The rudest rude boy of reggae interviewed in Kent ‘zine New Mania, number 5, 1981.
A huge star in the 70s, he followed firmly in the British music hall tradition as well as that of slack reggae.
How long have you been in the music business?
Ten years and I’m still cracking it. That was the beauty of it. When I started off, it was in the Glam Rock era with Slade, Sweet, T.Rex. But they’re all gone now and the one they thought would be a one hit wonder is still here. I started off as a doorman and bodyguard at clubs in the West End and in Kent.
How did your first record come out?
I was working as a disc jockey in Chatham, at the same time working as a debt collector in a record company. I done a b-side of a record which was basically a backing track. I kept the tape and gave a few copies out to various D.J.s. I used to play it on my own disco. Various people heard it and liked it. It came out on Trojan, called ‘Big Six’, although it was supposed to be called ‘Little Boy Blue’. It was just after ‘Big Five’ by Prince Buster came out and it got confused by that.
How many of your records have been banned?
Every single of them. You talk about punk, but I was a punk ten years ago. I was doing things against society long before anyone else. I’ve been shocking people for years. What it boils down to now, is you’re always known for it. It doesn’t matter wether it’s clean or dirty. I’ve had the highest number of records banned in the history of music. 20 singles and 8 LPs. I’ve applied to Guiness Book of Records twice.
Do you think a lot of your success was due to the fact that your records are always banned from radio and TV?
The early ones got into the Top 20, some as high as No. 5 without being played, so I wonder what it would be like if they had been played. The BBC had control of the charts at that time and they probably fixed it so I wouldn’t get to No. 1.
Have you kept roughly the same set over the years?
Yes, because people are there to see the numbers they know. I don’t like the way other bands say they are sick of doing their hits cos that’s what people come to see, not a load of new stuff that the audience don’t know. There’s certain ones I keep in the show all the time, like ‘Big Six’, ‘Big Seven’, ‘Big Eight’, ‘Big Ten’, ‘Jamaica Jerkoff’, ‘Up With The Cock’ and ‘Dread Rock’.
How would you describe Dread Music?
It’s got nothing to do with fuck all! Nothing to do with politics or violence, just a good laugh. I got accused of being a racialist. But how can I be a racialist when there’s six black blokes in the band? When I saw all the sieg-heiling going on I thought I’ve been in the business ten years now but I can’t throw it away, so I decided to stop gigging for a while. It’s paid off well ‘cos everything seems to have died down now. My aim was to do a giant skinhead show but no-one would put it on because of all the trouble. There might come a time when I can do it somewhere like the Empire Pool.
What do you think is the difference between skinheads of the early 70’s and the early 80’s?
The early skinheads were alright. They were never as bad as they made out to be. I predicted in 1975 that skinheads would come back in a couple of years time. Nowadays skinheads are becoming outcasts.
How did the Bridge House gig go?
The plan was to play the Bridge House to do a video which is coming out this year. We needed somewhere like the Bridge House because it had a good atmosphere. I tried to capture the early 70’s in the 80’s and it seemed to work.
You don’t seem to tour much.
It’s basically a question of finance. It’s no good touring unless you’ve got an LP or a single out, otherwise it’s like pissing in the wind and the promoters won’t touch you. I’d like to tour eleven months out of twelve but it ain’t possible. You gain much experince on the road that you’d never believe.
Don’t you try to do one-off dates?
If possible we try and get two or three gigs together. Also, I do a lot of cabaret and clubs because a lot of the blokes who used to see me back in 1969 are settled down and married with kids, so there’s two markets that I aim for. The cabaret market and the new lot. I don’t like playing sport halls cos there’s no atmosphere.
When you do cabaret, do you tone your act down?
Yes, I tone the act down a bit. No-ones ever walked out from one of my shows. In the clubs sometime I bring a bit of skirt on stage and tit her up and do a bit of mooning. The Dread market ranges from eight years olds through to eighty year olds.
You do a lot of charity work, don’t you?
Yes. Charity work can get a bit overbearing because people do try and take you for a ride sometimes but I like to help anyone out. People say I’ve got a lot of money from my records but I haven’t ‘cos I spent a lot of it. But if I had to choose wheter I’d do it over again I would.
Do you think the publicity in Sounds has helped you?
Yes, cos the other papers only write about dead bands. You go round N.M.E. or Melody Maker’s office and they are all dead from the neck upwards. If I send a letter saying ‘Judge Dread has got a new record out’, they won’t take any notice.
Why did you sign to E.M.I.?
I only signed cos they said they would advertise one of my LPs on TV. “Judge Dread’s Greatest Hits” got in the charts but there was no real push from the record company.
Why did you put out the “40 Big Ones” LP?
It was for all the new followers cos they were moaning that they couldn’t get all the old records. It was a compilation of everything we’ve ever done. We’ve got pretty popular in Europe, especially in Germany, they don’t understand the lyrics so we can go on the TV. We sell loads of records over there. In Germany their version of Top Of the Pops is called Musicladen and there was all these birds running around topless and I couldn’t concentrate.
Who writes the lyrics and where does the inspiration come from?
Me and Ted Lemon, the manager, writes all the lyrics and the inspiration come from everywhere I go. I mean, I eat in cafes, a bit of pie and mash and hang around shithouses. I’ll never change even if I sold a million singles. People can relate to Dread music ‘cos they can relate to me.
Is it easy to keep writing dirty lyrics?
No. People think it is. It is easy to write a love song but it’s difficult to do an LP of dirty songs. There’s a limit to how outrageous you can be on a record and I push it to the limit!
Is the song “Big Punk” a piss take?
Yes, in a tongue in cheek way but the reason we recorded it was originally to go in Malcolm McLaren’s film “Great Rock and Roll Swindle” and if the film had been made as it should have been, I would been in it but the final product was a big cock up.
What do you think of punk yourself?
Well, I always reckoned it was an excuse for every ugly bird and bloke to come out on the streets. But it certainly gave the music business a kick up the arse. They were signing up all these punk bands who couldn’t even play a guitar let alone do an album. The bands were splitting up like nobodys business.
Could you tell us a bit about the film you are doing?
Yeah, well the film is basically about skins from 69 to 81. It’ll show all the things that’s happened, like beach fights and there’ll be a main skinhead character. It’ll be on the end when I come in. Really it’s a sort of Quadrophenia, skinhead style but better because it will be more authentic. I’ve also got a book coming out which is a sort of biography of my life over the period in the business. It’s got all the truths about the record business and the days out at Margate. It’s got a bit of humour, filth and violence but it’s more of a story than the usual “I know a man, his name is Fred” type biography. It’ll be out next year. The film will have an ‘X’ rating! If I took out all the swearing there’d be hardly anything left. I’ve written it in my own language. Perhaps the book might get through to a few people, including skinheads, that we should have a laugh, not fight amongst ourselves and get mixed up with politics.
How do you think the press has treated you over the last couple of years?
Sounds has been good, probably ‘cos Bushell is into the music, but the rest they don’t give a toss. Their offices are like morgues. If I send a statement saying “Judge Dread’s got a new single out on Creole” they wouldn’t even put one line about it, but if I sent out one saying “Judge Dread’s got a single out full of Gestapo music and he’s wearing a SS uniform on the cover”, they’d go mad and I’d be on the front page of N.M.E. and Melody Maker. That’s all wrong but I don’t need them. I’ve been about for ten years hopefully I’ll be around for a few more yet.
Where do you go from here?
Well, as I said there’s a book, a film, a video of the Bridge House gig and hopefully the “Rub-A-Dub” LP, our latest, will be a success. We won’t get much, if any, airplay but we always manage to sell a few copies no matter what happens. I’ve got a loyal crowd of fans who buy everything and the exciting thing is, they are younger and bigger every year…