Indieterria review – Columbia by The Blinders

 

“Dream the most dangerous of dreams” – The Blinders “Columbia”

Dear readers,

So, I have got copy of “Columbia” – the debut album by The Blinders. When I am writing this review (or rather an essay), it is exactly three weeks to physical release of the album and the world is buzzing. Tickets to upcoming tour start to fly out, the performance at Leeds and Reading festivals put the band on radars and lips of thousands of people, series of record store performances and signing sessions has been unveiled for September. Their songs are Radio 1 and 6 Music singles of the week, Guardian mentions, 300-400 tweets generated a day, real talk among A&Rs and business insiders that the album may go into top 40, every indie band I know looks up to them – you get the picture.

This is a young, promising act on the edge of great things to come. They are the new Manic Street Preachers – throwing intellectualism, poetry and art at the world, loudly commenting political reality, wearing war paint and messages on their instruments.

They are once-in-a-generation band, a trio of working class lads from Doncaster with vision, balls and talent to offer the jaded, over-saturated world of pop music something fresh.  And people are drawn to it. You will see more and more fans jumping on The Blinders bandwagon as the time goes by. I`m old enough to see this happen several times in the past. It is exciting and scary, both for the writer and the band. I`ll get to that scary part at the end of this essay.

The Blinders headlining BBC Introducing stage at Leeds Festival 2018, photo by Sam Crowston https://www.facebook.com/sam.crowston

But back to the task at hand. How do you review “Columbia”? A deeply personal record for me for myriad of reasons. Do you do a regular review about the music and the cover and lyrics? Do you do a more in-depth account throwing some of your personal experiences into the mix?

I`ll write the emotional account – because I can`t do otherwise. It would not be honest. Especially since I have been championing and shouting about The Blinders daily for the last 2,5 years. And I don’t want this review to look like it`s written by a PR person for the band.

This review is done because The Blinders won me over.

Because we share the same background and love for high art.

Because we have similar determination in life.

And because we have “met” in a “right” moment.

In store appearances scheduled after Columbia comes out on 21st September 2018

“Columbia” is an angry album.  It`s written by musicians who come of age in a dark period – full of corrupted figures that divide not just people but the world with walls and borders, planet full of CCTV cameras and reality shows, party identities, wars, destruction of the environment, zero hours contracts and social media aka Big Brother.

The band grew up in a post industrial town with outdated architecture (“granite building and 1960s concrete bridges and the factories – they were just making electric fridges” from “Orbit”), read Orwell at school (1984 is a constant motive though out several songs on the album such as “Where No Man Comes” or “Ballad of Winston Smith”) and looked carefully around to witness modern poverty (“men and women worked to death”, “darkness seems to take its hold over both the poor and old”), saturation with news (“forgotten stories on the news”), refugee crisis (“fox hunt the refugees”) and general hopelessness (“feel so helpless all time”).

This will lead to righteous anger at previous generations and the state of the world. “Who will stand against them all?” ask The Blinders in “Ballad of Winston Smith” and follow up with a passionate soliloquy in “Free The Slave” against religious leaders, political figures and society in general.

Bleakness takes the center of the stage next to anger on “Columbia”. “They gonna build the Berlin Wall, divide us in two, and kill me and you” – screams Thomas Haywood at one point and this is not the only violent moment. Police brutality is referenced on “I Can`t Breathe Blues,” dragging people in the middle of the night from their beds is mentioned in “Where No Man Comes” and  there is talk about having your throat slit in “Brutus”. “Rat in a Cage” goes as far as to offer us an apocalyptic vision of devastated earth (“polluted and poisoned and dying race, our god doesn’t want to see the end of days”).

Columbia Tour poster for Autumn 2018

It is enough to make any young man pick up an instrument and scream into the void. And this is what The Blinders are doing with exceptional skills.  Their younger listeners will agree, but what about you older, more established members of society? Do you feel the same anger and hopelessness? Do you remember yourself from the way back when you were twenty – something and  you too wanted to change the world? What do you see and what do you feel when you listen to “Columbia”?

I almost forgot how it felt when I breathed anger at lack of prospects, walls and crazed political heads. Until “Columbia” arrived in its 12 track glory and hit me right in the chest. The album caused me physical pain – at the memories of growing up in a rundown mining town (to which I hate to return even now),  living in a Grenfell Tower like building in the middle of a council estate. In a world behind the Iron Curtain at a time when Berlin Wall was still standing and people were shot for trying to get to the other side.  Give or take, The “Orbit” or “The Ballad of Winston Smith” can be about me – for I too read 1984 in class, as art and literature were the only forms of escape. In desperation to have an impact on the world I even picked a tool of trade, but it wasn’t a guitar. It was a camera…

Cover artwork for Columbia Photo by Sam Crowston
https://www.facebook.com/sam.crowston

“Columbia” was recorded in winter of 2017 at the Magic Garden studio with Gavin Monaghan as producer. It is the final stop in a long journey the band went though in the last two-three years.  It captures the spirit of their live performance to the last sparkle. If you have seen The Blinders live you will notice immediately that “Et Tu”, “Brutus” and “Berlin Wall” come one after another on the record, in the same order as they come on stage. The band likes to use all three compositions to end their shows with a proper punch. Two older songs “Brave New World” and “I Can`t Breathe Blues” albeit in newer versions made it onto the record. “ICB Blues”originally appeared on the 2016 EP “Hidden Horror Dance”, while “Brave New World” was previously released as a stand-alone single in 2017. If one follows the band, there is very little new material you can hear on the record. All three main singles “Gotta Get Through”, “L`Etat C`Est Moi” and “Brave New World” have been on the radio since March. “Brutus” and “Hate Song” are in regular rotation during live performances since last year.  If you watch Pirate Studios performance from 2017 you can see early version of “Hate Song” being named “March March March” (19:00 mins mark). “Rat in a Cage” and “Orbit (Salmon of Alaska)” appeared in live versions on socials in recent weeks, so  the only new compositions that have not been heard are “Where No Man Comes” and  short “Free The Slave”.  Is it bad? Not at all in my eyes.   I regard “Columbia” as crowning achievement of the bands potential so far.  They evolved so much in such a short time that it is incredible to observe. “Columbia” brings and ties all the ends from their career so far in one spectacular album.

Do yourself a little favour  and listen to very early demos from Thomas Haywood`s SoundCloud account. Songs such as “Ballad of Johnny Dream” and “Wither” (or even “Death of Narcissist”) had a huge influence on “Orbit” and “Ballad of Winston Smith”.  There is also a very early demo of “Ramona Flowers” and “You`re So Cold” aptly entitled “The Darkest Thing I Ever Did Feel” on the account for those who are familiar with band`s older repertoire.

It is a privilege to see any band develop, less alone a band that will define the voice of a generation. I`ve been very lucky to discover The Blinders in May (?) 2016. Music Business is a cut throat industry, there are more bands that break up than those who make it. It takes determination, sacrifices, and being single minded to stick with being in a band.

I recently interviewed The Blinders and asked them what profession they would pursue if they haven’t been making music. “We’d probably all be butchers or something” came an answer. And then they added: “At the end of the day without signing a deal [with label Modern Sky UK] we wouldn’t be talking to you about our debut album. We’d still be scrapping around trying get Brave New World recorded. We were given the chance and we took it, and we can’t more grateful for that. We are now in a situation where we can pursue art and writing for a living, so you can’t complain”.

Those words stayed with me and returned to me when listening to “Columbia”. The band put everything what they had into their music and stayed on course despite heavy odds. Both Thomas Haywood and drummer Matthew Neale left university without a degree. They were also lucky to land a recording deal. Without it, who can say how things would turn out?

If I can be very personal for a short moment again. Here comes another reason why I have such an emotional relationship with “Columbia” and the band. I mentioned that we “met” in a “right” time.  Like them, I was pursuing a dream despite heavy losses, ridicule and scrapping by. In ten years I did not manage to break into the industry I loved despite being ready to sacrifice everything for it. Even my personal safety. Even life. Then trauma came and put the end to my chosen career. I relocated to UK in February 2016 with a life long illness and lack of direction. I put together whatever was left of “old” me and started all over again slowly building up a path as an A&R on the indie circuit. Another country, another  career with apologies to David Bowie.  The Blinders were one of the first bands I took notice of. And their music stayed with me since. In an ironic twist of fate our paths seem to cross on the indie circuit. If I seen them live at a venue, the next week one of the bands I worked with would be playing  the same stage. To me and to me only “Columbia” is not just an album that shows true talent of three young lads. It is a soundtrack to my own personal journey to where I am now. The record entangled itself (or maybe I made it this way) with what happened in the last years and will always remind me of the bleakest and most victorious moments. That’s my own “concept” behind the record.

Thomas Haywood (“Johnny Dream”) performing with The Blinders (“Codeine Scene”) at The Sunflower Lounge on 16.02.2018

To anyone else it can be a striking concept album telling a story of a dystopian state of Columbia, where people disappear at nights, where police is free to murder and oppress, where population live in poverty and the young feel anger and solitude. Where Johnny Dream is calling to break out from mental cages and to support one another. Where despite the evil and the suffering there is still place for compassion, love and will to survive.

It can also be a set of twelve songs without any story behind them that try to make sense of the messed up world we live in.

It is guitar orientated  album that is true to the live performance.  Songs are fast and yet catchy, with haunting back ground vocals and  hypnotizing drums. Sometimes there`s spirit of Jim Morrison there in the spoken parts, sometimes you will hear Oasis or The Beatles or even Pink Floyd flirting with David Bowie. You can hear Mark Bolan`s groove.  There are some oriental musical themes that make me think of Kula Shaker. But mostly, mostly it is the fresh perspective on what music should be in 2018 – direct, poetic, enigmatic, political, tearing out your soul  and different from what is happening around. And that is what Thomas Haywood, Matty Neale and Charlie McGough bring to the table.

The album may be bleak as the abyss but I can see The Blinder`s future in quite a positive light. At the end of this review I`d like to refer to one single thing I  find worrying.  Here`s a small appeal to fellow music press folks – please do not treat the bands members and especially the vocalist as some sort of rock gods. I find the comparisons to “messiahs” or “Jim Morrisson” absurd and dangerous. Stage persona is not necessarily how artists are in real life. Please enjoy the show and leave the whole rock god icon in the past.  4REAL.

Columbia is out on 21st September 2018 via Modern Sky UK.

TRACKLIST:
1. Gotta Get Through
2. L’Etat C’Est Moi
3. Hate Song
4. Where No Man Comes
5. Free The Slaves
6. I Can’t Breathe Blues
7. Ballad Of Winston Smith
8. Et Tu
9. Brutus/Berlin Wall
10. Brave New World
11. Rat In A Cage
12. Orbit (Salmon of Alaska)

Introduction to the band:
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2018/07/07/indieterria-presents-the-blinders/

Interview with The Blinders:
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/indieterria-meets-the-blinders/

You can follow The Blinders on inter-webs:

https://theblinders.tmstor.es/
http://facebook.com/theblindersband
http://twitter.com/theblindersband
https://instagram.com/theblinders
https://soundcloud.com/theblinders-music
https://open.spotify.com/artist/3Z8Y3Ek99rukRa1Hdo14GE?si=yx5j8oK-RpG6qE7MQtVU5Q

Or their label Modern Sky:

https://modernsky.uk/
https://modernsky.uk/blinders-debut-album-columbia-now-available-pre-order
https://twitter.com/ModernSkyUK
https://www.facebook.com/ModernSkyUK/

Till the next time,

Malicia D.

Indieterria meets Michael Knowles

We go political!

Michael Knowles blows a kiss towards audience at Drum and Pig pub/music venue on its final night before a temporary closure and management takeover. Worcester, February 25, 2017

Everything`s political as Skunk Anansie song goes. And May issue of Indieterria will be all that and even a bit philosophical.

We are steering back our ship to Worcester shores to introduce you to Michael Knowles – leader of The STDs and one of the most controversial figures in the Midlands. How politically incorrect is Mr Knowles? His new single is called “Theresa May is a cunt” and contains language so strong you may want to dig out your “Cop Killers” and “Straight Outta Comptons” out of the basement instead. We can see you rolling your eyes and ears dear readers. So we will ante up and tell you that besides being potty-mouthed, Michel Knowles has a voice of 4,5 octaves, a pitch perfect hearing and is a trained in music production.

Aha, controversial yet talented – now that is a hard mixture to swallow for some. It is much easier to dismiss musicians and artists as immature and looking for attention when  they are painted as  common nobodies. Much harder to do so when artists are seen as complex humans who have their strengths and exercise the right to freedom of speech.

The current world of pop music has been derived of controversial and outspoken characters to the point that you cant even hear songs on the radio that were in heavy rotation 20 years ago in the middle of the day. Try requesting Nine Inch Nails` Closer nowadays on the radio and see what they will play you.

Indie scene had always a place for counter culture and the obscene and we are happy to report that independent and unsigned artists are stepping in to fill the hole. Shame have fantastic “VISA Vulture” with its libelous video to match, The Blinders paint messages on their guitars and Michael Knowles and The STDs hammer the message nicely from our town.   You may see it as unnecessary and infantile – but we see it a form of balance. Music is broad enough to incorporate Little Mix and The STDs in all their respective popness and cockiness.

Fear not. The interview below is all nice and dandy and you may find out that controversial  figures can have a lot of cleaver things to say. We loved the passion Michael has for his musical heroes. So sit back and read on:

Michael Knowles performing live at Drum and Pig pub/music venue on its final night before a temporary closure and management takeover. Worcester, February 25, 2017

 

Michael Knowles – a stream of consciousness

Technology is a wonderful thing. For example, it allows you to interview artists even late at night from the comfort of your own office. You type the questions into instant messenger and wait for the answers to arrive. Piece of cake. On the downside, technology can`t replicate that old fashioned feeling of excitement that every music journalist feels when meeting a new and promising act in person. And you need to know Michael Knowles surely earned himself a name to be regarded as exciting and controversial in equal measures. He fronts a band called The STD`s, dresses like it`s 1980s and is known for performances that are politically incorrect yet hilariously funny. No journalist would pass  the opportunity to see what makes Michael tick and we are no exception.

This is what we have found out:

Tell us about the band. How many of you and how did you start?

There were only three of us to start with: Steve Church, Dean Thomas Carter and myself. Steve and I had worked together in the past on an album I never released. Dean and I had played together in the house band of The Flag in Worcester (back then known as The Tap). One day we went to this kid`s backyard studio and we all fit really well so we started looking for a bassist as at the start Steve was on guitar.  Over time we’ve had some great musicians join us on – George, James or Tadd. They have come and gone to find new projects. Right now the line up is Steve on bass, The Jack (Tad Jones) on guitar, Dean on drums and myself on vocals. Plus I play guitar too.

Michael Knowles & The STDs performing live on 14th January 2017 at Marrs Bar
Photo by Andy O`Hare
https://www.facebook.com/andy.ohare1

So four guys in a rock and roll band that is nothing like Worcestershire ever seen.

This is true.

You have a very distinct image – very 80s classic rock. On purpose or is it just how you guys roll?

To be honest,  we’ve only really dressed up for gigs a few times but now I mean we don’t really want to have to look through stuff to wear!

So there`s image change on the cards? You know you have already made yourself a name of new Steel Panther in town!

It depends where we shop next (laughs) and really I thought we had the reputation of a noisy bunch.

Noisy yes. But people rather see you as classic rock revival. Quite an interesting twist on David Lee Roth and Poison.

Well, that wasn’t our intention.

What was your intention then?

Just to be noisy and chaotic.

We could add early Alice In Chains to the influences you represent.

There was never really a plan. Still isn’t.

You still evolving sonically?

We’ve got a lot of new stuff in the pipeline. We always do.

Michael Knowles & The STDs performing live on 14th January 2017 at Marrs Bar
Photo by Andy O`Hare
https://www.facebook.com/andy.ohare1

If you were to describe new songs- what would you say? Shall we buy earplugs in advance?

Possibly. There’s  material about some dark times and then whatever we write in the meantime. Plus a concept album.

So no more comic rock and songs about female attributes?

Probably not. But who knows? Let’s face it there’s no plan.

You said that world doesn’t need love songs anymore. That world needs anger.

This is true. I think a lot of anything I’ve written that could be considered “love songs” are usually bitter sweet. With a hint of sarcasm and a lot of anger.

Well, Ledbury Song is very angry but at the same time hilariously funny. You have audience roaring with laughter.

It is less of a song, more of a rant really.

Michael Knowles & The STDs performing live on 14th January 2017 at Marrs Bar
Photo by Andy O`Hare
https://www.facebook.com/andy.ohare1

We don’t know if you agree- but we see your lyrics as a mix of Tenacious D with Morrissey-esque cynical humour and playing with words.

I doubt I could ever be compared to Morrissey. I’m never that poetic (laughs)

The Ledbury Song has the same motif as Everyday Is Like A Sunday:  dislike for a small town that is becoming like a prison for a young person. Moz also wants to bomb the town and he is not poetic about it.

I haven’t heard it but I agree with him.

You come from a small place?

A small town. Small in size and small minded. Hard to be anyone there.

Do you think you would be different if you were born in London?

I’ve been to London and I hate that place. Too big and far too busy. Everyone in a hurry to go nowhere.

So perhaps there`s a positive side of being born in a small town?

I think the point is everyone hates where they are from eventually but it’s always where you call home.

Who would you put in your top 5 artists?

I’d say Tool, Amen, early Slipknot and honestly Trent Reznor and Bill Hicks.

Michael Knowles & The STDs performing live on 14th January 2017 at Marrs Bar
Photo by Andy O`Hare
https://www.facebook.com/andy.ohare1

Very broad influences.

I just love their attitudes and way of creating. I love how Bill Hicks was born in the religious South yet could deconstruct the archaic institutions that he was thrust into. I love how angry Slipknot were and to a 13 year old outcast they represented hope that you might be a freak but there was a place in this world for you. Amen taught me that record companies are just stupid. Tool taught me the beauty of feedback and how atmosphere can really make the hairs on your neck stand up. And Trent is just the god of chaos in noise.

You talk so poetically about music. You will put Moz out of business one day.

It’s all I have really. My whole life has been music and everything else has come and gone but there was always solace in music.

You sing, write, compose, play instruments – that’s lot of talents.

I see it as separate parts of one whole encompassing thing that is just me.

Where do you think the music will take you or the band?

It’s less about what music can do and more about how far we take it. We’re not looking to be billionaire rock stars with handlers. Our goals are to play every show and know at least half the audience.

And will that be enough?

It was always enough to have fans to grow with than trying to appease the masses.

You can follow Michael Knowles online at:

https://www.facebook.com/MKandSTDs
https://www.instagram.com/michael_knowles21
https://soundcloud.com/michael-knowles-music
https://soundcloud.com/michael-knowles-music/michael-knowles-the-stds

https://www.facebook.com/michael.knowles.5832343

At the beginning of April 2017, Michael Knowles and The STDs began recording of their new material using premises at Marrs Bar in Worcester as a studio. The result is album (that still needs to receive a release date) and a single “Theresa May is a cunt”. You can listen it here:

https://michaelknowlesthestds.bandcamp.com/track/theresa-mays-a-cunt

As we said – you may not agree with the bands sentiments but taking into consideration news item such as: HERE  or HERE, it makes us wonder if the song should not be at least six minutes longer. To act as a vent for the anger and frustration, if not anything else.

 

Our interview with Michael Knowles has been kindly reprinted in Slap Magazine and you can see your copy at the link below:

http://www.slapmag.co.uk/slap-issues/issue-69-may-2017.pdf

Or download copy  here:

issue-69-may-2017

Some images for our records if anything else fails:

Slap Magazine feature – May 2017 edition

Photo of the article

Kudos to Andy O`Hare from BBC Hereford & Worcester for allowing us some of his photos.

And if you found this edition of Indieterria too much, bear with us. Next time we are going to the church!

Malicia

**** Update 02/06/2017****

We have awesome news to report. This summer, UK will see a gigantic series of gigs and concerts under banner of “Musicians Against Homelessness”. This initiative was started in 2016 by legendary A&R and founder of Creation Records – Alan McGee. Its aim is simple – to gather funds for Crisis, charity that helps fight homelessness.

Literary everyone involved in the initiative works/plays for free (that includes us as well)  and every penny raised is passed to Crisis. One of MAH events will take part in Hereford at the legendary Booth Hall (Never been? You have only yourself to blame) on July 8th as part of Hereford Punk Festival. If you are in the area, please come down and have fun because Rich Lovell and Minky Cuadra of Underground Revolution did pure magic and got together two sets of pure punk, rock and poetry madness.

Hereford Punk Festival – line up in aid of Crisis

Hereford Punk Festival – MAH event just looks incredible

Michael Knowles is obviously on the bill and that will be just a fantastic opportunity to listen to his new material tested on the stage. He will not play lullabies, we warn you.

If you want  to learn more, here are some links worth checking:

Musicians Against Homelessness
https://www.facebook.com/mahgigs/

The Booth Hall
https://www.facebook.com/TheBoothHallHereford

Rich Lovell
https://www.facebook.com/rich.lovell.37

Minky Cuadra
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010293331172

Underground Revolution
https://www.facebook.com/groups/undergroundrevolution/

Crisis
https://www.crisis.org.uk/

 

Oh and STD`s album launch happens one month before  the gig in Hereford on June  9th at Marrs Bars in Worcester. So get your copy and you will be set up for sing a-long. It will be also one day after the snap elections, so you know 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/events/1786676631644926/

Humor is the devil`s friend – album cover

The STDs in all their glory

 

Xxxooo
Rita+Mal