Interview – The Blinders

Interview – The Blinders

I have seen many up and coming bands taking their early, tentative steps into the music business, making the same glaring errors; the worst being the idea that you don’t have to work hard on stage in small venues or when you are a support act.  It’s as if bands are saving themselves for the Pyramid Stage.  Too many times have I witnessed lacklustre performances from artists who expect an audience to lift and energize them, when the exact opposite situation is needed: the performer ignites a crowd and then that energy feeds back into the artist.

I feel that at times bands think that the mere act of getting on stage is enough to garner respect.  But let’s face it; everyone has a talent now; we all have an X factor; everyone’s a singer; everyone is in a band now… what is important is being in a good band, and more than that, knowing you have to give everything, every time you play.

At the moment, there is only one band that does that: The Blinders.  Three young men from Doncaster (now living in Manchester), who blend old school political punk with psychedelia, and are more likely to name Aldous Huxley, William Burroughs or Gil Scott Heron as influences, rather than the usual, obvious, inevitable, embarrassing list of popular beat combos and their derivatives.  Their sound is more about riffs and rhythms, rather than melodies or harmonic modulations.  It is very much making a point with a sledgehammer; guitars with ragged distortions and tremolos; pumping bass; and pounding drums.  Lyrics dripping with vitriol; targeting injustice, corruption and inequality, delivered with a throat tearing scream.  They have already released an ep and 3 singles, which do well to capture their sound, but don’t quite reveal the full power of their live delivery… because on stage their impact intensifies far beyond the reaches of your home stereo or headphones.  The Blinders live are a revelation, and they are perhaps the best live band on the scene at the moment.

The first photograph I ever saw of The Blinders on stage, made me want to see them before I had even heard a single note.  It was an image of Thomas playing live in Manchester and it immediately reminded me of a shot of Iggy Pop on stage in London, 1972: both artists literally bending over backwards for their art.  And then I kept seeing striking images of the three band members on stage: all focussed; all energized; all, giving their all.  Granted they will be aware of iconic images from the past and initially I wondered whether they were just manufacturing this look to appear more interesting than they actually are.  However, when I saw them live in 2017 it was pretty obvious their live presence is not an act, it is raw and it is brutal, it is angry and it is direct, it is rough and it is beautiful.  It is utterly breathtaking to see a band work this hard on stage.

In my interview with them (see below) I suggest that no important music has been produced since 1978, and although I don’t actually believe this to be true, I couldn’t think of many bands since The Clash that were so explosive on stage but still managed to be successful and not make it look like a career choice.  The Blinders make me feel that music can mean something again, that it can be a voice of protest; that it can involve and not exclude; and most of all that it can be entertaining without pandering to those lingering ghosts of light entertainment that punk was supposed to have swept away.  The Blinders are the new broom.

The Blinders are currently recording their debut album and are also on tour across the UK in February.  Many of the dates are close to selling out, such is the interest generated by the band.  You need to be there.

Interview:

I have read that the starting point for the lyrics is Charlie, and then Thomas works on them with the music composed by the three of you.   You have covered some grim but massively important subject matters already, including the death of Eric Garner, is the new material equally provocative?

The writing process can vary but what seems important is that each song has something to say. The new material has certainly not varied from that.  It does seem that we’ve slightly shifted away from writing about single events and are envisioning this ‘big picture’ if you like.  The interconnected web of social degradation seems to be at the heart of it all.

Is this way of writing still the same for the new songs and do you all have to agree on the final version of the lyrics?

In the main it’s a democracy but then there is the occasional ‘some are more equal than others’ moments – you’ve gotta have a good shouty voice.

It is refreshing to see a band unafraid to be political.  When I interviewed Graham Nash last year we discussed the lack of contemporary young political songwriters, and he suggested it is because our media does not want or support dangerous musicians educating and upsetting the status quo.  Have you experienced any closed doors or ‘opinions not welcome here’ signs, and would you consider watering down your content to appease the powers that be?

Nash is a hero and an inspiration when it comes to song-writing.  For us, it just seems unnatural not to be writing about matters that are so clearly in front of you. We’ve never faced censorship, perhaps we’re a little too insignificant currently, but there are some things you have to adapt – ‘Swine’ was originally titled ‘Pig Fuck’ for example. You’ve gotta get the music out there somehow, and a song named ‘Pig Fuck’ isn’t going to get played on the radio. Making these ‘slight’ concessions means you appeal to a larger audience as opposed to angry men shouting in an empty room.  It’s not really the influence of the powers that be, but our own common sense that influences these decisions.

Where did the idea of using Willy Wonka’s ‘Wonkatania’ soliloquy in the middle of the live versions of ‘Swine’ come from?

It was always a very inspiring piece. There’s something quite unnerving and almost terrifying about Gene Wilder’s delivery, and the words can be incredibly poignant when placed in the right context… we originally opened our first Leeds festival appearance with a rendition of it, but it’s made its way into the set because it’s a lot of fun.

You’ve spent the last two years on a never ending tour as headline and support, and you’ve released a handful of singles and EPs.  Now in 2018 you are on tour again and there is an album being recorded.  Has your sound evolved for the album based on the hard work you’ve already put in and the feedback you have received so far?

That’s a difficult thing to comment on.  When you’re at the centre of it all it’s maybe difficult to see how things are changing and evolving.  We’ve been doing stuff in the studio that nobody would ever expect this band to be doing.  With the record it’s a case of representing the band in its current state, but recording music that is progressing and feels of interest to us, will always be first.

It is great to see young working class artists beginning to be represented in the music industry again, when for too long record companies have looked for public school educated young men and women to contribute to what Stuart Maconie calls “a creeping blandness” in pop music.  My argument has been that the working classes are being excluded from opportunities, based on the fact these musicians are less likely to have well off families to provide financial support and they have to work for a living, whereas the more privileged, middle-class musicians have the luxury of devoting time to their music and not fitting it around a 9-5 job.  How are you managing to survive during these early years?

The financial side of it is a big thing unfortunately.  Guitars, amps, drums; they’re not cheap.  The equipment we are using at this time is almost laughable.  We alone could probably prop up the gaffer tape industry.  There is a sanitised industry dominated by the wealthy and that goes unsaid when the music press are calling for more bands with ‘something to say’.  There’s also the idea that the ‘blandness’ in the music industry is a result of a willingness to be used by major labels and in turn are probably a lot easier to work with.  We were personally lucky enough to move to Manchester and live off a student loan initially, so we’ve done our best to avoid the 9-5.

Our recent signing to Modern Sky provides us with a basis to pursue our musical aspirations and does slightly relieve us of that financial burden.  The beauty of signing to such a label is that you are given the chance to record music that three people from a working class town do not have the opportunity to record.  Our parents can’t build a studio in the loft extension or the garage, so their faith in us does allow us to plod on down the road.

When I saw you play live supporting Cabbage last year, your energy on stage reminded me of footage of The Clash in 1978, or Iggy and the Stooges from 1973, or the Dead Kennedys from 1979.  That indicates to me that nothing inspiring has happened in music for almost 40 years and making music is not the calling it was, it is now a career choice.  What originally inspired you to make music and what fires your live performances now?

We were instilled with a fascination in music from a very early age, and the idea that nothing inspiring has happened in the last 40 years is a really interesting argument; one that would cause inter-band arguments from the get go.  But there are many moments that still occur now when you watch a performance, listen to an album, read aloud a lyric or a story to one another that inspire us to write or perform.  When you have such a passion for creating music, it is a natural step. The live performances do seem to come from nowhere though, a natural manifestation of the music.  We’re really a modern interpretive dance trio if you want to look at it like that.

When I saw the Arctic Monkeys before they had released their first single, I had never seen a band at the beginning of their career where the audience knew every single word of every single song, and were singing along.  I have seen your audiences getting bigger with each tour and growing wilder – there is a definite buzz of excitement surrounding each show and each new release.  It does feel like an organic growth rather than pure hype.  Is there a plan to turn up the marketing machine with the album release or are you happy to leave it to word of mouth the way the Arctic Monkeys originally did it?

The Arctic Monkeys thing was a force of nature, and something that I don’t think the music world will see again for a long time.  As much as you want it to be a word of mouth thing, and be ‘that band’, we’d be living in our own self indulgent fantasies. We leave the marketing stuff to the powers that be, and we just try and do our thing, but if the album doesn’t go to no.1 in 27 countries we will not be happy.

In my review of your October gig in Wolverhampton I was a little harsh about the way bands sell their merchandise at gigs now.  But I stand by that criticism.  Who will be selling the lighters at the Sunflower Lounge?

It’s an interesting discussion you raised with that article.  It’s refreshing to see a review actually pose a slightly negative opinion or contribute to a debate.  You can discuss it all night really, and in fact we completely agree.  We don’t particularly wanna come off stage and have to stand at a table sweating into the merch box.  The point you raised regarding the ‘image’ is also true, it is a performance we put on and we don’t want to undermine that by having to play the salesman.  At the same time, some people’s nights can be made by grabbing a photo or having a quick chat, and when it comes to this, we’re more than happy to play the ‘nice guy’ for half an  hour.  But we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and merch really is a main money earner.  If we sell an extra tee by having one of us stood there, is it worth the loss of face?  It’s sad that we even need to discuss revenue really, but it doesn’t take the most attentive observer to realise that we’re not here with the vision of bagging loads of cash.  There is just this sad practicality to it.  As for lighter duty, we’ll see if Ozzy is knocking about.

Will this tour focus more on new tracks from the forthcoming album?

You’d have to buy a ticket to find that out… we’re a marketing machine don’t you know?

Will there be blood?

100%.  Each show will start with a sacrificial ceremony.

Thanks and good luck.  I look forward to reviewing the Birmingham gig next month.

Many thanks.  See you in Birmingham.

The Blinders UK tour  – February 2018

2 – Glasgow, King Tuts

3 – Manchester, Deaf Institute

5 – Leicester, The Cookie

6 – Swindon, The Victoria

7 – Bristol, Louisiana

8 – Cardiff, The Globe

9 – Brighton, Sticky Mikes

10 – Stoke On Trent, The Sugarmill

13 – Newcastle Upon-Tyne, Think Tank Underground

14 – Sheffield, Record Junkee

15 – Derby, The Venue

16 – Birmingham, Sunflower Lounge

17 – Oxford, The Cellar

19 – Southampton, Joiners

21 – London, The Lexington

22 – Bournemouth, Sixty Million Postcards

23 – Leeds, Brudenell Social Club (Community Room)

24 – Ramsgate, Music Hall

 

Interview: Alan Neilson

Image: Trust A Fox Photography (courtesy of PR)

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One Response to “Interview – The Blinders” Subscribe

  1. Caffy St Luce March 15, 2018 at 9:11 am #

    Came back to read this again. A fave conversation.

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