One of my favourite stages at Butlins Great British Alternative Music Festival is the “Introducing Stage” where typically lesser known bands play.
The standard is always very high and I always discover great new (to me) bands.
The band who most grabbed my attention last weekend was The White Ribbons. Indeed they were one of my top highlights of the entire weekend, not just the introducing stage. Not only are they musically ace, but they champion worthwhile causes, and so I was keen to find out more about them, and lead singer Brian Mitchell kindly agreed to give me an interview.
Live Music Pix / JK: Did you have a good time at The Great British Alternative Music Festival? Were you able to hang around, and if so, which bands did you enjoy?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: We had a rather marvelous Great British Alternative Music Festival thank you for asking. We loved it. In terms of the bands I thought The Adicts tore the place apart. Personally I love the drama and theatre of the performance, blistering tunes as well.
Live Music Pix / JK: The Introducing Stage is one of my favourite parts of the festival – always great bands, and I know how difficult it is to get people to go and see bands they haven’t heard of, from putting on gigs myself, so having the stage right at the heart of the festival with a large crowd of people having a drink at the tables, and a space at the front to come and dance if they feel so inclined, to me is a great idea. Was it a positive experience for you, and do you feel you’ve gained new fans from it?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: Dear God above I am still high as a kite from Saturday. The Introducing Stage was magnificent. We had such a positive response to the band, the tunes and ultimately the message. Whilst I understand that it was a vote for your fave, every band that played must have felt like a winner. I know we did.
Every band was ace as well. There was some real ace performances. I mean Desensitised, Diablo Furs The Reverends, Rage DC. The whole thing was epic.
I have a sneaking suspicion we may have made a few new friends as well So yes all in all a thing of beauty really.
Live Music Pix / JK: I didn’t get around to buying your CD, can I buy it online, and do you have an album in the pipeline?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: Our tunes are on Spotify. You can download from i-tunes or alternatively contact us through the Facebook page and we furnish you with a CD. Not too sure about an album, Definitely another EP pre-Xmas and then see what the demand is? I am not too sure the world is screaming for A White Ribbons album right now.
Live Music Pix / JK: I can’t speak for the album buying masses, but I’d definitely buy a copy!
Where are you based, and do you tour much?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: Three of the chaps are based in Bradford and I am from Manchester. Very important we make the distinction. Not exactly county lines but a definite sense of territorial pissing. The Yorkshire, Lancashire thing is a never ending ‘in joke’. In terms of touring we will play wherever people will have us. We did a tour down South earlier on in the year. We supported Kid Klumsy, Spring Park and Leftovers – epic bands – on the ‘abuse your confusion tour’ which was a riot from start to finish. We followed that with a couple of dates in Norway. Not a bad start to the year really.
Live Music Pix / JK: Although the weekend is an “Alternative” festival, the music and audience is dominated by punk. One of the guys who comes round with towels and toilet rolls told me last year that he was scared at the first Alt Fest when he saw all the guys with their Mohicans etc, but now he looks forward to it because they are the friendliest people of all the different weekends they do. Do you find that punks are generally supportive of you?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: Punks are extremely supportive.we are still astounded at the reaction we get. I know this is going to sound twee and nice but the punk family are some of nicest and soundest people I have ever met. I love that we get a platform to talk about difference and respect and generally that is received really well. I know we are not everyones ‘cup of tea’ but seriously people have been bloody lovely with us.
Live Music Pix / JK: You champion a number of good causes it seems, most notably against male violence towards women. I loved your t-shirts, what was it “Just because I have a dick doesn’t mean to say I have to act like one”. If you don’t mind me asking, what made you get involved in this particular cause?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: We are all ambassadors for the White Ribbon Campaign. We signed on the dotted line. We promote the campaign because we abhor any violence. However ‘domestic violence’ and abuse isn’t a women’s issue. Fundamentally it is a human rights issue. We campaign for equality and respect. There is nothing wrong in that and if people don’t like that then we are not the band for you. Check the statistics and two women die every week at the hands of men. 1.3 million women experienced some form of abuse and violence last year. 1 in 4 women experience abuse during their lifetime. If men don’t speak out and talk to other men about their behaviour and attitudes, how will this ever stop? We can only repeat this isn’t a women issue it fundamentally about human rights and being safe.
Live Music Pix / JK: These are truly shocking statistics. Interesting that I automatically assumed women when thinking about domestic violence, but of course it can happen to anyone. That’s why it’s good to talk about these things to improve our understanding of it.
I’ve seen a number of women in bands lately speaking out about how they get treated by men. They tend to get 4 types of response – a) Women who have similar experiences giving support, b) guys who aren’t dicks giving their support, c) people who can’t get their head around why, if women don’t want to be assaulted do they wear makeup and not cover themselves up (I suspect many of them also criticise muslim women for covering up too much) – it’s hard to believe such attitudes still exist in the 21st century. And d) guys protesting that she didn’t qualify it by saying “some men”, because they are “good guys”.
To my mind, group D are as much of a problem as group C, because declaring yourself a good guy is kind of like the ultimate in mansplaining. When I was younger for example, I over-compensated for shyness by saying really outrageous things to women, and assumed that because they laughed, they were comfortable with it. It’s only now, looking back, I realise that when people are uncomfortable they often laugh, I didn’t set out to be a dick, but I was! I think we all need to question our behaviour, and listen carefully when women call it out.
Do you think I’m being too hard on group D?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: No you are not being hard on group D. If you have to go around shouting about how good you are then surely that is part of the issue. I don’t really hear many women running around shouting about how good they because they don’t assault men. There is no getting away from the fact that the vast majority of abuse is perpetrated by men against women. We don’t need to shout about how it isn’t all men. Be comfortable with who are and stop being a dick. The ‘not all men’ stuff is merely stating the fucking obvious. It doesn’t change the fact the two women die every week and are murdered by men. I feel I may being very harsh here but let’s deal with the issue at hand and see us as part of the solution.
Live Music Pix: I saw conflicting opinions on the #MeToo campaign. To my mind, it was a good thing to show people that the problem is much bigger than most blokes realise, but I did see some women say it trivialised the issue, and I can see that point too.
What’s your take on it? (and yes, I see the irony of 2 blokes discussing the issue!)
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: The #metoo movement has given many women a voice and if it has enabled /allowed women to speak up for the first time or emboldened some women to not tolerate shit then it has to bee seen as a potent force surely? As you say look at us, two men discussing this. Is that not a brilliant thing?
Live Music Pix / JK: Absolutely!
If we had a prime minister who was determined to end domestic abuse (we can but dream, eh?) and he or she asked you to join the cabinet as special adviser, what would your initial advice be?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: If asked to join any cabinet I would decline. The people that experience this shit on a day by basis are far more experienced and informed. Get them in the cabinet and I reckon policy would change almost over night. They live and breathe that world. We are merely a band trying to make the world a better place through art. It was interesting at the weekend how many women came and shared their experiences with us. I find that both humbling and heart-breaking. Imagine of they could sit in cabinet, share the same experiences and steer policy.
Live Music Pix / JK: That would be amazing.
I really admire the stand you make for the things you believe in. Have you had any scary experiences from speaking your mind? Do you have a coping method for hecklers?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: We have had loads of scary experiences. However it would be supremely ironic for us to argue and bicker with people simply because they disagree with us. I/we try and be respectful but ultimately with some people we have to disagree. I think the Bar Stool Preachers articulate it far better than we ever could when they sing “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” I love that band.
Hecklers are just frustrated performers aren’t they? They want the space you have. I love being heckled though rare are the opportunities for anyone else to get a word in. I can jibber jabber until the dawn rises.
Live Music Pix / JK: I’m (just!) old enough to remember the 1970s, and I felt like genuine progress had been made in equality for women.
But then I see the response to Greta Thunberg – I understand not everybody agrees about climate change, and that’s a whole separate debate, but I was genuinely shocked by the amount of vitriol from old-arsed men towards a 16 year old woman. Even some of those who agree with her, concluded that she was being manipulated as if a 16 year old woman couldn’t possibly have any thoughts of her own.
The contrast is stark – people calling her ugly, a brat, and much worse. David Attenborough has been saying this stuff for years, he’s even done a whole TV series on the subject, and I don’t see the same vitriol aimed at him.
Do you think we genuinely made progress and now we’re going backwards, or do you think I’ve been living in an echo chamber and really things have never really changed?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: When a sixteen year young woman can affect global politics in such a profound way you know we are in uncharted territory. My word look at our cities being taken over by young people. She is inspiring and whether you are for or against you cannot ignore her impact. We are moving forward despite the doom mongers and nay sayers.
Live Music Pix / JK: I used to be a massive Smiths fan. For a long time, I turned a blind eye to his increasingly obvious dodgy views and I made excuses for him. The final straw what when he said Farage would make a good prime minister. I don’t care if he was trying to be controversial or even funny – “that joke isn’t funny (anymore)”.
Were you ever a Smiths/Morrisey fan, and if so, are you still, and if not, was there a point where you said, enough’s enough?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: I know this isn’t going to be popular but I loved Morrissey with all of my heart. I adored the Smiths. I am afraid I cannot ever forgive him. I feel betrayed and lied to. He offered me a voice and kept me sane by saying it was alright to be different. Now he sounds like that that awkward Uncle at a wedding. Drunk wandering around offending people for the sake of offending them. Only he means it. Did you ever in your wildest dreams believe this would happen?
Live Music Pix / JK: No, like you say, he’s gone from one extreme – being a voice for the disenfranchised, to the other – that elderly relative that everyone just rolls their eyes at and ignores when he goes off on one of his racist rants again. Incredibly sad.
Ok, we’ve tackled some pretty heavy subjects, so I’d like to wrap up with a couple of light hearted questions if you don’t mind.
I met a couple on the train home who had a bone to pick with you! Harvey Weinstein is a B*stard – goes without saying! Donald Trump is a B*stard – no argument from us! Boris Johnson? <joking>Aww isn’t he just a cuddly chap who makes us laugh?</joking> Oh, ok I’ll give you that one. But Fireman Sam? What has that poor man ever done to you? He’s the backbone of PontyPandy! Putting out fires and saving that really irritating kid from whatever scrape he’s got himself into this week!
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: We didn’t call Fireman Sam a bastard. The lyric was Fireman “Sam what more can we say?”
The t-shirt however may actually call him a bastard. That wasn’t our design though. Some big lads did that and ran off
Live Music Pix / JK: Ok, I’ll let you off! Finally, you finished your set on Bucks Fizz’s “Making your mind up” – Ironic, or are you a bit of a fan?
The White Ribbons / Brian Mitchell: For the record we are not fans of Bucks Fizz. Tony the bass player came up with the idea of covering the song. After playing it once it stuck and now we usually finish the set with it. It seems to go down well. Piss funny watching people dancing to it. To be fair we are always there with them
I used to fancy Jay Aston of Bucks Fizz. She is now standing as an MP for UKIP or some such party. Morrissey and Jay raving right wingers. The world has gone fucking mad.
Live Music Pix / JK: Absolutely! On that sad note, unfortunately we have to leave it there, but thanks very much for your time and thought-provoking answers, it’s been a pleasure!
You can follow The White Ribbons on Facebook
Butlins Great British Alternative Music Festival takes place every year at Skegness in October and Minehead in March.