It’s been just over a year since I last interviewed The Blinders, but it feels like longer because so much has happened to the band since their show at the Sunflower Lounge just over twelve months ago… the debut album album “Columbia” was released to rave reviews (including our own) and a top 40 chart position, they completed two UK headline tours, as well as festival dates, gigs in America, Europe and now they are embarking on a third headline UK and European tour. Thankfully they return to Birmingham on 26 April as the first date of that tour at the Institute.
I caught up with Tom, Charlie and Matty before the tour to talk about, amongst other things, the Midlands, songwriting, Safe Gigs for Women, nodules and football:
It is heart-warming to see the 2019 tour kicking off in Birmingham. Was this fortunate timing on our city’s part, or a deliberate move to start with the most up for it crowd?
Ha, we’re not going to get involved in that discussion. Let’s call it a fortunate coincidence?
Clearly you have some fondness for the Midlands and the Black Country, as your album was recorded at Gavin Monaghan’s studio in Wolverhampton. How did recording at Magic Garden come about, or was it simply that Gavin’s work as a producer appealed to you?
We were introduced to Gavin when we were looking to record in a studio for the first time. We hit it off instantly, and developed a chemistry which would later become important in holding it all together for the duration of the Columbia recordings. He showed us the wonders of music production; I think he got us banging on a piano for the first song we released and that to us was brilliant. He went on to invite us back free of charge for a couple of tunes which we were incredibly grateful for. When it finally came to us signing a record deal, it would have been utter idiocy (something we’re not strangers to) not to go back with Gavin and record the album which ended up being Columbia.
Are you being looked after since you were signed to Modern Sky and is there a tangible difference from the early days when you weren’t represented?
All we asked from them was to simply be given the platform which we craved to record and release music and they provided that, so yes before their involvement we didn’t have that.
With a busy touring schedule are you able to find much time to work on new material, and if so, is it a different sound or style, as the development in writing was already evident listening to the album?
We’ve been writing extensively since last summer right up to the present day, but simultaneously focusing on shows, developing the live set and of course SXSW naturally distracts us here and there, but we are well on with the writing process. We’re always trying to look for doors to open and avenues to take whilst approaching songs both writing style and subject matters. It’s not really important to us to maintain a sound, but so long as what comes out feels natural, and that’s where we are at the moment with it all. We’re still experimenting with a some bits and pieces, but we’re very excited to keep writing before we finally sit down with a heavy sigh and see which ones to take into the studio for album two.
I don’t know if you are aware of the Facebook Closed Fan Group called Hoodwink Society (of which I am a silent member) but there is clearly a lot of love for the band around now. They did leak out earlier this year that you are playing new songs live; has the setlist been changed a lot since the Columbia tour (as there wasn’t much difference between the songs played on that tour and the previous tour this time last year)?
We’ve introduced a couple of new ones to the set; revolving them around to see which work live and which do not. For us there is a balancing act to be made, by which I mean it’s important we develop our live shows performance-wise, but also attempt to provide a narrative to the whole thing. That can be quite difficult to do when inviting new songs to join the set, as it could disrupt the whole thing. Plus nobody wants to see a set completely of new material, so that’s really the debate we are having amongst ourselves at the moment.
The Institute gig is in the room on the lower floor, which has a low ceiling, so it will be intimate and intense. When full it will be a fantastic experience for you and the audience. The venues you are playing this time are twice the size as last time, and four times bigger than the time before that. I have commented before that you always play at maximum intensity wherever you are anyway, but do you feel now that the venues and audiences are finally catching you up?
It’s difficult to say really. All the steps forward we’ve taken feel quite natural, but you’re right in the size comparison to previous shows.. and this is why we are now starting to think about ways to develop the set and make it more of a show befitting such venues without losing the intensity. In truth we don’t know how it’s gonna go until we get on that stage. That’s the exciting part… No pressure.
In my last review I mentioned how Tom should take care of his vocal chords as it is so easy to damage them. Will you be taking any notice of this old man’s advice for the forthcoming tour?
We have every which spread, spray, herbal tea and throat lozenge known to mankind going on at the moment for our shows. It’s starting to look like a booze baron running a Weldricks* backstage.
(Ed: * Weldricks Pharmacy: only found in and around the Sheffield, Doncaster, Scunthorpe areas and nowhere else)
How much Adrenaline is running through you when you are being physically lifted up by your audience during the live shows Tom?
It’s not something you really think about a great deal, but it’s effects are noticeable once you come off stage. It can be really quite difficult to come down after a show has gone well.
There is a lot of media talk about the new wave of political punk bands inspired by the impact of cuts and Tory led austerity on the country. You are clearly named amongst these artists, but do you feel that it is still very much an underground movement?
Again, hard to say when you’re in the bubble. Idles are the obvious example who are breaking through. There was a podcast with David Byrne the other day where he argued that he felt like political songs were really becoming the mainstream now, but were being masked in pop songs and people weren’t really picking up on it. It’s an interesting idea and hopefully one that does stick.
I read during the last tour that there were isolated incidents of violence at some of the gigs; I did comment at the time that no real Blinders fan would advocate violence, as the band’s attitude is more about nonviolent resistance, rather than use of the guillotine – I know that bands like The Clash and The Specials would stop playing if fights broke out to prevent violence at their gigs. Do you feel that the more support you receive, there is a possibility you could attract an audience who think ‘Hate Song’ for example is glorifying hate and is the time in the set to start throwing punches?
There is always a danger that you may run into a few idiots and we obviously have a responsibility to limit that. Our gigs can be raucous and that’s the way we want them to stay, but that’s no excuse for people to mistreat others. Acts of violence aren’t welcome anywhere in society let alone at our shows and when we see them we stop the song. Safe Gigs for Women will have a presence at all our shows in the UK at the end of April, just to provide a little extra assurance that all are welcome at our shows and that all feel comfortable enough to get down the front and go a little wild.
I have to admit it was both strange and wonderful to see you playing, and kicking a ball on Soccer AM. It was a great performance and Matty’s volley was spectacular. Do you enjoy that clean cut kind of promotion and PR, and did you practise before the show Matty?
Thanks. That was the first time Matt has kicked a football in about a year. But you’re right, it was a wondrous strike.
Is Charlie hoping for automatic qualification with Leeds second in the league at the moment? Or like me (a LFC fan) not thinking about celebrating when anything can happen yet?
Simply put, I’m a nervous wreck.
You have had some pretty special moments since this time last year, with some deserved recognition and opportunities taken. Is there anything that particularly stands out and what is left on your bucket lists?
Taking the band to America was something we will not be forgetting in a hurry. Glastonbury is the one thing we are desperate to do at this point. After that, if the whole thing fell to bits well then that’s OK.
Thanks again for talking to me and I look forward to the Institute gig on 26 April.
It is so refreshing to hear a young band so well grounded and realistic in terms of where they are now and where they may be in a few years time. Talking to them, it never feels like this is a career path carefully mapped out, but a bronco ride where you grab on and hold tight until you have control or are thrown off. In a world full of careerists The Blinders bring a work ethic that is as much influenced by rock n roll as it is their working class backgrounds. In a strange way it reminds me of the old Central produced gameshow Bullseye, when you see everyday people declare “We’ve had a lovely day, so we’ll just take the prizes we’ve won” (which normally consists of a teasmade, a carriage clock, a midi hifi and VCR). In the days of Bullseye we could never have foreseen that contestants in TV shows would morph into celebrities in their own right, despite their complete lack of anything interesting to say, nor the relentless greying out of pop music into one single mass produced mush of nothingness. Thankfully The Blinders buck this depressing trend and bring blinding colour, originality, invention and vitality to the music scene, which if given enough light and attention, will bloom and inspire this generation and the next. I live in hope.
Each time The Blinders have visited our fair city of Birmingham, the gig has sold out quickly and this time seems no different. There are still some tickets available for 26 April at The Institute, but reserve your space in the mosh pit now or prepare to be very disappointed.
It seems each tour has a feeling of being an ‘I was there’ moment and this one will be no different, so don’t miss out. You have been warned.
The Blinders live dates 2019
26 — Birmingham, 02 Institute
27 — Manchester, The Ritz
28 — Glasgow, St Lukes
30 — London, Scala
05 — Newcastle, Hit The North Festival
07 — Cologne, MTC
08 — Hamburg, Molotow
09 — Berlin, Cassiopea
11 — Leeds, Gold Sounds Festival
25 — Warrington, NBHD Weekender
26 — Derbyshire, Bearded Theory Festival
22 — Stockport, with Blossoms
30 — Powderham Castle, with Noel Gallagher
04 — Brighton, with Miles Kane
11 — Lithuania, Devilstone Open Air
13 — Hollland, Klikofest
14 — Holland, Valkhof Festival
21 — Spain, Benicassim
Interviewer: Alan Nielson
Photo: Chris Bowley