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The Carny Villains, interviewed at Boomtown

Friday, 19 August, 2011

Boomtown Fair – Invisible Circus tent – 14th Aug – 16:00

The Carny Villains identify themselves as a Stomping Swing Circus Show band.  They have a reputation for pushing the usual boundaries of what a band can do, often appearing in costume or in character, and have played at numerous theatrical events in Bristol and beyond, more often than not, outdoors.  Listening to music should not be a passive pursuit according to the Carny Villains.  They write music to fit each event, so the audience will hear in the style and lyrics of each tune how carefully constructed is the work of the Carny Villains, designed to maximise the audience’s experience.  Taking part in their gigs means signing up for a visit to Carny Ville, where every person has a place and a purpose.

The self titled Carny Villains album is a selection of some of their liveliest music, great for getting ready to go out, but mellow enough to work as a background to a very cool dinner party.  The four tracks: Last Train to Carny Ville, Hold It Down, The Trial of Henry Jones, and The Last Cabaret, reflect some of their theatrical masterpieces of the past, bringing memories of their performances back to life for those who have seen them play.  The lyrics, traditional dancing rhythms, folk style unison singing, and use of acoustic over electric instruments, render the overall style refreshingly old, evoking an era long predating i-pods, when music told a story.    Track four in particular, manages to convey a slightly drunken effect, due to the use of glissando and slurred singing.  It would be understandable, whilst playing this track, to want to drink from a flagon, link arms, sway, and join in with the singing.   The instrumental section offers a chance to dance and to soak up the atmosphere created by the music.   The only problem with this album is that it doesn’t last long enough.

I met the Carny Villains at Boomtown Fair, and every band member turned up for our interview.  Although they are an incredibly creative bunch with a skill for the collaboration of writing songs together and performing with theatre, they were not drunk, and they did not swear.  With a clear idea of what they want to achieve,  the Carny Villains  are true professionals.  They know that in order for their fans to get the most out of their music, they have to put in a lot of hard work and dedication.  But they don’t mind, because they love what they do.  The Carny Villains will go far.

Tell us about the Carny Villains
We are a Stomping Swing Circus Show band.  You can expect to hear rockabilly, knees up… sometimes we’re a bit ska-y, sometimes a bit rock-y, sometimes swing-y.  We bastardise all sorts of genres, without prejudice. Eclectic is a good word for it.  We all write the music, but different tunes come together in different ways.  Willy writes a lot of words, so does Sarah, but it is quite varied.  When we’re writing music for an event, we all get together and someone will have an idea for a tune or something, and it’s very much a collective process.  One of us might have a brainwave and share it with the rest of us, and a couple of us will develop it.  If it’s for the circus we’ll have a brainstorming session together and get something together that we’re going to choreograph with the performers.  It can happen in various ways.  One of ours songs came from the finale at Carny Ville.  We had to make half an hour’s worth of music.  We’ll get told what’s happening: ‘There are people on stage, there are people being drawn through the crowd, someone’s swinging etc.’  The vibe and the theme are already there.  We think ‘oh, ok, that’s going on, how does that make us feel and how do we make it into a song?’  We write to the event, and people go mental.  People who have never seen us before will remember us.

How did you get together?
We were a wind up band for The Combustion Club, a circus event at the Fire Station in Bristol three years ago.  We had a thing in front of us which people could wind, and when they wound it we would stand up, a light would come up on stage and we could play, and when they stopped winding we’d have to wind down and stop playing.  We gained a drummer on the second night.  That’s where it all began.  In terms of ability, skill and repertoire, we’ve changed quite a lot since then.  As newer members join, they all bring something new.  Now we need a piano player… who can dance!

What are the Carny Villains up to at the moment?
Festivals, gigs, events, anything we can get our hands on.  We’ve just played at The Rogues Salute, at The Harbourside Festival in Bristol.  We’re all musicians full time so we’re all busy, and we all have fingers in other pies, so this is our first Boomtown together as the Carny Villains.  Some of us have been here before as parts of other bands, such as The Glitzy Bag Hags.  Now we’ve moved on, not to better things, just to different things.  Last year we were at a wedding in Italy.  They love us at weddings… we get drawn to these amazing places.  We’re up for working on tunes and finding tunes that people recognise or like and stuff that make people happy.  We’ve done some old clichés like ‘Time of My Life’ , that always goes down a storm at a wedding.  That is a real pleasure to be able to do.   We made our own little four track EP in December.  We’re trying to sell that and make some new material to make a new one after festival season.  And we’re really excited to get into more circus shows, performances, and theatre, as well as the festivals and the gigs.  We seem to get offered quite a lot of interesting gigs.  There are a lot of possibilities.  See us next at Brisfest on September 24th and join our group on facebook.

Do you have any advice for up and coming bands?
Treat it like a full time job, work 40 hours a week, practise, turn up on time and be professional.  Know when to party and when not to.  Have a passion for it, enjoy it, and have plenty of time and energy for it.  But also have a sense of humour and have a lot of fun.

Band members: Mike Fergie – Suitcase drum kit.  Sarah Fielding – Voice, Clarinet, Melodica.  Zac Gregory – Double Bass.  Kit Hawkes – Guitar, Voice.  Leo Hess – Violin.  Davey Norton – Piano.  Funtime Willy – Voice, Trumpet.

(c) Claire Higgins 2011

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