new version of ‘Sweetmeat’ – a track from their ‘Lovegod’ album that has been re-recorded and looks likely to be the third of a trio of hits.
As we walk towards the sea to finish the Rage photo session, Sean is adamant about his place in the music business, an attitude that destroys the arguments of his critics and leaves no room for compromise. “You create such a kind of hatred towards really marketed music,” he says, refusing to climb a large wooden structure for a “wacky” photo opportunity. “There are things that we just won’t do, that we refuse to do.”
© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007