Interview and Gig Review: The Virginmarys, Rock City, Nottingham, 15th March 2017

We met up with Ally and Danny from The Virginmarys before their gig at Rock City. Here’s what they had to say…

Fi: So guys, how did you meet?

Ally: Dan and I met years ago, we were at college together and it was a really bad course. It was a music course and it had just started out. Dan and I were kindred spirits where we were like ‘well who can I realistically play with on this course?’ I ended up moving in with Danny and his family and we have jammed ever since.

Danny: Yeah, we pretty much passed the course at my house. We got on well with the guy who was running the course, bless him, the course must have killed him because when we first turned up and he was bright-eyed and dead happy and buzzing and I think there was loads of money from the lottery that had been put into it. By the end of it, we’d go up to him and ask if we could record it at mine and he would be so stressed out with the others he would be like ‘yeah yeah go ahead’ and it was great.

Ally: We always had this dream of being a band, travelling around and we’ve had a few different bass players since we started. Matt has only recently left, due to it just being the right move for him. It’s hard work being in a band not making much money if you have a family. You kind of ask yourself where it’s going, and you have to really want to do it.

Fi: How do you know Ross?

Danny: I have known Ross for years, in Macc you know everybody. If you went there people would look at you like ‘who’s that?’ I’ve always known him and he’s a wicked bass player. He knew the songs inside out. We invited him to a gig and he played for us, and he knew the songs already.

Fi: When did you get your recording deal and what was your first release?

Ally: We got spotted on a platform like Myspace (before Myspace existed) then we got signed to some guys from LA. They thought ‘we just need to develop them, sprinkle a bit of glitter on then we will sell them on’. It’s hard to maintain your integrity and keep playing the music that you love and that you believe in. You kind of fail as a band depending on what type of character you are, there is only so long you can play what your hearts not in or you’re gonna give up or its gonna backfire.

Richard: You remind me of some very cool bands from the late 90s such as China Drum, Three Colours Red and Cable. Who were your early influences?

Ally: I think when I was a teenager I was always listening to the Beatles but as I got older and started picking up guitars, I kinda started getting into Three Colours Red and the Wildhearts. I like rock and punk. There’s just like a realness to it. I got taught by a guy who did blues. I love Fleetwood Mac and BB King and I always go back to it.

Fi: What do you sing about? What inspires you to put pen to paper?

Ally: It’s a communication. You are expressing yourselves in the only way – it’s kind of like a medium that seems more effective, more appealing than just speech. I was always shy as a kid, and musicians helped me with their way of expressing themselves. It would be a lot different if I only had a microphone, not instruments, and I had to do a comic routine. You have to have a persona type thing. For inspiration, it’s what’s going on in the moment. It’s a bit like a diary, and its a form of communication that helps you get thoughts across.

Danny: Our new song is called Donald Trump! (Not really…!)

*Laughter*

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Richard: The world appears to be going to hell in a handcart at the moment. Do current world events at home and abroad affect what you say in your songs?

Ally: Yeah, they kinda are what you write songs about. We have made a conscious effort with this new material to give people hope and not say how rubbish everything is. The only way it will change is people switching on and realising the power they have. We have got a lot of younger people coming to our gigs – listening and understanding they are the only ones who can change what is happening.

Danny: The first record we did we were playing a lot of classic rock clubs, but the last album wasn’t necessarily purposefully against classic rock but there are more different scenes now so since then there’s a different crowd coming on board instead of just blues rock fans. Rock is pretty broad and we’ve got a good mix of people coming along.

Fi: Do you guys find you need to have regular work as well as the band?

Ally: Bits and pieces here and there.

Danny: We seemed to have more money before we signed with labels and stuff – because you have to give away your money!

Maddy: What are the most memorable shows you’ve done to date?

Danny: Leeds and Reading on the main stage last year was pretty big, really cool for both of us. New Model Army always stand in my mind, they were amazing. It was a proper eye opener. We drank too much on that one, so we just stood there shaking and wishing we hadn’t. Justin came over and said their fans are like one band fans so they took a while to warm up to us. 

Ally: Our fans are a bit like that too – they all meet up before shows and stuff.

Danny: New Model Army’s fans make a pyramid on each others shoulders, I thought it was a rave when I saw it. We got a good reception from them and they still come and see us. Skunk Anansie were great -Mark the drummer found out my cymbals broke and gave me his, and gave me a snare drum too!

Fi: What was it that inspired you to do the People Help the People tour?

Ally: That was just an idea that came from the fact you can actually do something. We got like two tonnes of food by the end of it. It was more about the people getting together and doing something to help. It was awesome that so many people donated. It feels like you’re brought up a certain way, moulded through a system and certain things don’t seem possible, but they are and you can do it. It was amazing of you to get involved – we relied on people like you. It was really cool.

Richard: Punk rock has always traditionally been the music of resistance. What have you guys taken from Punk rock?

Danny: It’s always been a big part of us playing, it is such a broad term. Whenever we have a photo shoot or videos or record an album, we always think about what we want to sound like – bands like The Clash. It’s cool but honest.

Ally: I hope there’s always going to be a place for Punk, I’m hoping that something slips through the cracks and more people listen to it again, because it is brilliant. We wouldn’t have found it unless we listened to certain things then I wouldn’t have opened my mind. It inspired me to go on a search to express myself – people should always try to do that.

Fi: What other English bands do you rate at the moment and would recommend to us to check out?

Danny: We have a band on – it’s the first time we’ve requested a band so we’ve got The Hyena Kill, from Manchester onwards, that we chose. The Wytches are really cool.

Ally: There aren’t that many rock bands. I’ve been listening to a lot of soul and disco at the moment, it makes stuff feel passable.

Fi: What are your plans for the rest of 2017 and beyond?

Ally: We will release a lot of music on EPs and a new album. The reaction has been amazing. You can sometimes just get lost in this world of thinking it’s going to be great and this is going to work, but it’s hard to plan, you just get lost in the jargon and nothing really happens.

Danny: Divides went really well -it was amazing to work with Gil Norton, we all love him. It’s weird to think he’s such good friends with Ally, that he’ll just call up for a chat. That album was awesome. We would probably still be promoting it now, but after Matty went we started to write new stuff instead of using Divides – it just feels right to do new stuff now.

Fi: Thanks guys – looking forward to hearing the new stuff and to seeing you on stage very soon indeed!

Gig review:

The Virginmarys are very difficult to pigeonhole, as are their audience. There is the feral energy of punk rock, some kind of blues sludginess going on and an immediately focused intensity that only a three piece band is able to present you with.

Ally Dickaty’s voice at times reminds me of Dan McCafferty of Nazareth. There is a brash yet melodic sensibility to their songs and a tightness that puts the hairs up on the back of your neck.

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Drummer Danny Dolan, apparently suffering from a ferocious chest infection, lays into his traps with the same sort of panache you’d expect from a rockabilly drummer, sometimes standing up and being hunched over his kit. I imagine he gets through a fair few cymbals!

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Bassist Ross Massey, the new boy, presents a Flea-like figure, a skilled fingerstyle player who exhibits a commanding persona stage left.

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We get 18 songs, several of which I’m not familiar with, but the sign of a great band is that it does not matter – the energy and delivery entice you in.

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Highlights for me include opener “Dead Man’s Shoes”, the China Drum-esque “Just a Ride”, “Free to Do Whatever They Say”, “Ends Don’t Mend” and finale “Bang Bang Bang”.

There is something very timeless, working class and ‘English’ about what they do. Hearing Ally’s M-accent in the songs is very endearing, a refreshing change from that American whine we are all too familiar with.

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The Virginmarys are a very likeable band and one that you can be reassured I will see again this year.

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Black Star Riders, 14th March 2017, Rock City, Nottingham – review by Martin Tillyer

Black Star Riders supported by Backyard Babies and Gun, Rock City, Nottingham,14th March 2017

Having been away for the weekend watching a selection of tribute bands at Legends of Rock ‘Yarmageddon’, I came home on Monday evening to a message offering me the chance to go see the Black Star Riders at one of my favourite venues. I knew I wouldn’t turn it down.

I had not seen either of the support bands before so it was going to be interesting to see what the build up to the headliners was going to be like.

Gun came on with the crowd already building up, they brought their own blend of traditional British rock (Scottish to be more precise).

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Their set had a good balance from their back catalogue including the cover of Cameo’s “Word Up” and a cracking new track “She Knows” from Gun’s forthcoming album.

Set:

Let It Shine

Word Up!

Don’t Say It’s Over

Better Days

She Knows

Steal Your Fire

Shame On You.

Band – Dante Gizzi, Vocals – Jools Gizzi, Guitar – Tommy Gentry, Guitar – Andy Carr, Bass – Paul McManus, Drums

Following these were Swedish rockers Backyard Babies, This was a band I hadn’t previously heard of. From the start they were into a set that had far more pace with a harder edged rock with a heavily Punk influenced sound, bringing to mind bands such as Hanoi Rocks.

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Set:

Th1rte3n or Nothing

Dysfunctional Professional

The Clash

Brand New Hate

Bloody Tears

Nomadic

Minus Celsius

Look At You

Band – Nicke Borg, Vocal – Dregen, Guitar – Johan Blomqvist, Bass – Peder Carlsson, Drums

Each of the support acts played for about 40 minutes, leaving about 30 mins until the Black Star Riders which soon went by. This was to be the third time I had seen them – the first was at Download. At that time I had not heard of them, but did initially think they sounded like a good Thin Lizzy covers band (we were not near enough to really see the stage and the weather was shocking)! I was so impressed with their original music, and when I returned home to investigate them and found that they had Scott Gorham on guitar it became a lot more obvious why! I bought the first album at that point. At that time the set was actually split 60 – 40 % of new tracks to the old Lizzy tracks.

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Tonight, they started off the set with the title track of the new album “Heavy Fire” before leading into “Bloodshot” and “The Killer Instinct”. It was then back to the new album for “Dancing with The Wrong Girl”.

It is becoming obvious that they are a really tight unit giving their own blend of rock still with Irish influences which you would expect with Ricky as a front man.

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“Soldierstown” and “Hey Judas” lead to two more of the new tracks, “When the Night Comes In” and “Cold War Love” which is a slower number, one of my favourites from the new album.

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“All Hell Breaks Loose” speeds it up again next, followed by a track that I, perhaps controversially, feel didn’t need to be in the set, “The Boys are Back in Town”. Time has moved on and now into their third album they are definitely a band in their own right and in my opinion they don’t need to keep the Lizzy Link going.

Back then to “Hoodoo Voodoo”, “Who Rides the Tiger”, another faster punchier number, followed by “Blindsided”.

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“Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed” and “Testify or Say Goodbye” from “Heavy Fire” lead into penultimate tracks “Kingdom of the Lost” and “Bound for Glory”.

With the finale of “Finest Hour”, BSR had been on stage for well over an hour and I wish it could have lasted much longer – an amazing performance as I had expected.

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I did hear people saying at the end they wished they had played more Thin Lizzy… but to me, they are the BLACK STAR RIDERS and nothing else is required.

Thank you, until the next time…

Review and photos by Martin Tillyer

Editor: Fi Stimpson

Interview & Gig Review: Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors, Cambridge, 2nd March 2017

I met with Ryan Hamilton on 2nd March 2017 before his gig at The Portland Arms, Cambridge to chat about his current tour and the new album Devil’s in the Detail.

Hi, Ryan. Good to see you again. So, what brings you to these shores?

We wanted to tour over here again after last year ended up in such a good place for us. Ginger Wildheart kinda scooped us up and said “I love this band” and once we got that kinda stamp of approval it seems like the sky’s the limit. So we did a new album and we knew it was gonna come out in February and we wanted to do a tour, but we wanted to do something different because I knew there was going to be a lot of press around the new album with things like radio station visits. So what we did is this acoustic thing where some of the shows are a full band (like tonight) and some are just me and some are me and my piano player friend Carol. Between all that we’ve got the radio station visits, a lot of promotional stuff for the album. So that’s why we’re here, it’s been just the best. Tonight and one more show in London – the album launch, which is sold out.

We saw you at the Portland Arms last July with Ginger Wildheart – how did your liaison with him come about and how did you find him to work with?

Ginger was at a party with some friends and they were doing a thing where they were playing new music and someone said “you gotta listen to this guy!” and put one of my songs on. The story goes – Ginger stopped and was like “hold on” and got lost in the song. He enjoyed it enough to really pay attention for 3 minutes – it’s just that thing that never happens anymore, he messaged and said “I love your band, I want you to go on tour with me” and I didn’t know him before at all. I wish more people were like that. If I get to keep on doing this I will try and do as much as I can – I hope to be that way.

What other projects have you done in the past before getting together with The Traitors?

I was in a band called Smile Smile who were a fairly big deal in America and Canada, but we never made it in the UK. I was in that band with my fiancée at the time. We had a moderately successful single on the radio, we had our first tour with a tour bus… and then she cheated on me. She then brought the guy on tour – this was all public knowledge and in the news back home. It was terrible, but it kinda fuelled that band even more – it was this mental thing where I was like “I’m living my dream but I hate this”. After we got home, she moved out of our house and in with the dude. I started writing these really dramatic songs about what she did to me and email them to her. Her response was not to get upset or anything (she’s very strange) – she wrote a piano part and sent it back, kinda like a middle finger to me. That turned into an album’s worth of material – I never thought it would be an album but I kept sending them and she kept sending them back. That album to date is the most successful thing I’ve ever done, even though The Traitors are creeping up fast.

In between, I was in a band called People on Vacation with Jaret Reddick who sings in Bowling for Soup. As much fun as that band was to be in, it basically taught me everything I didn’t want to be in music. It was full of managers and the typical music industry douchebags that I just loathe – greed, lying, cheating, all of that. It was like watching a movie and thinking “are these real people?”. My band mates in The Traitors were in that band with me, so when I made my exit I said to them “you’ve seen this too, stick with me please” – and they did. I’m fairly sure I did ok.

How did you arrive at the band name?

We’re all big Star Wars fans and The Force Awakens with the Storm Trooper who ends up being a good guy but they think he’s a bad guy. We had been throwing names around, Mickey and Rob had done one tour as The Traitors but it was kind of like an inside joke, then the Star Wars thing happened and the t-shirts saying traitor with helmet and bloody hand print were everywhere, and after everything with People on Vacation I left saying “I’m doing what I want, you don’t tell me what to do” so the traitor thing really rang true and it made sense.

What or who has inspired you to play the way that you do?

All the people you probably expect. Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, I love David Bowie. Anyone who did things their way, figured it out on their own and no matter what happened they didn’t deter, they stuck with their vision and believed in themselves and something inside them knew “this is what I’m gonna do and you’re not gonna tell me any different”. So those people – Andy Warhol, too – they were brave enough in themselves and they just decided they were going to be successful whether it took a year or 20 years. I’ve always loved music but didn’t learn to play guitar until my early 20s. A lot of my friends and acquaintances in this business started playing when they were teenagers in a high school band, so that was extra motivation for me as I was a late starter.

So what did you want to do before that?

I didn’t really know. I was a terrible teenager with drugs, alcohol, partying… I went to university to study advertising and marketing, I thought that was cool but I always really, really loved music. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until I decided I wanted to do music, I was just kinda lost. A lot of people go through the motions and never really figure out what they want to do – they just end up at a job and I guess I was never programmed that way.

Your new album Devil’s in the Detail was released on Valentine’s Day on your own label Fannypack Records – how has that gone down?

Very well – it cracked the top 40 on the UK iTunes chart, got to number 39 which I’ll take every time. I make this joke though – people say “I’m number 1 on iTunes!” but you can actually change it where you keep going down the categories and then take a screen shot where it looks like you’re number 1 but it’s on contemporary, classical, Spanish spoken word – but you’re still number 1! So good for you, I guess! But our album is selling really well and we’re doing everything ourselves and we don’t need to ask permission – we just do it.

So tell me about your experiences with record labels before setting up your own?

Just the worst and the same story you hear time and time again, you’re just so excited to be signing to a record label and my first band signed to one that had a lot of money and a lot of big promises, and at the time I thought it was the best thing ever. I got a house that I couldn’t afford a year after and it was just ridiculous. You have this idea about what it’s going to be but really you’re just signing this big bank loan and hopefully you pay it all back. Thankfully, that band did well but I never made any money. Really all I ever did was pay people back which sucks. And they still own my songs – to the point where I can’t even go and re-record them, they own them for a really long time and it would involve getting a lawyer. They see something as a product that they can make money from and they made plenty.

Who are the other guys in your band – they came across as very seasoned players.

I didn’t know them before People on Vacation – Jaret and I started the band, we had the opportunity to tour the UK. Jaret knew Rob (I didn’t), Rob knew Mickey who was doing drum lessons at the time. Mickey did really well in the music business in his late teens/early 20s in a hair metal band but it never quite got as big as he wanted. He then got married, had 2 kids and made a great life for himself. 10 years went by and Rob called him asking if he wanted to play drums for this band, so he’s getting a second chance that not many people get. He’s a great dad, but now he gets to finally do the thing that he almost got to do. I didn’t really know the dudes until Jarret reached out to Rob, who contacted Mickey, we ended up in a room rehearsing then went on tour over here.

What are the highlights of your career with The Traitors so far? Do any particular gigs stand out for you? Who else have you shared a stage with?

Some of my favourite shows ever are a couple on that Ginger tour, just because it was a new audience for us. We knew we’d have a handful of people who knew us but Ginger’s audience is very Ginger-y – you know what I mean? They’re there to see Ginger, so we knew that if we could win that crowd over they’d be very loyal. We loved playing for that crowd because they’re music lovers and appreciators. They aren’t just there to say “we were at the Ginger show”, they’re there to hear the music and have an experience. So on that tour the Glasgow show, the London show and here at the Portland Arms were good ones – I remember that show because I passed out that night, I was sitting here and Ginger was here – there was a portable fan, Ginger put the fan right in front of me, took his shirt off and was wafting the air, it was very strange because he was shirtless – but what a sweet man.

Other than that, we did our first tour as this band under just my name. We got to the first show in Edinburgh and it was sold out – we were like “holy shit!” – I will never forget that one, people were singing these brand new solo songs and it was very satisfying. Just like anything, you want to get to the next level at your job so for me it just feels like a promotion.

So, how does this all fit in with family life?

Well, I met my wife in Newcastle – she’s a Geordie girl. I didn’t even know what a Geordie girl was, someone should have given me a handbook! I think because I’ve been through so much shit and made all kinds of terrible decisions with substances and women and whatever else, it took somebody as challenging as my wife – entertaining is probably the word. It doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, way out of my league – I still look at her sometimes and think “Really? Good for you!” But I don’t have the urge to have kids and Holly doesn’t either – maybe that will change, but right now it’s way too easy to go on tour so we just go.

Has anyone come over here with you?

My parents are here! They’ve seen me go through Smile Smile and everything else. I keep telling them “seriously, things are happening in the UK” so come and see for yourselves! So they flew over for the last few shows and it’s cool to have them here.

What’s next for you guys?

So now it’s been 2 years since starting over, re-establishing after pissing all the industry people off… but now we’re at the point where we’re selling out medium sized shows over here. Tomorrow is a big venue in London which sold out pretty quick.

Here’s something else people don’t think about. You can break down my life by the size of vehicles I’ve toured in. So, at first it was an SUV, then a van in the Smile Smile days then a tour bus. Then I was back in a van with People on Vacation then back on a bus again. Then that ended. We were then back over here in a rental car for a house party tour, then back up to a van – we’re in a little larger van now, a nice van and we’re doing a tour over here later this year back on a bus. [Fi – so next – your own plane?? Ryan laughs]

Well, thank you for chatting to me – have a great show tonight and I hope the London show goes really well, too!

Thanks, this was fun!

Gig review…

This was the penultimate gig on Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors’ acoustic tour. Last time Ryan was at The Portland Arms, it was to support Ginger Wildheart and was a tightly packed crowd. This time, there was a group of dedicated followers up front and interested parties dotted around the rest of the venue. Sadly not sold out, but a lovely atmosphere nevertheless.

First up was Danny Gruff, an acoustic singer-songwriter with a great sense of humour – he had the crowd laughing, doing dance moves (yes, even us photographers did as we were told), singing and bantering throughout his set. A genuine delight – hoping to see him again.

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Next on stage was Chrissy Barnacle, who hails from Glasgow. She also features on Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors’ new album in the form of backing vocals. An inspired choice as support, when I was chatting to her before the gig, she described her music as “evil freak folk”. I was intrigued, to say the least. She didn’t disappoint – her lyrics are honest and sometimes scathingly so.

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Her voice is unique (although reminds me a little of Joanna Newsome in places) and her guitar playing is mesmerising – she’s a very talented young lady and loves what she does. Her stories about the songs are amusing and make her very personable. She also wasn’t deterred when a couple was heavily making out stage left – she gave a wry, knowing smile and then got on with what she was there to do. A true professional. I’d love to see her again.

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The headline act finally made their way to the stage, to suitably approving cheers from a very happy crowd! In comparison to last time I saw them, this was a more relaxed set with an additional chat between songs from Ryan and great banter with the crowd. Ryan and The Traitors are so at ease playing together, even making a joke after playing one of their tunes for the first time in a while and getting it a bit wrong. This band are so down to earth – although they’re popular, they don’t have the massive ego some bands have which makes you feel like you’re truly with friends.

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Highlights of the show for me were the delightfully uplifting Be Kind, Rewind, new songs We Should Never Have Moved to L.A., Heavy Heart and old favourite Ode to the Idiots. All of the new songs go down really well – indeed, a lot of the crowd know them already which is a great sign – people have been buying the album! Result!

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Ryan is very anti-bullying following a bad experience of his own where he was targeted online by one man who had a vendetta of him. He supports the Ditch the Label charity and it was great to hear him talk about it during the gig – he really wants people to know there is always someone you can turn to. He finished by saying that if you feel you have no-one else you can send him an email and talk to him. He’s a wonderfully kind man who has got through his own personal battles and wants to help others who need it. This very much comes through in his songs, too – what a great message for people who are struggling for their own personal battles.

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If you’ve not heard of Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors yet, then now is the time. They are touring again in the UK later in 2017. Buy their music. Get tickets. You won’t regret it.