It’s getting close to the time that The Amazing Snakeheads are supposed to be congregating in the bar for their interview at The Sunflower Lounge (one of the hippest dives in Birmingham.) They’re sound-checking loud enough in the venue below that you can hear them upstairs in the bar, and they sound fantastic.
The caterwauling blues ‘n’ roll ceases, and shortly, all three members appear outside of the bar, each smoking a cigarette while dripping in sweat. Drummer Jordon looks particularly clammy, and seems to be missing his shirt.
Popping back into the bar, the tour manager Gavin walks into the bar and shouts out that they’re ready. The bar is completely full, all sofas and stools completely occupied by post-work, pre-party Brummies, so he suggests that the interview take place in the van. A splendid idea.
In case you’re not aware by now, The Amazing Snakeheads play a particularly virile blend of raucous punk, urban blues and wired funk that has seen them pick up numerous plaudits and complimentary reviews. They’re made up of childhood friends Dale Barclay (guitar and vocals) and William Coombe (bass), having added drummer Jordon Hutchison and saxophonist/keyboardist (“musical genius, and that’s a fucking quote” – William) Andrew Pattie more recently.
Dale and William sit next to each other in the van, both smoking Mayfair and knocking the ash into a plastic cup.
When you formed, did you have any idea you’d be talking to folks about your success? Did you expect it or does it still surprise you?
D: No, there was no grand plan. It’s really fucking strange, actually. But it comes after years of practicing. And then more years of playing anywhere, anytime and with anybody. That’s kind of become our thing.
W: (to Dale) Haven’t we played in Birmingham before?
D: Yeah, at the Hare and Hounds.
So is it still exciting to be doing all the promotion and gigs in support of Amphetamine Ballads? Or have you got tired of it yet?
W: We’ll never get tired of it mate. I worked for the Royal Mail for twelve years, and Dale’s been working his ass off too, so we know what hard work is. This is a piece of piss. Once you’ve worked twelve hour days, getting out on the road to play your own tunes is a pleasure.
D: In the last six months, we’ve really seen it change big time. That’s still exciting – from being ready to play to one man and his dog to actually finding people that dig the band. The way we’ve always seen it, if you dig what you’re doing and there are people out there digging it too – we’ll find them and fucking play to them. It’s probably something to do with our upbringing…
D: … and how it changed our philosophy. Nothing is as bad as working all day and watching your time tick by. So to get out here and tour on our own terms, we’ve already won. You’ll never hear us say we’re tired of it. We enjoy it.
Are the gigs in particular the most enjoyable part of it all, then?
D: Gigs are the best, man. Especially the smaller venues. I saw Crazy Horse play last year at the SECC and the fucking sound just flew over your head.
W: The SECC…
D: Yeah, it’s totally soulless. This venue we’re playing tonight is a total fucking sweatbox, mate. We prefer it like that.
Is there an ‘ideal venue’ for the Snakeheads sound?
W: The Barrowlands. We’ve always said if we play the Barrowlands, we can die happy.
D: And I’ll fucking die before we play the SECC.
W: The Barrowlands, with the right band on the right night, can change your life. It’s like a fucking ’40s ballroom: there’s a sprung floor that your feet stick to and lights… Man, the lights make it look like Vegas. That’s the ideal venue for the Snakeheads.
D: Agreed mate.
The Orwells called out Arctic Monkeys for ‘phoning it in’ every night on tour. How do you feel about that?
D: We’ve played with The Orwells and they’re ones to fucking talk. You can’t go round slating other bands and other artists just to make yourselves look big. It’s a waste of breath to criticize other bands. We just do our thing, man.
W: We’re not gonna slate another band for doing their thing. It’s not our business. We just play our way, and if we’ve left it all on the stage each night, we can look at each other and know we’ve done the fucking best we can, you know?
So is spontaneity important to you?
D: We refuse to phone it in, absolutely. It keeps it fresh for us, like we said. It keeps it exciting to be playing our music live every night to people that dig it.
W: It might sound selfish, but we do this for us. It’s an honour that other people are into it. So we try and put our all into it. It’s what we do.
D: We learn a lot on tour too. We’ve played with Glasvegas and Jim Jones Revue. Two completely different bands, but we learned a lot from both of those guys. In the early days we went out to try and make a racket, but seeing these bands live every night proved to us that you can make a racket *and* keep the fans on their toes. Jim Jones Revue are a fucking badass band.
Agreed! On to Amphetamine Ballads – if you weren’t a member of the band, would you enjoy it?
W: Oh yeah man! That’s why we did it! We’re not gonna release something we wouldn’t listen to ourselves. There’s no fucking point. We’d rather cut our nuts off than put something out there that you don’t enjoy. I think it’s a great record. There was no rush to put it out or anything, Domino were cool with it. So we knew if we released something we were happy with, we’d be standing on solid ground, right?
D: I’m really happy with it. Like William said, this is a selfish thing. We make the music that we would listen to ourselves.
A lot of reviews have mentioned the ‘violence’ in your sound. How do you feel about that? Is it something that you deliberately try and put in there or is it an organic thing?
W: How people take the record is completely arbitrary. It’s got very little to do with us. Some people found it a fun, party kinda record and then you’ve got these other people saying it’s violent. It’s completely up to them. With the internet being so big, everyone has an opinion, so for every fan who finds it fun, there’s another who has the wrong attitude and thinks we’re out to jump off the stage every night.
D: When we were younger, we wanted to go out and fucking fight everyone. That’s how it was. Maybe that’s just something to do with us. But as we’ve gotten older it’s become more about the sound and what the sound means to the fans. It’s not up to us to tell people what they hear in the music. We don’t mind what they call it, as long as they’re digging it.
W: It’s intensity. We’re all about intensity. If you wanna get down, see the Snakeheads.
After the van chat is over, The Snakeheads get out and stand in the smoking area chatting to fans and support act musicians, promoters and more fans. If you try and engage them about their ‘favourite’ things, you won’t get an answer (unless it’s their favourite Cramps album, Badsville…)
After a riotous support slot from local hellions Tablescraps – featuring some manic guitar from Screamin’ Scott Vincent and clattering drums from Poppy Twist, The Amazing Snakeheads (all shirtless) take the stage to perform a sweat-drenched run-through of Amphetamine Ballads. Album highlights Nighttime and an especially chaotic Here It Comes Again stand out as particularly engaging live tunes, and closer The Truth Serum nearly brings the roof crashing down (literally).
They’ve already been the standout band of 2014 so far, following incredible sets around the country – especially at The Great Escape – they were scheduled to hit Europe until William unfortunately broke his leg last week (a total shame) so those dates remain up in the air. Amphetamine Ballads is an incredible record from an incredible band, and the attitude, humility and raw power of the band up close is something to behold.
‘Mon the Snakeheads, the Barrowlands is calling…
The Amazing Snakeheads’ debut album Amphetamine Ballads is out now through Domino. Since this interview was written, William has a broken leg; tour dates have been postponed. More on tour dates and the band here.