With the release of their latest EP Sitting Ducks imminent, The Virginmarys announce a hometown gig to celebrate its release. Much excitement surrounds the news of an intimate show, resulting in a sell out in just under 30 minutes! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this band live over the last five years, but I just knew tonight would be extra special! Currently writing and recording as a two piece, the now familiar Ross Massey (bass) will be joining Ally Dickaty (guitar/vocals) and Danny Dolan (drums) for tonight’s live show.
Sitting in the heart of Manchester’s northern quarter lies Jimmy’s, a relatively new independent music venue. As I step inside this rather cool, retro bar it already feels like a family reunion. With one of the most tight-knit fan bases I know, you can pretty much go to any gig in the UK (or anywhere in the world really) and you’ll see the same old faces, and be welcomed with open arms. All around are hugs and shouts of excitement, from teens to seniors so wide is their appeal. As I pull up a stool to catch up with friends, some travelling from as far as Ireland just for tonight’s show, I hear the band sound checking below and it catches my breath and I can’t wait to get downstairs.
A small, intimate room with a red carpeted stage in one corner, just about houses the band’s gear. A couple of comfy sofas at the back of the room with old microphones and signed cymbals decorating the bar give it a great vibe. No support acts tonight this is all about the band, their music and their irrefutable close relationship with their fans. However I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened next. Frontman Ally steps out alone to huge applause and picks up his acoustic guitar; you could have heard a pin drop just then in this packed out room.
We are treated to a sublime, five-track stripped back set, Ally bearing his absolute heart and soul in every note and word. Opening with mesmeric “Off to Another Land” (written in the band’s infancy) is particularly poignant tonight as Ally has recently shared his five-year sobriety milestone with his friends and fans. A huge achievement in itself, this openness and honesty is what’s so endearing and relatable about the band and why their music reaches out and appeals to so many on so many different levels. Haunting, powerful vocals interweave with reverberant acoustic tones and I need to sit down with the enormity of it all.
The sound is incredible in here tonight, this modest space reflecting the sound waves divinely. “Northern Sun”, a not-yet-recorded track but one very familiar to fans, is simply stunning; softer vocals contrast the harrowing lyrics embellished by Ally’s raspy, northern tones. “Walk in my Shoes” and newest track “Sleep” from Sitting Ducks bring the house down. A very special opening to this momentous night.
A short interval is awash with faces aghast, some fans experiencing this special, stripped back set for the first time and the excitement builds for the night ahead. A huge roar goes up as Ally, Danny and Ross hit the stage. Danny on his feet, stick poised high in the air, eyes locked on Ally waiting for his cue as the intro to “Portrait of Red” is played out. He comes down hard with monstrous precision, the crowd drown out Ally screaming “Baby treat my body like a canvas” and we’re off!
The band smash through a huge set spanning their whole career. Raucous “Into Dust” has Ally spitting out his frustrations at the industry and being let down. It’s probably their most punk track to date. “Taking the Blame” has Ally almost rupture his jugular veins so savage are the vocals, Danny slays his kit with intent and the crowd jump about with glee and sing along. They don’t come up for air as they launch into “Halo in her Silhouette”, Ross rocking out on bass looks likes he’s having the time of his life, complementing Ally on backing vocals inextricably. The room is bouncing; the band and crowd feeding off one another’s passion.
The pace doesn’t flicker as track after track are belted out. “Running for my Life” again has Danny in his signature standing position, hovering above his kit completely focused on the battering in hand, Ally’s huge riffs inspiring head banging to a non-faltering crowd. Latest release and incredibly catchy “Sweet Loretta” is pure rock and roll. Danny just doesn’t miss a beat; he is utterly outstanding tonight. Powering through “Free to do Whatever they Say” and “Lost Weekend”, the sweat starts to pour from the band, their passion and performance incomparable. There’s an incredible connection on stage tonight, it’s great to see a band enjoy so much what they do and that oozes through their confident performance. Ally jokes with the crowd, gives a nod of thanks to ‘the support act’ who he thought was an ‘alright singer’.
“Sitting Ducks” has an especially groovy bass rhythm that sees Ross bouncing and stomping across stage in unison with Ally, the crowd are still up for it and they bob along hypnotised. “For You My Love” has everyone singing along in unison, the atmosphere is electric and this continues throughout “Dressed to Kill”, fans loving old and newer tracks equally.
Ally takes a minute to thank everyone for their continued support, genuinely humbled and gracious, with particular thanks to those who have travelled the length of the country and across seas just for tonight. His words are reciprocated by the biggest cheer of the night. There’s so much love in the room, as there is at any of their live shows. This is what makes them stand out from the rest, there’s no hierarchy, no them and us, no fan bigger or better than any other fan, just immense passion, caring and mutual respect.
Probably the biggest treat for me personally next, as they launch into “1,000 Times” one of their earliest recorded tracks, that I’ve never seen performed live before. An onslaught of filthy riffs, harsh vocals and frenzied drumming pursues driving the crowd wild – I’m speechless (for once). “Dead Man’s Shoes” and crowd thriller “Just a Ride” again sees Ally’s vocals being drowned out by the crowd followed by heartfelt “Motherless Land”.
When melancholic intro to “Ends Don’t Mend” begins, another huge cheer goes up and we all sing along. We are served a performance of epic proportions. Haunting vocals build into a powerful crescendo, Ally throws his head to the heavens, engulfed in smoke and plays an incredible, intricate solo. No words needed the pain is felt with every note and etched all over his face. Danny thrashes the drums to within an inch of their lives and the crowd are stood mouths wide open. Delivered with exquisite execution, I’m completely blown away.
It wouldn’t be a Virginmarys gig if it didn’t close with “Bang, Bang, Bang”, their bluesiest, infamous rock number. Crowd and band in complete vocal and bouncing unison, the perfect end to an outstanding night. Colossal applause and grins all round, it’s a job well done guys! I say it everytime “that was their best set to date”, knowing full well that the next time I see them, I’ll be saying just the same. This band up their game continually, their passion, commitment and love sees them striving and achieving infinitely.
Hugs all round, we leave – sweaty and with huge grins on our faces, making plans on what shows we’ll meet up at on their upcoming tour. If you haven’t let The Virginmarys into your life yet (why the hell not?) you can catch them on tour this November and Sitting Ducks is out now!
Images with kind permission TravellingSimon Photography
Tour Dates (November)
- 21 – Liverpool, The Shipping Forecast
- 22 – Brighton, Sticky Mike’s
- 23 – London, Water Rats