Macclesfield has a new favourite son to talk about and that is The Virginmarys.
Joy Division certainly helped to place the northern town of Macclesfield on the world map by means of their deeply melancholic post-punk sounds but also due to the tragic circumstances surrounding lead vocalist Ian Curtis. It would seem, however, that Macclesfield has a new addition to its steadily growing list of favourite sons (i.e. John Mayall, Marion and not forgetting The Macc Lads) and that being The Virginmarys.
Despite hailing from the same northern town, any further resemblances with the doom-laden poetry of Curtis and Co. ends there, as The Virginmarys have more in common, musically, with their American cousins over the pond than the quintessential characteristics often associated with British indie bands. This is largely due to their love of bands such as MC5 and holding great admiration for the guitar heroics of Jimi Hendrix, but also due to a necessity to build bridges to greater landscapes as a means of escape from the dour surroundings of their hometown. Such desires are definitely taking shape as the band are currently riding a wave of critical acclaim due to their incendiary live performances and solid debut album ‘King Of Conflict’ that has even won admirers such as ex-Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist Slash.
On the eve of a two-date tour of Norway, Danny Dolan from The Virginmarys popped in for a chat with FLW to provide a bit of an insight concerning life in Macclesfield; album ‘King Of Conflict’ and, of course, Slash’s admiration for the band.
“Ally [Dickaty, lead vocals] and I met each other at college and really clicked straight away,” explains Danny in terms of the band’s initial foundations. “We always used to play in Macclesfield, but Matt [Rose, bass] used to play in a separate band where he was a singer and guitar player. We kind of always knew each other, but the band fully formed about four years ago when Matt was available as we needed a bass player. So we jammed together and that’s it really because what you tend to do in Macclesfield is go to the pub and have a drink and then go back and play music all night.”
Was it always your intention to be a three-piece band?
“When we first started it was very much about jammin’, so it was literally all three of us in a room with a guitar, bass and drums and you all kind of play your own bit and go off in your own world but somehow managing to stay together. It felt really natural for us to play like that, and therefore it never really seemed like there was a need for a fourth member. I can’t say for definite in terms of the future, but right now it’s all about keeping it raw with one guitar, one bass and one set of drums.”
Is there anything you would change now, in hindsight, regarding your debut album ‘King Of Conflict’?
“No, and I think I can speak for all of us, I don’t think we’d change anything on the album. It was an obvious process in terms of ‘King Of Conflict’ as the two years prior to its release, all we wanted to do was get out there and play gigs and get out of Macclesfield. In the spare time that we weren’t gigging, we literally just wrote new music. When we had new songs, we had to decide what to do with them. So we ended up making the tracks available as EPs. In the end, we had these three EPs that were all recorded as live as we possibly could make them, and we wanted to keep it with just bass, drums, guitar and vocals. Also, we wanted to try and record all of the songs in one take, so what you hear on the album is literally one take and not pieced together like most other songs. I think because of the way that we did that on the road in terms of those EPs, we all knew exactly how we wanted the album to sound. Therefore, it was just a case of deciding which songs we wanted to have on the album. When I listen to it, I know that it’s exactly the album that we wanted to make and I wouldn’t change anything.”
Who is responsible for the lyrics or is it a joint venture?
“Lyrically, it’s all with Ally. There have been times when [other] lyrics have been suggested but I don’t think that’s what the band is about,” comments Danny before continuing, “as I think the band’s about a massive part of what he’s trying to say and talk about. In terms of the songs, some of these literally come about from us jammin’ for many hours until we come up with a riff, which we really like, and then essentially you get a song based out of that chosen riff. Other songs will involve Ally coming up with a verse and a chorus and he’ll have an idea of how it should sound, but nine times out of ten it will end up being completely changed around with five different rhythms and then eventually we’ll pick one.”
Do you feel that the Macclesfield has played its part in terms of influencing the band’s lyrics and music?
“Yes, definitely,” is the immediate reply. “Off the top of my head, the only person I can think of, musically, who was from Macclesfield is Ian Curtis from Joy Division. If you listen to his music and his lyrics, it kind of sums up what we feel about Macclesfield as literally all we’ve ever done is either go to the pub or play music and it’s one of those towns where everybody knows everybody [else] and you never really leave. I know for a fact that a lot of the song’s lyrics are specifically written about Macclesfield; ‘Out Of Mind’, for instance, is written about a night out in Macclesfield.”
‘King Of Conflict’, however, has a large American influence in terms of your sound. Do you think that such an influence is a direct result of growing up in Macclesfield and dreaming of escaping to greater landscapes?
“Possibly, in terms of a need to escape,” replies Danny after some consideration. “I think essentially, in terms of our sound, the biggest influence at the core of the album are the 60s power trio bands such as MC5 and Jimmy Hendrix, so there is definitely a massive rock influence and I’d definitely agree that there is a strong American influence. Having said that, I think Ally’s lyrics and his accent in terms of his vocals are the things that we keep northern and Macclesfield.”
Having asked that question, FLW has noticed that one song in particular does pick up on a very 60s Mod influence and that being ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’.
“I think that’d be pretty much down the road with it,” agrees Danny, “but also I never realised until Ally was in an interview from before that the song was basically a more depressing version of Elvis’ ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, and I kind of like that!”
What can you tell FLW about the ‘stripped’ versions of a few of your songs that appear on the deluxe edition of ‘King Of Conflict’ as we are rather enamoured by these renditions?
“To be honest with you that really came about due to our manager wanting to do a deluxe edition of ‘King Of Conflict’ pretty much for the hardcore fans really” explains Danny. “However, our manager explained that it needed to be something else such as acoustic or live tracks but Ally was against such an idea because he hates albums that have stuff like that on them. So he [Ally] decided to have a go at reworking some of the tracks. The whole stripped album is just Ally, as none of us are playing on it as it’s literally how he interrupted the songs, and I think he did an amazing job.”
Is it right that Slash – ex-Guns ‘N’ Roses – is a fan of the band?
“Yeah, that’s right. We played with him three times, and it was pretty much the first major support that we ever got. It literally came about in one day when we were due to do this gig and we were getting paid for it quite well, but our manager said that we’re not doing it which p***** us off because we needed the money. Then he informed us that we weren’t doing the gig because we had three gigs lined up with Slash and, of course, we were really made up. We never really saw him [Slash] to tell you the truth for the few gigs because the minute we got there these three security guys came over and informed us not to speak to him because he’ll come and speak to us if he wants to. After the last gig in Manchester, somebody from his staff asked for some of our t-shirts. Then a journalist, who had just done an interview with Slash, came out of his room and mentioned that Slash was wearing one of our t-shirts, which was amazing! After that [gig], I think he [Slash] did a cover-mount CD for Classic Rock [magazine] with his ten favourite songs. One our tunes were included, which I think was under a John Lee Hooker song. It still seems really surreal, even now, that he is a fan of the band.”
Despite the instructions not to speak with the guitar legend that is Slash, did the opportunity ever arise for The Virginmarys to have a few words without the close scrutiny of his personal security?
“We actually did once during the second gig in Edinburgh. We were out having a cigarette just before the gig when this guy came out. He was smaller than me and wearing a baseball cap but got us [thinking] that really looks like Slash. He came over and it was him, ‘Hey guys!’ and we thought f****** hell! All he said was that he really loved the name of the band and then he walked off. During the last gig in Manchester, we had literally come off the stage and he was standing at the side with his full gear on, including the hat, practising his guitar only to look up and say, ‘Hey guys! Great show man’, and we still couldn’t believe it as it was very surreal.”
Referring back to your album ‘King Of Conflict’, two tracks in particular come to mind with those being ‘Portrait Of Red’ and ‘You’ve Got Your Money, I’ve Got My Soul’. Is it correct that ‘Portrait Of Red’ is about domestic violence but from a male perspective, and that You’ve Got Your Money’ is a reference to the ongoing financial crisis and, in particular, the discrepancies that occurred at various banks?
“I think that’s one of things people have said about the song ‘Portrait Of Red,” comments Danny. “It’s kind of weird because until we got asked those questions, Matt and I didn’t really know until we asked Ally [ourselves]. As far as I know, Ally has basically said it’s about S&M being carried out on him, and that’s all I really know about it. In terms of ‘You’ve Got Your Money, I’ve Got My Soul’ I think that’s exactly what it is,” he continues before adding, “especially this industry in particular, as the more and more people you meet higher up, you realise that it’s completely what it’s about [money] and the music is secondary and certainly not the primary focus. So it’s displaying our frustrations about that massively.”
“I think it’s obvious to everybody who is in music or who should be in music,” responds Danny. “At least that’s exactly what the scenario is, as the biggest artists in music right now are not The Beatles or Nirvana but X-Factor karaoke singers. If you go to record labels now, specifically major ones, they don’t say to you, ‘You need to write better songs,’ they say, ‘You need to improve your social media skills’, and I think that’s pretty evident to anybody who gives a s*** about music.”
With the previously mentioned two dates in Norway, what does the rest of the year entail for The Virginmarys?
“Pretty much flat-out gigging,” says Danny, “as we have a lot more festival dates in England and then a European tour in September. After that we’re going to Japan, which is really exciting, and then back to America for a tour and then we come back in November to do our own UK tour. The main thing is that we’ve got a load of new song ideas but we haven’t been able to get into the studio yet. I think the plan is that we want to get all these song ideas completed, whether it’s twenty or thirty, and then decide which ones to go with for the next album. Then the other songs, I think, we’re going to give away to the fans, as I don’t want to make another EP and sell it to them as B-sides as I just want to give them away and see what people think of them.”
Finally, is there a band philosophy?
“Yeah, it’s about being completely honest and sticking to your guns in terms of doing what you want to do. We have a really clear idea about what we want to do with music and how we want to progress. Unfortunately, the higher up you go in the industry, and the more people you meet that literally don’t want you to do that because they want you to conform to their ideas, is not what we’re about. We’re just going to keep playing music exactly how we play until we die and that’s it.”
The only person I can think of, musically, who was from Macclesfield is Ian Curtis from Joy Division. If you listen to his music and his lyrics, it kind of sums up what we feel about Macclesfield..."
Danny Dolan, The Virginmarys
FLW - From the Tapes
Danny Dolan from Virginmarys relays to FLW a particularly embarrassing incident after a showcase event held in Glasgow.
“I’m sure there’s loads but there was one incident when I think we were doing a showcase for Classic Rock [magazine] in Glasgow and I knew that we were staying at a Travelodge. I decided to stay for the party after the showcase event and therefore walked back to the Travelodge on my own. However, I ended up going to three separate Travelodge’s in Glasgow which it turned out were all the wrong ones as I could not remember the exact one we were staying in. So I ended up sleeping in a doorway because I just couldn’t find it, and that’s pretty embarrassing! I’ve not mentioned that before actually [laughing].”