Dub War’s Benji Webbe on the assault that changed his life: “My girlfriend was holding my neck and blood was squirting out”

Skindred/Dub War singer Benji Webbe against a blue background
(Image credit: Paul Harries)

As frontman of Skindred, Benji Webbe is a beloved fixture of the UK metal scene – a master of ceremonies whose reggae/metal fusion never fails to get the party started. Now Benji is revisiting his original band, Dub War, for Westgate Under Fire – their first new album in 26 years. Hammer took the opportunity to stroll down memory lane with Benji, to find out what he’s learned so far.

Metal Hammer line break

Don’t take having loved ones around you for granted

“I lost my folks early. I was the youngest of four kids and grew up in a stable home as far as I can remember. A loving mother and father: she was from Cardiff, he came over from the West Indies in the 50s. But when I was seven my mother passed away. My father passed when I was 11; then I was raised by my ganja- smoking Rastafarian 21-year-old brother.”

You’re more resilient than you think you are

“My brother was in a rock band, so he wasn’t always around because he’d go off on tours. They packed into this little hire van and would leave on a Thursday and come back Monday. I was pretty feral as a kid, but realised I could fend for myself.”

The rock’n’roll lifestyle appealed to me

“My brother invited me along to one of his shows and I went in the van. We got out and all these people were coming up to him and shaking his hand. Girls came up and were treating him really well. At the end of the night, I knew that was what I wanted to do; they were getting paid and were treated like royalty.”

My first audience was a classroom

“I was really good at impersonating people – I’d be singing West Side Story or whatever, which was a musical my mother loved. I knew I could hold a tune and win audiences from an early age because teachers would tell me how good I was. But because I was so feral, I never took the advantages I could have.”

Diversity keeps things interesting

“I lived in quite a white area of Newport, but there were some places that were more predominantly mixed-race communities. I went down to the docks and there were so many different types of people – West Indian black, African black, Caribbean black, Indian… I felt at home there. It was great for music, too, because it was a real melting pot of styles.” 

Skindred/Dub War singer Benji Webbe against a blue background

(Image credit: Paul Harries)

The music I make is a collage of my mind

“I love reggae, but I also love metal. I couldn’t choose between them! I want my Bob Marley in with my AC/DC, so I couldn’t just sing in a reggae band or just metal because that’s not my character. I first saw The Specials on a BBC documentary, this thing about Coventry and ska, and there were these black and white musicians playing together. I recognised some of the songs from my father’s record collection, but here they were bringing everybody together no matter what colour they were.”

There’s no place like home

“I moved to Florida for five years and I really missed Newport. There’s a community spirit here that I just love. That community spirit is what made me want to sing – whether it was in Dub War or Skindred, my mission statement has always been to bring people together.”

I’m proud to represent British metal

“I was hanging out with Robert Trujillo at Download 2006 and [Korn bassist] Fieldy comes up to say Jonathan Davis is sick, and they need vocalists. Robert points to me and says, ‘Here’s your man.’ We agreed to meet at five o’clock and we’d go on to sing those songs. I spent the hour before in my little van sweating my bollocks off, frantically memorising the words to A.D.I.D.A.S. There were loads of us in the end – but what blessed me the most was that I was stood in this backstage area with all these vocalists, but I was the only British guy there.”

Trust in your abilities

“My parents died a long time ago, but when I got to the chorus of A.D.I.D.A.S. at Download, I really expected my mother to wake me up for school! Ha ha! It was a dream come true – I’m a massive fan and I’m up there with these legendary singers. Fieldy said, ‘Can you sing two songs?’ And I was like, ‘Fuck no, I’ll do one and be pelted with bottles of piss!’ But after I came off, I wish I had. I could have sung Twist as well.” 

You never know how things will work out

“After Dub War ran its course, I knew I wanted to try something new. I knew Earache weren’t going to pick up a solo hip hop album, but I did it anyway. They didn’t dig it and it was like, ‘Thank fuck for that!’ because I moved on and did Skindred.”

Stay out of other people’s arguments

“I saw these two girls arguing in the street – they were drunk and looked a bit high, so I should have shut my fucking mouth. But as I wandered past I said, ‘Hey ladies, get a room!’ One of the girls got right up in my face, spitting kebab all over me. I pushed her away and she came back at me swinging, but I thought she’d just slapped me. Next thing I know, my girlfriend was holding my neck and blood was squirting out like The Exorcist – I didn’t even realise I’d been glassed. At the hospital they said if it had been an inch over it would have caught a vein and I would have bled out in seconds.”

It take a big person to apologise

“About a year ago I was shopping in Primark, of all places, and this girl came up and said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ My sister had passed away a few months before, so I thought she was talking about her. But she said, ‘I learned so much in prison and I’ve really calmed down now.’ Then I realised – it wasn’t someone wishing me condolences, it was the girl who cut me. I thought about it later and was so impressed. She had no idea how I’d react when she came up – I could have punched her in the face! So I said, ‘I commend you for coming up and apologising – if you have learned something, that’s incredible. And I forgive you.’”

Fitness is crucial

“I never realised the cross trainer, this electrical machine, could be such a good friend. I spend an hour with it five days a week and I love it, it loves me. If I hadn’t worked out, you’d have had to roll me onstage every night. I’d have been the Barry White of heavy metal!”

We take our jobs seriously

“We got this call from Live Nation telling us they were going to do a Pilot event [with Download] and I was so ecstatic. I trained like a motherfucker – I even had to watch YouTube just to figure out how we used to do it, because during the pandemic that had all gone away. I was just the guy who makes [my girlfriend] Julie sandwiches for two years.” 

Our comeback show was the most emotional show we've ever played

“Our manager had a heart attack the night before we played Download Pilot. Our drummer Arya [Goggin] spent 40 minutes banging on his chest with CPR and whatever, then he was carted off by paramedics. This is someone who I’ve known for years, he’s basically family. So I sat there in shock. They asked if we wanted to pull the Pilot show, but I knew for a fact there was no way on this planet he would have wanted us to pull that show. We rocked harder and took all our energy, pain and frustration out on that stage. Then when we got offstage, we found out he’d pulled through – that’s incredible.”

Never miss an opportunity

“When the pandemic first hit it was like, ‘Well, what can we do now?’ And then I realised all my friends in bands weren’t on tour right now. So I reached out to the guys I knew who loved Dub War to see if they’d do some stuff for the album, which is how we got Roy Mayorga, Mike Bordin and all those other brilliant guys for the record. They all went out of their way to find studios during the pandemic to send us the tracks, which means that Westgate Under Fire is something everybody involved is truly passionate about.”

You should always be judged on who you are, not what you are

“I’ve had people come to me and tell me that they’ve been called ‘n***er’ at Skindred shows. What the fuck is that? I’m not a political person, because I think it’s all bullshit, but I do get angry about people treating each other differently because of the colour of their skin. That’s fucking disgusting, whether you’re black, white or whatever else. That’s what the song Blackkk Man on the new Dub War album is about – ‘No one chooses the skin they’re in/but the skin you’re in, it makes you win.’ It doesn’t matter if you’re disabled, LGBT+ or anything else – you shouldn’t be judged for what you are, but who you are.” 

Dub War’s Westgate Under Fire is out now via Earache


Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.