Sunday night at Sunflowerfest is always a night for a party. Sure it’s Monday the next day but that’s no reason not to smear a bit of mud on your face and crack open another plastic bottle of booze. The Northern Irish folk know how to party and an ever-growing festival like Sunflowerfest needs a Sunday night headliner who can bring the noise and drop some good old fashioned music to party to. Sit down Kanye, Florence and the likes. Step up you lovely little folk-punks Skinny Lister.
Folk and Tumble caught up with Lorna Thomas of the band as they traverse the festivals, back rooms and bars of Europe. It’s their first time in Northern Ireland and their only date on Irish shows this year so let’s say hi.
Let’s introduce the band to our readers. None of you is called Lister. Who are you and who is Lister?
We’re a band of friends with a family link too. We came together singing shanties in a pub in Greenwich and playing traditional tunes at house parties and stuff. Dan thought this could be fun if we infused some original music into it. You are correct in saying none of us are called Lister. That’s a name we adopted because, well, because why not? There’s been a number of stories over the years – we liked the crest for the family of Baron Lister who created analgesics, but the truth is that Dan went to school with a lad who he nicknamed Skinny Lister. Dan’s a bit odd and years later after loosing contact he decided to adopt the name and the crest followed.
Some say Ireland is the home of folk music, would you agree or are you all much more steeped in the English folk tradition?
Max and I grew up listening to all sorts of folk music. Our dad, George Thomas, wrote unaccompanied songs and performed them in folk clubs all over Leicester. He also worked on a radio station so brought home lots of different stuff. We grew up listening to it all (sometimes I have to admit, avoiding a lot of it too)! But a time came when we started to embrace it because well, that communal feeling you get when you go to a pub and everyone sings and drinks and has a laugh is a special thing. I think it’s a lot more common in Ireland but England has its fair share of fun too. Dan, Mule and Max all played and sang shanties and tunes in folk clubs in London and at house parties and by this time, I was done bumping and grinding to R Kelly and wanted to get into festivals… the lads were making music that made you want to dance, mixing new original songs with English morris tunes and festivals were inviting us to play so we played.
You’ve toured with the likes of Dropkick Murphys and found a home on Xtra Mile records. Do punk and folk make for good bedfellows?
It seems so! I’m not sure how punk we are musically but we certainly like to adopt a more punk ethos with delivery. There’s a lot of beautiful, carefully sculptured folk out there but it really is those raw sessions in pubs that inspires us and gets us excited. Going on the Vans Warped Tour in America was a frightening experience at first but gradually we got into it all and that tour I can safely say changed our DNA and helped us to find our sound. From that, touring with the likes of Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys has been an amazing experience and has definitely influenced some of the song writing since. Songs like ‘This is War’ and ‘Bold as Brass’ have got clear Irish influences. We’re also really excited to be part of the Xtra Mile family of artists. They’re creating an exciting movement that we’re really proud to be a part of. In fact we’re going out on tour with label mates, Frank Turner and Beans on Toast across America in September so that is going to be dangerously fun! I know they both like a drink!
Is this your first trip to Northern Ireland, home of The Undertones and some of the worst country music ever written?
The last time I was there I set fire to a hotel curtain by accident but this is the first time for the band yep. The Undertones are amazing and Max has a penchant for crap country music so we should be very happy there! We love going to new territories – it makes for adventure and where there’s adventure there’s the unknown.
What can we expect from you on a big Sunflowerfest stage?
You’ll get exactly the same show from us that you’d get if you saw us at a local pub – but with better sound hopefully! We’ll bring energy, singing, dancing and a big flagon of rum but we’ll expect that from you guys as well of course.
It’s all high energy stuff when you gig. Will you still be standing after Cropredy and gigs around Europe?
We survived Vans Warped Tour across the states for 7 weeks playing 5 gigs a day in ridiculous temperatures. If we can survive that we can survive a European summer of festivals. Besides we cut our teeth on the festival circuit. We played more festivals that anyone else in 2012 without realising it. We just said yes to the next party, got in our Landrover with our instruments and headed that way. There’s no time for hangovers when there’s fun to be had.
You were once dubbed the ‘hardest working band in the UK’ by PRS and the Landrovers seem to be permanently on the road. Do you just love touring that much?
The travelling isn’t much fun but that’s the bit we see we’re getting paid for I guess. The playing, the band camaraderie and the opportunities you get to meet fascinating people is what we love. We’ve met so many cool people all across the world and getting on the road helps you to keep those unusual friendships alive. That being said, of course, it’s very nice to come home and see your old mates too. In fact I’m long over due a weekend with my girls. Better fix that immediately!
Since the band became a six piece we’ve seen a lot less of the Skinny Sisters. What have they been up to?
Oh my lovely Skinny Sisters. Truly a force to be reckoned with! Imagine a hen party at every gig! Dresses ripped, riders demolished and innocent men sirened. I’m not sure we’re rock and roll enough for them anymore! They’re probably devouring rum all over the country. Occasionally I drag one or two along for a party and who knows maybe we’ll get it together nough to bring the whole gang out again in the future but at the moment they’re in hibernation.
Who’ll be blasting out of the stereo when you’re on the road to Sunflowerfest in July?
We’re listening to a lot of Xtra Mile acts like Billy The Kid, Dave Hause, Chris T-T and Beans on Toast at the minute (as always). Usually when we’re on the road we try to make a playlist related to a theme from a song on our latest album. We’re not always that disciplined though. We just spent around 30 hours on the road this last weekend and artists the band listened to included Bow Wow Wow, Courtney Barnett, Arrows of Love, Future Islands, Fat White Family and for a bit of a change, we had downloaded podcasts of Desert Island Discs.
If we bring a good Irish Whiskey will you guys bring the rum?
The run is mine but the lads will help you with the whiskey I’m sure!
Thanks for the answers and for one of our favourite folk-punk crossover records of the year. See you down the front!
You bet you will! Cheers for speaking to us and it’s our pleasure entirely!