Today, The Virginmarys’ album King of Conflict turns ten. It’s not an “oldie” but it’s certainly golden. A decade. So much has changed in that time – within the band, the music industry and more than likely the lives of the fans who were there when it was released (myself included). It was a Monday – remember when music came out on a Monday (other countries had different days) before the industry unified and it just arrived at midnight on a Friday? Spotify wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, and we had no other choice than to wait for the post to arrive, grab it from a music shop or download it from a digital store.
On a Monday in 2013, it meant I worked until 7pm and didn’t get home until close to 8pm. I pretty much worked every hour my workplace was open, spending all my wages on gig tickets and music. For this, an album I had been waiting so long for, was waiting for me when I came home. It meant shoving the disc into my laptop so I could upload it to my computer and from there sync it to my phone to listen to for my journey to and from work. And that first listen wasn’t revelatory that it may have been for others who heard it. Because I knew what to expect – I’d been following this band’s exploits for a number of years by this point. I listened to it. I enjoyed it. It was cool. More importantly, I wanted to listen to it again. And again. And again. That’s what the next week consisted of – listening to it, over and over again. Because every time I did, I enjoyed and loved it more than the previous listen. If it was vinyl or tape, it would have long been worn out.
As an album, there’s so much going on – there’s classic rock, hard rock, blues, punk, psychedelica, indie, Britpop, Britrock, alternative, and grunge. And because of that, fans of all of those genres and sub-genres were drawn to them, each coming from a different perspective. For me, it was how direct it was, as someone who grew up on classic rock, especially the straightforward end, the sound of a Les Paul through a Marshall is one of the closest things we have to magic on this planet. But more than that, I loved the poetry of the lyrics. I hadn’t heard anything like it until then. I loved the majesty and fanciful tales of early Queen, and Led Zeppelin, the experiences of 1980s LA in Appetite for Destruction, the innuendo of AC/DC, the good times of The Quireboys, as well as bands like Thin Lizzy and Aerosmith. It was real. It was speaking to me in a way those other bands didn’t despite how much I loved their music.
But that realness and how it resonated with me worked within the music itself. As Ally Dickaty (vocals/guitars), Danny Dolan (drums) and Matt Rose (bass) hammered out their music – that was real, too. There’s passion in every second of those twelve tracks as Danny furiously assaults his drums and Matt thrashes out his bass lines. The rhythm section in perfect lock-step, a perfect bed for Ally to scream his vocals with his chunky Les Paul tone with no need for a second guitar. Indeed, that album was the perfect partner for me for so many dark, wet nights as I waited for a train home – the crescendo of “Ends Don’t Mend” usually hitting in the final minutes of my walk home at the other end.
Weeks of constant listening would result in me finally getting to see them as my first visit to Stereo (a venue I would come to love and The Virginmarys would play a few more times over the years) after years of missing out because I was too young to get into the venues they would play in Glasgow. And from solid touring, the album would let the band travel the world, playing in cities and rooms you can only imagine, picking up new fans across the globe. Not only that, it would lead to them winning a Classic Rock award (remember when the magazine held those?) and presented to the trio by someone just as real as they are – Ginger Wildheart. More touring followed before one final set of UK dates as they road-tested songs which would feature on its follow-up album.
It was also in this time where a fan group was created for the band. Where like-minded fans congregated within a group on Facebook with a difference. It’s even in the name – community. Because that’s what that little corner of the internet is. Where strangers became friends and family, forging bonds across the world, all because of this one album and this one band. And we’d discover so many common interests (namely bands) but shared values and outlooks, over the years going to so many Virginmarys shows as well as to see so many other bands. Because those three musicians brought people together, based on our love for their music and their own ideal of peace, love, truth, and music.
Whilst the band may look a little bit different ten years down the line, the mainstays of Ally and Danny continue to forge their own path in the music industry. Going it alone without label backing for several years now and whilst they’ve never made a King of Conflict II, the core DNA of that album remains in their music – staying true to themselves with a unique brand of rock. There’s not been a band since who have tried to emulate them or the album and if they tried, it likely wouldn’t work. Constantly a fixture on the UK touring circuit, they play to fans of all those genres and influences which featured on that album. Never giving anything less than their all in a performance or a release, all of which has been documented on this very site (and if there’s any media outlet with more comprehensive coverage of this band, I’d be surprised).
Because we’re so determined to put bands into a box, this is a band who want to challenge that notion. It’s an album which does the same whilst wearing its heart on its sleeve. It bubbles with intensity on the thrashy “Just a Ride” just as much as it does on “You’ve Got Your Money, I’ve Got My Soul”. Where the former deals with a relationship, the latter covers staying true to yourself whilst adding in a sprinkling of dark humour which is still relevant to this day. “Bang Bang Bang” is of its time yet eerily prophetic for 2023 as people become evermore slaves to screens, punk sneers bleeding into it alongside “Dead Man’s Shoes”. Elsewhere, “Ends Don’t Mend” has blues pouring from it, angst and pain etched into every corner of the epic (in the true sense of the word).
I still listen to King of Conflict on a regular basis. The second I hear that opening of “Dead Man’s Shoes”, the hairs on the back of my neck still stand to attention. It’s an album which can’t be listened to any way but in full. Because it is that tried but true phrase of “all killer, no filler” and it’s no surprise songs from that album are still live staples. The vinyl revival also took off in the same year as this album, albeit a little later and it means it’s not etched into a 12-inch disc. Nowadays, a band not releasing their music on this format sounds like a strange choice but again, it’s a sign of how things has changed within the industry landscape. And despite every hurdle, every roadblock, every setback, The Virginmarys stand tall ten years on.
Header image by Ray Lego