The majority of the record was recorded live in the studio, a reflection on the bands incendiary live show, which they feel forms the cornerstone of their sound and structure. “The record is important and we’re very proud of it,” Thomas comments. “But for us, it’s all about the live performance. That’s when we come alive, that’s when we can do something that bit different”. That something can be anything from the stage lights they drape over their instruments and amplifiers, to the suits and eyeliner worn by Gary on stage, to randomised, impromptu acts of theatre on stage. “I’ve thrown a guitar at him before,” says Gary. “Immediately regretted it. But it was how I felt at the time, so I just thought ‘Fuck it’”. Thomas takes this point further by saying “If people pay money to come and see us, they deserve a show. And for us, the show is about everything, the music and the visual side. We do the look, we do the lights, we do the stage act…I’m not making any apologies for that. But what would you rather have; some limp-dick indie band looking sorry for themselves, or a band like us? People should remember a gig. It’s important. We did a gig at Dry Bar a few years ago. I was hanging off the lighting rig, then burst out through the fire escape. Meanwhile, he [Gary] is rolling around on the floor. And to this day, people still come and ask me about it”. Nodding in agreement, Gary picks up this particular baton and takes it further “You see gigs now, the people down the front. They’re thinking it’s all going off. But you look a couple of rows back; no-one gives a fuck. They’re talking, they’re texting. Which is symptomatic of gigs now, it’s invaded the psyche. And it’s shit; how can you be happy being in a band like that, where 90% of the people there couldn’t care less? I’d rather have the room 10% full, with everybody being transfixed by it”. Thomas then nails the point firmly to the door “I think we make people uncomfortable. They don’t know what to make of us. They’re not sure whether to fight or fuck”.

Having seen this on-stage vortex of charisma and friction and being struck with the sheer determination of the band, I innocuously approach the subject of how their act and approach has been accepted by the local Manchester scene, only to be stunned into silence by the wave of pent-up frustration and fury that this question unleashes. “Mention Manchester to anyone and they’ll name the same four of five bands. We have absolutely nothing in common with those bands, and we want to keep as far away from them as possible,” spits Thomas. “They talk about a heritage? Fuck that. I want to stamp on the heritage; I want to piss on it. I want to slap these so-called Manchester celebrities in the face with my fucking balls. What are they doing now, trading on their history? And everyone buys into it. I want nothing to do with that”. “The problem is,” Gary continues “Is that it’s literally just me and him. We’re punching well above our weight, considering these bands that have all this money to pay off the media. They say the right things, kiss all the right arses and play the fucking game. That’s not us. And people don’t realise how hard it is being in a band. They look at it and think it’s easy. But it’s head above water sometimes. And you see these shit bands getting attention and record deals with fucking awful songs, just because they’ve had money to buy the press. And it makes you want to go out and start killing the world. But you just get on with it. How we haven’t split up, I don’t know”. “We haven’t got a lot of friends in the local music scene,” admits Thomas. “And that’s because we’re so fucking sick of people being false. It’s all about people trying to better each other and we despise them to the core” They talk about this community? Well fuck community; it’s all about this band for me; just me and him. You can’t blag us. His voice drops lower, touching a more dangerous tone “And yeah, it probably sounds like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. Well, too fucking right I’ve got a chip on my shoulder”.

   

Another source of continual irritation to the band is the ongoing comparison to The White Stripes. “It’s lazy,” Gary spits angrily “It’s just another example of people not thinking for themselves and simply jumping to the obvious conclusion”. An example of this occurred when they received a correspondence from Worldwide A&R, based in Los Angeles. “They said we were too much like The White Stripes,” recalls Gary “So I wrote back, very professionally you know? And I cut down every point he made. I had to do that for my own sanity. But then I started thinking, if we were like The White Stripes, what the fuck is wrong with that? They’re absolutely massive. And I genuinely believe that if someone had the balls to back us, they’d make a killing. An absolute killing. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be in this band. And whether we end up as world superstars or in the gutter, it doesn’t matter. I believe that and I believe in us”.

 

 

 

 

It would be easy to feel intimidated by the strength of Gary and Thomas’s personality. But the one thing illustrating every word in double-underline is how genuinely devoted they both are to their music and how important it is for them to get their message out. Their anger is born from raw emotion, their swearing a punctuation of passion. “We genuinely love music, and we believe in music,” explains Gary. “We’re genuine, we’ve always tried to keep is the quality. We’re a very honest band. And as critical as we are about everyone else, we’re even more critical of ourselves”. “We pull ourselves to pieces all the time,” admits Thomas. “Gary will bring something in and we’ll play about with it. But we’ll pull no punches. If it’s shit, we say it’s shit. And the stuff that survives, that stays. We don’t play shit; we don’t ever say ‘oh, that’ll do’. We’re not the sort of band who write sixty songs and then whittles it down. We stick to quality and you get quality. But when there’s something good there, it’s incredible. And I’m literally the first person in the world to hear that song. That’s a fucking thrill. It keeps me going despite everything else”. This is reflected in their approach to their approach to selling the new album, which consists of a digital download being the only way to get the album online. For physical copies, Gary and Thomas require everyone to put in that extra percentage of effort. “We want people to get the full experience with us and we want people to feel they’re getting something no-one else will,” reasons Gary. “So we’re only selling the physical album at our gigs. That means that people have to make the effort to come down. But they get something special for that, something no-one else can get. And I love that”. The band recently made a limited run of red vinyl album copies, which the band were initially unsure would have much impact (“we’d put signed pictures in it and everything. I didn’t expect anyone to buy it” Gary remarks). The entire run sold out in one night. “And they’ve got something that money can’t buy,” says Gary, eyes flaring in excitement. “There’ll never be another one of them. And next time we might do ones with our own blood on it, or something different. A little piece of the moment. We don’t want to just go through the motions. We care about our music and we care about our fans. And in the end, it’s about giving them something they’ll remember and treasure”.

 

 

The synergy and chemistry between Gary and Thomas is striking to behold. They bounce answers back and forth between them with consummate ease, elaborating and illustrating, occasionally stopping to argue with each other. “We fight all the time,” admits Gary. “We actually play better if we fight on stage. We play off of each other”. The musical bond between the two is neatly surmised by Thomas “We don’t play to clicks. Never have and never will. That’s why we recorded the album together as opposed to playing separately in little fucking boxes. Sometimes, my only cues are in his eyes, in his hands; a nod of his head. I’ve spent all my life playing with him. So as much as I hate the bald twat, it fucking cuts my umbilical cord when he goes”. In response to this perceived insult, Gary merely smiles. You get the impression that mutual insults are a term of endearment within The Black Knights, though you’re never quite sure from the outside; something that the duo clearly thrive on. “We’re far from being a whinging band. We could get a bottle of rum out tonight and we’d have the best night ever,” laughs Thomas. “But you’d still not fully get to know us. And that gives us a kick; you never quite know what we’re thinking. I mean, you don’t know what we’re going to say about you tonight after this interview. But for now, you’re going to see smiles, teeth, tits and a nice autograph. Yet you’ll never quite be sure what we’re really thinking. And that adds an edge to us”. “Some of it is an act and some of it isn’t” confirms Gary, as if to nicely muddy the waters further. “We need to make ourselves stand out. We don’t sit nicely with any scene. You wouldn’t put us in with the Courteeners crowd, you wouldn’t put us in with the folk scene and you wouldn’t put us in with the dance crowd. So yeah; we make the effort to be a bit different and some of it is all for show. But never doubt that we mean what we say. And basically, don’t cross us. Don’t fuck with The Black Knights”.

      
   

Despite the anger and the underlying threat, the overbearing feeling I am left with is that of a band brimming with belief, full of sheer drive and determination. And among that, you discover something wondrously inspiring in The Black Knights. In a world where music and celebrity is homogenised into a bland coating of neutrality and sycophantic platitudes, they are as close to the original spirit of punk as any band I’ve ever come across. True, you are never fully able to relax with them. And Christ, you certainly need to keep your wits about you (“we don’t mind critics,” imparts Gary at one point. “As long as they know what they’re talking about. And most of them don’t”). But it strikes me that what music needs right now are genuine characters with genuine opinions. People who aren’t afraid to say what they think and who don’t give a fuck about the consequences. The Black Knights have that, along with music of incendiary beauty and violence to back up their words. They are necessary, relevant and they understand precisely where they belong. “We’ve never said we’re the most original band in the world” says Thomas, just as we’re about to leave. “We’ve never said we’re the best band. But what we are is something different. The way we look, the way we dress, the way we play. It’s trying a knee-jerk reaction. You want that response, you want that particular thing that’ll make people turn their heads and pay attention. You can’t buy that, it’s that kick that makes it worthwhile. We’re not about being perfect, we never have been. It’s all about who we are and what we do”.

 

David Edwards  / September 2010

 

The Black Knights debut album ‘Sickle Cell Saturday Night’ is now available online through Recreation Records at http://www.recreationrecords.com or http://theblackknights.bandcamp.com Physical copies, (either on CD or whatever the hell they’ve decided to make them out of this time) are available from all their upcoming gigs.

 

pictures (c) courtesy of the black knights * [words : manchestermusic 2010 (c) (p) mybigmouth]