Skindred's Benji Webbe: the soundtrack of my life

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

Years before nu metal ate the world, Benji Webbe was melding hip-hop, metal, punk and reggae into a startlingly original concoction, first in the sorely underrated Dub War and then in the more successful Skindred. 

During their quarter-century together the latter have released seven albums (an eighth, Smile, is due this year), forged a global reputation as a ferocious live act and carved out a niche that is uniquely theirs. 

Certainly, few figures who have featured on this page have claimed influences as diverse as the Sex Pistols, Nat King Cole and Aswad. Oh, and The Banana Splits.


The first music I remember hearing

My mum and dad’s record collection played a big part in my life. Motown was strong in my household, and Jamaican reggae. Then there was David Bowie, T.Rex, Sweet and Slade on the radio – I had a great start when it comes to rock’n’roll.

The first song I performed live

There was a corner shop down the road from where we lived. And there was a TV show called The Banana Splits; I loved the theme tune. One day I went down to the shop singing the song, and these women who worked in the shop thought it was amazing. So they gave me a bag of sweets for doing it.

The songwriter

Burt Bacharach. His songs are absolutely incredible. And it’s not just the hits that he had. It’s the way that they’re used in movies that I saw as a kid growing up, like Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.

The guitar hero

Prince is one of the best guitarists. He had everything you’d want in a guitarist; solos that last forever and stay with you like a melody. He’s one of my vocal heroes too

The singer

For nothing more than the silkiness of his voice it’s Nat King Cole. Don’t get me wrong, I love Brian Johnson, I love Bon Scott, but Nat King Cole is in front of all of them.

The cult hero

Johnny Rotten back when he first started. Just for the things he stood for and the things he said. For a black kid growing up on a council estate in South Wales, Johnny Rotten’s words spoke to me. It wasn’t just rebelliousness for its own sake, but just to take no shit. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now had it not been for him.

The greatest album of all time

The test of a great record is do I let it play it all the way through, or do I skip? One that I always let play is Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. It’s an album that encourages you to strive for better in the world. The musicianship is outstanding.

The best record I've made

I know it sounds clichéd, but the one we’ve just made, Smile. I think we’ve hit on something that is going to last a lot longer than the band. With the other records there was a lot of tension, a lot of fighting within the band, but I felt on this record everybody knew what they were doing and there were no weird vibes. Everyone just got on with it. It was one of those albums when it was great to be in Skindred. And I’m sure that when people hear it they’ll agree.

The worst album I've made

The last one, Big Tings. I just felt useless as a vocalist. The energy in the band was making me feel as if we were coming to the end of this thing, and everything I did didn’t seem good enough. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a couple of the songs on it, but mostly I just hear the pain in the album.

The most underrated band of all time

There’s a band from Liverpool called The Cubical who are absolutely amazing. They should be up there with Oasis and all those alternative rock bands. The singer has a Tom Waits thing to him but he’s also a bit of a rock crooner. They’re hugely underrated.

The best live album

Classic Rock readers might not know it, but Aswad’s Live From Notting Hill Carnival. For me it’s a fantastic live album. And Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous. It’s outrageously beautiful. I was in Dublin the other day and took a walk to see Phil’s statue and said thank you.

My Saturday night party song

The one that gets me going is Fight The Power, Public Enemy. Great anthem. And Bring The Noise too, the Anthrax cover version of it with Chuck D.

The song that makes me cry

There’s a Skindred song that we’ve performed for a while called Saying It Now. It’s about a friend of mine. I went to see him just when I was starting a tour, and he said he’d been diagnosed with cancer and asked whether I’d see him again. I said I definitely would. 

Then months went past. Eventually I thought I’d call in on him again. I went up to his house, and his wife answered the door and said: “Unfortunately, Benji, Sean died this morning.” I went home and wrote this song about the regret you feel from not going to see a friend until it’s too late. I can’t ever perform it now without crying.

The song I want played at my funeral

I’d like a string quartet – four girls in red – playing God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols in a classical style. I think that’d be classy. 

Skindred’s new album Smile is released on August 4 via Earache Records.

Will Simpson was Music Editor of the Big Issue South West in Bristol before relocating to Thailand to become Deputy Editor of English language books magazine New Arrivals. Since returning to the UK he's freelanced, writing about music for Classic Rock, IDJ, Metro and Guitarist, and environmental issues for Resource and The Spark. He also writes for contract publishing titles such as Teach, Thomson Air, Musician and Korg.