FREAKS UNION, Hull’s finest punk outfit have a name that stretches far beyond the humber. Sandman finds out why.

On a summer’s evening 2003, outside the Bristol Academy, a hired tour van plays host to a confusion of instruments and equipment, amongst which Hull Punk outfit The Freaks Union sit contemplating their triumphant support slot to one of Punk’s most stalwart outfits Rancid, whose lead singer Tim Armstrong is ripping a Distillers sticker down from the van’s interior in disgust (silently expressing the deep wound that his break from singer Brody has inflicted).

September 2004, in their rehearsal room off Freetown Way, Freaks Union bass player Stew reflects on the moment last year as being ‘a bit bizarre’. As a youngster fixing posters of Armstrong and Co to his bedroom wall he would have laughed if someone had predicted that he would soon be in a band supporting his then idols. ”I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved but that put the final nail in the coffin, it was something I dreamed about as a youngster”.

So just who are these local lads attracting waves of interest within the British punk scene? For those who are not familiar with the name, The Freaks Union are presently one of the biggest, probably the biggest, band in Hull at the moment. They’ve graced the main stages of the London Astoria and the aforementioned Bristol Academy to in excess of 2000 people; many of whom, incidentally, can recite their lyrics. They have released two albums with the help of independent labels Town Clock Records and Peter Bower Records and are currently nearing completion of a third. They have fan bases in many towns across Britain. They sell records in the USA and Europe and have supported some of the Punk scene’s biggest bands across the British Isles.

Four of the five Freaks live in Hull with guitarist Lee who has travelled from Leeds to participate in tonight’s rehearsal. Brothers Jimbo (vocals) and Stew (bass), Greg (guitar) and Jamie (drums) complete the Punk/Metal unit whose live performance is described by Jimbo as ‘Thirty minutes of intense energy’.

The Freaks Union are equipped with great song-writing talent. They combine the roots of punk and metal with observational and intelligent lyrics to fuel performance. They are a unique entity, free from the fickle, bandwagon-jumping embrace of the music industry. They answer to themselves and are under no illusion about what the music industry has in store.

After storming the local scene shortly after the Millennium, The Freaks have relentlessly travelled and played gigs the length and breadth of the England, Scotland and Wales building up a network of both friends and admirers - an ardent fan base which will surface in any given city after a few phone calls offering support, food, beer and a bed for the night.

The band have also benefited from hiring an agent to book shows for them around the country. He wrote to The Freaks on the strength of the crowd impressing self-organised mini tours. Jimbo points out the advantage. “It was really cool because we’ve known him for years and I had a little grudge against him cos he didn’t let me backstage at a Misfits concert when I was 18. We got a letter from him saying that he wanted to take us on and basically since then he’s got us some really good shows.”

All members of The Freaks Union share a mutual love for touring but all agree that a balance needs be maintained to curb frustration and fatigue to keep free from the notorious cabin fever that can set in. “Whereas we love touring we like the balance a bit more you know. We’d rather do a really well prepared tour and put 100% in every night than doing too many tours, the friction – it really tires you out,” Jimbo summarises with Stew adding “it’s not just that – we can’t actually physically afford to go on tour for longer than two weeks cos of work and you’ve got to work. We still need money to live off."

As with all working class unsigned bands, before reaping the financial rewards that a record label can provide, a supply of cash is needed to fund ‘out of town’ gigging exploits. To be in a band with the commitment The Freaks Union display must be at least a full time job in itself. “We’ve all got little bits and bobs, me and Lee have had to quit our full time jobs and we are both just doing whatever at the moment cos we both had the sort of jobs where we couldn’t get any time off from. Which is pretty tough because I haven’t got reliable work now – its just when and where” analyses Jimbo.

“We’ve not gone to university and stuff like that, cos you can’t put the dedication in. None of us have been travelling anywhere, because you think ‘Oh well, we’ll wait and do it with the band’. You choose the band before anything else. That’s just what happens if you’re into it that much. It can be quite stressful, but obviously you just follow what you want to follow”, Stew poignantly points out. He also adds “Everyone has had band members or known people who are well up for being in a band but when they realise there’s actually work, its not all just playing music then they are sort of – ‘well its not really for me – I’m not going to go on tour cos I can’t be arsed’ If you want to go on tour you’ve got to be willing to sit in a van for six hours – not even on the seat – that’s part of it – but if you’re into it you find that fun”.

The Freaks are highly regarded by most on the local punk scene as the benchmark band who rarely play to under 150 people (which is a great local feat) and have the kind of touring experience that most local bands will never attain. They have tirelessly showcased themselves around our island in towns and cities that other bands would never dare travels to (a council estate in Oldham springs to some members minds) so surely the most inevitable next stage is a full on record deal?

“We’re in a position now where we need distribution and we need some proper backing behind us, but at the same time we don’t want to be signing our lives away” Jimbo knowingly reveals, “It’s got to suit what us five believe in, that’s the hardest thing at the moment – finding a label that can do that for us. We’ve had a lot of green lights in front of us, when you can see signs, you can see what magazines are saying, you can see what people’s reactions are toward you when you play. We can see a lot of positive response we are getting with the band but on the same level we are still hitting a lot of brick walls personally from our point of view. In a positive way it’s a challenge but in a negative way it’s frustrating”.

Deck Cheese Records are renowned for being the biggest Punk label in England and play host to exciting acts such as The Not Katies, No Comply and Through Silence. They have been so understandably impressed with The Freaks Union’s material that there is a deal already on table should they choose to accept it. Come on lads, it must be tempting?

“We’ve been thinking about it”, claims the ever vocal Jimbo. He cautiously adds “They’ve offered us a good deal but we’ve heard mixed responses”.

The first album, ominously entitled, The Beginning of the End proved decisive in attracting label interest and has sold well both locally and on their travels. The sleeve art features a classic pop art stylised soldier print hinting that lyricist Jimbo has a political edge to his writing. So just what are the main influences of the lyrics that so many people are seen singing at Freaks gigs?

“Whatever I’m feeling at the time”, states Jimbo bluntly. “I just take a lot of my own feelings and how I look at people – I don’t consciously think ‘I’ll write about this subject’ – Its just got to be something I’m feeling at that moment. I can only write a song when I’m feeling it – I might not write a song for months, then I might write five in two days”. Jimbo also admits to writing in the weirdest places “I never sit and write in my bedroom – I used to write in the toilets and stuff at work, I suppose when you get the most influence is when you’re in shit situations”.

Stew is quick to define The Freaks’ political stance “I’d say we do care about politics, but we don’t want to force it down people’s necks”. Jimbo agrees “Again, it’s down to personal opinions, if something effects us directly, like last year we did a lot with the anti-war campaign, but that was because we were all pretty passionate about that situation going on”. This anti-war on Iraq effort manifested itself in the organisation of a peaceful march around the city centre last summer followed by a gig at The Welly during the evening, an act of unity that the band enthusiastically embrace. “We did a march through town and a free gig, we had poets on and different artists and stalls set up and information - that was quite a big day for us cos it was good to stand up and do something right”, says Jimbo proudly, “It wasn’t just that – a lot of people turned up and we weren’t expecting that – we just said turn up in the square in town, and there were about 400 people there, families and children and kids and grandparents – it wasn’t just punks”, Stew confirms.

And it is this unity that the band use to describe the current Hull music scene. Jimbo provides an analysis- “I think the Welly club has done a lot for the scene in that its putting some money into it and it’s getting some big names in Hull. Even the stadium’s getting big pop acts – again it’s just attracting people to the city. We don’t get to play Hull as often as we’d like now but I remember we’d go on tour and we’d get back to the Adelphi and there’s another five punk bands popped up and its like ‘bloody hell’ there’s so many bands now in the scene its unbelievable”.

Everyone starts to come out with names too. The Favours, Die For, Flat line, The Morphines, The Bonnitts, Silence in the Streets are all mentioned. “I think another strength at the moment in Hull is that for the first time really I’ve ever seen, there’s a lot of magazines and fanzines flying about now which Hull has never had” states Jimbo fervently.

So we finish the talking and its time for The Freaks Union to complete their rehearsal. The band launch into various musical assaults interspersed with attempts by Greg to pull off the ‘Baywatch’ theme tune. Even in a band practice The Freaks exude an extraordinary passion for music. “You see some of your MTV bands that are posing and you can tell they’ve got this set of moves that they use, its like – I like to think that we’re not a band who do that, we’re just a band who kick off for half an hour” finalises Jimbo. Stew echoes the point “Yeah and we’re into music… that’s the only answer. We’re just into music that gets our heart pumping and makes us feel”.

 

Freaks Union
Freaks Union
Freaks Union
Freaks Union

Freaks Union

words: Lee Atkinson

October - November 2004

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