In The Middle With The Blinders

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With their ominous aura and heavy bass driven sound, the The Blinders, a Manchester based trio, originally from South Yorkshire, turned the Brudenell Social Club into a 21st century dystopia. I caught up with vocalist/guitarist Thomas Haywood and drummer Matty Neale before their sold out Sunday night gig to ask them a few questions about their sound, lyrics and debut album Columbia.

This is a band that not only has eclectic musical influences, ranging from the Beatles to Kasabian, but is also heavily inspired by literature. “We read 1984 and it changed our lives,” says vocalist Thomas, who is much more approachable than his war paint smothered alter ego would suggest. The Orwell appreciation is noticeable throughout their album in song ‘The Ballad of Winston Smith’ and a whole variety of Easter egg references to big brother, rats in cages, the party and internal rebellion. For this band, this is their way of expressing their views on society more covertly, “We didn’t want to talk about Trump and talk about Brexit. We wanted something to mask that in; dystopian literature just seemed to allow us to build this fictional sort of narrative in our songs. That – and it makes for entertaining writing.”

Credit: Nigel Cartner

With profound lyrics of wit, ominous truth and darkness that place them somewhere between Alex Turner and Nick Cave, it’s not surprising that The Blinders are also fans of the great novelists and poets. “Kerouac and also Oscar Wilde – I think he’s one of the best writers I’ve read in a long time and Ginsberg as well.” “-And Burgess. Antony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange,” says Matty. “Kerouac was a big one personally. [For me] it confirmed wanting to be a creative person and wanting to be a band especially,” says Thomas.

In terms of musical influences, Thomas and Matty highlighted three that they thought summed up their debut album. “We listened to a lot of Amazing Snakeheads, Kasabian’s West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum – that was big for us and Humbug especially, by Arctic Monkeys.” In terms of wider influences, the band mentioned, “The Wytches – that was a bit more of a kick-starter, especially with the guitar. Then you’ve got your obvious [Black] Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, [The Rolling] Stones and all that which everyone else has.”

With the sound checking echoes of grunge pop band Calva Louise leaking into the greenroom, Thomas and Matty explain how moving to Manchester from their home town of Doncaster has impacted on their sound and ideas. “It’s definitely affected the way we sound.” “-and the way we see things as well. Seeing and perceiving things on a city street is very different to seeing it in a mining town for example. We’re very glad we moved to Manchester – some for the better and some for the worse – but it has all definitely leaked into our writings and even our sound. I think we’ve moved to a more abrasive and dull sound because of the surroundings.”

Credit: Marc Wanderer

So far, 2018 has seen The Blinders play festivals such as Kendall Calling, Liverpool Sound City and Reading and Leeds in addition to gigs around the country with the likes of the legendary New Adelphi in Hull, which has played host to names such as Pulp, PJ Harvey, Radiohead and Oasis. This is The Blinders’ second gig at the Brudenell, which itself has hosted the likes of Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs. “This is the best venue in the country,” says Matty, before I can finish asking them whether they prefer playing festivals or venues like this. “Have you been in that games room?” referring to the room with a snooker table, 5 pool tables, darts, table football and a pinball machine. “It’s 50p a game!” “There’s not a lot of venues like this around the country,” says Thomas, “that retain a working and efficient format. This has brought itself into the 21st century whilst retaining that old school 1970s feel. You could watch Joy Division here and it wouldn’t be out of place.”

At the back of the stage in the main room hangs red flags with 3 interlocking circles which, at a closer glance, reveal themselves to be snakes consuming their own tails; the name of the album, Columbia is written across the bottom. Before The Blinders make their entrance, white noise overlaid with Gene Wilder’s eerie ‘Pure Imagination’ fills the room. On stage, the band command the audience with an ominous menacing power, aided by the war paint smeared on Thomas’ face. According to Matty the paint, “started out as something to be a bit different.” Thomas continues, “I don’t think there’s any significance to be honest. It sort of went with the tribal feel of the music and we wanted something to separate our own personas to going on stage and the war paint allowed that – it allows you to wear a mask I suppose … and we just wanted to terrify some people I guess.”

With beers in hand in preparation for the gig, we start to discuss what musical subculture would have been the best to experience. “The start of the punks would be cool,” says Matty. “See I don’t dig the punks – I don’t relate to that,” Thomas replies, “I’d love to go to the Woodstock stuff. Not even just Woodstock, I’d like to go to the folk scene in America; especially during the civil rights movement – like when they had that march on Washington. Being a part of that and thinking ‘we’re doing something here, we’re changing something’ I think that would be an incredible part of history to be involved in.”

I went on to ask them who features on their tour bus playlist. “We’ve still got the new Idles album. A good van album for chilling out is War on Drugs [A Deeper Understanding]” says Matty. “Spiritualized [And Nothing Hurt] – that came out recently. Buffalo Springfield – we’ve got that on at the moment – that’s a fantastic album. And it always comes back to The Beatles – we’re listening to the Love album at the moment. George Martin, the producer of the Beatles, came back and did these 20 songs and let them flow altogether. I’d advise anyone to listen to it. It’s incredible.” Thomas goes on to tell us if they could have written any song by another artist, it would be ‘The Times they are a Changin’ by Bob Dylan, “that’s what turned us onto political song writing and politicizing lyrics. Every line is perfect, it says something, it ignites your mind. I think that would be the one,” says Thomas, with Matty agreeing throughout.

When asked on giving advice to young bands who are studying at university, Thomas suggests, “Use your grant in the right way. If you’re serious about being a musician, use that money towards being a musician: buy an instrument; book a rehearsal room for you and your friends and allow the skills that you learn at university to transpose over to writing. [Studying] history taught me how to read. I was not interested in picking up a book until I studied history at university.”

The Blinders are definitely a product of today. They capture the present frustration and discontent at the world and translate them into powerful, thought provoking lyrics and raw riffs. Keep an eye out for this band. They’re definitely one to watch out for.

Toni Stephenson

Header Image Credit Duncan Stafford