Sean Dickson is responsible for vocals, guitar, and arrangement duties.
In the late 1980s, the Soup Dragons transitioned from being a psychedelic punk rock group to being influenced by the energy of the underground acid house scene. This shift was evident as we frequented a club in Glasgow called UFO, which resembled the 1960s party scene depicted in Midnight Cowboy. Despite its nostalgic decor of oil lamps and psychedelic lighting, the club played music from Detroit techno.
After our electronic single “Mother Universe” started gaining popularity in clubs, a promoter asked us to do a mimed performance called a “PA”. Later that night, I returned home and watched the Rolling Stones’ 1969 performance at Hyde Park on BBC. Their song “I’m Free” got stuck in my head. We had some extra time in the studio in London, so I suggested we cover it. I created a drum pattern, but since I didn’t have a copy of the original, the riff in our version was based on me singing it to the band. I didn’t know the lyrics, so I improvised and came up with lines like “I’m free to get my blues.”
On the second day of recording, we encountered reggae artist Junior Reid at a gathering and invited him to join us in singing. With the recent poll tax riots in Glasgow and the government’s attempts to shut down raves, I requested that he incorporate lyrics like “Don’t be afraid of your freedom” inspired by graffiti I saw on a wall. The song evolved from a 60s notion of freedom to a message about standing up for your right to party.
I desired to have a gospel choir, so we searched for one in the Yellow Pages and eventually found one. I had to send the lyrics to the pastor for his approval, so I modified them to say things like: “I am able to express my love for God at any moment.” Despite this change, we still had 34 people singing the original lyrics in the studio.
I worked with Mark McGuire, an engineer and programmer from S’Express, to create an eight-minute collage. We spent 48 hours cutting and combining tape, with Mark even running around the block to stay awake. When we shared the final single with a record company representative, she was moved to tears and exclaimed, “That is truly incredible.”
The song was released by Big Life, a dance label, and soon after we found ourselves on Top of the Pops and in the Top Five. The music media labeled us as “indie dance” in a negative manner, but now it has become a recognized genre. In America, “I’m Free” was a popular hit in gay clubs. I officially came out as gay a few years ago, so I am extremely proud of that.
Sushil K Dade, bass
In the year 1990, the cost of technology was decreasing significantly. For only £10, one could purchase a used Casio keyboard. The club scene was reminiscent of the psychedelic era and often involved the use of various substances. If my mom is reading this, I want to clarify that I never partook in such activities, but it was a thrilling time.
Reworded: The production of our Lovegod album was challenging, so having extra studio time without any pressure was a great relief. It was a fun and joyful experience as we were able to relax and experiment with music loops while people came and went during the session. Our guitarist, Jim McCulloch, and I took a break to watch the Stones’ performance of “I’m Free” but our rendition is not a cover. It’s more of a reflection on the original.
I had difficulty playing the complex bassline, so we decided to record two separate parts and sample my bass for use on the keyboard. This gave the whole track a postmodern feel. I also added some live bass to the chorus. Once the song was released, it gained unexpected success and we found ourselves at a Grammys party, talking with Dennis Hopper and passing by Jon Bon Jovi and Madonna.
When Dua Lipa performed it, a video was made of her watching our rendition, which she used as a guide. The Rolling Stones also collaborated with Fatboy Slim on a remix, featuring a rapper. I like to believe that we took a small gem from their collection and added some fresh shine to it. “I’m Free” made me the first Scottish Asian to appear on Top of the Pops. Since then, many other British Asian musicians have approached me and said, “That was the moment I realized, ‘I can do that too.'”