It’s no secret that The Virginmarys are a favourite at Moshville Times and as a massive fan, their genuine, hard-hitting rock is what makes me go to every tour and usually, it’s more than one date on the tour. This time, I was able to get to six out of the eight dates the Macclesfield-based band were playing as part of their Northern Sun tour.
As such, it was a tough one to choose which one I was going to review: do I choose the first night in Sheffield? Do I choose Birmingham as it’s a town I’ve been visiting for a number of years but never seen them play? Or do I choose Edinburgh as it’s been four and a half years since they last visited?
Then inspiration struck, since I’m following them around the country, let’s do something a bit different. It’s a bit more glamourous than being in a touring band and far less stressful but it yields something equally rewarding to playing to your faithful fans every night; being on the opposite end and able to see your favourite band night after night.
First night of the tour! It’s a 200-mile (ish) drive south to see the guys kick off the tour in a place I’ve never been. With the exception of festival dates and isolated headline gigs, I’ve never seen them on the first night. Should be an interesting one, the old faithful driving playlist is ready as always and with a different drive south than I’m used to, it makes for a fun morning. The car is sweltering by the time I reach sunny Sheffield and I’m in dire need of coffee, thankfully, my travelling companion Garry has already checked in to our hotel so that’s sorted. An amble towards the town centre in search of food finds us meeting up with Katie and Simon B, the latter of whom is on-hand to help the band set up and over the course of the tour, take some amazing pictures.
De-camped to the venue itself and we meet up with other fans and bump into Stu, another of the crew and sporting the latest band t-shirt with an ever-present grin. It’s a massive white V with a 3D effect, it hurts the eyes but dammit, you have to get one. The gig itself is in a tiny basement with a miniscule stage and there’s not enough room for Danny’s re-addition of his gong. The support acts are crowded onto the stage during their own sets, the first of which, Queasy, sound a bit of a mix between Red Hot Chili Peppers and as Simon B commented, early Faith No More. Second up, Ten Eighty Trees have a heavy alternative/indie rock vibe to them. A power trio supporting another power trio? Genius!
The Virginmarys take to the stage with “Portrait of Red” and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them do so. Whilst vocalist/guitarist Ally Dickaty says bass-man Ross Massey has been stricken down with man-flu and the band have been unable to rehearse, you’d never tell. As always, it’s a brilliant set, a bright white light shining on drummer Danny Dolan gives him a possessed look as he hits his drums with everything he’s got. New songs “Blind Lead the Blind” and “Look Out for my Brother” fit in excellently with the established material making for an excellent start to the tour.
Night 2: Leicester – “Blind Lead the Blind”
Didn’t get much sleep. By the time me and Garry got back to our hotel, it was well after 1am and I think we were just buzzing from the adrenaline of it all. Regardless, we drag our sleep-deprived selves out of our hotel and make our way to Leicester. Both driving our cars, we both hit traffic on the M1 and it makes for a frustrating start to the day. We’ve checked in with tonight’s promoter who has been kind enough to give us tips on where to park. Neither of us have been to Leicester so we’re not sure about anything like that but that usually makes for the best stories. Thankfully, when we get there, the pay and display isn’t working so it’s free!
Wetherspoons time for cheap food and drink and we meet up with Simon C (the very one who suggested differentiating between the two Simons). He’s got a care-free attitude to life and whilst I can say I’ve seen Band X in some part of the UK, his stories usually involve places in mainland Europe and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been further afield. He puts many of us to shame in his support of live music and it’s to be admired. We head for the venue and as one other patron mentions later in the evening “It’s just a pub with a stage at the end”. But it’s a quirky place and from the sounds of things, the promoters are totally on the ball tonight.
One of the best things about seeing The Virginmarys in so many towns is meeting people from all over, with many of the Fan Community on Facebook taking in multiple shows and when we get together, it’s one big family reunion. Being on her stomping ground, our own Rachel (and one of the Fan Community’s admins) makes an appearance along with her other half, Glen. Sam appears out of nowhere, always good for a laugh and happy to let a few of us crash at hers when we’re seeing the lads locally to her. Then, Eva shows and we’re all grins and jumping about, excited to see each other, even though we saw Brian Fallon in Glasgow just a few weeks ago.
The gig itself is good, the vocals are a bit low in the mix tonight. There’s an acoustic act to begin with Callum Cook of No More Heroes giving a mix of covers and his own band’s material. Eva comments that he’s got a great voice but it’s not hitting the mark for me, I think I’m just impatient more than anything. Kynch are up next, full of youthful swagger and the trio delve deep into the punk side of Guns N’ Roses’ early material. They’re the best fit for the main event tonight and Dig Lazarus makes for a jarring experience. Much like Kynch, they’ve got swagger but it falls flat. Eva and I are in agreement; the drummer, Jack Cotterill, is fantastic but other than that, it’s a bit boring, nothing which hasn’t been done before. Certainly, the guitarist/vocalist, Ash Tustain, seems to focus on style over substance, more interested in posing than delivering a solid performance. But hell, the crowd enjoys it and they leave the stage to chants of “Dig! Dig! Dig!” – so what if they couldn’t convert a few of us; the fans enjoyed it.
If last night was the warm-up, tonight The Virginmarys smash through their set and at several points we’re bouncing along together and as “Motherless Land” leads the tail end of the set, Garry, Rachel, Eva, both Simons and myself have our arms around each other, singing at the top of our voices. The band are warmed-up and deliver a blinder of a gig but the best moment of the night comes at the end when Azda prepares the gong for the finale of “Bang Bang Bang”. Except, instead of setting up next to Danny, he puts it in front of his kit. “Don’t fuck this up,” Ally says to the person who’s joined them with Danny counting her in. Indeed, for her birthday, Rachel had the honour of smashing the hell out of it for a belated birthday present. Hugs, smiles and sweat in abundance, tonight is one of these nights you don’t want to end and saying your farewells takes up a fair portion of the evening, never mind catching up with other people after the gig. It’s a five hour drive home but it’s one I’m happy to do. “You’re mental,” Simon B says as he checks out the night’s photos. True but it’s all done out of sheer love for three guys and their music and the chance to catch up with people we consider family.
Night 3: Birmingham – “For You My Love”
If I’m being honest, this is the night of the tour I’m most looking forward to; much like most of the towns and cities on this tour, I’ve never seen The Virginmarys here. I’ve been going to Birmingham for gigs for years and it has a cool vibe to it. Much like Glasgow, it feels real compared to the respective capital cities. This is the drive south I usually do and one I love as it’s a case of following the M74 and M6 as far south as possible before turning off for Rachel and Glen’s house. There’s always a friendly welcome waiting and I always bring caffeinated goods for them and sugary goods for their daughter (I’m a bad influence).
However, the drive is a bit different to usual as I stop off to pick up Sam. It makes a welcome change from doing the massive journey on my own. She’s great company and she’s even made a picnic for the car since I’ve not eaten all day. Sustenance aside, it helps keep my mouth shut for what comes later in the evening. Garry’s beaten us to Rachel and Glen’s so there’s a welcoming party for us and it’s not long before we’re joined by Simon B. He’s not on photography duty tonight so he can let loose and shortly after, we jump back into our cars to head into Birmingham.
The venue’s in a part of Birmingham I’ve not been to but it continues to hold that real vibe throughout. Once we’ve hit the bar, I check my phone for the text I’m expecting and outside, I find Eva. After the fun and games of Leicester, she sneakily booked herself for Birmingham, swearing me to secrecy and asking me to help surprise everyone else. There’s elation in the room when she’s revealed along with grins and tears of joy, meanwhile some good-humoured and well-deserved choice words are thrown in my direction.
Support tonight comes from Siobhan Mazzei. She’s got a band with her and musically, it’s just a touch too pretty for my liking. The bass player is entertaining, looking like an extra from Crobot but overall, a pop band supporting a high-octane rock outfit makes for a weird juxtaposition. Meanwhile, The Regulars batter through their set with a far edgier tone and so far, are the best support band of the tour. They’re polished, bring their own fans and keep my attention which is more than can be said for other bands on the tour.
This week, the set list hasn’t changed for The Virginmarys and with their intense, high-powered set, we’re bouncing from the intro to the very last note. An extra week has worked wonders for Ross, though. Far more comfortable, it’s like he was never ill and he’s back to his normal force of nature. There’s a palpable chemistry between the trio, building on what was there and with Ross having toured with Ally and Danny for some time now, it’s like he’s been there from day one. Towards the end of the set, his strap gives up and as a consummate professional, drops to his knees and plays his bass upright without missing a beat. Tonight shows them at their best and there’s something in the room; it’s like seeing them in Manchester or Glasgow. It’s a display of their consistency and as the tour rolls on, they continue to up their game.
Naturally, it comes to its end and honestly, I’m glad, if only to catch my breath. We chat with each other and the band, discussing their impending appearance at Macclesfield Festival. We all seem to be in agreement that tonight was a special one before we decamp to Eva’s hotel to say farewell before heading onwards ourselves and the second half of the tour awaited.
Header image with kind permission TravellingSimon Photography