It’s a windy day in Brighton. The sun has disappeared and in the basement of an unassuming bar just off the seafront, there’s a hive of activity as The Virginmarys and their team set up for the night’s performance. Greetings are exchanged with Ally Dickaty (vocals and guitar) and Danny Dolan (drums) before we zig-zag through the equipment and into the dressing room. Much like in Stoke and Glasgow, it feels more of an informal chat than an interview as we talk about their latest EP, Sitting Ducks, Ally’s upcoming Christmas single in aid of homelessness and Danny’s adventures with papier-mâché.
Last night in Liverpool was the start of this short tour. How was it?
Ally: It was great; a great way to kick off the tour. We played Liverpool in January as a support.
Danny: Yeah, with Rival Sons but other than that, we haven’t played Liverpool for ages. It was always one of those weird places for us but it was really good.
Ally: Cool venue.
Sitting Ducks has been out for a while, how was the reaction to it?
Ally: All the reviews have been amazing. I was pretty scared, from working with Gil Norton to then doing something by ourselves, it’s not really our world. We’re really lucky to have worked with really great people and to know some guys where we can say what we want and they made it happen.
Danny: I think looking at how we recorded it as well, we’d taken a lot from all the people we’d worked with.
Danny: It came together pretty quickly. I listened to the EP and I think it’s a lot more of a change to the first two records so I was expecting a lot of people to be like “Why have you put fucking keyboards on it?” But they didn’t; people really liked it.
Ally: There was no difference in the reviews from big publications like Kerrang! or Classic Rock. They gave us the 4/5 and 8/10; that stayed the same. Well happy with that!
What was it like to self-release the EP?
Danny: It was difficult; it’s been a massive learning curve. I’m glad we did an EP and not an album. It’s like riding a bike; first time you do it, you’re going to fall off. I think it’ll be good for when we do the next full album, it’ll be a lot better for us. You learn a lot more about the industry and a lot more about how easy it is to do certain things you’d thought wouldn’t be easy to do and vice-versa.
Ally: Yeah, to be doing the label’s job and producer and musician and push it, then distribute it. It started out really good but it starts to take its toll and you think “Shit, all this stuff’s a lot to keep on top of for me and Dan.”
Danny: There was a few people, once they’d heard we were doing it, got in touch with us. They really wanted to work with us on the record, some guys from labels and other stuff and there were a few guys we probably wanted to work with them but for whatever reason, maybe it was too late in the day, we thought “We’ll just put the EP out ourselves”. I’m really glad we’ve got some new music out this year and it’s set us up so we can do something brand new and maybe work with some of the people we could have worked with on this EP.
Ally: Definitely a good experience for us to do. Like Danny said, it is like riding a bike, it has been a tough experience in many respects but I think really necessary at the same time.
Obviously, the artwork relates to the title track, where did the idea come from to anthropomorphise them and have them tattooed?
Danny: It was a really fucking long process. Normally with the artwork, one of us comes up with an idea or just a few concepts. Or I’ll have at least five ideas.
Ally: I think for all the albums it’s been your ideas.
Danny: Yeah, it’s normally pretty easy from the title to come up with all the ideas. I can’t remember what the other ideas were, it was stuff like having two people on a bench with some sort of giant boulder about to fall on them but it was like “How can we do that?” [laughs]…So that was out. Then we just started messing about with duck heads, I was going to try it on the royal family but I thought it was a bit too Sex Pistols-y. We had one of JFK, that was pretty good. A boxer, that was alright.
Ally: Didn’t we release all of them?
Danny: The astronaut one was. I just really liked that tattooed one.
Ally: Class, isn’t it?
Danny: It worked really well with connecting the head because she’s got a pearl necklace on. It looked cool but definitely the hardest one I’ve ever done in terms of coming up with an idea. I did start off with making a papier-mâché…
Ally: [knowing laugh]
Danny: I thought “I’m going to make a massive papier-mâché duck head”. So I bought the biggest balloons – cost me a tenner! The plan was I’d do two of them and me an Al could wear them and that would be the cover. So I was doing it, [laughs] pasting it on and I’ve not done papier-mâché since I was kid so I thought “I know, I’ll just make it as thick as I possibly can because then it’ll be stronger.” I was getting it going and it fell off my coffee table, and rolled…and it hit my cactus. And it blew glue-snot all over my fucking house! I rang Ally up: “Yeah, we’re not gonna do that papier-mâché idea.”
Ally: I knew it was ambitious.
Danny: And you were like “Are you sure you’re going to be able to do this?” Yeah, I’ll get it done this weekend! And it was a nightmare… still got shit on my walls.
In the run-up to the release, you put together a Pledge Music store for t-shirts and lyrics and other things. Could you see yourselves doing the full campaign to release an album or EP?
Ally: It was used as a platform to bring in more people. I think what Pledge does is really cool and I think bands are having to go down that innovative route like coming down to a sound check to bring in more money, heads and interests: just the way the industry is. We wouldn’t rule out doing a Pledge campaign of some sorts. I think it was really cool how we did it just by selling fans t-shirts and not asking online for more. It’d be good if we could keep doing it or the right people to work with, we’ve worked closely with a label. I think what Pledge brings to the table is really cool, you see all these great bands from the 90s coming back because they’ve got all these fans. It seems to make sense, really.
Danny: I remember hearing about it but not thinking much of it. Then I saw Ginger did his and he got it within a week.
Ally: I think we’ve got that type of fanbase that would go above and beyond.
Going back to some stuff from last year, are we likely to see more People Help the People dates?
Ally: This year, after the year I’ve had, I couldn’t face it. It took a lot to go around and drive to each place then set up with Dan, be the promoter and organise the stuff and be in touch with the food banks. I’ve done a Christmas single. I wanted to do something, and it’d be great if I could continue doing something at Christmas to do some good-hearted gesture. It makes me feel good and there’s a good buzz when it happens and it’s nice to bring that warm-hearted Christmas vibe back in a sea of adverts pushing widescreen TVs. So, we’re not going to see the foodbank thing but we will see this Christmas single that will be coming out to raise money for homelessness.
Danny: Yeah, that was cool. They were the first proper radio station which played us. When we first started out, our agent was in Glasgow, we did more gigs there; Glasgow became our second home, we were in Scotland every other weekend. Tom Russell came to our first ever gig in Glasgow.
Ally: Rockers Bar, wasn’t it? Under the bridge. The people in Glasgow are so real and down to earth. It’s got a vibe we’re used to with Manchester.
Ally: So continually playing and getting to know the Rock Radio guys; it’s a really special place for us. It was a really cool gig.
Danny: Yeah and we got to see our old agent who we hadn’t seen for ages so that was cool.
If they have a launch party, would you be up for playing that?
Ally: Yeah, man!
Danny: Yeah, definitely!
And I believe Danny has a new toy to play with…
Danny: Yeah! It’s been pretty weird, I’m not used to playing it. I’ve sort of forgotten how to hit it properly, if that makes sense. It’s getting there. It’s bigger and louder so win-win. I can’t believe I’ve got it, to be honest. It’s cool because our old one, the stand I had for it, someone just made it. You’d hit it and it’d be rocking all over the place and it’d fall over. Probably why it cracked – in spite of people saying it was me! This one’s got a proper stand so that isn’t going to happen. It’s good, it’ll be cool because whatever the next songs are we can think “Maybe we can put a gong in that one”. Not many bands have a gong.
In part two of the interview (coming tomorrow), we set the band some questions suggested by the fan community…