Fifty Nine Violets
words: Jason Karlson
pics: Phillip Rhodes
February - March 2005
"I'd like to travel across a body of water and play" says Digsy.
"But we do that every time we come to Hull"
"Okay, I'd like to cross an ocean and play, somewhere abroad"
It's in the Linnet and Lark, a few hours before the evening's Sesh is about to start, that I find the Fifty Nine Violets gathered around a battered, tatty brown table in what is quickly becoming the city's new midweek music Mecca. The night's football is blaring away in the background (Arsenal got thrashed) while Sesh DJ, Mark, mills about around the venue setting up equipment and piling up CDs for the evening's bands. The tape is rolling and the interview kicks into full swing with guitarist Digsy and Andy the drummer, being the most vocal members of the group, leading the proceedings.
The band are relaxed and jovial, taking it all in their stride. Suddenly Pedgie from the now disbanded Raywells, now of Blackjack bursts into the room and starts a conversation that cannot be repeated on the advice of our lawyers and the Mexican government. Needless to say the ex-Raywell gets off lightly when five minutes later it turns out that the tape recorder isn't actually doing what it's supposed to be doing, i.e. recording. Digsy relaxes noticeably and sighs in relief.
"I was a little worried there, my Mum's probably going to read this. I suppose this gives us a little bit more time to think up some proper answers."
By the time I get back with fresh batteries the Violets have disappeared leaving a trail of empty beer glasses and overflowing ashtrays in their wake and I start to worry that perhaps the band have got scared of all the career destroying headlines that could result from a bad interview, and legged it. Instead they're in the capable hands of Phillip Rhodes who has taken the opportunity to snap a few quick shots of them among the bricks and rubble of the derelict building next door with the band stood against the backdrop of boarded up windows and a crumbling bomb shelter. Phil's ability to sniff out derelict land is uncanny as Andy the drummer points out - "Anyone who reads Sandman probably thinks Hull's derelict and war torn!"
Not a totally inappropriate image for a band whose formation coincided with the attack on the World Trade Centre.
"We got together on September 11th with all the stuff going on in America which was slightly surreal."
"I moved back from living down south and I'd always bumped into Andy and talked about getting a band together," says Digsy. Next to join was Chris on guitars and finally Bill providing bass, bringing together the greatest band Barton-on-Humber has ever seen. This is where I have to reveal the dark, unspeakable truth that 59 Violets aren't a born and bred Hull band in terms of location but after constant gigging, sometimes four or more times a month it's safe to say that they're as close to being a Hull band as makes no difference.
Hailing from a different town gives the band a perspective of the scene here in Hull and they're pleased to be slightly out of step as Chris is quick to point out "it's nice to be a part of it but at the same time we still have a kind of outsider's view of the Hull scene and we don't get caught in any of the arguments or rivalries."
However, even though the 59 Violets have managed to avoid any of the niggles that might happen with so many bands playing so closely in the same city and living out of each other's pockets, they've also seen the benefits of it too. Being helped by a supportive group of bands and DJ's keen to help each other out for the love of music.
"We've got a lot of gigs here through other bands and we've helped get them gigs in Barton," comments Digsy. "We owe a lot to Mark who really helped us out a lot in the early days by getting us gigs, and people like Alan Raw who first played our stuff on the radio."
At that moment, as if to emphasise the point, Jon from Turismo walks in to collect the Violet's empties. "We also like Turismo," adds Andy, loudly. The band have even had the honour of performing a live set on Raw Talent which was recorded for a CD.
"It's like the album only played live and faster, we owe a lot to people like Alan Raw and Jim Coulson for playing us." Digsy nods and adds, "There was a time about ten years ago when it was the hardest thing to get your music heard on the radio and now all that's changed."
Despite garnering increasing mentions in the national press courtesy of the Paddingtons' adventures in London there still seems to be a stigma attached to admitting you're from the same place as the Beautiful South, a subject that Digsy is keen to talk about.
"There's sometimes a weird, almost apologetic, feeling to saying where you're from, like a collective inferiority complex. The upside is that the geographical isolation kind of results in bands not following fashions or trends. I reckon the area is one of the most independently-minded in the whole country though, and is reflected in people's characters and attitudes whether they're in bands or not. On paper at least this region is the perfect breeding ground for world class rock and roll, cheap rents and outsider status. It would be nice to think that in a few years Hull may be mentioned in the same breath as Seattle or Detroit. It sounds daft at the moment but stranger things have happened."
"I've never known it so good," offers Chris.
The band have just finished their debut album, 'Prime Numbers', a collection of ballsy, bass lovin', beer drinkin', crunchy guitar riffin' all out garage rock songs from the frantic album opener Yeah Yeah Yeah with its chorus of "When I get the feeling/ When I get the feeling/ and I don't hear you say" to the dirty bass driven Dirty Water". Just when you think you've got the album pegged it throws up another surprise.
"A lot of reviewers can't put us in a category because we have such a great variety in our music," remarks Andy. "We don't like teeny music, there's too many teeny bands out there, we like a lot of oomph! Turn up the bass."
It's the great variety that makes 'Prime Numbers' so damn good with the band being compared to everyone from Oasis and the Stone Roses, golden oldies like The Who and Led Zeppelin to a frankly insulting comparison to the Stereophonics (dull stadium rockers these guys ain't). So what has the band tried to accomplish in the lyrics on the album?
"We tend to try and write songs about a personal or social injustice, which makes us sound really pretentious but I think that most good songs have an element of struggle and anger to them," contributes Digsy. "I hope people feel some empathy with them."
59 Violets are no strangers to hitting the road and gigging. In the last year or so they've gigged in Hull at least a handful of times every month. Their first gig in Hull was actually at the Linnet and Lark with their defining moment being last year's Sweet and Sour gig supporting Kill Bill band the 5678's.
As Andy describes it, "there was a huge crowd, a great atmosphere and they really seemed to get it."
After hobnobbing with Japan's finest, the band have since scored themselves slots supporting the likes of Leicester band Kasabian in Leeds when the band approached the 59 Violets boys and enquired as to whether or not they might have any illegal mind altering substances about their persons that they could have, to which the band replied no. In so many words.
"Needless to say we haven't supported them since," which is Kasabian's loss believe me. It hasn't all been meeting famous bands and denying them drugs though, the early days saw them with a lot of empty rooms and small crowds. Andy laughs, "There was one at the Heritage, there must have been six people there. Including the bar staff."
Chris talks about how it's essential for bands to keep on practising and surprising the crowd and the dangers of becoming complacent or believing your own hype.
"There was a point towards the end of last year where we were getting a bit mundane and complacent, ya know?" explains Chris. "And it came out in a review. Everything that was said was fair and we just needed that kick up the arse. We worked on new material and put in some old songs we didn't play much any more and it really helped."
Digsy agrees with the sentiment, "I think criticism or a bad review is essential for all bands, otherwise if everyone's just telling you how good you are you start to believe it and then disappear up your own arse."
"It's like that saying," adds Andy, "opinions are like arseholes, everybody's got one."
Towards the end of the interview the conversation turns to what's going to happen now that the band has finished the album with Chris reflecting, "it's like a closing chapter, you work at the songs and now they're finished you're excited about writing new ones."
"My favourite song is always the one we haven't written," adds Andy thoughtfully. "We have two or three new songs in the pipeline and whichever we finish first will be my favourite."
Finally does the band have any advice for all those bands in waiting?
"Don't do it for the girls or the money, there aren't any!"