INTERVIEW: BE QUIET. SHOUT LOUD! | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Nick Wesson

The date is 29th March 2016. The location, The Green Room at Stockton Calling. It’s nine o’clock, punters have been steady throughout the day but the crowd thickens in anticipation of the next act to play. As stage programmer I’d booked Be Quiet. Shout Loud! myself, but had only heard them on record. As the band stood on stage, adorned by a feather boa and sequins, and began to play their euphoric disco rock, I can honestly say I have never been so pleasantly confounded.

My first experience of BQSL in their natural environment meant that two years later I’d duck out of my own Stockton Calling stage to force my way into another (I am not ashamed to say I bribed a bouncer with Malteasers) only to stand, crushed with what felt like hundreds of others, fist in the air and singing maniacally along… “You’re not sitting in tonight…”

So what is it about BQSL that demands such fan fervour? It’s down in part to their peerless live show. “Having fun is the main factor behind everything we do. We’re heavily influenced by the big pop hits from the 70s or 80s,” says singer, synth player and chief ‘poser’ Jake Radio. “Our style is driven by any song which has that spark of energy that makes you want to dance. Every song we write is written with that feeling in mind.”
The Middlesbrough band’s sound is a curious mix of disco pomp and rock posturing, which could result in high camp (and sometimes does), but mostly just ends up being awesome. The band put their style down to the North East’s heritage of idiosyncratic performers, from Dire Straits to The Futureheads. “North East bands always seem to obtain their own levels of uniqueness whether they realise it or not, and we think we’ve developed similarly with our own unique style.”

Their videos prove they’re a band unafraid to have a laugh, put on a pout and offer a suggestive wink, but at the same time are totally self-aware and perform without a hint of irony – whether it’s Jake’s eye-wateringly loud t-shirts or axe-man Jamie Donnelly’s foot-on-the-monitor bravado – they even use a keytar…what more do you want?!

The band’s forthcoming vinyl EP, Another Commotion, comes ten years since their formation. An album in 2015 and a couple of recent singles have seen them progress from what may be perceived as a throwaway pop act to a force to be reckoned with. From the EP, Louisiana’s an insanely catchy slice of twitchy guitars and blasts of sassy keys courtesy of Chris Burton; the breakneck euphoria of I Just Want You To Know is held in check by Dave Owens’ steady bass rumbles; while Paul Morton’s synthesised beats underpin the sarcasm of Mr Paradise. Then there’s tracks like 2017 single Superheroes’ off-the-wall pop sound, and live favourite (You’re Not) Sitting In Tonight; all well-structured pop songs, showcasing an innate way with melody and rhythm, and note perfect.

Just because music can be fun, doesn’t mean it can’t be important at the same time

There is a serious side to these disco rock mentalists though. Forthcoming single No Hope’s chantable chorus belies a political undertone, casting commentary on the current divide in the country (replete with singalong refrain, natch). Jake’s keen to point out that the band don’t hide behind sequins and synths when it comes to important issues. “The songs on Another Commotion are all observations of things we’ve experienced in our lives. Just because music can be fun, doesn’t mean it can’t be important at the same time.” (You’re Not) Sitting In Tonight’s whizzy synths and finger snapping beat underpins a tale of loneliness and the importance of friendship. “(You’re Not) Sitting In Tonight was probably the first time that more thought went into the meaning of the lyrics rather than just concentrating on the melody. Since then we’ve explored more social and political themes on many of our songs – No Hope being a great example of that.”

Jake reiterates that the band are a “product of their environment” in that they write about experiences they’ve had. Guitarist Jamie’s open and honest struggles with his own mental health have spurred the band to speak out. “It’s massively important. One of the things people used to say to Jamie, when they found out about his mental health problems, was ‘you always look happy’ and it’s important that people are able to admit if they’re not. We can only do that if we get everyone talking about it.”

Over the last year or so, BQSL’s fanbase has swelled along with their ambition. “We always want to improve on the last thing we did, so we’ll always keep aiming as high as we can until we get there. We are extremely proud to be part of a music scene so diverse and creative and also a scene which consistently rejuvenates itself.”

As is evident from my earlier fangirling, BQSL have gained a well-deserved reputation for their live shows. “We write fun and energetic music, so it only seems right that our live show is equally fun and energetic. Why would you expect other people to dance if you’re not? People can tell when a band is having fun on stage, and enthusiasm is infectious. If we didn’t fill our live show with sequined jackets, stuffed cats, jumping around and just generally having the time of our lives, someone else would probably be doing it and we’d be jealous someone thought of it first. And then we’d steal the idea anyway.”

Be Quiet. Shout Loud! play several shows in October and November – Teesside University at Twisterella Festival (Saturday 13th October); Surf Café, Tynemouth (Saturday 27th October); The Tavern in Blyth (Sunday 28th October); Base Camp, Middlesbrough (Friday 2nd November – official album launch show); Bubbles, Ashington (Thursday 15th November) and Trillians, Newcastle (Wednesday 28th November).

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