Over the last six years, The Bar Stool Preachers have – with the help of some killer tunes, sheer hard graft and the ability to bring like-minded people together – established themselves as one of the bright young hopes of the UK punk scene.
Now, as they prepare to release a pair of free singles to help fans cope with the coronavirus lockdown, we bring you an exclusive interview with the band’s driving force, frontman Tom (TJ) McFaull, and his right-hand man, the bass player known as Bungle.
This was carried out as Tom rustled up a huge brunch in the dining kitchen of a Tardis-like semi-detached house in Newcastle*, where the band were enjoying a couple of days rest and recuperation after playing a stunning Sunday matinee show at Trillians Rock Bar – a regular tour stop-off.
Anyone who’s seen a Bar Stool Preachers gig will know it’s a non-stop party from start to finish, full of singing, dancing and general merrymaking, and that afterwards the band are only too happy to hang out, have a drink, enjoy a chat, pose for pictures and sign the merch that fans have bought.
In other words, they do the sort of meet and greet that bands further up the food chain charge an arm and a leg for. And the cost? Nothing. They mix with their fans because (a) they enjoy it, and (b) they know that this is how respect and loyalty is earned, and a fanbase grown and maintained.
I’ve seen the Preachers a few times, at their own shows, as a support act, and at festivals, and been impressed every time by their energy, enthusiasm, showmanship, and the fact they want to give every single person present a gig they’ll remember.
The gig at Trillians (reviewed here) was slightly different to the norm, as it was an all ages show, with fans encouraged to bring kids along too. The band made them feel safe, welcome and special – the sort of experience that could make them fans for life.
Such inclusivity shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s listened to the Preachers’ lyrics; being true to yourself, proud of where you come from, and not discriminating against anyone because they’re different. About loyalty, friendship and tolerance, regardless of creed or colour, and about basically being a decent human being.
IPA: Can you start by telling us how The Bar Stool Preachers got together?
Tom: “I had spent some time out in the Czech Republic, and I moved back to the UK about six and a half years ago when I got the news that my old man had cancer. So I moved back to be close to the family and to help out. I came down to Brighton because I didn’t want to live where mum and dad lived. I met Bungle on the first day, and he refused to let me leave. I hadn’t stayed put in one place for a very long time before that, but Bungle put his foot down and made me stay at his house until I found a flat.”
Bungle: “I had been in a few bands before, then I had a bit of a dry patch in playing music. When I met Tom I said ‘Are you in a band?’. He said ‘No’, are you in a band?’. I said ‘No, shall we start a band?’ So that’s how it began. We grabbed an acoustic guitar, sat round the kitchen table at Tom’s and came up with a couple of songs.”
Tom: “I hadn’t played music at all for six or seven years, but I had kept scrappy notebooks full of words, so we started to put some basic chord structures together. We wrote some of the songs we still play now. One Fool Down was one of the first things I ever wrote. Then there was [Bar stool] Preacher, Own Worst Enemy, Clock Out, Tools Down. We looked at each other when we wrote them and went ‘ah bollocks, these are good, we’re going to have to do something with it’. We knew that as soon as we’d written a song like One Fool Down that we could write anything.”
IPA: So you needed a band. Where did you find the other Preachers?
Tom: You’ve got to find your people, and I knew no one there. I went to Brighton Dub Club, an underground arts centre in a squalid alleyway, and Gibbs [guitarist Tom Gibbs] was the DJ. We found [keyboard player] Alex Hay in a Labour campaigning office, being miserable, and decided to give the old boy a run out again. Wibbs [drummer Alex Whibley-Conway] is our newest recruit. We found him two years ago when he was just 19, and now he’s a whole pain in the arse on his own. We played with a few other musicians along the way, but have always had a very staunch set of views, and it’s always been very obvious to us that if you’re not a Preacher, you’re not a Preacher. You’ve got to stand for the things that we stand for. Everyone that is in the band currently does that, those that are not in the band any more didn’t, so we had to say goodbye to them.”
IPA: Your first single was One Fool Down, which was self-released, as was your first album [2016’s Blatant Propaganda]?
Tom: “Yes, that was the way we decided to go, and we are still self-released, though we work with different labels and publishing houses and distros across the world. We worked with Pirates Press on the second album, and they have been very good to us, but they’re pretty much all licensing deals. We’ve managed to retain control, and pay for all our own music to be recorded, which is one of the reasons why the band hasn’t taken off as quickly as some people might think. We have people come up to us at shows all the time saying ‘I can’t believe you’re not bigger. But we want to do it this way, to grow things organically, because we’ve seen first-hand that if you don’t do it step-by-step, one day someone’s going to topple you off your little perch.
Bungle: “The way we do things is working hard. You can’t skip any steps ‘cos it will come back and bite you in the arse three or four steps down the line. A lot of people that we’ve met and that we can now say are our friends in the business have said ‘you guys can’t skip steps otherwise you’ll pay for it later’.”
Tom: “We have got a lot of kudos from bigger bands in the scene because we have done it the old way, bands like the [Mighty Mighty] Bosstones gave us a chance, bands like the Bouncing Souls gave us a chance, even the old oi! scene – we ‘ve got a tour with The Business coming up. Those sort of old bands, your Argy Bargys, the Rebellion family and all of that, they’ve always been really supportive because they can see how fucking hard we work. No one can ever say to us ‘you don’t deserve any of this’.”
Bungle: “For the first few years you beg, steal or borrow a show. We only played 40 shows in our first year, and then it went up, and up. We probably average 100 gigs a year now, though the most we’ve done is over 150. We can afford to be a little more choosy now, because as well as the UK we now tour in Europe and the US. It can be very tough on our families when we’re away for weeks on end, but they accept that that’s what they signed up for when they met us, and they are very supportive.”
Tom: “We definitely wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of our partners, and as the band gets bigger the need to say ‘yes’ to every show is less. A band that is independently managed and independently owned can afford to be selective in picking out the right gigs to go for. We’ve done five years of hard legwork, and our families have been amazingly supportive. Also, we’re now getting to go home with 20p in our pocket instead of having spent £100 each on the road for a week. It helps.”
IPA: Do the band members still have day jobs when you’re not touring?
Tom: “Yeah. I’m in removals, and so is Gibbs. We work together a lot of the time. Bungle is a carpenter, Wibbs does box lifting at Goodwood…”
Bungle: “It’s a dream come true having two people that do removals on a tour. People ask ‘How’ve you got twice as much as any other band gets in their van?’
Tom: “It’s the band’s main accomplishment in the last six years!”
IPA: Does it come to the point where you’d hope you can play music full-time?
Tom: “We would love to do it full-time, but we already kind of do. If we’re not on the road, we’re in the studio three days a week, so it is full-time – we’re just getting paid part-time!”
IPA: How much of a help – or a hindrance – has it been having a dad [Colin McFaull] who’s the singer in Cock Sparrer?
Tom: “He’s never pulled strings for us, though it has helped to be accepted as part of the Rebellion family. I’ve been going to that festival since it was Holidays In The Sun, so I’ve grown up with it. We said from day one ‘we’re a Rebellion band’, and every year we play it gives us such a renewal of energy, when you see everyone from all over coming together. Though we thought we’d blown it…
IPA: Tell us more…?
Tom: “We were booked to appear for the first time in 2014, but I got pissed on Belgian beer and called the drummer at the time a prima donna and he quit. It was four days before Rebellion, so we didn’t have time to find a replacement and had to pull out! I thought I’d fucked it, but they booked us again the next year…
Bungle: “We were on at about 10 o’ clock on the Saturday night on the Arena stage just before Resistance 77, I think it was.
IPA: Did you think ‘wow, we’re up against The Boomtown Rats’? Because in a way it was the best thing that happened to you, when Bob Geldof slagged off ‘people in black T-shirts with shit band names written on them’ and loads walked out…
Tom: “Not really. I’ve always fucking hated Bob Geldof. They would have gone down OK had he not slagged off Rebellion. You don’t slag off Rebellion. But yeah, loads of people came in after we’d started, and our crowd has got bigger and bigger every year.
Bungle: “It never ceases to amaze you, Rebellion. Every year something amazing blows you away. The reception that we get every year is so humbling.”
Tom: “Back to the original question… I’m really lucky that my dad’s just a really good human being. He’s a great role model, because he’s been through a lot of this stuff before. They didn’t do the self-management that we’re doing, they didn’t tour as much as we tour, they didn’t always do it the hard way. I’m just very lucky to have him as a mate and have him as a soundboard. He always has my best interests at heart, and by proxy he’s always got these boys’ best interests at heart. He’s not critical, he’s just very proud to be honest. He really enjoys the band, he really likes the songs, and it’s lovely to watch him watching us. He’s always got a smile on his face – even when we’re shit!”
IPA: Do you think we’ll ever see punk bands making the charts, like in the late 70s and early 80s?
Tom: “In terms of the UK punk scene I think we’re one of the up and coming bands, and the trajectory of the band has been absolutely phenomenal.That’s down to our hard work, the support network that we have, and the fans across the world who are very loud and vociferous about being a fan of The Bar Stool Preachers. In terms of the mainstream music world there’s no punk bands apart from Idles and Fontaines DC. But just off the back of one Idles album you’ve got a ripple effect, with two or three other bands coming up behind them. We’re doing well, but there’s a long way to go if we want to get our message into the mainstream. There’s so much insipid bullshit that we’re forced to listen to on a daily fucking basis in adverts. It’s the same single we’ve been listening to for 25 fucking years, Snow Patrol’s Run, just done in 15 different piano tracks. There is no heart in the mainstream music industry, but I’m not losing hope because the sub-culture seesaw does fucking tip and it does change. Bands that have worked hard for it don’t always gets recognition they deserve, but we’re not necessarily in it to be fucking rich. If we were in it to be rich we would be pretty fucking stupid.”
IPA: What sort of lessons have you learned along the way that will stand you in good stead for the next stage of the band’s development?
Tom: “When we released [second album] Grazie [Governo] we didn’t know publishing houses, we didn’t really know people in decent press firms, we had no idea about synch libraries – they are called actual music editors, what arrogant pricks, they sit there and go ‘yes, we can used this on a selection of things’. We had our sights set on going to America, we released Grazie and thought ‘let’s use some of this to get us to another place’. We now know who these people are, and we’re going after these people for the next one, and working out where the right angle is just to get the band a little bit more of a look in.”
IPA: Does this mean the next album will be a bit more commercial?
Tom: “The next one will be a bit more commercial, but we have to be careful what we deem to be commercial nowadays. As we’ve seen with that Idles album it doesn’t have to be sampled bullshit wishpop to make it. There is a time and a place nowadays for a bit of shock and awe and you can say whatever the hell you want because we live in this post-factual society where everyone is saying whatever the fuck they want, so why can’t we? Why can’t we talk about having selfie sticks in the Gaza Strip, and western ‘democracies’ being the actual terrorist states? There’s never actually been a better time to take the fight to people. Unfortunately that involves playing the game, so yes, it will be a little bit more commercial, but it’s not going to be any softer hitting. Rather than signing with a label we’re working with some incredible producers and that may well end up shaping the way that we go. We have recorded with Tim Armstrong from Rancid, and we are recording with Ted Hutt, who’s produced the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. You want honest soundboards around you, not questioning or compromising your integrity and your morals, but helping you to take your music in the direction you want to take it.”
IPA: When can we expect to hear album number three?
Tom: “We’re gonna take our time on this one. For the first time ever we managed to save a little bit of money in the pot and went down to Cornwall. In the time it took us to record Grazie we recorded eight demos. We are now listening to all of those demos, and we didn’t have that step in place before. Now we can actually get a little more critical with our own music, and make sure it comes out the best that it needs to. This needs to be the seminal album for The Bar Stool Preachers – the one that all our friends and all our fans tell their mates about, or share 15 times even without us even promoting it. This is the one that if a young English punk band can actually make a fucking difference in a moment, this would be the one.
IPA: The older bands who headline festivals like Rebellion can’t go on forever, so how do you feel about the future of the UK punk scene?
Tom: “I had this conversation with my dad, which was an interesting skew on the whole thing. Sometimes I take the piss and I say ‘when a big fucking tree falls down there’s more sunlight for the rest of the forest’. But there’s nothing bad in doing your time, you know? I think that’s actually part of the problem in the UK punk scene. I think there needs to be more support for the younger bands. We’re really lucky, we’ve got an incredible fanbase, but not a lot of older punks get behind the newer bands. They wait for the UK Subs to roll round, they wait for Sparrer once every two years, but they are going to come to realise that all that is counter-productive and counter-intuitive, because while they are doing that, they’re missing all this other stuff – and you know, they’re not getting any fucking younger.”
Bungle: “Charlie Harper is a great example. He comes to all the shows in Brighton and I’ve seen him go up to a bunch of teenagers that are just starting out in a punk band and he’s gone up to their merch stall, they’ve got like three small T-shirts left and he’ll buy one, just to help them out. He’ll never wear it, but he’s given them a tenner. So he’s doing his bit, always has done.”
Tom: “I’m not worried for the future of the scene while there’s bands like Riskee And The Ridicule and Smiley And The Underclass – they’re fucking brilliant, we’re going to take them out on tour with us next year – bands like Call Me Malcolm, all talking about the right things. Bands like Idles have shown that the time for a strong political message and dancing is now. And I know a few fucking people that are doing that.”
IPA: How do you describe the music you make?
Bungle: “We came up through the ska-punk scene, playing with bands like Popes Of Chillitown, Random Hand, Lightyear. But the ska-punk scene is tiny, and we don’t just play ska-punk, we play rock ‘n’ roll, and we play reggae, we play some ska, some punk.
Tom: “On a bigger stage with a bigger PA it can be very rock ‘n’ roll. One of the beauties of this band is it’s so diverse, and the musicians are so talented that if you want to chuck a minute and a half of rock ‘n’ roll in there out of nowhere we can do that, or if we want to open a song with a waltz, we can do that. But it’s also about not letting other people tell you what you should be playing and what you should sound like. We decide if we want to do some reggae, or if we want to do some straight-up punk, or just ska. We’ll write what we want to write, and not be pigeon-holed by someone else. There’s no point in singing in someone else’s voice, no point in giving someone else’s message, no point in believing in somebody or in a message that the people that are fucking delivering it don’t believe in themselves. That’s the position we’re in in this post-factual, politician-run bullshit of a world at the moment. And that’s now what people need or deserve from their music.”
IPA: These are tough times for a lot of people, with an uncaring Tory Government leading us towards Brexit, the threat of coronavirus, terrorism, etc. You can’t be short of topics to write about?
Tom: “As a writer it’s nice to have plenty to write about, but as a human being it’s not very nice to live and breathe. Lyrics are getting rewritten every day, and it’s a pain in the arse to be honest, but foodbanks think that this year is going to be particularly bad and there’s going to be a big financial crash at some point. I’m not sure how much more people can take without more help from the government. The whole system needs to be raized to the ground and restructured again like it was post-World War Two because people need to realise that at this moment in time, we’re not just fighting to free slaves, we’re not just fighting to free one race of people, we’re actually all fighting a class war. And we’re all fighting the gulf between the rich and poor people, which grows so much fucking bigger every single year. And there’s only so much you can take before it gets to breaking point – and unfortunately we’re losing. They’re dividing us further, and further.” (Note – this interview was just before the full extent of the coronavirus pandemic became clear).
IPA: Do you think Brexit is going to make things difficult as a touring band?
Tom: “We’ll find out as we go, the same as everyone else. No one knows how Brexit is going to play out. The top economists in the country have told us categorically that it’s going to be worse for our country – and I happen to agree with them, because I’m not a moron. Some people don’t mind as long as they get to make weight with something else, be it immigration, be it smaller taxes for businesses, whatever lies the Tory government has fed people – and they’ve been believed, that’s the main problem. Yes, it’s going to make life harder for touring bands like us. We’ll have to have extra paperwork to go anywhere, insuruance will probably go up, and we’ll have to account for every bit of your equipment – where it was made, where it was bought, how much you paid for it – then the same for the contents of your personal baggage, the merchandise you’re taking – which we’ll have to pay extra tax on, because we won’t get free trade any more. And that’s exactly where we make our money, busting our arse touring and selling T-shirts. We had a meeting the other day and agreed we won’t let Brexit [curtail the touring]. We’ve out in too much hard work to do that now.”
IPA: Things have got a bit serious, so can we wrap up by confessing what your guilty pleasure songs are – you shouldn’t like it, but it will get you up dancing when you’ve had a few drinks? Mine’s Tiffany’s version of I Think We’re Alone Now…
Tom: You can’t beat a bit of Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrisette, even really shit ’90s bands like Wilson Phillips …songs like Hold On.
Bungle: Backstreet Boys – I Want It That Way – it’s got everything, the standing up from the stool key-change moments…
Ray [touring guitarist]: Livin’ la Vida Loca by Ricky Martin. It’s an absolute banger, and it’s rare to hear a nice bit of guitar in a pop song.
Gibbs: Abba’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), but that’s not guilty, that’s just a fucking classic). And for a bit of extra guilt a Madonna song.
(Once the laughter has subsided) IPA: Guys, that’s brilliant. Thanks for your time, good luck with the rest of the tour, and I can’t wait to hear the new album.
- Huge thanks to Norman Sansom for setting up this interview, and to Tom McFaull for cooking my brunch, and letting me join him and most of the band for a few beers afterwards, where, job done, my recorder remained firmly off. Suffice to say, the band are all bloody decent blokes, who thoroughly deserve all the success that I hope comes their way.