Ahead of their sold-out headline show at Manchester’s Gorilla last night, The Blinders announced details of their eagerly anticipated debut album. Columbia is set to be released September 21st on Modern Sky UK, and promises to propel the up-and-coming Transpennine trio to the forefront of a new wave of socio-politically charged British rock.
Neil Harrison spoke to the band (Thomas Haywood, Charlie McGough and Matthew Neale) ahead of their characteristically blistering set at Cabbage’s recent Manchester Ritz mini-festival, where the conversation quickly turned to The Blinders’ reputation for fearless and effervescent live performances.
Fans of the band will no doubt be eager to discover if, and indeed how, the energy and attitude of the live act they have grown to love will be replicated on ‘Columbia’. And, conversely, will the experience of recording an LP change the show? With a glint of the ironic self-awareness and misdirection that the Doncaster-via-Manchester lads utilise liberally throughout our chat (with not uncharming effect), Haywood says “While recording the new album, we’ve experimented with new musical directions [wry smile]. But some of that is just completely impossible to replicate on stage. Whether we try something fresh on stage over these summer shows or not remains to be seen. We have been rehearsing longer sets, but it’s a question of time.” “In terms of our live shows,” Neale adds, “they are all about the spirit of performance and putting on a good show, but that isn’t something we really want to talk about necessarily. It’s like you coming here before the show and seeing us set up and prepare and all that. It kills the mystery doesn’t it? It’d be like watching an actor practise his fucking lines. It’d ruin the movie, you know what I mean? I’m not saying we don’t practise it, though. I’m not saying we practise at all, in fact.”
Having later caught their set at the Ritz all-dayer, we suspect this last line may be a self deprecation too far. Behind the edgy and entertaining bluster, the performance is tight and faultless, McGough (Bass) and Neale (Drums) crafting a solid backline for frontman Haywood to exploit superbly. Despite faux protestations then, if nothing else, the stage make-up in which Haywood appears onstage suggests at least a degree of theatrical forethought? The singer explains, “In seriousness, I think it’s a little bit of both. The visual aspect of music is extremely important. That’s why people still see live bands, is it not? We work hard on our shows and we get excited, you know? And we want the crowd to get excited. To be playing these individual headlines shows especially, you can’t help but feel that they’re going to be something special. We’ll probably pull out some glitter. There’s gonna be glitter. I’m excited.
Turning back to the original question, without those vital “visual” live aspects available in the Midlands studio where ‘Columbia’ was recorded, how were the album tracks chosen and approached? Bassist McGough answers, “We did put a lot of thought into how we can translate the live performance into the album but as soon as you start, you realize that the musical process is just a completely different kettle of fish. So I think we tried to look at things differently and that was actually a really positive experience.”
“On the tracks that we found we could replicate in the studio,” adds Haywood, “we worked on getting those across and really doing them justice. But there were tracks that we found we just couldn’t do that with. So we approached those songs in a different way and started to experiment with various elements and different sounds. I mean, what’s the point trying to get half a job done, when you can just turn something on its head and think ’why don’t we do it like that instead?’, you know? “As an artist you should always feel and think like that. You can’t limit yourself to boundaries, because there are no boundaries. Whilst you’re in the studio, why not record as much as you can? What works, works. What doesn’t, doesn’t.” The sense of banter seems to dissipate for a brief moment and we wonder if the experiences of the past few months have served to strengthen The Blinders – friends since childhood – both musically and as a unit. Cryptically, and with disarming earnestness, Haywood admits, “I think we’ve found a few gears we didn’t know we had.”
The Blinders will be following last night’s sold-out headline shows in Manchester with another busy summer of festival appearances. Meanwhile, containing the BBC 6 Music playlisted new single ‘L’Etat C’Est Moi’ plus previous single ‘Gotta Get Though’, ‘Columbia’ looks to be a highlight of 2018. Pre-order the album here and keep an eye on these boys.