In the Middle with Skinny Lister

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Energetic, eclectic and endlessly entertaining, British folk band Skinny Lister are as prolific as they are up for a laugh.

With six members, including two vocalists, the band draws from a wide pool of influences, creating their own distinct sound which ranges from acoustic, traditional folk to folk-punk, indie and even disco. With their fourth album, The Story Is…, just around the corner on March 1st, fans have plenty to be excited about as well as their UK tour which starts February 28th. I chatted with vocalist Lorna Thomas, discussing the band’s upcoming album, weird touring experiences and the joy of being on the road. Lorna’s down-to-earth and friendly manner translates to her stage presence, with the whole band possessing great chemistry and delivering lively and memorable gigs.

Skinny Lister’s male vocalist, Dan Heptinstall, “generally writes the lyrics and melodies and then we get together as a band and flesh the songs and the arrangements out”, creating a collaborative process that always produces something highly enjoyable to listen to. Lorna continues, “we have really looked at different styles” for their new album as “we didn’t go into the studio thinking ‘we’re Skinny Lister, and we sound like this’ […] What we’ve found in the past is when we put a song on the album and we’ve been like, ‘I don’t know if that sounds very Skinny Lister’, but now actually are some of the favourites at gigs”.

She describes the new album as being both “a handful of stories” and “very eclectic”, as “there’s a lot of 80s inspiration in there […] there’s songs on the album that are very different […] there’s a bit of disco influence on one of them called ‘The Shining’.

Lorna gave some insights into what the new album has in store, with the first single releases ‘38 Minutes’ and ‘My Distraction’ showcasing the band’s new direction. “I was quite anxious to see how that went down because it’s quite a fresh sound for Skinny Lister” she told me about their latest release ‘My Distraction’. “I feel like it’s the female version of what Dan’s been doing for a few years like ‘Trouble on Oxford Street’, but I’ve been like ‘I want a party tune!’ It’s perhaps a bit more poppy than we’ve been in the past”. She also said, “we’re really proud of 38 minutes because it’s got loads of energy; it goes down amazingly at gigs and I’m really enjoying playing it. [We’re] really pleased at the moment with how things are going”.

Other songs from the new album include ‘Diesel Vehicle’ which is about “when Dan put unleaded petrol in a diesel van […] but he wrote a song about it and I think it’s amazing. [It’s] a very different style again but really cool and interesting lyrics”. Their songs consistently tell great stories, partly what makes the band so relatable. She describes the new album as being both “a handful of stories” and “very eclectic”, as “there’s a lot of 80s inspiration in there […] there’s songs on the album that are very different […] there’s a bit of disco influence on one of them called ‘The Shining’. Obviously, we want people to like what we release, at the same time we produce what we produce and we try to make it the best that we can”.

Image result for skinny lister
Image via Skinny Lister

Skinny Lister has had very different influences for each album. For their first album, Forge and Flagon, “we were playing a lot of festivals and we did the canal boat tour so that album sounds very pastoral and very folky because that’s kind of what we were doing at the time”. Their second album, Down on Deptford Broadway, “is much more influenced by being on the road with Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, and the third one we’d been around the world and it’s got stories from all over the place and it’s a bit more global…and this one, who knows!”

From their very first gigs, a flagon has been passed around for audience members to take a swig from if they choose, and is now a staple of any Skinny Lister concert. “The flagon has been with us pretty much since day one […] before that we used to carry round rum and coke in a massive bowl. I don’t know how the flagon came about but it just did very early on and it was a hit and now it doesn’t feel right if we haven’t got one. If we leave it at a venue on a night, we have to go on a hunt for another one.”

“The flagon has been with us pretty much since day one […] before that we used to carry round rum and coke in a massive bowl.

When I asked Lorna if she has many funny or weird touring stories, she laughed and said “millions”. A fan once gave the band a chicken which had to stay in their dressing room. Another incident involved Melodeon-playing band member Max Thomas (Lorna’s brother) falling off stage and “was knocked out a bit but then he got up and carried on […] that was pretty intense […] it was a Dropkick Murphys crowd and they didn’t seem to notice. I thought we were going to have to stop the show and go to hospital”. When I asked about upcoming gigs, she said “Leeds is going to be great actually and it’s looking like it’s going to sell out so it should be good fun […] it’s always great in Leeds”. Be sure to catch Lorna, Dan, Max, Thom, Sam and Scott performing as Skinny Lister at Leeds’ The Key Club on March 8th if you want to take a swig from their famous flagon or don’t want to miss an amazing live performance.

Lucy Ingram