I am aware there are great bands coming out of Birmingham…
but we hear about so few of them. Maybe that is to do with media ignorance – and the reliance and exposure of London’s artists. I talk to one of Birmingham’s best. Blue Nation discuss the awesome album, Steady Your Soul, and how it came together – and what the songs are all about. Good Times is their new single and one that gets the body cranked, winding and moving. They talk about the mainstream and whether there is anything out there, like their music, that gets into the head.
I ask the fellas about future gigs and whether there are any outrageous demands on their riders; the albums they all love – and what the next few months holds in store.
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi. We are all good and working very hard on all things Blue Nation.
Last week, we played Rec Rock Festival in Derbyshire for the first time. It was a wicked boutique festival with a great vibe.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
We are Blue Nation; a three-piece euphonic-riff-based rock band from Birmingham. We often wear Kaftans on stage and are trying to get the genre, ‘Kaftan Rock’, off the ground. This line-up has been together for about a year and came together very quickly - after the previous rhythm-section moved on.
Individually we are Neil Murdoch (Guitarist and Lead vocals), Chris Bloor (Drums) and Luke Weston (Bass Guitar and Backing Vocals).
By day - only because we need to...
Neil: I work in recruitment, mainly in London.
Chris: I have my own business doing custom artwork and refinishes on guitars. Neil’s ‘Clapton Fool’ S.G. in the Good Times video is one of my custom finishes.
Luke: I am a teacher working with children with autism - in a mainstream Birmingham school.
Good Times is your new single. What can you reveal about its story?
Neil: It’s about being in a place that you are struggling to get out of but knowing that the good times will return - and that you just have to push on through. Let the “good times come” captures the essence of the song.
Ask me after a couple of beers and I will elaborate.
It is a stomping and energised track. It has a proper sense of purpose. Do you think modern music lacks urgency?
Yeah, for sure.
For too long, we have not had a band that really cut through and showed people that guitars and bands are the life blood of music. The world is so instant now: you become a sensation of this or that.
Time for a change, in my opinion.
Luke: I don’t listen to chart stuff really but the things I’ve heard lately…it doesn’t go anywhere, does it? The music I listen to gives me identity - and its healing. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but if you think Miley Cyrus is going to give you more satisfaction or hold more substance and meaning than Pink Floyd…you’re probably not my kind of person, anyway.
Chris: If you listen to what’s coming from X Factor and Radio 1 then you’re listening to a product: something that is processed and canned for consumption by the masses. There are some amazing bands and artists around: you just have far more rubbish to sift through to find the gems now. There was an American band, I found a few years ago, called Rug and their album, 02, was incredible!
Like so many others, though, they faded away mostly undiscovered - choked out by the massive amount of rubbish that’s out there and gets played (instead of the good stuff).
The song is taken from your new album. What can you tell us about the songs that will appear on it? How does it differ from Steady Your Soul?
Neil: I so excited for the new album. We made a conscious effort to write melodic songs around riff-based Rock style. Each song will pin you to the back of the wall and make you listen. The new album is much more riff-based - I think the band needed that. Steady Your Soul has hints of riffs and was the next step for us - but this new album is a giant leap!
Chris: Steady Your Soul has great tunes on it - written by Neil and produced by Andy Macpherson. The new singles and album is just crammed with ball shaking riffs…it’s a real group effort. We quickly gelled and writing music is really easy between the three of us.
Luke: It’s the first album as this line-up - so it’s going to sound different. But, as Chris says, we seem to write songs so easily together. Expect well-written songs with nice harmonies - and riffs that are so dirty you’ll need to have a shower after hearing them (and a bit of me playing sitar, possibly).
Soon, you’ll be hitting the road with Dirty Thrills. You guys pumped about that?
Neil: So much so.
The lads in D.T. are sound and really welcoming: it makes touring with a band so much easier if they are nice lads. The D.T. lads have been sharing our stuff on social media and talking to our fans - which is cool in my book.
It gives us a great opportunity to support a very good band in top venues.
Chris: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. I love playing live: I absolutely live for it.
Luke: Playing live is pretty much what I live for, regardless of the gig. Dirty Thrills are great and I can’t wait to be sharing a stage with them!
Already; you have toured the U.S. twice. What were those experiences like and is gigging like for Blue Nation? Do you enjoy it?
Neil: (This was pre-Chris and Luke, so I will take this one…)
N.Y.C. is a mad place. We played, mostly, in Manhattan and Greenwich Village at C.B.G.B.’s, Kenny’s Castaways; Rockwood Music Hall etc. - which is steeped in history - so you try not to get overawed when standing on the same stage where Bruce Springsteen did his first N.Y. gig. Unfortunately, some of these great venues have had to close due to financial or lease issues. The audiences in some venues were tough but they always dug what we did.
By the end of the week, we had people coming to our next gig to see the English band with the kid, with the voice - so that was cool.
Touring with B.N. is a military operation (although we have nothing to do with organising it). Our manager does all the hard yards and gets us in the right place and time. For us, it's seamless and painless.
Maybe you need to ask him what it’s like touring with us? He may have a different answer.
It seems like, being a hot Rock band, you’d have a wild rider. Is it a pretty eye-watering set of demands from Blue Nation?!
Some things we can tell you…some we can’t.
Nah, we are not like that, to be honest. We like to treat people how we are treated. So as long as we have some water, food and snacks then we are pretty cool. If Dirty Thrills have the brown M&Ms, though, we are kicking off! (only joking)
Chris: Not really. I think we're a pretty easy bunch to please. Waitrose’s Salt and Vinegar Squares, though, are a must-have. If we don't have those, I’m not playing...
Luke: I don’t ask for too much really: I like a nice gin. I am vegan and the other two lads are vegetarian - so none of the Spinal Tap wafer thin-ham stuff. Gimme some tofu or falafel.
Birmingham is your base. Is the city quite full of great bands? What is the scene like there?
Neil: Birmingham has, and always will be, a breeding-ground for great bands. You can go into most music venues on the weekend and unearth some gems! The scene is really varied compared to other cities, in my view. You can listen to Ska one night and then a Post-Punk band the next - and an Indie band on a Sunday.
That’s what I love about Birmingham - the diversity.
Chris: Yeah. It’s energetic around the Midlands.
You can go to most venues on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday and pretty much guarantee that you'll find at least one good band playing.
Luke: There’s a lot of history and a lot of talent still here. One band to look out for is Verschiden. They are absolute quality.
It seems like you love a mix of 1970s Classic-Rock and 1990s Britpop. Which artists do you all grow up listening to and aspire to be?
Neil: Led Zeppelin, Cream; Jimi Hendrix, Blind Faith - all of them - but also Ocean Colour Scene, the ‘Phonics (Stereophonics) and Oasis.
For me, it was Ocean Colour Scene. Steve Cradock is an exceptional guitarist and Fowler’s voice and songwriting is mind-blowing. I always wanted to be in O.C.S. and smash out Hundred Mile High City.
Chris: I started to get into music when Britpop was at its peak.
it was magical; great bands were everywhere and all people cared about was music. They say you never get over your first love - and mine was Oasis. Their first two albums are up there with the greatest ever written. I love Ocean Colour Scene too and through that got into The Beatles - and then Hendrix - and then Led Zeppelin. I remember listening to Voodoo Child (Hendrix) for the first time and just being absolutely hypnotised by it - same with No Quarter (Led Zeppelin) and Champagne Supernova (Oasis).
Jimi Hendrix is God to me. Aside from the music, he was culturally so important. This wild-haired black guy tearing around the world with two geeky Brits - at a time when racial tensions in America were at an all-time-crazy-high level. He showed the world nationality and race doesn't mean anything at all.
It’s about what's inside the tin of beans...
Luke: I was raised listening to the most amazing music.
When I was around four; my mum and dad once dressed me up as a gnome and entered me into talent competition on holiday. I had to dance to The Gnome by Pink Floyd - so you can imagine the other music I was raised on! I prefer my 1960s and 1970s to the Britpop stuff.
What other tour dates do you have coming up later this year?
Neil: Asking a band where they are playing is a big ask…
But, we have just started working with Ben from IAA Touring and there are some things happening - but not confirmed just yet - apart from the Dirty Thrills tour. We will be doing individual gigs and touring again to support the release of our three singles and new album next year.
Festivals offers are coming in for next year already, so it’s all go.
Will the band get time to relax before the end of the year? What do you all do in your free time?
We are going to squeeze a little break in before the madness starts - but nothing too long. Mainly, just chilling out with friends and catching up with friends in bands. Music is never far away from us, to be honest.
Away from music, I train to keep fit; play football and watch Villa with my dad.
Chris: We’re always sending song ideas to each other - it never stops and to be honest – and I love it like that. Away from music, though, I do a lot of cycling and I am organising a music-related exhibition which should, hopefully, be amazing.
Luke: It’s a busy schedule for the next year or so! But I would much rather be busy in music than doing nothing. I do squeeze in Birmingham City football matches with my girlfriend.
IN THIS PHOTO: MeMe Detroit/PHOTO CREDIT: JenniferStone.photography.
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
Chris: There’s a really good band called The Mojo Filters. I’ve seen them a few times and think they’re great.
If you each had to select the one album that means the most to you; which would they be and why?
Neil: Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
Specifically, the song Mirrorball. Why?! Because it perfectly describes the moment I met my other half.
Chris: Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
It’s the first album I totally fell in love with. Even listening to it today; it sounds great. Incredible songwriting - and it sounds so classy and elegant. Cast No Shadow is a five-chord masterpiece.
Luke: This one is so hard! But, I would have to say Quadrophenia by The Who
I fell in love with it at a very early age. It made me become a Mod. Every song is beautiful in its own way - and it’s my go-to album. If I’m having a sh*t day, I’ll stick it on and everything seems so much better!
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Neil: Don’t sign anything unless a lawyer has seen it.
Chris: Don’t do it for the money or the fame: do it because you love it. If you’re in it to get rich, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re in it to have a great time, then the party is this way…
Luke: Practice, practice, practice and gig, gig, gig; be yourself; use your influences - but don’t try and emulate.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Neil: MeMe Detroit – How She Runs
Chris: Oasis - Cast No Shadow
Luke: Perfect Pillow by CHON
Follow Blue Nation