❉ Paul Matts speaks with Manchester ska-punks about their return to the scene.
The Ska-punk scene in the noughties was a good one. Seminal, classic album releases by a variety of acts, such as King Prawn, Leftover Crack, Capdown and Choking Victim. It was a true scene, popular among underground fans young and old, male and female.
The scene had a large DIY aspect to it, too. An ever-revolving roundabout of gigs saw touring bands playing alongside local acts, before crashing afterwards at the homes of those involved in the show. Acts like Capdown led the way in UK towns and cities. Admissions were cheap, guarantees were reasonable, and everything seemed affordable.
Harijan were very much part of the English North-West ska-punk scene. A unique crossover act in several ways. Mike Corrigan’s highly individual vocal phrasing leads a blend of metal (minus the histrionics), punk aggression and ska grooves. Dub reggae also drops into the band’s sonic. Their sound is brooding, direct and dark and in step with the world we live in.
Initially operating between 2003-2010, Harijan thankfully have made a return to the scene. And are about to release their very first long player. Therefore, they now straddle both ska-punk eras.
It is a poignant release. The band’s original guitar player, and producer to many of the great and good, Tim P Gray sadly passed away in May 2018. The band decided to reform for a one-off tribute show at the Manchester Punk Festival in 2019, and such was the response from both band and fans alike, further live performances followed. And ultimately, an album.
The record was released in December, 2020 on TNS Records, a label with the DIY ethos very much as its heart. Harijan featured on the third TNS release, a split CD release with John Player Specials back in 2008. I was happy enough to catch their singer Mike Corrigan, trumpet player Alex Dowson and guitarist Andrew Williamson (Willi) for a chat on the eve of its release.
You have a unique sound, with darker and brooding elements. Was that deliberate?
Mike It wasn’t deliberate. We just went with what our influences and preferences were. We are a ska band but equally we consider ourselves a punk band. In our youth we all listened to heavy stuff.
It was the metal I picked up on. That helps you stand out.
When we kids we were into ska bands – Madness, Specials, mainstream UK stuff. We all went to the same schools together and we were also very much into our Kerrang!-type stuff as teenagers. Bands like Nirvana, Sepultura, Metallica, even Nu-Metal. So, we’ve always liked metal.
The UK ska-punk scene is much heavier and edgier than the mainstream in America. Three bands in particular, Capdown, King Prawn and (from America) Voodoo Glow Skulls, who are Californian but very hard-edged. That heavier ska attracted us. They were the bands that inspired us to play ska music.
Alex Skindred. They have the ska thing also – top band.
In the noughties there was a ska-punk scene in Leicester – was there in Manchester?
Mike We did our first gig in 2003. We started getting into King Prawn and Capdown in 2001. In Manchester there were a couple of (ska-punk) bands knocking around but in 2003 there wasn’t a scene for us to walk into. That was something that built up during the mid-2000s when lots of ska-punk bands emerged in the Greater Manchester area and by the end of the 2000s there was a strong ska-punk scene in Manchester, connected with the general punk scene and other punk scenes.
Sounds like you were very much part of it.
Alex Yeah we were. There were a few promoters that started up around that time. There was TNS who originally started up by putting on gigs and doing a fanzine before they went on to releasing stuff. Bomb Ibiza (promoters) used to do gig nights and did the last Sunday of every month, something called Ska Bar. It was an all-dayer really, in this small venue in Manchester. That was a real kind of hub for the development of the Manchester Punk scene, cos you’d get bands from all over the country. They’d put five or six bands on a bill. Later, Pumpkin Records started putting on shows and releasing records. It all happened in that decade.
Were they good gigs?
Alex mentioned Ska Bar before. It was the last Sunday of the month and that went on for years. All bands from round the UK wanted to get in there. It was a relatively small venue, but we absolutely packed them out. It was a really strong scene.
Have you done many shows since you came back last year?
Mike We’ve done six gigs since we came back. We were planning to do this one gig, a tribute to our original guitarist, and producer, Tim Gray, who very sadly passed away. We did a tribute at Manchester Punk Festival. We only planned to do that one gig and got into the swing of it. We were really up for it and enjoyed it and played five more gigs around Manchester and Bolton. We recorded the album and were looking forward to more gigs and then obviously the pandemic happened.
What’s your line-up now?
Mike It’s the original nine. Willi replaced Tim on guitar during our first era.
Did the death of Tim bring you back together?
Mike Absolutely, yeah. Tim was a producer first and foremost originally.
Alex He ran Bigtone Studios. He recorded all the bands in the area.
Willi He did mashups too, MTV liked him. A very talented guy. MTV commissioned quite a few of his mashups.
When was the album recorded?
Alex This time last year.
Willi We did the drums, bass and two guitars over one weekend. We were all a bit nervous but once we’d got that down we were proper pumped about it. So, we laid down the brass and finally Mike’s vocals.
We were pleased. We had the right guy recording us, a guy called Kurt Wood at Corner House Studios.
One thing that makes you stand out are your vocals Mike. A real swagger to them. Is it a natural thing or a conscious thing to make yourself stand out?
The swagger maybe comes from the younger, early Oasis influence. Not consciously, anyway. When I was a singer before we started Harijan, I wanted to be a punk rock singer, probably influenced by Billy Joe Armstrong from Green day. Kurt Cobain was my biggest hero so obviously he had an influence. As soon as I saw King Prawn and Capdown I wanted to imitate them a bit – it fitted with me and my style. It wasn’t conscious – everything happens organically. Those two bands gave me the confidence to find my own style.
The tracks have gritty lyrical subjects. Who writes the lyrics?
Mike I write the words myself. The politics didn’t come from the punk scene. We’d all pretty much got our politics before we started the band. We were all very similar politically and that gave us the ideas of what the themes of the songs would be about. I want to talk about real life kind of stuff.
That’s what I think I mean by ‘gritty’. The lyrics remind me of the life led by the characters on that TV programme from your way Shameless. Not about the programme itself but the life surrounding it.
Willi Shameless is a good way of looking at it – I’ve never thought of it like that. It’s a good way of summing it up. A lot of the lyrics are about living in poverty. They talk about the mental health and addictions that go with.
The song Divide And Rule is a favourite of mine.
Mike It is what it says on the tin really. It’s about the tactics that, let’s cut to the chase, the ruling classes use to divide the working classes. It’s about that theory, that perspective and taps into the theme of unity. There’s always an enemy, there’s always ‘the other’. People get divided up and taken advantage of.
The line from Downer – ‘Cos we gave up long ago it rotted inside out’ – is particularly effective.
Mike The idea behind that was about having a bad day. The middle bit is almost tongue in-cheek, but it is serious – sometimes we all have real bad dark moments so I tried to write the most purposefully darkest lyrics I could come up with.
Downer is the single, the lead track – how did you decide that?
Mike It has a catchy intro, a catchy tune so we thought it might be a good choice for a single.
Indeed. Airhead is an interesting number.
Mike Definitely – it came when were young and quite radical. Now we’ve grown up a bit we can enter political discourse without being so angry, and a lot of calmer.
The truth is a lot of the songs had only one verse and a chorus written so with recording the album it’s kind of cool in a way cos it made me write some new lyrics ten years on. Airhead is a very angry song. I’ve got the same beliefs it’s just I go about talking about it in a different way. However, for the second verse of Airhead I enjoyed jumping back into my old self and writing new, angry lyrics especially in the context of what has happened in politics in recent years.
Were the tunes on the album in your pre-2010 set?
Alex The songs on the album were all from the first time around. It wasn’t a conscious thing.
I love the line in Valgus, ‘Don’t fall for the tale that time is up’.
Mike Don’t forget as well we were playing in the 2000s. The lyrics seem more potent and relevant now. Even though there were anarchists in the punk scene at the time, they weren’t vocal about it. They are a lot more now. Students are more radicalised with what’s going on with tuition fees and the rent situation, and Black Lives Matter. So, these lyrics are more pertinent now.
TNS Records seem an exceptionally good bunch of people.
Alex They’re all sound. They’ve done amazing things. They’ve been on our case for the past ten years! (laughs). We got back together and started practising for the Manchester Punk Festival gig, and decided, as it was going well, we’d do a few more gigs. But nothing more than that.
Willi Eventually when we did decide it would be good to record, it was just for ourselves really. We wanted recorded versions of all our songs. It snowballed from there. A couple of the lads went and met Kurt, who we knew anyway from back in the day. We listened to some of his work and it just seemed to fit.
It must feel weird for a band to release an album during the pandemic, especially a band releasing their first one.
Alex Speaking for myself, we don’t have much to compare it with really. We did a split with John Player Specials, and that’s it.
Mike I think we’ve been lucky in the sense that there’s been this long hiatus. People who did know about us have been anticipating it and looking forward to it. There’s been a buzz around it and in a strange way it’s given us a privileged position. So, we can just focus on the promotion side – we have to be a bit more creative. More social media based – we can’t just gig.
Had this pandemic happened in the eighties it would have stopped the whole thing dead. You now need to use social media, etc.
One last thing – love the bright yellow artwork on the album cover. It’s fantastic.
Mike A few of the punks have expressed a bit of unhappiness over the artwork and the t-shirts! (Cue much laughter from Alex and Willi!) It’s not the anarcho-punk look is it? So, we’ve made promises to the punks there WILL be black t-shirts! We wanted good artwork from a local artist and to cut a long story short Joe the trombone player’s girlfriend made a list of about twenty artists in the area and top of the list was Joe Mead who has an exhibition called Habitats. As soon as we saw that we knew straight away that was the guy for us. It just summed up our vibe so much.
OK fellas, thanks for your time. Best of luck with everything.
❉ ‘Harijan’ by Harijan (TNS Records) is available from Bandcamp as Digital Album, RRP £7.00. Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. Look out for review in We Are Cult shortly.
❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.
❉ Photo credits: Harijan playing Garlic Bread Club retro bar, 2019. (Hold My Pint Photography) © Image subject to copyright.
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