The Soup Dragons: 'I came up with this concept of what would a 17 or 18-year-old me think of middle-aged me now'

Rock and pop fans have much to thank The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess for due to his nightly Twitter Listening Parties celebrating the album format during the dark days of lockdown.
The Soup Dragons, circa 1986. Picture: Steve Double/Camera PressThe Soup Dragons, circa 1986. Picture: Steve Double/Camera Press
The Soup Dragons, circa 1986. Picture: Steve Double/Camera Press

However, it seems long-time admirers of Scottish indie band The Soup Dragons have more reasons than many to be grateful to the 56-year-old singer.

The communal gatherings to share memories on social media inspired Sean Dickson, The Soup Dragons’ frontman, to reunite the fondly remembered original line-up of the group from the late 1980s and early 90s for a short UK tour.

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“A few years ago I’d done two listening parties for the albums Lovegod and Hot Wired,“ he recalls. “It was kind of the remnants of the pandemic, so they were dark times, and Tim brought a lot of light and beauty to a lot of people through those times. Beforehand, he told me, ‘You’re going to find out things’, (but it was) the amount of stories and the love and passion that people had for our music and songs that I had written, that I never knew about.

“Before social media, you put records out and the only response you got back was through sales or by people coming to your shows, the odd person wrote letters, but not many. Just to see people share the stories and the love and the passion, I think, made the four of us go ‘wow’.”

Noting that The Soup Dragons’ catalogue wasn’t available on streaming, Dickson took it upon himself to go back and remaster all the original tapes. Last year they released an album of all their early material, which they called Raw TV.

“The reaction to that was unbelievable again,“ Dickson says, “and the four of us got talking.”

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Whereas in the past he’d always rejected offers of money to re-form the band, preferring to concentrate on his latest solo work as Hifi Sean, this time he found himself becoming “really close again“ with his old bandmates Jim McCulloch, Ross A Sinclair and Sushil K Dade.

The Soup DragonsThe Soup Dragons
The Soup Dragons

“I live in London and they live in Glasgow, but through the beauty of WhatsApp groups we talked to each other nearly every day and we realised that we were still friends, and the question came up again and they said ‘Would you do it?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but I don’t want to be that band that spends the rest of their life doing one album in chronological order at festivals. I really don’t want to be doing Lovegod and walking onstage and playing the first song I’m Free, it doesn’t interest me whatsoever. We need to be as much about now as we were then’.

“My idea was to write a new single and Sushil’s idea was to do a double A-side, because we used to release a lot of double A-sides back in the day. So the idea was to do one side in partnership with Music Declares Emergency – their slogan is ‘No music on a dead planet’ – which we did. We got Fred Schneider from The B-52’s on board, who’s a supporter and who’s a friend.”

The other side is Dickson’s song Love Is Love, which was inspired by him coming out as gay in his forties.

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“The guys said, ‘Would you be able to write the kind of song that you wrote when you were 17 or 18?’ A lot of the songs on that Raw TV album I wrote between the ages of 16 and 19, and I took the dogs for a walk and I literally wrote Love Is Love in my head in the space of five minutes, I just had this lovely rush of euphoria of being happy about the early years and thinking how did I write songs like that. I came up with this concept of what would a 17 or 18-year-old me think of middle-aged me now, and that’s what Love Is Love is all about.

“I don’t play guitar much these days because I’m very much into electronica at the moment, so I came home and wrote the chords on a piano, sent it to the guys and they went to rehearse that night and sent me it back as a guitar song. Then I went up to Glasgow a few weeks later and that was the first time the four of us stood in a room as The Soup Dragons in tens and tens of years and it just clicked. We played Love Is Love and three minutes later the four of us were standing there with tears in our eyes. It honestly felt like we’d never been apart.“

Dickson’s present-day outlook is hard won. After considerable success in the early 1990s, thanks to The Soup Dragons’ dance updating of the Rolling Stones song I’m Free, followed by another band High Fidelity, he found himself deeply unhappy. Although married with a daughter, in 2001 he finally admitted he was gay. Soon after, consumed with guilt, his life spiralled.

“All my life I was obsessed with 2001, it had a lot to do with the Stanley Kubrick movie, but even when I was five I was thinking what would I be doing in 2001 because I used to watch Tomorrow’s World every week, it was on before Top of the Pops,” he says. “I was obsessed with the future. I think we all were as children. 2001 was my big thing – I’ll have a spaceship and all that stuff. Little did I know it was going to be the worst year of my life.

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“It was Ground Zero for me, everything fell apart and I had to rebuild my life over a long period of time. I never made records for 15 years. I made the odd club thing underground, but I never made anything as Sean Dickson or Hifi Sean.

“So Love is Love was more of a pat on the back for myself. I suppose lyrically it was more, ‘OK, there’s been some dark times, but there were some really amazing times too’. Sorry to use that awful song’s title life is a rollercoaster, but my life has been a rollercoaster. I’ve played at Madison Square Gardens to 45,000 people and 45,000 people sang I’m Free, but I’ve also been in a psychiatric unit for weeks, so I have tasted both ends.”

To keep himself going while in the unit, he repeatedly sang the Yazz song The Only Way Is Up in his head. “My manager Jazz Summers was married to Yazz, and Yazz was a friend, so The Only Way Is Up was some kind of in-joke in my head – I can be out of here, the only way is up. I remember lying in this unit in this closed room singing that. I don’t like to dwell too much on it, because that period’s been spoken about a lot. I tasted the low and I tasted the high, but I’m enjying the camaraderie again. I’ve missed being around other people. It feels like a gang again, weirdly. We’re all grown men now but we’re all completely 18-year-olds in our head – that’s why in No Music on a Dead Planet I wrote the line ‘Let’s be 18 again’.”

Dickson’s return to music began under a new alias, Hifi Sean. His 2017 album FT featured a roll call of musical heroes such as Yoko Ono, Bootsy Collins, Dave Ball of Soft Cell and Alan Vega of Suicide. It was to be Vega’s final recording. “A few weeks before the record came out, Alan’s wife contacted me, I got a text during the night and it said he’d passed away then I had to make a decision. I spoke to his family and said, ‘Listen, if you want I will take the track off it and they were adamant – ‘No, this is what Alan wanted, he was so proud of the track’. In a funny sort of way, I think he knew what was going on in his life with the lyrical content of the track, so it makes it quite a tough listen for me, but he was such a beautiful guy. Alan Vega was the complete opposite of his scary persona, he was a really soft, intelligent, amiable kind of person.”

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The singer David McAlmont also appeared on that record, and the pair recently collaborated again on a new album, Happy Ending. “Myself and David, we don’t think of it as a collaboration,” Dickson says. “The world thinks of it as a collaboration because it’s one album but when we release this next album I think it will then become apparent to people that this is actually a band. Originally we were going to call it McHifi because we thought it was funny but then the joke wasn’t funny the next day so we just thought it made sense as Hifi Sean David McAlmont. It confuses people who think of me as a DJ because it’s not really DJ or club music, it is electronic music but the album we’re making at the moment will solidify the fact that we’re actually a band as such and we’re going to tour together as well in January. That should be fun.”

The Soup Dragons play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Sunday October 29.