Sean Dickson is responsible for the vocals, guitar, and arrangement.
The initial Soup Dragons were a band that combined psychedelic and punk rock elements. However, as the underground acid house scene gained momentum in 1988, it surpassed the indie scene in terms of energy. We frequented UFO, a club in Glasgow that resembled the party spot from the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy. The atmosphere was filled with oil lamps and trippy lighting, but the music being played was Detroit techno.
Our song Mother Universe, which has a more electronic sound, gained popularity in clubs and as a result, a promoter invited us to perform a mimed show known as a “PA”. Later that night, I returned to my apartment and watched the Rolling Stones’ 1969 performance in Hyde Park on the BBC. Their song “I’m Free” remained stuck in my head. Since we had some available studio time in London, I proposed recording a cover of the song. Using a drum groove that I programmed, I improvised the iconic riff based on my memory of singing it to the band since I did not own a copy of the original record. Without knowing the exact lyrics, I came up with lines such as “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 collaborate on a song with us. This was around the time of the poll tax riots in Glasgow and the government’s efforts to shut down raves. I requested for him to incorporate lyrics like “Don’t be scared of your liberty” inspired by graffiti I had observed on a wall. The song evolved from a 1960s notion of freedom to a theme of standing up for one’s right to party.
I desired to have a gospel choir, thus we searched for one in the Yellow Pages. I had to send the lyrics to the pastor for acceptance, so I edited them to phrases such as “I am able to love God whenever.” In the recording studio, we had 34 individuals singing the correct lyrics.
Mark McGuire, an engineer and programmer for S’Express, assisted me in creating a cohesive eight-minute collage. We spent 48 hours meticulously cutting and merging pieces of tape to produce the final result. Despite not getting any sleep, Mark would jog around the block to keep himself awake and continue working. When we finally shared the completed single with a representative from the record label, she was moved to tears and exclaimed, “That is truly remarkable.”
The song was released on the label Big Life, which specializes in dance music. As a result, we gained widespread recognition and reached the Top Five charts. The media initially labeled us as “indie dance” in a negative light, but now it has become its own genre. In the United States, “I’m Free” was a popular song in the gay club scene. I publicly announced my sexuality a few years ago, and I take great pride in the success of this song in that community.
Sushil K Dade, bass
In 1990, the cost of technology was decreasing significantly. A used Casio keyboard could be purchased for only £10. The popular club scene seemed to mimic the psychedelic culture of the past, often associated with drug use. Just in case my mom is reading this, I want to clarify that I never partook, but it was still a thrilling time.
Reworded: The process of creating our Lovegod album was difficult, so having extra time in the studio without any pressure was a huge relief. It was a joyful experience as we were able to relax and have fun, with various loops playing and people coming in and out of the session. During this time, our guitarist Jim McCulloch and I watched a film of the Stones performing “I’m Free,” which inspired our own version. However, our rendition is not a cover, but rather a meditation on the original.
I had difficulty playing the complex bassline, so we recorded two separate parts and used a sample of my bass to play it on the keyboard. This gave the song a postmodern feel. Later, I added a live bass to the chorus. The song was a huge success and we found ourselves at a Grammys party, mingling with Dennis Hopper and Jon Bon Jovi while Madonna had just left.
When Dua Lipa performed it, there was a recording of her viewing our rendition, which she used as a guide. The Rolling Stones also released a Fatboy Slim remix of their own, featuring a rapper. I like to believe that we borrowed a small gem from their collection and added our own shine to it. “I’m Free” made me the first Scottish Asian to appear on Top of the Pops. Throughout the years, many other British Asian artists have approached me and said, “That was the moment I realized, ‘I can do that, too.'”