One of the great albums of 2016 so far has come from the Lincolnshire based band The B-Leaguers. The ear-catching and phenomenal Death Of A Western Heart is not only a truly fine and well produced album but it reminds people that music is not just confined to the hearts of places such as Liverpool, Birmingham and London but is actually something so intrinsic to society that it is to be celebrated anywhere and at any time.
The B-Leaguers, James Styring, Ched Howard, Mikey Barraclough and Mark Barratt, made their way across country in such fashion that the lure of Liverpool and the I.P.O. at The Cavern was made with a gentle assuredness, of punk pop prowess and with two thoughts in their minds, to take Liverpool by storm and to throw themselves with all their might into the city that gave modern musical thought to the country.
Speaking ahead of the band’s night inside the Cavern, it was quite obvious that they had certainly managed to do one and were more than likely to achieve the other with flying colours firmly standing proud from their mast.
With Mark Barrett missing for the afternoon, James, no stranger to both the I.P.O. or Liverpool, Ched and Mikey enlightened their souls and their thoughts on everything from the music from their various home towns, to the importance of the I.P.O. and what their impressions are of the host city Liverpool.
Over steaming tea and cakes of various disguises and flavours and with a silent camera man looking doggedly on, I asked James, Ched and Mikey;
You’ve come to Liverpool for the first time as the B-leaguers and this young man sitting to my left (James) has been here before – Ched what’s your first impressions of Liverpool and Mikey, what are you looking forward to your first set tonight?
Ched: “First impressions of Liverpool? Firstly that the whole city seems to be alive like Mikey said earlier, if you turn any corner on any street there’s a busker playing some sort of music, there’s music coming from all the pubs and the bars, there’s just an atmosphere there. There’s something about The Beatles, I didn’t like them but there’s something that’s been born from them all those years ago and that’s unified the city and brought it together and created this wonderful atmosphere that makes the air just buzz and it makes all the people just buzz as well. It’s an exciting place to be, I’m not really a city person to be honest, I’m from Lincoln, I’m a country bumpkin but I’d been to London once and I didn’t like it – too much concrete but this is really a lovely place, it’s really alive and just beautiful.”
Mikey: “Absolutely! We’re fortunate in that we’ve got Jim who’s not a first timer, who’s a seasoned veteran of the I.P.O. and he’s been able to show us the ropes. He’s already been shown us the Cavern Pub and the Cavern Club, The Grapes, all the big names on the hit list and I’m really looking forward to it. The backstage at the Cavern is a big stage and I’m hopeful that there will be plenty of people packed in there to see us. The conditions are perfect, it’s a Friday night, quite late so people will be suitably lubricated including the band so it should be a real blast, we’re really looking forward to it. We’re well rehearsed so there’s no sort of peripheral nerves kicking in so it’s going to a real blast, we’re really looking forward to it so much and obviously the Cavern Pub at 9.15pm – that will be great, we don’t want to treat it as a dry run, they are all big gigs but it will be nice to play a slightly smaller venue to start with to get the feel of it.
It is a lively place, it’s very colourful especially down by the Cavern – people flitting between one and the other and on Mathew Street. Yesterday, we were harangued by a lady on Mathew Street who’d got us into the Cavern Pub to check out her band, we were just walking down Mathew Street and she said something about a Hammond organ and that was it. We just thought we’d nip in for a quick pint and that was it and see what all the fuss is about. You can do that here and it’s tremendous, you can allow yourself to get sidetracked by whatever music just happens to be going on and it’s great fun.”
You’re both from areas that really aren’t on the musical map, do you see the difference with you both living in Lincoln?
Mikey: “I think I do, as I said before, I don’t know how reliable my approach would be because when I was in Leeds I wasn’t actively involved with the music scene, although it was thriving and produced great bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, You Me At Six, Soft Cell and so on but it’s alright down in Lincoln there is an underground scene and although it’s a small city, you have to dig quite deep to find this underground scene! As Ched said it’s small, it’s hidden in the vaults under the steep hill! It is very different, there is lot of punk-type stuff in Lincoln, pop-punk and hardcore. There’s a band that we were acquainted with called Bad Ideas who’ve recently disbanded and they were very much in the punk vein. They were brilliant, there’s a lot of that rocky stuff and I have friends in bands like Stripesight and they’re good, it’s markedly different. There’s a lot of metal in Leeds now, you won’t find so much down here now. The Well’s good for metal in Leeds now, Brunel Social Club does bands as well, Gallows were there a few months back.”
Does that influence either of you in your approach to music? How does Lincoln and its surroundings, atmosphere or the view you have of it affect you?
Ched: “It is very much in the middle of nowhere but in terms of influencing me and music I do – no, I mean in the 90s I was into the pop music age, going to school discos and then 2000 hit and I found music television like Kerrang! and Scuzz and P Rock will live forever in my heart and that sort of awakened something within me and that seeing all these D.I.Y. punk bands on this P Rock channel and they all these low-res videos and the energy behind the music. It was craftsmanship; it wasn’t just suits throwing money at writers to churn out this soulless music, there was passion behind it, the people behind it loved what they were doing and that was something that I admired and loved. By this time, I’d already picked up a guitar because of Zak Morris in Saved By The Bell in case you were wondering, because he looked so cool and I wanted to look cool and from there it was just power chords and you just had it and you could write a song then you could be in a band, all you had to know was to how to play a power chord and focus and from there I found like-minded people and you start getting into the scene and there was a buzzing scene in Lincoln in about 2004, it ended about 2005/2006. There was the Bivouac in Lincoln, the Duke of Wellington, it was brilliant, I saw The Killers play in there, lots of others. It was a buzzing scene with people of the same mind, everybody loved it, it sort of faded away into sort of a clique – if you don’t know the right people then you’re not in the scene and it can be quite difficult.
I’ve been the same I’ve always been, power chords, I still play ska, I still play punk, I still have that punk attitude in what I do. I’ve always sort of said to people I’m the most happiest when I’ve got a guitar in my hand and I’ve been around at people’s houses at parties and stuff and there’s me in the corner, thinking I can’t get on with anyone and oh there’s a guitar, I start playing then people start talking to you, then I think, I don’t care about you now, I’ve got a guitar and I’m just happy with a guitar in my hand. I am getting married soon though!”
Congratulations – having a guitar was always a good way to meet people!
You’re the basis of the B-leaguers and now you’ve been joined by these two young men!
James: “It’s exciting to have the lads who are so excited and have new ideas and influences just to work with new people. They all have their own influences and you all fire ideas at each other in different ways. It doesn’t always work, sometimes you are lucky and you find the right people and writing is a pleasure not a struggle and there’s no egos, there’s no ‘I’m the lead singer’, we’re all equal. I mean a lot of the ideas and the songs have come from one riff and it’s something that’s just gelled from that and each time we get together we’ve got a song finished – it’s been that quick.”
This seven track E.P. that you have out is really economical, if it didn’t work out in the first couple of minutes then you could have left it.
Mikey: “With the first album, you just want to shout your arrival, The B-leaguers are here, this is what we’re about – check us out, follow us on social media, follow us to the next record. Ched is right, we are writing new stuff all the time, we now know our sound and we can sort of diversify slightly and say this is what we can really do now. The first one was a calling card, this one is about what we are doing now and it’s right up with what we’re writing at the minute.”
Do you find that the old adage is true in that the first album is the one that you’ve been writing all your life?
Mikey: “Yeah but having said that, all these songs came from scratch, they weren’t ideas that we’d had hanging around really. We got together without anything really ready, we wrote the first song the first time we met.”
James: “It’s just great when it happens; sometimes it’s just the opposite. You can sit with musicians for two or three hours and it still hasn’t happened, the spark’s not there. They are lovely guys but if the spark isn’t there then it’s not going to work but we knew straightaway and to get Mikey onboard and through that I was able to get to know Mikey and realised what a great bass player he was and was able to get him onboard, so it was the Popdogs connection again.”
Mikey: “Of course, it’s very pleasant to write with musicians that are of course like-minded and that you don’t feel that you have to compromise as I said previously Ched can do his punk-influenced thing, Jim can do his power pop thing, Jim is especially good at bringing in a melodic hook, he was evident in the Popdogs’ stuff as he much as he’s ever done in The B-leaguers’ stuff. The melodic hook – it’s what makes the songs catchy and memorable, so that’s very important as well as what Jim said about keeping a nice frenetic level of energy. These songs are designed primarily effective to be played live and to try and stir people up and as Jim said we don’t have to think too much about what we’re doing, we keep things relatively simple, one idea, something as simple as a chord progression or an arpeggio that we will cotton onto, we would kind of push it and see where it goes, where should it go from here? Should we go back to the root, start the chorus off here?
There are some ideas we’ll get to and then we’ll say we’ll put them on the back burner for now and let it cool and we’ll see what we think about it or we’ll return to it another day. Often that’s what we’ve needed, we’ve got so far with it but we’re not sure where this should go, so we’ll record what we’ve got and leave it and go back to it at a later date and then think that’s where it should go, that’s what’s to come next and then it makes sense again. So you know, there’s very little stress, there’s very little pressure, it’s just fun to write like that, it’s rare and it’s exciting and the commitment is there as well, that’s important as well. So many people go can’t be in the band anymore, I have to go and walk the goldfish or wash my hair. So it’s been a pleasure and the next album is going to be an absolute monster!”
One very quick question – one thought from each of you, how do you feel about playing the I.P.O.?
Mikey: “Absolutely thrilled!”
Ched: “Honoured to be here really. The calibre’s just that high and just hope that we will match up to it.”
Jim: “Just honoured again to be back here and knowing what a great time and great people can’t wait to get on the stage and do what we do. David Bash does a great job organising it all and Rena his partner make it happen every year. Such great bands he gets along to play and to be invited back time and time again is truly a honour, we’re lucky to be playing, can’t wait and obviously to speak to you as well!”
Ian D. Hall