Few bands look more livid on stage than The Virginmarys. Drummer Danny Dolan pounds his kit with the look of someone about to start a fight; bassist Matt Rose assumes a thumping, almost rhythm guitarist-like role; singer/guitarist Ally Dickaty spits out lines of social commentary with guttural ferocity seldom seen among his peers. So it seems right to give them fire (well, flares) and set them loose in their local forest for our photo shoot today.
Following their game-raising second album Divides, the Macclesfield trio have reason to feel energised. “It’s the best work we’ve done,” Dickaty says. “We were made up to record with Gil Norton [Pixies, Foo Fighters]. It was a dream come true.”
Here’s what you need about the band who want to give rock its spine back…
They’re very angry
The softly spoken frontman is friendly off stage, but no less ready to expound views on the NHS, the problems facing young people, and how generally pissed off his band are with society in 2016.
“The so-called rock stars of today are more about social networks, selfie sticks and parties, rather than what’s actually happening when you switch on the news or walk out on the streets,” Dickaty reckons.
They despair of the kids of today
The music that really made an impact on Dickaty was the early, urgent likes of Black Sabbath with War Pigs, or The Who with My Generation. “My Generation couldn’t be written at the moment, because you’d be embarrassed to say what our generation is,” he laments. “Our generation seems to be just watching The X Factor or listening to watery, generic music. Songs by guys like Jimi Hendrix, around the political movement in the sixties and seventies, seemed to have purpose and shake things up.”
All soul is good soul
Elsewhere, The Virginmarys turn to the fire of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Rage Against The Machine. They’ve also cited acts such as Alabama Shakes and The Prodigy. “They all have soul in some form,” he says. “There’s a hell of a lot of energy and urgency to The Prodigy, and with Alabama Shakes you’ve got Brittany Howard’s singing voice which is just from the gut – you can’t help but listen.”
You can blame the north – and Martin Luther King – for how they sound
Dickaty was born into a family of nurses in the Cheshire village of Helsby, and at 16 moved to Macclesfield where he met drummer Dolan at college. His first musical ventures leaned towards traditional blues rock, and the pair subsequently made a bid for stardom in LA. A few years of near-misses and label disputes followed, before they returned home, met bassist Rose and formed The Virginmarys in 2009.
Now firmly in control, Dickaty began feeding his imagination (and his tunes) with books on Martin Luther King, among others. “I love reading his speeches,” he enthuses. “I read and watch the news… I play with words quite a bit, but I don’t really make stuff up.”
Booze almost finished them off
Drink and party drugs almost got the better of Dickaty. Their debut LP, 2013’s incendiary King Of Conflict, came out of a booze-heavy time. “It got to a point where I didn’t enjoy anything other than drinking,” he says. “I started properly when I was twenty, and it was ongoing for years. It got darker and darker. I wasn’t proud of the person I was. It became scary as hell because I felt like ‘there’s only one way this is going, and it’ll be death’.”
All they (and you) need is love
Recognising the influence of depression and anxiety was a turning point. Now 33, Dickaty is still on antidepressants but firmly focused on a more positive future.
“A lot of people get the wrong impression of rock and metal music,” he says, “but it’s amazing when big groups of people come and let out all that aggression – you’re really part of something.”