When it comes to live entertainment, arthouse shockers Evil Blizzard are in a class of their own, offering a truly theatrical experience, though not one for the faint-hearted.
It’s difficult to explain what they’re all about, but the fact that this alarming six-piece features four bass players and a singing drummer – all scarily masked, with at least two known to wear pink boiler-suits – and are joined on stage by a pig-faced dancer, might give you a few visual clues.
They’re loud too, loud and heavy, and on their last visit to the Ferret in their home city of Preston, Lancashire, all hell broke loose when the fire alarms went off, most punters thinking it all part of the set.
But the Blizz were set to return to the same venue on Saturday, May 10, just the latest in a long line of sell-out performances. And performance is an under-statement.
Last year it emerged that actors Dominic Brunt and Jeff Hordley, better known as Emmerdale’s Paddy Kirk and Cain Dingle, were fans, following the lead of The Fall mastermind Mark E Smith, who has employed them as a support act.
Then there are reports of members of Hawkwind and Southern Death Cult following them, and the invaluable support of Manchester-based music journalist John Robb, founder member of seminal Blackpool punk band The Membranes.
What’s more, Goldblade front-man Robb has released their eight-track debut album on his Louder Than War label, while generally going out of his way to sing their praises.
I asked Mark Whiteside, a civil servant in downtown Preston by day, and Evil Blizzard’s singing drummer Side by night, just what the fuss was all about.
“We’ve had several people championing us, but since last year things have progressed, with the album out, reviews coming in, and radio stations playing us.
“John Robb has done a lot for the band, and I don’t think we’d be where we are now without Mark E. Smith – who gave us a bigger audience – and him.
“John does everything he can to spread the word, offering us gigs with his bands, releasing the album, mentioning us in interviews, championing the band from all corners.”
Most of the live reviews have similar reference points, using phrases like ‘jaw-dropping’ and ‘performance art’, describing ‘psychedelic’ and ‘kraut rock’ elements, and comparing the Blizz to the likes of Hawkwind and Public Image Limited.
“I’d say they’re all pretty accurate. Having four bass players has that theatrical theme, and we are unlike most bands around.
“People tend to say they’ve never seen anything like it. The imagery does tend to attract people, and sometimes the stage-show gets reviewed more than the music.
“It is very visual, but once people get over that, the music does come through, and on second reviews people are more likely to realise there’s a strong sound.”
The band describe their sound on their social media pages as ‘Double Doom’.
“Well, I mean, how much more doom can you be? And with four bass players, all playing heavy bass …”
Quite an effect really, and that’s without even mentioning the guy with the pig’s head.
“Well, we don’t think we sound like anybody. John Robb said there’s no band that sound like Evil Blizzard, and that’s good to know.
“We’re a five-piece musically, with the bass players, myself, and our sixth member, Blizz Pig, who I see more as the winder-upper – a pig jester getting people involved.
“Sometimes we have five bass players, but have been known to have six. But we did find getting that live sound on to a record very difficult.”
The album was recorded by Andy Gibbon at Manchester’s Sunshine Studios, an indirect result of that link with The Fall.
And word has it that The Dangers of Evil Blizzard was put down in just five hours, but then took more than five months to mix.
“True. We recorded it live with a few overdubs, but each song then took quite a long time to get the sound right and mix.”
Style-wise, I can hear Public Image Ltd, while others have mentioned Black Sabbath.
“Vocally there’s a bit of John Lydon and Ozzy Osborne, that kind of sound. But that’s just how I sing.
“John Lydon is one of my favourite singers, and I like Black Sabbath, so don’t mind that. I’d prefer them to be compared to me, of course!”
The sound and visuals certainly inspired Dominic Brunt, the afore-mentioned actor – also an independent movie-maker – set to film them for a promo project.
“He’s played with us on stage too. He’s really into the band and is scripting something at the moment, filming at the end of May or maybe June at a studio in Leeds with the people who do effects for Dr Who and Harry Potter. It will be more like a mini-movie really.”
Like an alternative Thriller?
“Exactly! A Doom Thriller.”
As well as several sell-out shows, there have been features in Kerrang! and The Guardian’s G2 supplement, which had them as cover stars under the headline ‘The New Wave of New Rage’
Then there were pieces in Classic Rock and various on-line publications, with more to follow in Q and Prog Rock, while the G2 piece has led to some gigs coming up with Sleaford Mods, who were also featured.
The album is also on garish pink vinyl, with rather arresting mutant baby artwork by Hamburg’s Arne Wald, another fan of the band.
“Arne saw us playing with The Fall in London, got in touch, and we have a bit of a tie now, selling his art through our website. He’s also playing with us soon, guesting on bass.”
Another celebrity bass player?
“We do pass the bass a lot, and that’s one of the things that separates us from others. There’s not that boundary. People do get involved.”
Evil Blizzard have received a lot of radio airplay too, including support from BBC Radio 6’s Gideon Coe, BBC Radio 2’s Janice Long, and Planet Rock.
In fact, the band members are having the kind of success none of their past projects really enjoyed, despite a degree of indie kudos for Dreamland, Furburger and Baboon.
“We’ve all been in bands before, some fairly successful, but nothing on this scale. But it’s more about art than just being a band this time.
“I think there’s dissatisfaction with the music scene. The majority of stuff you see on telly is pretty bland. People are looking elsewhere to find something more interesting – underground bands, festivals and websites.
“The DIY aspect is back, it’s more like the punk era in a way. People can get their music out there easier, looking outside what can be offered elsewhere.”
The band has take on community projects in their home city too, like the Cinema around the Corner initiative last year, performing on the Harris Steps to a silent horror film backdrop.
“That went well. Again, it was a bit DIY, but we’ve since done something similar in Bristol, playing an old cinema, another sell-out, an improvised set followed by a regular gig.”
So how many of Mark’s work colleagues realise he becomes singing/drummer Side by night?
“I suppose people are getting more aware of what I do. We’ve all got jobs in the band, including a teacher and another with his own business. But we’re looking to find an agent or promoter to hopefully build things around those jobs.”
Did they always have the masks?
“We played unmasked when we first started, but over time developed the theatrical side.
“Some grown-ups have been known to shy away from the masks, whereas kids seem to accept it. But to appeal to a younger audience is good.
“We have looked at doing a matinee show, and when we played a festival in Oxford last year there were a lot of children who joined us on stage.”
Will pink boiler-suits and pigs’ heads be this year’s fashion musts?
“Possibly, at some festivals, you never know. Watch this space.”
The band’s summer highlights are also set to include a trip to London for Islington’s Lexington on May 29, Kendal Calling on August 1 and Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival on August 7.
“Our Manchester show sold us within a week, and Preston sold pretty quickly. Actually, we might look at a bigger Preston event next time – maybe 53 Degrees, possibly a Blizzard Festival with a few other bands.”
But first, it’s that Ferret return. So what exactly did happen last time?
“I think it was down to the fact that we had a lot of smoke from the stage, that seemed to trigger the fire alarm. Or someone hit it. We don’t know, but most people thought it was just part of the show.
”This time we’re going to be doing more of a film projection, so visually it should look quite good.”
And will it be pretty loud?
“I would say loud, yes.”
This is a revised edition of a Malcolm Wyatt feature published in the Lancashire Evening Post on May 8. For the original, head here.