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.

Gig Review: @Foals, 20th Feb 2016, Leeds – by @jenbren1976 #Foals #MusicIsEverything

Foals at First Direct Arena, Leeds, 20th February 2016. Words by Jen.

So the gradually snowballing juggernaut that is Foals’ ongoing career trajectory rolls on, into Leeds on Saturday February 20th for their final date on their first UK arena tour. Given that they’ve had a strong presence on the UK music scene since 2007, it seems strange that they’re finally embarking on an arena tour, however the powerful right hook that current album “What Went Down” provides sets an appropriate scene for a band who are very self-aware of their live capabilities, well-practiced and skilled at same, and yet want to present an intense experience to paying punters.

And Warner Brothers haven’t been tight with the cash either. The stage set is admirably impressive and yet gimmick-free. Strobe laser bars of all colours surround numerous square screens displaying both images of the band at work and superb, elaborate, high-resolution light shows. This is a long way from playing their local sweaty teenage indie armpit joint in Oxford when they had just emerged from being the Edmund Fitzgerald 10 years ago, fresh out of adolescence.

It’s very fair to say that Foals have now well & truly hit the mainstream, however it’s also through hard, honest work and musical integrity (as opposed to managerial harassment, OTT PR and attention deficit disorder of the band members). The Leeds date was an 8,000 ticket sell-out and admittedly, support act Everything Everything looked daunted and unable to meet the expectant atmosphere of intensity that the crowd had taken in with them.

Emerging to what sounded like a more violent version of the opening chords to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, they move straight into “Snake Oil”, a song that initially sounds like Kasabian’s “Reason Is Treason” but becomes more violent, powerful and sexual in its lyrical bent. Stage intros are very important to Foals, on the “Holy Fire” tours they introduced the band teasingly one by one, and the approach is similar on this tour but to a different track. Traditional crowd-pleaser “Olympic Airways” is then run through, which then leads via a drum build up from rhythm colossus Jack Bevan into the uber-funky “My Number”, then elegantly moving into new WWD album track “Birch Tree”, a delicious note of 80s hip hop inspired pop.

It’s pretty apparent via their set list that the band are very confident in their material, and in the mix of tracks both old and new that please the crowd and yet serve a good 2 hours of musical pleasure, sustained excitement, mellow moments and eventual climax. Each member of the band is very audibly musically talented.

My only argument is the absence and presence of a limited few tracks. I’m not sure why they run through “Red Socks Pugie anymore”, as it seems slightly overplayed, and “Milk & Black Spiders” would have been a suitably epic inclusion. Yannis’ vocals on the musically panoramic “A Knife in the Ocean” are clearly strained, and have been on numerous previous live outings. Also, “Albatross” is a very strong & powerful track from the current album that could leave an arena throbbing & hungry for more and its absence from their current live set is puzzling to say the least. But, time is money, and four albums into their career sacrifices need to be made, after all, they’re not a Bruce Springsteen type of act.

The mixture of different musical emotions in Foals’ canon truly is their USP. “Late Night” & “London Thunder” are mellow, emotional, melancholic and laconic. “Providence”, “Two Steps Twice” and “Inhaler” are hysterically orgasmic and “What Went Down” and “Snake Oil” are menacing and threatening tracks. Their early math-rock incarnation is also nodded to thanks to “Balloons” (the superb student disco classic “Hummer” has also been trotted out on this tour) and of course, the much-adored “Spanish Sahara” is the people-pleaser that sends the crowd into a frenzy.

All in all, their previously intense live show has translated effortlessly from smaller venues to arenas, where the sound and intensity is astronomical enough to fill the walls and people’s hearts and ears.

“Leeds, you’re fucking awesome,” announces Yannis Philippakis, returning warmly & enthusiastically for an encore. “Seriously, you guys are mint.” Well Yannis, it takes one to know one. Headlining Reading & Leeds suddenly seems insufficient for a band of their might. Why not Glastonbury?

Set list:

Snake Oil

Olympic Airways

My Number

Birch Tree

Give It All

Mountain at My Gates

Balloons

Providence

Spanish Sahara

Red Socks Pugie

Late Night

A Knife in the Ocean

Inhaler

Encore:

London Thunder

What Went Down

Two Steps Twice

Jen recently told us about her love for Foals. You can read her article here.