As the saying goes, America invented rock ‘n’ roll and Britain perfected it and made it diverse; punk, hardcore, indie rock and all those genres that’ve dominated the independent scenes for decades – they’re all from the UK.
British punk has been synonymous with the Sex Pistols, though it may be more accurate to see the band as providing a point of convergence for the various influences that informed what eventually became known as punk. Oi!, hardcore, street punk or why not the Swedish kind of punk, “trallpunk”, all came from this point of convergence, being the birthplace for bands as Cockney Rejects, Asta Kask, Gallows and The Cramps, just to mention a few great acts of the time. And different epicenter’s of punk music arose and grew to become hotbeds for new, exciting acts on the scene.
One of these hotbeds emerged in Blackpool and bands as Factory Records’ – the label of Joy Division and New Order – Section 25, John Robb’s post-punk act The Membranes with three indie Top20 hits, and the punk rock act The Fits with four chart hit singles, were all formed in the greater Blackpool area. And with the Rebellion Festival, the world’s biggest punk music festival, Blackpool claims its place in the history of punk music.
With the second decade of the 21st century nearing a close, we’re smack in the middle of the next wave of bands with roots from that same point of convergence starting in the seventies. And yet again it’s Blackpool that present one of the most promising acts and one of the UK’s most talked-about new bands on the scene since the arrival of Gallows.
The four-piece crew led by the three Bentham brothers and drummer Spud Newman are turning heads with their youthful anger and explosive energy mixed with charming, self-deprecating humor, orchestrated by charismatic frontman Bobby Bentham.
Messed!Up took the chance to sit down with the lads before their show at Molotow at the Reeperbahn Festival, their second show at Molotow in just a few months, to talk about the upcoming album and self-induced injuries during live shows.
The three brothers Jack, Will and Bobby Bentham were surrounded by punk music already at a very early age with their dad making videos for a whole range of bands, from the U.K. Subs to Black Flag, and he also brought his sons out to a number of concerts. The youngsters wanted to be as wild as the guys on stage and Bobby and Will formed their own combo.
In 2014, drummer Spud Newburn joined the band and just a year later they released their debut EP “S.O.I.A”, and later the third Bentham brother, Jack, joined the band. Fast forward four years; after two massive hardcore/punk/rock influenced EP’s, “God Save The Teen” (2016) and “We The Rats” (2017), 2018 have seen the release of singles “Snakepit” and “Blind Faith No Future” (and after this interview also “Here Come the Wolves”), and tour support of no less than Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes.
The future looks bright for the Blackpool lads and when we meet up at Molotow Bobby starts by excusing himself for being tired from too much travelling lately. After the guys have played around with the editor’s Dead Kitten mic windshield – it’s a brand, not a dead kitten (we hope) – for a few minutes, the interview starts in the general feeling in the band and their plan for a debut album.
Album on label or not?
You’ve got quite much attention the last two years both for your shows and your two EP’s, and this year saw the arrival of two amazing singles. How’s the general feeling in Strange Bones at the moment?
It feels good and it feels like everything starts to come together, and we’re happy to get out of the UK as well. This is our second time to Germany and we love the Germans. We did Download [Festival] in Paris a few years ago but that was just a one-off. There were no expectations at all when we came to that German tour in July, obviously we never been here before but the crowds were amazing.
We’ve put a lot of work into this band; we don’t have any funding or anything like that so we’re always constantly out of pocket and are just happy to be invited to play anywhere, and to play abroad feels just great.
You have a lot of musical references to Frank Carter and Gallows, and you supported him last year as well for a few shows. I even think that some of the stuff you do is how Frank Carter would have loved to sound like on his second solo album – but he didn’t make it. How much of an inspiration is Frank Carter?
We all absolutely love Gallows and grew up with them. One day Frank Carter randomly messaged us on Instagram saying he wants to take us on tour and we were like “What!? Read that again”. He’s a great guy and an inspiration to what we do since we grew up with Gallows.
But when he contacted us we thought it was a fake account and someone messing with us (laugh) – disbelief is the word.
At times you also sound like a breakbeat act going punk/hardcore. Your cover of The Prodigy’s “Spitfire”, the breakbeat kind of beats on “Big Sister Is Watching You” and your collaboration with Avelino on “Energy” are great examples of fusing together breakbeat and hardcore influences. What’s you take on that?
We all like electronic music as well and we have started to bring certain aspects of electronic music into the band. When we started we never wanted to be pigeonholed to just one genre and never wanted to stay with just one sound; we always sound like Strange Bones and just don’t want people to pigeonhole us.
When do you phone up The Prodigy and ask for a proper collaboration?
Whenever they accept the call (laugh). We got so many ideas for collaborations but it’s just so much politics behind it. But soon, don’t worry (laugh), The Prodigy and Strange Bones.
After two EP’s and this year’s singles, when can we expect a debut album in the stores?
It’s in the works but not until next year. We have a new song coming out very soon [“Here Come the Wolves” is released at this point] and we’re playing it tonight. No wait, we’ll play three new songs tonight.
A situation of confusion arises about how many new songs there will be on the setlist and Spud becomes the target of some friendly bullying.
But you don’t feel pressured to finish an album to have something to go on tour with, especially since you gained quite a following because of your frequent touring? Just to have something for your fans.
Well, that’s the thing in it. After a lot of festivals people expect an album after a certain amount of time. We want to put out an album, we really do, but it’s just like I [Bobby] said before about the whole funding situation, it costs a lot of money to make an album; mix, master, press and distribute it – that’s money we don’t have right now.
I was just about to come to that; is finding a label still important? Or do you don’t want to go in the DIY direction?
It depends if someone comes up with a good enough offer or if someone comes with a different aspect, a completely different type of offer. To be honest, we rather go for a completely unorthodox way of releasing than going with a label so we’re not tied into something.
Many of those bands we met lately say that that the album is dead and it’s better to release EP’s and singles just to remind people more often about your existence. What’s your thought about that?
Well, we don’t want to give too much away but that’s part of our strategy with the album. It’s still in the work and we don’t want to talk about it too much because the plan might change and people might expect something that’s not there.
“Being in a band is hard work”
Have you ever wondered if there might be too much music? A couple of weeks ago the Messed!Up crew attended the Reeperbahn Festival at home turf in Hamburg with more than 600 concerts by loads of up-and-coming bands, singer-songwriters and other musical performers in just four days. Standing on the street at an intersection of venues where at least a dozen bands were playing at the same time, I was immersed in a kind of sonic cloud of formless music, when the thought struck me “How do you stick out in the endless din of music we are subjected to?”.
And just for the cause; I for sure added somewhere around twenty new bands to my Spotify list – Strange Bones were already in there since long – after being to their shows, bands I barely have heard of before the festival, and this is just one of hundreds of similar showcase festivals out there with the mission to bring new talent into the spotlight. How do they stick out?
On the other hand, we’re living in one of the most creative times that music has ever seen; in the case of the UK, the Music Kingdom is heaving with young artists that refuse conventional wisdom and the cyclical churn of genre and style. For the first time in ages, it feels as if British music is not a competition between private school kids to see who can sign a six-figure deal with Universal first, but bristling with exciting scenes on suburban streets.
Many of our interviews with up-and-coming bands during 2018 – for example The Ninth Wave, PABST, The Dunts and YONAKA – have penetrated the discussion about the competitive climate on the UK music scene and the hard work, and money, you need to put into your band before any established artist might pick your band as a support act or some merciful radio show host plays one of your songs on national radio, changing the future overnight.
These struggles are always present for a band as Strange Bones, and Blackpool may not be the best starting point to make those headliner tours come true although it recently has started to change with the arrival of Bootleg Social Club where the lads themselves have been involved to bring in out of town bands.
There is quite a punk and rock tradition in Blackpool and it seems to be a good scene there. How good is the local scene to bring new bands into the spotlight?
Recently there is a lot more happening, there’s a venue that opened up called Bootleg Social. Skelly opened it up and Milo is doing a really god job bringing out of town bands in and helping local bands to get a little bit of boost. That’s a really good venue and what Blackpool needed for so long. Before that it was just pubs and the Empress Ballroom where the Rebellion is.
When Bootleg opened we had all these bands coming through; IDLES have just been there and bands like The Wombats and False Heads play there, and all the underground UK bands that are emerging now, they all come to Blackpool.
Why does it work that well in Manchester?
Manchester is very broad in the music that comes out of there; you couldn’t really say that it’s one type of music in Manchester, it’s completely varied, isn’t it? Manchester just seems to have a good scene for every type of music.
I know that the UK scene is one of the toughest to find a way through as a new band. I’ve had interviews this year with Yonaka, The Ninth Wave and The Dunts and all interviews ended up in a discussion about the “competition” on the UK scene. How do you work to get through the crowd of bands and gain followers?
Yeah, it’s really crazy out there. It’s hard work, being in a band is hard work. You spend so much on things and you want people to hear it – but it’s just hard work.
For example, just take the algorithms on Facebook where nobody sees anything you post, it’s just frustrating. We don’t want to use that anymore but we have to do it. In the end you just have to be good (laugh).
But you must have noticed a difference in your position on the scene after the attention you’ve received in media?
Yes, it has been constantly growing but this growing thing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s slow and we have been playing a lot for something like three years. It’s not that it just happened like one day you play a show and the next day loads of people are coming, it’s a gradual thing. But now it’s gross, it’s huge every time we play.
You got to want to do it and don’t expect anything to be given to you. Especially a band like Strange Bones where people wait to see if someone else invest in it or whatever. But it’s all a craft, it’s hard work, you got to put the work in. You don’t swim an ocean to dive the shore, you got to carry on [everyone laughs at Bobby and point out it’s a stolen quote]. But we believe in what we do and fucking love to play music so we are going to carry on doing it regardless of what happens.
People just know that if they come to one of our gigs it’s going to be mental, that’s enough reason why bands don’t want to take us on tour (laugh).
Well, you are well-known for your quite aggressive and at times violent shows.
That’s why we don’t get anyone to support (laugh). Frank was the only one but Frank doesn’t have anything to worry about (laugh)!
Injuries and cancelled tour
Anyone that knows Frank Carter knows that he is a bit of a nutter. Anyone attending a Strange Bones show knows that frontman Bobby Bentham is a raving lunatic on stage – if he’s on the stage – reminding me of my first encounters with Gallows back in the days around 2006 when Frank himself was limber enough to do the Bentham martial artist moves on and off stage. During the show later this night, Messed!Up witnessed Strange Bones utterly uncensored – and it was genuinely the most insane, crazy, hilariously nuts evening we’ve had in years. Bobby is an absolute powerhouse of a showman who makes the entire venue his stage.
However, sometimes things go awry and concerts need to be cancelled – or in the case of Strange Bones, a full tour had to be rescheduled.
A friend of mine was at your show in Manchester on Ritz last year and it was an amazing energy on stage – just like it used to be back in the days before mobile phones made people stand like frozen and just watch the bands. Do your performances express who you are as persons off stage?
Sometimes, but it’s going in waves; we’re just chilled out some days (laugh). It depends of which time of the day you catch us (laugh).
Sometimes it’s kind of violent but the crowd loves it, and the question needs to be asked: how often have you ended up with injuries?
BOBBY: We had to cancel a whole tour (laugh). I pulled a muscle deep in my back and we had to reschedule for ten days or something like that.
WILL: And at the gig when he did it, he just walked off and didn’t tell anyone that he wasn’t coming back so I just stood there with fucking Spud trying to play some drums and bass to keep the sound going (laugh), there was just nothing happening! [turning to Bobby] You didn’t come back out (laugh)!
BOBBY: It was the warm-up gig for the tour and I jumped off the stage – and before I even done that I cut my hand open and my white guitar turned completely red – and it was like “Ah, fuck”. I knew I’d done something with my back and I had just to get off and I was like “We’re going on tour in two days”, and I knew for fact that I really hurt my back there.
That means you have calmed down a bit now?
Not at all, I just have to warm-up a bit, stretching and doing some yoga moves (laugh).
What’s the plan for the rest of 2018?
We’re going to continue to formulate an album plan and we’re going to finish this tour. Tomorrow we’re going to Holland, after that we do the UK and then we got a few dates in December; we got a big end the year show in Blackpool, and a couple of other things. But mainly, from here to New Year’s, it’s about getting all the songs together and record it and see if we can swindle any money out of anyone (laugh). Crowdfunding is one of the options, but there’s a couple of options out there.
And what would you like the legacy of Strange Bones to be in the future? What mark would you like to have done in the future?
The plan for out debut is that it’s not going to be like any other debut for the last ten years. That’s a really bold claim but that’s going to be our legacy.
Strange Bones pages