The last ten years hasn’t seen many rock bands make a mark on the UK music scene with much noticeable success. However, fresh off winning ‘Best Breakthrough Act’ of the 2013 Classic Rock Awards and winding down a headlining tour, The Virginmarys may be the exception. The Macclesfield-based rock group played a sold out homecoming show in Manchester at the Academy 2, and I caught up with the band before their set to talk about their recently released debut album, the importance of live music and the best Travelodge they’ve ever stayed in (answer: York- “they had superior rugs”, lead vocalist Ally Dickaty explains).
The Virginmarys, who have been playing together since 2006 and pride themselves on being “the real deal” who have “done what [they’ve] always wanted… without fitting to any specific genre” released their debut full length Kings of Conflict this past year on Wind Up Records after recording four EPs in three years on their own. The band cites their previous DIY experience as the “only option” they had at the time. However, their time spent crafting their songs paid off when they were finally offered a record deal, as they were signed “for the album they had already created”, Dickaty explains, as opposed to being moulded into a specific type of image or group. He explains the necessity of “being in it for the right reason”, and when asked what piece of advice to give out to bands starting out, the whole band resoundingly emphasizes the need to “avoid TV talent… like the X Factor”. This commitment to authenticity resonates throughout the band, especially when it comes to their stress on live performances. Kings of Conflict was recorded completely live, and the band cites the extensive time they’ve spent on the road as essential to “capturing the live essence” that is so important to them. However, when it comes to the band’s favourite aspect of being on tour- “sausage rolls and red wine, definitely”, says Dickaty, and the rest of the band agrees.
The Virginmarys spent the summer touring America, concurring the experience was “mind-blowing [and] a great time”. They also have supported Queens of the Stone Age in Germany, which was “pretty awesome” drummer Danny Dolan divulges. It’s a step up from watching them perform live as a kid, apparently, which Dolan claims was “really disappointing”.
In the meantime, the band has been “writing loads”. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be appreciating their time off post-tour, which guitarist Matt Rose claims will entail “watching a lot of Game of Thrones and drinking a lot of alcohol”. So what can be expected out of their sophomore album? “Well, it’s going to be better than the first album”, says Dickaty. “There’s a tendency for progression within second albums and I’m sure we’ll do the same”. While it may not be featured on an album anytime soon, Dickaty talks about his hip-hop influences, citing the “poetry” in hip-hop lyricism as influential to his own writing.
The band is currently on tour with Vox Empire, a band they were referred to through their agent. “Their guitarist has only been in the band for two weeks”, Rose explains, “but you’d never know it. It’s been awesome watching them come together”. Vox Empire does indeed live up to Rose’s hype, playing a half hour set of solid, energized rock. The Virginmarys are understandably excited to play a homecoming show and the “positive vibes” they anticipate at such a gig live up to these expectations. Opening with ‘Portrait of Red’ and playing such favourite singles as ‘Just a Ride’ within the first few songs, they keep the crowd high-energy from the get-go. Rose as a drummer particularly steals the show- his precise and focused beats keep everyone from band members to gig-goers animated, and his skill as a drummer is obvious.
The Virginmarys have just put out a stripped down acoustic album, and therefore the lack of acoustic numbers selected to lighten up a set heavy with rock and roll is surprising. Dickaty says the choice to put out the acoustic version “has gone over really well”, and therefore the band’s preference to overlook pretty much anything acoustic in their live set seems to be an odd choice. However, all the members have stressed the importance of pure rock and roll, and if this is what The Virginmarys are going for, it’s impossible to admit that they don’t do it well. The shows ends with calls for an obvious encore (why bands pretend to leave the stage when they have yet to play their most famous single is something that remains unclear to me) of ‘Bang Bang Bang’, and the show ends with a fittingly resounding crash.