Saturday, 18 February 2017

Interview With B-Leaguers And Hooligan Crooners

  Something a little different today, next month sees the release of a split mini ep by a couple of bands who both went down very well when I featured them on here or played them on the show last year. To whet your appetite for it I've managed to get a joint interview with both vocalists, Jim Styring (B-Leaguers) and Barry Phillips (Hooligan Crooners). Basically I asked them about their respective bands, about the new mini album and as that album is going to be called Tales From A Punk Rock Road Trip I got them to talk a little about life on the road. This was the result.

JUST SOME PUNK SONGS (JSPS) : Hi guys, can you start off by telling me about B-Leaguers and Hooligan Crooners......

JIM STYRING (JS) :  B-Leaguers are an original punk rock and roll band, from Lincoln, UK. We came together through a shared love of the music and a desire to make something happen. We wrote a bunch of songs and played a handful of shows. There was no real plan. I'm Jim, the frontman. We have Ched on guitar, Mikey on bass and Nate on drums. We've all played in bands before, but something just seemed to click with this line up, the chemistry works.

Our debut album, 'Death of a Western Heart' was released last year, on an American label. It's picked up some great reviews and made us some great friends. And we're about to release a new split mini LP, with some of those new friends, Hooligan Crooners. 'Tales From A Punk Rock Road Trip' will be out on March 31st, on the PWVA Records label. It's a collection of good, honest punk rock songs. We can't wait for people to hear it! We play the LP's official release night, with Hooligan Crooners, at the Mulberry Tavern, Sheffield, on Friday 31st March. And the following night, Saturday 1st April, both bands will be playing the Punk & Disorderly Festival, Salisbury. Hope to see you there!

BARRY PHILLIPS (BP) : Hooligan Crooners grew out of a social-media love-affair. We’re so modern it hurts. I set up a Facebook page “The Punk Wars Veterans Association” and after a couple of years it really took-off. Nan (Hools) was on there and posted lots of cool (sometimes obscure) punk tracks. It was obvious we had similar tastes. Nan had come through a life-threatening illness and had put a band together down in his hometown of Dole (Jura, France). He was celebrating his luck at still being alive and decided to make the most of it. He told me he was looking for a guitarist. At the time I was still living in Sheffield so there was no realistic chance of me doing anything. And I’d been “retired” for 20 years anyway! 
A year or so later I moved to the Netherlands and Nan and I arranged to meet up in Paris at a Guerilla Poubelle gig in early 2015. We got on really well and he talked me into giving it a shot. It turned out he already had a guitarist (Kouett Punk) and a tremendous young drummer (Clement Passant) and it was a bassist he really needed. So I took one for the team and went back to pretending to be a bass player.

  So 18 months on and we’ve released two maxi EPs (“Hell Yeah! It’s Hooligan Crooners” and “From Paradise To Halfway” – both with additional guest remixes from e.g. members of The Boys and EMF) and we’ve just recorded 3 tracks for a forthcoming split mini LP with the great B-Leaguers (Lincoln, UK). We’ve had a fair amount of radio play in the UK, France, Spain and the US and played gigs in France and Germany. Kouett left the band last month by mutual consent and we have an old Sheffield band-mate of mine stepping in for the upcoming dates to promote the album. We are making our first visit to the UK and also have a couple of French dates. We plan to tour again in September and October – France, Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands. There’s a chance we’ll also be back in the UK if we can make the money side of it work! We’re pretty darned excited about the UK dates but it’s obviously different for me being from the UK and having played in a few bands (Demob, The Blitz Boys and Sheffield “twisted country band” The Rainsaints who were signed to the legendary Belfast label Good Vibrations) albeit hundreds of years ago!!

  We’ve had some nice press coverage too – Louderthanwar and Vive Le Rock being the best known. It’s probably better to let the reviewers describe us since they have been very complimentary and are all pretty consistent talking about how we let our (1977-81) influences hang out. The Boys, Generation X, The Clash are usually mentioned and Social Distortion, Rancid, The Ronettes, Jesus & Mary Chain, Die Toten Hosen and Goldbalde have all been thrown in the mix! 

Hooligan Crooners - From Paradise To Halfway 

JSPS : Calling the new album Tales From A Punk Rock Road Trip suggests it might be worth asking you about your touring experiences. Have you got any tour stories to share?......

JS : It's certainly not as glamorous as is widely believed! There's a million things going on to make sure the gig happens that night. Getting everyone and everything there, on time, sober. Quite often the gigs that are the most memorable, are the ones that on paper, you wouldn't have first thought. It's always about the crowd, the people who've made the effort to come out and see you. There really is no barrier with us, we're all in it together, sharing that 40 minutes. Without an audience, there's little point being there. There's the stories of getting lost, vehicle breakdowns, double bookings, equipment failure, etc, but I'll leave the more sordid stories to Hooligan Crooners...

BP : There is small issue of it being a 1,500km round trip for me to rehearse and record with the Crooners. During those trips there have been some interesting times. The first time I went I bought a rail-card only to find out that the more direct trains were sold-out. So to get my money’s worth and travel on cheap trains I went half way across France practically to Le Havre - 7 changes of train Amiens, Rouen, Lille…it took me 14 hours to get to the Jura.
Things got darker on some journeys. I travelled on the Thalys a day or so after the guy attempted to attack passengers with a Kalashnikov. I have to transfer from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon in Paris and I was outside Le Bataclan a couple of days before the attack – I hadn’t noticed it before, but this time there was a young band carting in their gear so it caught my attention. Our drummer Clement lost a friend from Dole during that attack and we had to cancel rehearsals for the funeral a day or so before our first gig - it seemed that half of the town turned out for the service. There were police patrolling every gig in France during that week…even ours down in the Jura!

  I travelled back a few days after – now it’s a common sight for armed police or soldiers to board the train in Belgium or France and question passengers about every item of luggage. On a lighter note, last month three armed French police on the train asked for my passport – when they saw it was a UK passport the biggest one said “After Brexit…” and mimed tearing up my passport and throwing it out of the train window. How they laughed. The day I came back through central Paris last month was the day of the Louvre shopping centre attack. There was barely a sign that anything had happened. Another time I was flying back from Lyon after a gig and the day before there had been an attack and a guy was beheaded near the airport. It’s weird, on the one-hand it becomes almost “normal” yet on the other hand…every time I walk through Place de la Republique on my way between stations I think about how it looked the week after Le Bataclan attacks with all the memorials. 

  Enough of the depressing stuff!! Punk Rock Road Trip seems a fair description of life in the Hooligan Crooners – mainly because we are based in the Jura and it’s so far from anywhere “rock’n’roll”. That makes it difficult to play one-off gigs as a “normal” band would. We played in Berlin last year and it was such long trip we took a night at a campsite in Jena, ex East Germany en route (Carl Zeiss Jena was all I could think of because I had a CZJ 1970’s football programme from the UEFA Cup). The campsite owner said “you guys look like a band but where’s your gear?”. He’d had a US metal band in the week before and they had “several 5 metre trailers”…he refused to believe there were 5 of us and all of our gear, food and drink in a camper van. 

  Then the van got broken into outside the venue in Berlin. We were actually all standing out in the street having a few beers after the gig when the promoters who had left a few minutes before started shouting from down the road. Of course, we didn’t understand so we were slow to react before chasing the scuzzy toe-rags…if we’d been just a little more multi-lingual we might have caught them!! Typical French and British eh!! We couldn’t secure the broken windows so Nan and I sat up all night drinking cheap wine in the campervan in a heavily-residential street – outside the hostel we’d booked and paid for! By the small hours, I reckon if anyone had tried to break in again we probably would have been too drunk to catch them anyway!

B-Leaguers - Rock And Roller Toons

JSPS : Can you give some info on the new album. With both bands being based in different countries how (and where) did you go about recording it and what can we expect from the songs?......

JS : We recorded at Insonic Studios, here in Lincoln, where we recorded our first album. It's a great studio, Gaz Wilde did a great job producing and keeping us in line. There's two new tracks on the record and we've also put 'Rock and Roller Toons' on there, from our first album, 'Death of a Western Heart' It's one of the songs that people really seemed to enjoy (and we shot a video in Liverpool), so we thought we'd give it another chance to be heard. The two new songs are, 'World Famous (in a little town)' and 'Voting For The Neighbours'. World Famous is really about how a song can instantly take you back to a point in your life. How you can suddenly be back there again, with the old crowd, in the old places, watching the old bands. But it's not a depressing track, that'll have you crying into your beer, it's a celebration of how we're all still here, still into the music and still as passionate as ever! 'Voting For The Neighbours' I guess, is about self belief and following your heart. Staying focussed through good, and more often than not, bad times. It's that gang thing again, we're all in this together.

BP : The title of the new LP comes from a couple of sources. Hooligan Crooners songs are nearly all “short stories”…like a scene or scenes from a road-trip movie. It seemed to us that many B-Leaguers songs were also like that. Much of life is a Punk Rock Road Trip anyway, if you take notice there’s plenty of raw material to work with. Of course it’s romanticising stuff a bit and there are “fictions” within it. That’s just song-writing – that’s just writing I guess. 
Punk Rock Road Trip is just a way of recognising experiences and realising how lucky you have been to have had these experiences…and yet still be here. Pretty much every song is a celebration of that. We’ve lost a lot of friends on the journey so we try to celebrate them too.

  With the album being a split and the bands in different countries there will obviously be some differences in the sounds. But we think that’s a strength. It is important that the bands and the tracks are compatible - so that fans of one band get to hear another band they might like and don’t feel cheated when they buy the album.

  B-Leaguers recorded, mixed and mastered in Lincoln whilst Hooligan Crooners used the same small studio (Loue River Studios) in the tiny village of Chay in the “Valley of Love”! We’ve used the studio for the previous two EPs, we enjoy working with Bernard Montrichard there. And it’s cool to be in the middle of the countryside with no distractions – for 3 days we live on wine, beer and cheese! We mixed and mastered in Dole with a very talented young-man called Holy Beard! He helped with mixing and mastering the previous EP and also did a left-field remix for us on that. He’s got a great future as an artist (Warp Records style tracks), an engineer and a producer.

  Several people commented that we had found our sound on the second EP. The 3 new tracks on the album don’t stray far from that – although Bernard (who is a mighty fine musician) commented that this time we seemed more confident and that now there is a very distinct and recognisable “Hooligan Crooners” sound. We try to stick as close as possible to the live arrangements. The songs themselves? Opening track “It Goes Like This” is quite anthemic (although hardly stadium stuff!) in the vein of “From Paradise To Halfway” or “Kings Of Summer”. “Holy Shit” (which has nothing to do with religion) is a 176bpm rip through what is basically a country song played with big, fat, dirty guitars. “Head Full Of Chemicals” I always think of as a nod in the direction of the great, great Rudi…a cranked-up pop-song. 


Hooligan Crooners

JSPS : What does the future hold for B-Leaguers and Hooligan Crooners?

JS : We're very much looking forward to playing with Hooligan Crooners, and for the new record to come out. We also have some festivals coming up this summer, and we're just waiting on confirmation on a few other things. We're always writing new songs, so at some point, we'll be back in the studio. And we shoot a music video for one of the new tracks very soon, so look out for that! Check our facebook page to keep up to date with what's going on.

BP : The first thing is obviously the new split LP and the dates in the UK and France. Then we hope to do a couple more small festivals in France during the summer as we did last year. Right now we have just started the (sometimes soul-destroying) round of setting up dates for the autumn. We are concentrating on France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. But we have already been approached about some more UK dates. That’s great news but it is so expensive for us it makes it difficult – thankfully we have a lot of very kind friends and supporters who offer us accommodation and help so we can at least consider it.

  Generally, if you are a DIY band/act and don’t have a promoter (and don’t come from a big city where you could build a name/reputation through local gigs), it is so difficult to put together a tour – whether that’s mainland Europe or UK. Contact 50 venues and you may get 2 replies…and one of them will be “no thanks/non-merci/nein danke”. We have been talking with some other amazing bands who are DIY and they talk of the struggle, having to buy on to a tour (with some so-called “punk” legends!!), playing 270 dates in a year and coming back with 300 Euros each to survive on until the next tour starts 3 months later. It’s just not sustainable. And we obviously have the added complication of the distance between us. So we have to find other ways of doing things. That’s why we took the decision to concentrate on two tours a year and whatever summer festivals we can pick up. We plough on through and each tour, each release, builds the reputation a little more and hopefully leads to more and better offers next time around. And, gradually, we are getting to build a small network of bands who are willing to try and help each other to DIY, bands from the UK, Germany, Greece, Ireland and even the US.  

   It’s still 50 contacts for one positive reply but it’s a start…and it feels good to be part of it. It would be really cool if that could become a DIY co-op but then it would probably need someone to do it full-time and then it would be at risk of just being another promoter. Don’t get us wrong…there are some GREAT people out there promoting and without them we’d all be buggered. We thank them all!  

Hooligan Crooners UK Dates : Nottingham Doghouse, Mar 29th, Sheffield Mulberry Tavern Mar 31st – LP launch party with B-Leaguers, Salisbury Punk & Disorderly Festival April 1st (watch this space for an additional date on Mar 30th). “Tales From A Punk. Rock. Road. Trip.” split mini-LP w/B-Leaguers is released March 31st on PWVA Records and will be available on CD and download.

Thanks for your time and effort guys, I'm looking forward to hearing the album and I'm sure a new song from each of you will feature Just Some Punk Songs soon.

B-Leaguers Facebook :

B-Leaguers Bandcamp :

Hooligan Crooners Facebook :

Hooligan Crooners Bandcamp :

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