INTERVIEW: Boston Manor

"I would take playing to kids in a basement over a livestream in the fucking Opera House of Sydney."

INTERVIEW: Boston Manor

By Yasmin Brown

Jul 30, 2021 15:54

In 2021, Boston Manor’s story is not a unique one: band plans album release. Band releases album. Global pandemic acts as giant spanner in band’s album promotion plans. By now, it really is a tale as old as time, and 15 months after Covid-19 first hit our shores in a big way, front man Henry Cox and guitarist Ash Wilson seem to be letting it wash over them. Literally.

In typical Download Festival fashion, despite it being the first month of summer, it’s raining. A lot. But given that Boston Manor are about to play their first live show of the ‘GLUE’ album cycle (to a crowd, at least), spirits are high, even if they’re somewhat spattered with some teething problems , as Wilson explains.

“Part of me thought that if I just close my eyes, my hands would just sort of play guitar for me and I just wouldn’t have to worry about it. But upon getting to practice and realising that isn’t always the case… um, maybe it’s a little more difficult. But it kind of did fall into place after a bit.”

Like many others, not being able to tour has impacted more than just the muscle memory of the members of Blackpool’s Boston Manor – not least in that they really have no fucking clue what songs are going to resonate with today’s audience, and as such, today’s setlist is set to be something of a finger to the wind. Old favourites are a given, of course, but more than a year after the release of ‘GLUE’, it’s been hard to gauge which songs are likely to receive the best reception.

“There’s a lot of second guessing especially when putting together this setlist, it’s kinda like – also we’ve only got 40 minutes and you’ve gotta play old – you can’t just play new songs so you know. It’s been a challenge. Which is not a bad problem to have again. We’re fine with that.”

It’s not just gauging responses to existing music that’s been tough either, while Cox boldly claims that the music they’ve been writing (set for release before the end of the year) is some of the best they’ve ever written, he does admit that it’s taken them far longer to write than it usually would, due to the lack of inspiration from touring and simply not being able to work in the same place as each other most of the time.

“It’s been weird because we have all been in different rooms doing this which is a new experience for us. And the songs are amazing, like, we’re really proud of the music, it’s some of the best music we’ve ever written – I know everyone says that but it’s short, it’s concise, the songs are really good. But what I would say is that it’s taken so much longer. So much longer. Like, what would normally take us a month, you know, two months writing, has taken a year. Because you don’t get that feedback and that chance to test it out. It’s such a slow process.”

As excited as we are for a new era of Boston Manor to begin, however, before we can even really discuss new music, we have to reflect on what has passed, and the time during which the band wrote and recorded ‘GLUE’ wasn’t necessarily a simple one, either, with the band taking a leap of faith into something very different from anything they’d released before as Cox explains. 

“I hate the word experimental but we were definitely testing our own waters with what we liked and what we didn’t like and in the process there were loads of songs that we threw out um, and I think. It’s interesting having done that project and starting to write and look towards the future and what we’ve learnt from that record.”

It’s bizarre, too, given that the usual process of releasing an album followed by relentless touring was stopped in its tracks, and Wilson found himself wondering whether “people still know about the songs? Care about the songs?”

Again, it all comes down to gauging that fan reaction, and while social media can offer a platform to throw out polls, “every answer is different which I think is a good thing but it doesn’t help us when you’re trying to put together a set”, explains Cox. What resonates on record is often very different to what hits when played live and so really, when it comes to today’s show at the Download Festival Pilot, it’s still a stab in the dark, and even now as we sit taking cover from the relentless downpour, we debate which ‘GLUE’ songs might hit hardest (the answer, by the way, is ‘1s and 0s’, which coincidentally is left out of today’s 40-minute set). 

“There’s… a degree of using touring to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and also what people like. There’s always kind of the songs you thought were never gonna be a major song on an album, the fans really take it and make it their own which is great. And it’s all part of the experience, so I suppose from that, it does leave you going in a little bit – not blind but uninformed – to be playing an event this size and a lot of the set being played for the first time.”

Stranger still is that while many songs off that record remain unplayed in a live environment, the band have been working on new material and the lack of touring has impacted that, too, albeit it in a different way. By taking the crowd’s response, Wilson explains, bands like Boston Manor are able to use that feedback as a way to drive the writing process and figure out what should come next, but this is also stunted by that lack of organic interaction that up until recently they’ve become so used to. 

“It also changes your outlook on songwriting itself anyway because when we drop a record, we’re touring it relentlessly for like a year, a year and a half, and so it really gives you a good insight into what songs people really like and connect with, and we kind of figure out from there where we’ll go with our next releases and stuff like that. But because we haven’t had a chance to do that it’s been very much like a sort of elimination process of kind of, throw it at the wall and see what sticks.”

The one opportunity Boston Manor have had to play live during the pandemic was at the iconic Blackpool Tower back in October 2020, but just as fans of music thrive in a live environment – being with other fans and having the band itself to feed off – bands need the energy of the crowd to give their best performance. Few bands interact with their fans quite like Boston Manor do, and so as Cox and Wilson recap the experience, they admit that while undeniably very cool, it wasn’t necessarily all it was cracked up to be. 

“We learnt how to be a band and to be a live band from shows. Obviously a live band, but to write songs literally from testing them out and playing shows… So yeah Ash is right, there was definitely something missing there. And it’s a great experience getting to play that venue and stuff and it was awesome considering the circumstances but it isn’t a patch on playing – I would take playing to kids in a basement over a livestream in the fucking Opera House of Sydney. Do you know what I mean?”

Cox’s words resonate, as anyone who caught the stream and has also experienced the glory of a Boston Manor gig live and in the flesh will admit that something vital was missing from the Blackpool Tower show, and it was simply that this is a band that needs their fans as much as the fans need Boston Manor. From the unified screaming of the lyrics, to the warmth of other bodies, to straight up being kicked in the head by crowd surfers, there really is nothing better than a packed out pub or club venue to get the adrenaline pumping and the heart racing in an environment where there’s no division between band and crowd but instead, as Cox simply puts it, “everyone’s all together”. 

The idea that getting kicked in the head is considered a good time to fans seems funny to Wilson, who notes that they “hear that all the time. Someone comes up to us like, “Oh my god I think I’ve got concussion” and we’re like, “Oh my god are you alright? And they’re like, “I feel amazing!”. I’m like, is this normal?”

And for a band like this – one that incites chaos and carnage in all the best ways – it kind of is normal. Their music is passionate and so how could their fans be anything other than passionate, too? A couple of hours later, the band’s early evening slot proves to be a roaring success, offering plenty of opportunity for kicked heads, muddy footprints left on clothing, and hoarse throats after mere moments of them taking to the stage. Boston Manor’s fans have been forced to rest for too long, and they’ll be damned if they’re not going to make the most of every single second of this short set. As he bounds around the stage, Cox’s earlier words ring in my ears and prove more true than he possibly could have imagined or hoped. 

“I’m not worried now, like in that two weeks we were practicing every day. Obviously an event this size I would love to be coming off the back of a tour doing it but I’m pretty confident. Obviously it’s hard cause we’re playing songs that we’ve never played before – that puts you on a bit of an edge – but I think it’s gonna be great. I think we’re just gonna be so excited to be back on stage again.”

To say it was simply ‘great’ is an understatement. Boston Manor were born to be a band and born to tear up stages small and large. With venues now allowed to function at full capacity, it won’t be long before this Blackpool five-piece are back to touring relentlessly, again being the reason behind lost voices, bruised legs, and concussed heads. I, for one, cannot wait.