Downtown Boys: Cost of Living – album review


Downtown Boys

Downtown Boys: Cost of Living (Sub Pop)
LP | CD | DL
Out now

Bilingual sax punks Downtown Boys tell us they’re here to “topple the white-cis-het hegemony and draft a new history”. Listening to their provocatively boisterous new album, Cost of Living, Cassie Fox wants to roll up her sleeves and give them a hand pushing.

The targets in Downtown Boys’ crosshairs are clear: “racism, queerphobia, capitalism, fascism, boredom, and all things people use to try to close our minds, eyes and hearts”. The tracks on Cost of Living use commanding sloganeering, driving grooves, and catchy sax riffs to cook up one of the most apposite records of the present-day.

This is the third album from the Providence, RI band, and the follow-up to their critically-acclaimed Full Communism from 2015. Released on Sub Pop, but with production by Fugazi/Rites of Spring’s Guy Picciotto, lending a Dischord sound – a touch of the Nation of Ullysses about it.

The effervescent opener, ‘A Wall’, has lyrics drawn from Assata Shakur’s poem “I believe in living“, and Sonic Youth style delivery. The song calls out Trump with a joyful resistance.

‘Promissory Note’ is an unapologetic bird-flip to the band’s censurers: “So what’s the matter, you don’t like what you see? / I can’t believe you’re even talking to me!”

‘Somos Chulas’ (‘We are cool’) is one of three songs on the album sung primarily in Spanish and it’s a banger.

‘Lips That Bite’ is my favourite track on the album, largely due to the rollicking sax instrumental, over some unexpected synth.

Downtown Boys are best served live. Victoria Ruiz is mesmerising in her performance, and the band’s energetic shows are joyful, entertaining and inspirational. True story: when they played in London in 2015, three friends in the audience were so inspired that they formed their own sax punk band on the spot – and my band GUTTFULL was born.

Downtown Boys are currently touring Europe with several UK dates coming up: catch them if you can.

11/10: Brighton, UK @ The Haunt

12/10: Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club

13/10: Edinburgh, UK @ Sneaky Pete’s

14/10: Glasgow, UK @ Stereo

16/10: Dublin, Ireland @ The Workman’s Club

17/10: Liverpool, UK @ The Shipping Forecast

18/10: London, UK @ Dome Tufnell Park

19/10: Sheffield, UK @ Picture House Social Club

20/10: Manchester, UK @ Deaf Institute

21/10: Bristol, UK @ Simple Things Festival

22/10: Birmingham, UK @ All Years Leaving Festival


Find Downtown Boys on Facebook and Bandcamp


Review by Cassie Fox. More writing by Cassie on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive. She tweets as @cassieefox and @loudwomenclub 

LIINES – interview



LIINES are your new favourite post-punk trio from Manchester. We first tipped them back at the end of 2015 and with three storming singles released so far on Reckless Yes, plus a debut album on the stove, all eyes are on this sharply-focussed band to see what’s next.

Louder Than War’s Cassie Fox caught up with Zoe McVeigh (Vocals/Guitar) and Leila O’Sullivan (Drums) ahead of their main stage slot at LOUD WOMEN Fest on 2 Sept.

Louder Than War: I love finding out how bands get things done off-stage. How does LIINES work?

Zoe: I write the songs, or at least the shell of the songs. Come up with hooks and melodies, and take them to rehearsal, with a structure – or that’s something we work on together. I love watching new songs unfold. It’s so exciting when you feel you’re onto something special and you can’t wait to play it live! I write all the lyrics too. There’s no way I could put so much into someone else’s words.

Leila: It’s an exciting day when Zoe comes to rehearsal with something new to try out, especially as I know she’s strict with what she brings to us, so whatever she does bring is always going to have something worth trying out. I’m really excited by some of the later tracks we recorded for the album. It’s taken us in a slightly newer direction and so I can’t wait to start working on some new tracks for playing live later in the year.

And aside from being the one who has to lug the most gear around… I take on a lot of the admin-y stuff – gigs, travel arrangements as well as our website and social media stuff. Maybe the less glamorous side of being in a band, but there’s definitely a lot to do and it keeps me busy!

LTW: Who were your musical inspirations growing up? And what current artists are inspiring you right now?

Zoe: I was very much into stuff my dad played me. I grew up listening to really exciting music such as Siouxsie, Bowie, Iggy, Lou Reed, Alien Sex Fiend, Bauhaus. Lots of men in make up, lots of expression, lots of rule breaking and history making. I absolutely loved it. Some of the artists I’m loving at the moment are Bully, Daughter and Nelson Can. Also, earlier this year, we got a bit sick of turning up to ‘alternative’ bars and clubs and only hearing male artists – sometimes there was the odd female/band played, but rarely anything current or daring. So we started a Spotify playlist of music written and performed by female artists we love. It’s not that we don’t like, or aren’t influenced by male artists. It was just in response to these experiences, and we’re quite pleased with how it’s taken shape. We’ll be definitely adding some of the LOUD WOMEN Fest artists in the coming weeks!

Leila: I was into grunge/rock and britpop when I was younger, the likes of Nirvana, Hole, (early) Foo Fighters, Elastica, Pixies etc, and was going to gigs and festivals as soon as I could. I still love seeing bands live – though don’t get to as many gigs as I’d like – but we’ve been lucky to play with some ace bands recently including Pet Crow, Heavy Heart and Cherry Hex and the Dream Church. All three are very different but we really loved their sets and what they’ve released so far, so encourage people to check them out! More established artists that I’ve loved seeing live in the last six months that have been really exciting shows include Peaches, The xx and even Arcade Fire last month in Manchester. These are artists and bands who have been around a long time and come back to do live shows that have blown me way, many albums in – what an amazing place to be!

LTW: What are your goals as a band?

Leila: Our main goal over the last few years has been to get our album finished and OUT – and after a REALLY long time we’re very nearly ready! We’ve kind of been holding back a bit this year until the album was done, so we’ll be wanting to get out and about as much as well can off the back of the album release later this year and beyond. We’ve had some incredible experiences playing gigs and festivals across the UK. So I think a big goal for us is to open up new opportunities off the back of our album release, and see where it takes us!

One goal we’d had for a while was to get some support or mentoring in some way as it sometimes can feel quite difficult to know the right things to do (or not do) as a band. We were really fortunate that Reckless Yes (in the form of Sarah Lay and Pete Darrington) approached us early last year. They’ve been a really important part of our development over the last 12-18 months, two really experienced, passionate people who have our backs, and who we’re lucky enough have been willing to put our first 7” – and soon our debut album! We love the other bands they’ve been working with through Reckless Yes too, so we knew we were onto a good thing!

Zoe: We’re really lucky to have experienced travelling around and playing in Europe quite a bit, which have been some of our best times (in life!) ever, so we’d love to get back there to tour our new album!

LTW: We’re excited to hear that your debut album is coming soon – tell us more! 

Leila: As I said, our album has been a LONG time coming but we’re really glad we’ve taken the time to do it right – we’re so proud of where we’ve ended up with it. Like most bands, we’ve had to self-fund recording the album. This has taken a few years to be in the right place money-wise, as well as song-wise. Then getting everything in place to work on the tracks and record them has taken time around work and other commitments. So it’s been a slow process, but we finally got there.

Zoe: When we signed to Reckless Yes one of the first things they recommended was to work with producer Paul Tipler. He’s got such a big track record of working with bands we love – and love the sounds of – so we were bought in immediately. It’s been a completely new process working with Paul. Whilst some of the songs have been more straightforward recording-wise, we’ve loved the development of recording others, trying some new techniques or making the tracks a bit different to how we’d play them live. I think we, and Paul, are really pleased with how it’s turned out, so we’re really excited for people to hear it.

Leila: We’ve not quite got a release date yet, but we’ll be announcing one in the not too distant future, as well as some gigs! We’ll be announcing news of our album first to our mailing list, so sign-up!

LTW: You’ve had a brilliant run so far I’d say! What advice would you offer bands starting out? 

Zoe: We’ve done ok! Obviously it’s always nerve-wracking when you’re releasing new music but we’ve been really pleased with the response so far… and now we’re nervous to see what people think about the album! In terms of advice, I would say go out any play as many gigs as you can. It’s the best way to really develop your songs and own style, as well as making friends and contacts along the way. Another thing is it’s important to be true to yourself. Write for yourself. I think it’s much better to watch an honest performance than watch someone acting on stage. I get so much more out of real emotions, when a performer has conviction.

Leila: Releasing music is obviously a big part of getting your music out there. LIINES had been around a while before we released anything – until then we only had an EP we were selling at gigs. We had a band meeting in a pub (the best meetings!) and it was one of the first times we’d taken a step back and made a plan – to release our first single, Never There. We set a release date, worked backwards to mark a few key dates and got going. We googled everything – from how to write a press release to what should be in a press kit, and trawled Facebook/Twitter and everywhere for good press contacts. And we contacted a lot of people who we knew or who had said nice things about us in the past. It was very hit and miss, but we also were really lucky with some of the support we got, and it worked better than we could have imagined – getting coverage on some big websites, like Louder Than War, and even national airplay on Radio X. It really put us in a strong place going forwards to build on for future releases and opening up other opportunities. So sometimes it’s good to take a step back and make a plan! Might not be the most inspiring advice, but we’ve found it a really important step.

LTW: I’m delighted that you’ll be joining us this year at LOUD WOMEN Fest! Do you often play with other female musicians? What are you expecting/looking forward to at the Fest? 

Leila: To be honest it varies a lot bill to bill whether we play with other female musicians. I don’t like to say it’s a pleasant surprise when we do, but often it is. We’ve played a few festivals that are focused around female artists – Ladyfests in Manchester and elsewhere, and now LOUD WOMEN Fest, and although they shouldn’t still be necessary, they clearly still are and they have been some of the most amazing atmospheres we’ve played in.

Zoe: The line-up looks so strong. I’m expecting to be completely blown way, to be honest. By the quality and energy of the music in the room, and by the people coming down to watch and dance. It sounds like LOUD WOMEN has got something really special going on, so we can’t wait to finally be a part of it. It looks mega!

Leila: We’ve heard amazing things about DIY Space for London too. Spaces like this are so important. We just played the opening of Partisan Collective in Manchester, another co-op space, and it was such a great night – actually one of our favourite gigs in a while. So we’re expecting a similar, electric atmosphere! It’s exciting to be playing so close to home for me – randomly doors down from where LIINES recorded our album, but also where I went to primary school and grew up!

We’ve been listening to the LOUD WOMEN playlist, and so far we are loving The Twistettes, Sink Ya Teeth, Dream Nails and GUTTFULL! See you in a few weeks!


Interview by Cassie Fox. More writing by Cassie on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive. She tweets as @cassieefox or @loudwomenclub 

Skinny Girl Diet – interview


Skinny Girl Diet

Last weekend I met up with Ursula and Delilah Holliday, the sisters better known as Skinny Girl Diet, as they prepared to take to the stage for their headline set at Decolonise Fest, at Bermonsey’s supercool DIY Space for London.

I’ve loved the band from afar for a while, a love compounded in March when I watched them rock the fuck out of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire supportingSenseless Things. Having, since then, lost their bassist cousin Amelia Cutler from their line-up, the band as a close-knit duo are delivering a more biting sound, the lyrics are more poignantly-heard, and with Delilah working harder than ever on guitar her licks are engulfing, effortless, bluesy, and very punk rock.

I wondered if I’d be nervous meeting these awesome Wunderkinder in the flesh, but found them warm, unassuming and totally charming – sitting cross-legged on the floor eating pre-performance vegan food, the sisters bundle up laughing together and, adorably, finish each other’s sentences. Their parents, Melodie and Dan Holliday, are never far away from them, and emit the same warm, positive vibes that are just on the right side of the dividing line between punk and hippie. I think I want to be adopted by the Hollidays.

The band has crammed a staggering amount into the years they’ve been going. Their first gig (with Ursula aged 12, Delilah aged 15) was opening for Viv Albertine. Since then Skinny Girl Diet have established themselves Queens of the DIY scene. Their distortion-heavy grungey punk rock, with lyrics of feminist social commentary, draws easy parallels with the ’90s’ Hole and Bikini Kill, but the band have always been keen to point out that their music shares only some of the aspects of the Riot Grrrl movement; Skinny Girl Diet’s work is all about inclusion, and using the platforms that are open to them to amplify the other, marginalised voices around them. Their debut album Heavy Flow came out September 2016, and I’ve a feeling it will be the first of very many … these focussed young women have all the skills.

Get to see these two live as soon as you can. For example … at their headline LOUD WOMEN show at the Lexington on 20 July.


LTW: Tell us about Decolonise Fest

Ursula: Decolonise Festival is all about highlighting the fact that punk is mainly white male dominated, and it’s a space for people of all backgrounds and lifestyles to just come together and feel proud of the fact that punk can be, just whatever you want to make it.

Delilah: It’s such a good thing that it exists! We’ve played Afropunk …

Ursula: But I think this is better.

Delilah: Um … It’s different. I feel like it’s more ‘to punks’. But Afropunk’s a bit different. We were playing Alexander Palace – the main stage – so I felt more disconnected from the atmosphere. But the atmosphere here is really …

Ursula: … it’s DIY!

Delilah: Yeah, and you can just suck in more!

Ursula: Yeah. Suck it up!

What does the DIY scene mean to you?

Ursula: It’s the place that feels like home. We were taken in by so many people – taken under their wing. We used to play Power Lunches, when it still existed. I think it’s closed now maybe?

Delilah: Yeah

Ursula: Places like that really embraced us, so it’s definitely the root of everything we do, very DIY. Even now, we fund everything we do.

Delilah: … getting published ourselves, and distributed …

Ursula: yeah, all of that stuff! But it does make it more worthwhile because you’ve got complete control – that’s one thing. But it’s also a pain in the arse financially. Because we basically go to gigs, play, and put that money into what we do. Everything we earn is just circulating, so we don’t really make money. But, hey, it’s fun!

Delilah: The more we do it the more we realise that we don’t really want to be commercial, and our goals and aspirations lie more in helping people, rather than, like, being famous.

Do you see music as your future?

Ursula: Yeah, it’s the only thing that really speaks to us, and that we’re good at.

Delilah: It’s the most fulfilling thing. We just want to help people, and make them feel like they’re understood. And that’s the goal really.

Ursula: YEAH!

What’s your advice for young, female musicians?

Delilah: Have a really thick skin, and don’t give up if you get a bad review, or if the crowd don’t understand you. The more you do it, the more people will understand it, eventually, and the more other young women what you want to inspire, will respond back to you. So it’s all worthwhile when that happens.

Have you faced any negativity?

Delilah: We a really horrible review from a female writer at The Guardian who said that we were just fashion babes …

Ursula: Yeah, she started putting what we were wearing under scrutiny.

Delilah: It’s just really upsetting because, obviously not all women have to be friends, but it is nice when other women support young people making music.

Your Dad is your Manager!

Ursula: Our Dad does pretty much all of our posters and manages us. A really good manager – Dan Holliday – who we owe our lives to, and everything else! *laughs*

Delilah: He started managing us because I had my GCSES at the time, and I was like ‘Dad, I can’t do these emails!’, and then ever since then it’s like … no offence to Dad … he’s learning as well, and we all learn together, and he keeps everything glued together. It’s really nice.

And your Mum is a DIY punk too …

Ursula: She’s the biggest supporter of our band. She always comes to the front row and dances and sings along, so that’s really nice.

Ursula: We don’t really have the whole thing of ‘rebelling against our parents’ because they’re just completely supportive.

Delilah: Sometimes I get a bit insecure and I wish I could rebel in some sort of way …

Ursula: Yeah, find something, anything!

When’s the second album coming out?

Delilah: The whole second album’s finished it’s just, cos we do everything ourselves, it’s really hard to get everything mixed, and make videos … so it takes a while and it’s frustrating, but we just try and move at our own pace and hope people understand!

Skinny Girl Diet’s next LONDON gig is LOUD WOMEN …

Ursula: We can’t wait to play! The 20 July, The Lexington! Skinny Girl Diet – woah!

Delilah: LOUD WOMEN rule!

Ursula: Loud women are the best kind of women!

Delilah: Oh yeah!


Find Skinny Girl Diet on Facebook and Twitter

All words by Cassie Fox. More writing on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive.

The Charlemagnes – interview


Published on Louder Than War

The Charlemagnes

Louder Than War’s Cassie Fox sits down for a chat with legendary band The Charlemagnes as they piece together their long-lost album from the debris of their past. 

It’s a wet April weekend and I’m making my way under breezeblock-grey skies to deepest south London to meet The Charlemagnes. My destination: The Tiger’s Head, Catford. This transpires to be some sort of test because, when I finally find the location, in the Bellingham/Southend district, the pub has gone – replaced by expensive-looking new flats. With no time to ponder the significance of this, I receive a call directing me to a nearby chicken shop: inside sit three baseball-capped members of the legendary band, hunched together in a booth, nursing fried lunch and Diet Cokes.

Their first rhythm section disappeared to Canada to dodge the draft. Their second line-up disintegrated in a swirl of personal and musical differences. Their third incarnation fell from the bottom rung of the New York pre-punk ladder and fell apart: ’70s casualties and rock n roll collateral damage. Garage survivors The Charlemagnes are only now piecing together their long-lost album from the debris of their past. What follows is a transcript of our exclusive interview with the group. Chewing the fat: Marty (guitar), Louis (bass) and Les (drums).

Louder Than War: Welcome back! Where have you been?

Marty: Thank you. Right here.
Les: Around.

Does Catford seem a long way from New York?

Les: You’ve seen one broadway, you’ve seen them all.

But Marty, you and Johnny were from New Jersey originally?

Marty: South Brunswick, right. Kind of place you leave.

How do you find London?

Marty: I made a life here a long time ago. You adapt.

Les: The advantage of living in between all these chicken places is you can practice voodoo without anyone getting suspicious about the bones under your window. I’m kidding.

Johnny’s still involved with the band?

Les: He’s what you might call a silent partner at this point.

Marty: Invisible partner.

Louis: Hardly. He’s more visible than ever.

Marty: No. See we talked about this. That’s toxic language. Fatphobic.

Louis: Right.

Marty: We’re not about that. We’re cool.

Louis: Right.

But Johnny still writes for the band?

Louis: He’s heavily involved.

Marty: Lou.

You had some censorship problems back in the day from labels, regarding some of his lyrics?

Marty: You gotta understand, times were different. It’s the garage boom. All the labels want their own band, but still they have these real conservative attitudes.

Les: All the bands sang the same type songs. You’re young, you’re pissed.

Marty: Johnny liked to write about girls, but nothing worse than anyone. It was one part misunderstanding, nine parts overreaction.

Les: Anyway, we changed most of that stuff around. We don’t put that out now. You can always be schooled.

Louis: We love women. My mother was a woman.

So this is a new look Charlemagnes?

Marty: There’s a couple new faces. Les and Louis have been with us from time, but we’re working with a new kid called Benny on saxophone, who can really blow. And a brother called Brent is backing us on guitar. His name was actually Benny too but we had to change that, you can’t have two Bennies in a band.

Les: Eighth rule of rock ‘n’ roll.

The Charlemagnes - tourDo fans accept line-up changes as inevitable? The Charlemagnes were out of action for some time.

Marty: Everyone knows the back story. The ’80s were hard. For me personally, I mean. I couldn’t tell you how it was for anyone else.

Louis: The band never exactly stopped.

Les: You lose people. Not all life and death stuff. That too, but sometimes you just literally lose people.

Marty: My son Marty Jr steps in sometimes. There’s a kid called Matt we’re going to try out for live shows. And Grace, she’s doing some trumpet for the album. It’s a solid but also fluid line up.

Les: And gassy if you count Johnny.

Marty: If it’s Johnny’s words and some kid on flugelhorn it’s still The Charlemagnes.

On a brighter note, you’ve got record release news?

Les: Yes. We are talking to a couple of labels about an EP. But there might be a reissue of ‘Hot for Crime’ in the works too so watch for that.

Louis: Then the album. There’s enough songs and most are ready, for the album as well as EP and maybe a couple other things. We’re online now too.

So I have to ask you about Trump.

Louis: Nope.

Marty: Sick of talking about [muffled]

Les: Look, it’s a cowboy nation. Cowboys, and ghosts of indians.

Marty: Before you get too cosy over here, remember everyone has a Trump. If you don’t, it’s coming from us to you real soon.

Les: What was that thing Burroughs said?

Marty: Frankie? From the block?

Les: Not Frankie Burroughs. Kind of trust fund junkie writer. Said America is evil, the evil was there from the beginning.

Marty: At the same time, fuck you. We love it. It’s a garbage dump, but it’s our garbage dump.

Tell us about the songs. No Pay Day addresses the situation back home at the moment?

Marty: Well, see yes and no. Some of us [have] seen presidents come and go. The working man gets screwed whichever way.

Les: You won’t remember Nixon. Black lives matter, man. Ain’t nothing changed.

Marty: No Pay Day is still on point so we play it. Other songs are better left in the dust.

Louis: Some of what we do is more tongue in cheek. Like, what Johnny likes to eat. Or personal stuff.

Les: Shizz about growing up. Being kids. People we knew.

Like Hot For Crime? Do you think audiences accept that sort of lifestyle now?

Marty: Johnny’s got his artistic licence. At the same time, sometimes you needed to do what you needed to do to keep the band going.

Les: You’re right, things are a lot more straight. But if anything that makes those glimpses more appealing.

How did you end up better known in the UK for that record?

Les: Collector scenes, man. It was the tail end of the glam pub rock thing. Or it might have been the beginning of that. But they were interested in our sound.

Messed Up seems like an ambiguous song as well. It’s clearly about a dependant relationship, but it’s almost an attack as well as a tribute.

Marty: ‘Honey’s Mussed Up’, right. Relationships are hard to keep together, just like bands. I don’t wanna speak for Johnny but it’s hard when you’re the artist.

Les: You can find yourself not the main breadwinner of the household, shall we say.

There seems to be a kind of elegy-like quality in some of your music along with the energy. Is that deliberate, and does that reflect your experiences?

Louis: It’s not a pity party. We just play it how it is.

Les: Right.

Marty: Everything goes back to the blues. We haven’t stolen the blues by the way, but we might borrow it from time to time.

Les: We’re back from the crossroads. With a tale to tell.

Louis: Hear that.

Marty: Nothing more to be said.


The Charlemagnes begin a mini-tour with Eight Rounds Rapid at St Moritz, London, on 9 June, followed by Le Pub, Newport, on 10 June.

Find the band online on Facebook and on Soundcloud.

The Baby Seals: The Baby Seals – EP review


The Baby SealsThe Baby Seals – The Baby Seals
7 April 2017

The self-titled debut from The Baby Seals is full on female empower pop. Cassie Fox reviews for Louder Than War. 

You can’t help but love The Baby Seals. An all woman trio – consisting two sisters and their bezzie – playing a genre they’ve invented themselves, ‘empower pop’.

The first time they played LOUD WOMEN Club, back in December 2016, several members of the audience were debating forming a record label right there on the spot in order to sign them. Now it seems that these smart Seals have gone and done exactly that for themselves, releasing their eponymous debut EP under their own steam. The spirit is DIY punk, but the sound is neatly polished.

The songs are strong and dancey and perfectly executed, and the biting lyrics genuinely hilarious. But these funny women are not laughing at themselves: they’re inviting us to join them in laughing at the ridiculous policing of women’s bodies.

Opener My Labia’s Lopsided, But I Don’t Mind spells out their agenda in mile high neon lights: bollocks to the patriarchy, and we’re going to have an awesome time while we’re at it. It’s a storming song and catchy as hell – big guitar licks over a dead funky rhythm, and proper choral vocal harmonies – and that’s before you even get to the lyrics: “If you go downtown don’t you dare close your eyes / If you go downtown don’t dare be motherfucking surprised / My la-la-la-la-la-la-la-labia’s lopsided but I don’t mind…”

It’s a crying shame that this song is unlikely to ever get played on mainstream radio – teenagers and young women need this message of sex-positive body confidence now more than ever.

And that message of loving your own body, in all its weird and wonderful variations, continues in Nipple Hair – a song which sounds very much like early Bangles, but with less hairspray and a lot less hair removal. It’s a classic power pop ballad, with a middle eight I wish I’d written: “Some aeriole are big and veiny / Some look like puppy dog’s noses / Some look like they’ve been dipped in gravy”

Period Drama has a similarly ’80s-soft rock feel – more reverb-y harmonies over big guitar. A song that will strike a chord with any uterus-owner who’s ever been caught out by Aunt Flo’s arrival and had to improvise with a jumper tied round your waist to hide the stains. (Yep, that’s pretty much all of us then.)

Guuurrrrl is another super-catchy anthem with the simple message ‘You – yeah you! – can be what you want to’. It’s the kind of song to outro an indie highschool romcom movie, with the cheerleaders chucking their pompoms out the window of the car as they drive off towards Vegas with a trunk full of guns and quarterbacks. Oh how I’d love to see that movie.

The Baby Seals played LOUD WOMEN Club again last week, on International Women’s Day, and I had such fun dancing to Yawn Porn, down the front with loads of great babes around me yelling along to “He’s going to cum on her FACE!” It was like the best woke hen party ever. They closed the set with EP closer, It’s Not About The Money Honey, a bluesy bass-rolling chant calling for equal pay.

These talented women aren’t so much smashing the patriarchy as laughing in its face. I can’t wait to see what The Baby Seals come up with next.


The Baby Seals’ self-titled EP is available to pre-order now from
Catch them live at one of their release party gigs: 4 April Brighton Prince Albert , 5 April Shacklewell Arms London.

Find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All words by Cassie Fox. You can read more from Cassie in her author profile on LTW here. 

Ben Harding (Senseless Things) – interview


Ben Harding - Senseless Things

Those who were around at the time say that there wasn’t a better live band in the UK in 1990 than Senseless Things. Almost three decades later its members have served time in Gorillaz, The Who, Muse, 3 Colours Red, Deadcuts and a host of other significant bands, before getting back together to do what they say is a one-off show. They’ve even reunited pretty much all their old road crew, too.

Louder Than War’s Cassie Fox catches up with Ben Harding, current bandmate in Thee Faction and a Senseless Things, about the band and their forthcoming reunion. 

Ben Harding is one of the UK’s finest rock guitarists. He’s sold hundreds of thousands of records (tick), recorded at Paisley Park (tick), played Top of the Pops (tick), Reading and Glastonbury several times (tick tick), and toured Europe with Aerosmith (TICK).

To me, though, he’s my beloved friend and lovely bandmate, who these days records his face-melting solos in his ‘rockasin’ slippers, watched by his pug dog, Frida. But in the late ’80s and early ’90s Ben was lead guitarist in Senseless Things.

They were the pioneers of what Steve Lamacq, then of the NME, labelled Fraggle Rock: a blend of the best bits of UK punk, the poppiest bits of US hardcore, the spirit of the Replacements and, in Senseless Things’ case, the London-centric lyrical flavour of Chris Difford. They filled huge halls as a hard-gigging DIY band, and filled even huger ones as Sony recording artists. Then they quietly disappeared.

Just a few weeks away from their reunion show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I catch up with Ben for a chat in the wee-smelling basement of London’s Islington pub, ten minutes before we’re due onstage with our Socialist R’n’B band, Thee Faction.

LTW: You’ve seen it all really, haven’t you Ben… global stadium tours through to North London pub gigs and back again…

And I’m a fan too. That’s kind of what Senseless Things were all about. We loved a lot of the same music because we were together a lot – we were playing 200 gigs a year in the early years. We were a really hardworking band, and spent a lot of time together, listening to the same stuff.


So we were listening to The Replacements, Red Kross, Urge Orverkill, Soul Asylum – that kind of American sound. The starting point for us was Buzzcocks, Psychedelic Furs, Pete Perrett of the Only Ones … then later on we were listening to an awful lot of Ween, and at the same time Morgan would be playing The Meters, Funkadelic kinda stuff. And I’d play a bit of hard rock, when I got a chance, you know! Bit of Van Halen … so we were fans first and foremost, that’s what drove us. And also we were fans of the bands we were playing with. Like, fans of the Mega City Four, and big fans of Snuff!

So you were basically all just fanboys!

Yeah! I think Cass was just 12 when he joined the band, and he was 15 when I joined, and I was 20, maybe 21 …

That must have seemed quite a bit older than the others?

Exactly, yeah, relatively speaking! But I had a chequebook which meant that we could rehearse, you see. (Laughs) Even though I didn’t have any money in my account, you could give someone a cheque and run away, you know!

So how long did that ‘mucking about playing with your mates’ bands period last?

That lasted about two and a bit years I guess – ’87 through to about 1990 – the splitter truck years! That was all just about living on the road. The big break was the Peel session (Senseless Things’ first of three Peel Sessions was recorded in March 1988, produced by the late great Dale Griffin). That was when we thought, ‘Oh my God, this is actually for real’, you know? Everyone listened to the John Peel show, so all of a sudden you’re a known quantity. It got a lot easier to get gigs, there were more people at the gigs, and it just kinda snowballed from there. We pulled all those songs together, we worked with a fantastic producer, and it was just like, ‘yeah, here we go, this is it!’

So what was peak Senseless Things? What was your top ‘Things moment?

Ooo, I don’t know, it’s hard to say.

Reading? Glastonbury?

Oh we did Reading several times! We did Glastonbury. I think the first time at Reading was (grins) – ‘YAY!’ We were first on the main stage in the morning (August 1990), and as we started we could see people running from the campsite towards us. That was a fantastic time!

Same with Glastonbury. I don’t remember much of it to be honest. We arrived, got in a Land Rover, got taken to the gig, and then left again, on to the next gig on the tour. It wasn’t like you stayed for the weekend.

A bit different to Thee Faction playing Glastonbury in 2015, and camping with our families, hanging out with Charlotte Church!

Well yes exactly. We were chilling out for the weekend, and it was lovely!

So many different experiences …

Maybe the pinnacle of the Senseless Things was going to Japan. We signed to Sony, and the next thing we knew we got the invitation to go over and play a tour of Japan. Which was mind-blowing! It was about as alien as anything could get. Playing these Japanese venues – a good 400-500 size – and they were rammed. And they were going mental! They know how to have a good time. They booked us on this really stupid talent show called Ika-ten and, you know, they’d obviously pulled some strings and got us on it … and, you know, it was obvious we weren’t going to win it. Sony were just using it as a kind of promo vehicle. We had the best time though. Absolutely loved it. Playing gigs, doing stupid TV shows, getting taken out to dinner by the Sony execs … ate some really weird shit that I have no idea what it was, but didn’t care.

But then, one of my favourite times possibly of my entire life, was the two and a half months we spent in the States supporting Blur, in 1992. Blur had an horrific time – it was the tour that nearly broke them – but we were on first, playing to an Anglophile audience, and we came off stage at about 9 o’clock and had the rest of the evening to have a really good time! So we had an absolute whale of a time!

So how did the Senseless Things actually split up, or …

We kind of never did split up. When we were touring the last album, the audiences were noticably smaller. And by this time ‘grunge’ had really hit, and that’s what really killed our audience. All of a sudden we yesterday’s thing, but we were playing with all these grunge bands.

We played with Nirvana, we played with Mudhoney, we played with Tad. And we loved them! They were a big influence on us. We were taking all that stuff on board, and if you listen to the third album (Taking Care of Business), there’s a lot of grunge in there. We had the same press agent at Nirvana. I had a copy of Nevermind on cassette about a month and a half before anybody else had it. And I was just playing to people and going ‘Listen to this. This is going to be huge.’

So grunge killed the ‘Things …?

Yeah, our audiences just started declining … plus, we weren’t the same band as we had been three albums previously, you know … we were writing stuff that we wanted to do, I just don’t think the audience went with it. We went back to Japan and toured, and three of us came back and one didn’t. Mark just decided he wasn’t coming back. He was over there for another few weeks I think. But we had to pull out of a festival or two – it was the summer – and then just nothing happened after that … there was no announcement, no ‘This is it, we’re calling it a day’, you know?

No fans’ helpline?

Exactly! But we were still friends you know. It was Mark who put me on to Chris McCormack – he’d had a stint in The Wildhearts, and he’s the brother of Danny McCormack, the Wildheart’s bass player. So that connection got me into 3 Colours Red.

So did 3 Colours Red follow straight on from Senseless Things?

Pretty much. I spent nine months to a year basically working in a record shop, waiting to see what was going to happen next, then 3 Colours Red came along. Then that was ’95 to ’99, about four years.

You see, those were the years I was a teenager, and I knew of 3 Colours Red, so I always think of them as a bigger band than the ‘Things, but is that just my perspective?

Strictly speaking, in terms of chart positions, I think we might have been bigger but album sales and stuff, it’s really hard to compare one era with another. We were fairly successful! You know, we did pretty well. We kinda climbed our way a bit higher up festival bills, that kind of thing. We spent a lot of time actually playing festivals, you know. If I have to see Metallica one more time I am going to kill someone. Or Marilyn Manson, come to that. But I was playing literally every day with the same bands, around Europe. It was very much the ‘rock circuit’ – a very different thing to what Senseless Things had been doing.

So was 3CR more of a ‘career’ band in some sense?

Nah, I really loved that band. I did it for the same reasons I did Senseless Things: I loved the songwriting and I loved the music. And there’s always been a heavy metal element to my music, you know!

Haha oh I’m well aware of that! (I spend a lot of time onstage between Ben and his amp, turned up to 12)

I was always the hard rock fan, so I really loved it. Proper rock and roll!

So after 3CR you had a musical gap, filled with some ‘normal life’ …

I became a Dad, moved to Cornwall, was kind of occasionally picking up an acoustic, but generally didn’t play the guitar at all, not even for pleasure.

So did you feel that music was a chapter of your life that had ended?

Pretty much, I think. Although I still had my guitars and they looked fantastic. I had a big old amp in the study … but I wasn’t actively pursuing something musical to do. But then we were out one day and I saw a bunch of Morris dancers ­– they looked like a cross between The Mission and Levellers fans – with great big black boots on, blue faces, black hair, and black tatter  jackets. They were what’s called Border Morris – a bit more aggressive and full-on than your average, hanky-waving Cotswold Morris, you know?


Kind of! And they were pretty young, relatively speaking, for Morris dancers. And it turned out that a fellow parent at the school was the Squire of the local Morris side, Trigg Morris, a Cotswold (ie ‘hanky’) side. They were going out that night, and said that if I wanted to go along I should bring my guitar so I did, and they were hilarious! Brilliant dancers. And after all the dancing’s done it was into the pub, out come the instruments, and they play and sing until closing time. And it’s a combination of Victorian Music Hall, country and western, ’50s rock n roll numbers and folk songs. A really great set of tunes! So this developed, and there was already a guitarist in the group, so I got a mandolin and really got into that. And I really got into the dancing too. The dancing really gets its claws into you!

Trigg Morris

When you moved back to London, that’s when Thee Faction came about …

Yep. Basically, Thee Faction called me up and said ‘How do you fancy being in a Communist version of Dr Feelgood?’ And I’d always loved Dr Feelgood, and I thought ‘why not!’ It was a chance to play loud music again. And the rest, as they say, is history …

How long is it we’ve been going now, is it six years?

Since 2009. Eight years! In which time we’ve done, what, six albums? But I love this as well. It’s different music but I’ve still kinda got the same guitar sound, it still fits in. It’s still quite an in-your-face, aggressive guitar sound, it just has to fit behind a three-piece brass section, keyboards, and a lot of vocals – and you have to be able to hear the vocals because it’s a great message. But I love it, and Billy is such a brilliant songwriter, as is Martin our bass player.

Who is also writing in your new band …

Yes of course! We’ve got a little side-project going on with a few members of Thee Faction, which is The Charlemagnes. It’s kinda garage rock stuff, which is very close to my heart!

I’m really looking forward to the first Charlemagnes gig, whenever it finally happens!

Aren’t we all! We almost played with Beach Slang at the Scala last month, but Dave (the drummer) wasn’t available. But that would have been so cool. Never mind.

You’re busily rehearsing with the Senseless Things at the moment, ready for the big reunion show.

We’ve had a couple of rehearsals. It sounds amazing!

The same as before?

It kind of sounds the same but better. I’m not sure if everyone would agree with me, but to me it sounds better because we’ve all stayed being musicians, so we’ve got a couple of decades worth of being better musicians. So you apply that to the muscle memory that just comes flooding back, when you figure out the first chord of how you used to play it, it’s just all there! It’s like putting a tape on.

But my playing technique is now so much better, particularly than in the early days, so the easy stuff is now really easy, and the harder stuff is actually not as hard as I remember it being. And it sounds fucking amazing. (laughs).

It’s nice to not have to take account of a brass section, no offence! (Melissa, Thee Faction’s trumpet player, waves her trumpet menacingly at Ben from across the hallway) I just crank it right up, and it’s liberating! That’s what it’s always been about for me – standing in front of an amp and making a really stupidly loud noise.

I see that Skinny Girl Diet and The Tuts are supporting you at Shepherd’s Bush – two all-girl DIY bands! Were these your own choice of support?

Yes – we chose them. We wanted very much to avoid this being an ‘indie all-star’ show, or a ’90s greatest hits package, so inviting current bands, who are now where we were back then was an imperative. Plus, we had something of a history of supporting women in bands, playing with the likes of Mambo Taxi and the Voodoo Queens. It’s another way of continuing the ethos we had back then.

And with that, we dashed upstairs to catch the end of Dunstan Bruce’s set, before playing a, if we do say so ourselves, epic performance.

Thee Faction at The Islington, 10 Feb 2017. Pictured: Ben Harding in the foreground, performing a literally face-melting guitar solo. Cassie Fox in the background, playing a discrete E minor on the keyboard. Photo by Mark Blundell.


Tickets for the Senseless Things reunion show, on 25 March at o2 Shepherds Bush Empire, are available from here.

Interview by Cassie Fox. More from Cassie in her Louder Than War author archive here.



Let’s hear it for the grrrls


With Reading and Leeds festival yet again filling its stages with the same old skull-crushingly dull penis-owners we’ve heard time and time again, I’m once again reminded why we still need to shout a bit louder about women musicians. Female musicians still have to work a hundred* times as hard to get noticed in the music industry, but are still more likely to be judged on their appearance than their guitar chops. Yet boring bands full of boring blokes fill gig and festival line-ups by default.

* estimated figures

So, enough of the blokes – let’s hear it for the grrrls. March is shaping up to be an awesome month for women-led music, which is fitting, as 8 March is International Women’s Day. Stick these marvellous events in your diary in biro right now:


16665603_10154614212299145_2648909347533673409_o2 March     Camden Rocks Presents: Lilith Ai, The Monarch, NW1

Lilith Ai is an extraordinary talent – bone-shakingly effortless vocals blended with fierce and hugely relevant songwriting. Keeping my fingers crossed that this hardworking London girl gets the big break she really deserves. Check our her Bandcamp here.


Cowtown3 March     Friendship Never Ends Fest, DIY Space for London

A festival from the amazing folk at Constant Flux, an organisation joining the learning disabled in music with the DIY punk scene. Don’t miss Cowtown and Little Fists.



16796992_1941308936098144_4814681310867470442_o4 March     IDestroy, Hope & Anchor, N1

Bristol rockers IDestroy kick off a UK mini-tour in London, before heading to Swindon (Sun 5), Bristol (Mon 6), Hatfield (Sat 25) and Birmingham (Thurs 30)



0803178 March     LOUD WOMEN Who Run the World, Fiddler’s Elbow, NW5

A sisterly partnership for International Women’s Day – LOUD WOMEN team up with Who Run the World promotions for a Women’s Aid fundraiser. A line-up such as dreams are made: The Baby Seals (think Bangles with PMT); Charmpit (classic riot grrrl activist duo), The Menstrual Cramps (playing their first ever gig – watch out for these Brighton babes, they are Trouble!); and The Potentials (Buffycore heroes).


Nervous Twitch8 March     Nervous Twitch, Wharf Chambers, Leeds

The stunning Nervous Twitch play an International Women’s Day gig in their hometown, as part of a small UK tour. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for event links.


The Fnords


11 March     Official 13th Note, Glasgow

Scottish girls do it better. Go see! This awesome vegan cafe venue is hosting ‘hard rocking surf punk riot grrrl three piece’ The Fnords, and first giggers Soor Ploom.



Jesus and his Judgemental Father17 March     Jesus & His Judgemental Father and Bloom at the Montague Arms, S15

What was I telling you about South London being the new musical epicentre? More queer pop punk than you can shake a stick at: the invite openly states “No dickheads”, and the opening band is called Melt Bananarama. Textbook.



170317_flyer17 March     LOUD WOMEN, Hope & Anchor, N1

A special LOUD WOMEN night curated by Abigail’s Parties(look out for more gigs from her coming up soon). This one features favourites Fightmilk, Charla Fantasma, TOTP and first-gigging supergroup Spencer.



CDlaunch_smallRGB18 March     LOUD WOMEN: Volume One – album launch, Sound Lounge, SW17

I couldn’t be more excited about this gig! This amazing compilation album features 21 of the UK’s best alternative grrrl bands and female artists – and 14 of them are playing this launch gig! Hosted at the shiny brand new Sound Lounge in Tooting – it’s an all-ages event, so bring the kids (but maybe send them home before the really sweary bands come on after dark!) Enjoy ArgonautBugeyeDeux Furieuses, DOLLS, FightmilkGladiators Are You Ready?, GUTTFULLJanine BoothLittle FistsMadame SoNervous Twitch, The Ethical Debating Society and The Potentials. All for £6. Crikey. Check out the album here.


LIINES9 March     LIINES at Dive NQ, Manchester

I quite expect to see LIINES filling large venues from this year onwards, so while you’ve chance to see them in a small venue (free too!) don’t miss this.



15541386_1363113747066214_1451193743835905868_n19 March     Girls to the Front, Green Note, NW1

Curated by the talented singer songwriter MIRI, who runs the brilliant Blue Monday acoustic nights (second Monday of the month at the Boogaloo, Highgate). This one-off night features Marine, Ruth Theodore, Oh Sister, Bee Bakare, RoseRed and the Butterflies, and of course MIRI.


Mac Stock festival24-25 March            Mac Stock, Warsop, Nottinghamshire

A two-day fundraising festival in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, featuring an impressively wide range of artists, including Charlie Leavy, Kate Auburn, Muddy Summers and the Dirty Field Whores, and The Sunflower Thieves. Fist bumps to the festival organisers, who have actively sought to ensure their line-up was at least 50% female.


11703445_908551509181632_3919059860217000899_o25 March      Skinny Girl Diet and The Tuts, Shepherd’s Bush Empire

OK, OK, so the headliners are 90s boy-punks Senseless Things, but I’m just so chuffed to see these two all-girl DIY punk bands playing what will be a sell-out show at a major venue. Things’ guitarist Ben Harding told me “we had something of a history of supporting women in bands, playing with the likes of Mambo Taxi and the Voodoo Queens. It’s another way of continuing the ethos we had back then.”


15874961_10154390692306443_3216348737302680618_o30 March     Hijilled, The Thirsty Scholar, Manchester

A fab new regular night for female musicians and poets kicks off with Sophie Sparham, Lou Maclean, The Lab RatsJohnnie Squizzercrow Experiment, and Cosmic Slop. And it’s free!


13151481_239897496366954_6072376108531081295_n31 March     Kes’ Conscience and Pussyliquor, The Green Door Store, Brighton

There’s a thriving DIY scene in Brighton at the moment, and these two bands are top notch examples of Brighton riot grrrl and, yes, Brighton rock.



(I also hear that the mighty Petrol Girls are touring 17-25 March – keep an eye on their Facebook page for details.)


All words by Cassie Fox. More from Cassie in her Louder Than War archive here