Interview by Sarah Williams. Photos and video by Mark Richards.
Matilda’s Scoundrels must be one of the hardest-working bands in the UK DIY scene.
They’ve been touring up and down the country, popping up on all-dayers, in pubs and at a whole range of festivals this summer, building up a reputation as a cannot-miss live act. Although they’ve been together for three and a half years, it wasn’t until September 2017 that they released their first full-length album As The Tide Turns (review here). It’s 42 minutes of rollicking, overdriven aggro-folk, with all the calms and crests of a rough sea and plenty of rousing shout-alongs.
I sat with down guitarist Dan Flanagan and accordionist Jens-Peter Jensen at The Palace in Hastings, just before doors open for the main day of Wotsit Called Fest. The festival is a two-day blend of different genres, with DIY at its heart. It’s organised by Dan and Jens, plus Kathy Butler and The Barracks’ Mark Tanner. Matilda’s Scoundrels also treated the Friday night as their album release party, playing a storming set to a room full of enthralled fans.
Given that we were all still up celebrating at 4am, we had a surprisingly sprightly chat, however when I asked them about As The Tide Turns Dan and Jens both paused to give consideration to each answer, rather than diving straight in with a response. I started to get an insight into the care and consideration that’s gone into writing and producing this brilliant new record…
How did Matilda’s Scoundrels first get started?
- Jens: We all did exactly the same thing that most people did; we met up at gigs, we drank and had fun together. One day we decided it would be a great idea to start a band. It tumbled from there.
You’ve been together a long time, so it feels like there’s been a lot leading up to the first album. How long have you been working on it?
- Dan: It’s taken us forever!
- Jens: We’d released a couple of EPs and some singles. We’ve released music every year.
- Dan: Getting on for 2 years ago, we wrote the first songs.
- Jens: It didn’t take long to record…
- Dan: It did take long to record.
- Jens: Okay, yeah, that’s a lie.
- Dan: About 8 months. We wanted to take our time with it; an album is quite a big thing so we wanted to make sure we did it right. There’s a lot of us, that’s the thing.
- Jens: There are six of us. It’s going to be a lot easier to do it if you’re a two piece punk band, because you have three major instruments and that’s it. To be honest, it wasn’t that hard to write, because we are a very writing-focussed band. There are always songs that we’re playing, trying to push up and trying to write.
- Dan: We’ve already a got a couple towards the next album.
- Jens: There are several tracks towards the next album! Whether they make it or not is another story!
You’re very well known for your raucous live-show. Would you say that the material on As The Tide Turns is written more for a live audience?
- Jens: We’re a very live band, so I think when we practice and we write we seem to focus on whether it’s going to be good for when we step on stage. Genuinely, I think that’s what we all love doing: we love playing and going different places, meeting new people and generally having a good time. That was the main purpose of the band, wasn’t it? For us to go out and have a good time?
You’ve played a lot of show this year. What’s been the best?
- Dan: MPF was great.
- Jens: That was amazing. [The after party] is a great slot for us. Once everybody’s a little bit drunk… that seems to suit us quite well!
- Dan: Our last Hastings show back in February – we did a thing called Fat Tuesday. You do three shows in three different venues in one night, and the last show we did in The Dragon was particularly wild. Probably our most wild Hastings show ever.
- Jens: It’s one of those shows where you walk into the bar and you don’t think that it’s the right place for you to play. But then it turned on its head and the whole place erupted upside down.
- Dan: People were dancing on the bar. Jens was dancing on the bar.
- Jens: Of course. It was just an eye-opener. We live in this town, so we have our little favourite corners to go to drink and hang out with people. The Dragon Bar isn’t a bad place but it’s not a venue, and it’s not one we’d have thought of. It was just strange.
I get the feeling you could play anywhere and everyone would still love it. On the street, on the beach…
- Dan: Well, we have. We did a little busking tour last year, 5 locations. Just turned up and played.
- Jens: We stole the first gig on the new pier from Madness. That’s a claim we can tick off.
- Dan: We just wandered on with all our instruments and started playing. We got kicked off.
- Jens: It all kicked off! We had security guards come and escort us off. People just turned up and said, “This is great, you guys are amazing!” People in town knew who we were but we’re not famous at all. We just went, “Sorry, Madness,” and stole it from them!
Are you enjoying doing more festivals or do you prefer tiny sweatbox venues?
- Dan: I’m both. The festivals are great. Especially when you get some big festivals. I like the room on stage. That’s my favourite thing: having the room to move.
- Jens: That is a good thing. We’ve played some small places and with six of us it gets a bit cramped.
- Dan: But at the same time, the shows you get in tiny rooms are usually some of the best.
The release of As The Tide Turns seems to be a great success; my Facebook feed is full of pictures of people flaunting your t-shirts or album covers. How are you finding it so far?
- Jens: We released the album on the 8th of September but we haven’t really left town since. We’re oblivious to whether it’s really a great album or not! We love it – it’s everything that we stand for – but we’ve got to wait and see.
TNS Records have put the album out for you. How did you first get involved with them?
- Dan: It was at one of our first gigs [in 2014]. I think it was gig number four – Revenge [of The Psychotronic Man] played Hastings. It was always going to be our first gig. We got on the line-up and planned for it to be our first gig, but we ended doing a few more before that. We hit it off straight away from that night – we got drunk on the fishing boats with Revenge.
There’s a mix of songs on the album – it sounds like it’s half political and half drunken singalong. Is that deliberate?
- Dan: What we’ve tried to do is merge the two. Ideally political songs which are fun when you’re drunk.
- Jens: A lot of them aren’t very political, but it’s very underlined [on the album].
- Dan: We’ve done political songs on the other releases, but I think we’re better known for our drinking songs.
Pisshead’s Anthem is the best drinking song out there. I think that’s what brings you comparisons with a lot of the Celtic bands out there. Do you ever get fed up with being compared to Dropkick Murphys?
- Dan: That’s the one that comes up all the time.
- Jens: That is the classic one. What’s the other classic one?
- Dan: Mumford and Sons.
- Jens: That was it!
- Dan: This one guy comes up to us in Manchester. He’s completely hammered and he’s just goes, “You’re just like a shit Mumford and Sons.” So I’m like, thanks, I think that’s a compliment? And then he continues, “But you’re a good Gogol Bordello.”
- Jens: [Laughing] We weren’t sure how to take that.
- Dan: I think they’re both compliments?
Is there anyone whose music you do aspire to?
- Jens: We aren’t aspiring to be anything, or at least not to be like anyone whatsoever. My point when we put this all together was that I didn’t want to be a Celtic punk band. I didn’t want us to be classified as Flogging Molly or Dropkicks.
- Dan: If you are the Celtic kind of punk, that’s your scene, whereas we can fit a wide range. We play with all sorts.
- Jens: We just want to play folk music that’s punky and bouncy.
Your set works equally well at hardcore show as it would at a folk festival. What’s your favourite kind of show to play?
- Dan: My personal favourite is a really varied line-up. Not just folk line-ups, but having punk bands, hardcore bands, ska bands. Kinda like what we did last night [at Wotsit Called Fest] – everything a little different.
Last night was fantastic; you’ve done a great job of organising the festival. How are you finding it so far?
- Jens: It was great. This year is very different to last year. Last year it was one day and it was very quickly put together – we’d just gone ‘yeah, let’s make this happen’.
- Dan: It was a bit of a bodged mish-mash of a festival. We’ve put some work into this one.
- Jens: Well, more than last year.
- Dan: I’m definitely hoping to do it again next year.
What’s been the hardest thing about organising it?
- Jens: Doing all the different bits and bobs for the festival on top of having the band.
- Dan: Especially with the album coming out just before this as well. We were plugging the album and then, ah shit, we’ve got to plug the festival as well. The amount of people who have probably unfollowed me on Facebook because of the constant posts about those two things…
What’s the best part of organising your own DIY festival?
- Dan: Friends. You get to see all your friend’s bands who you’ve played with across the country.
- Jens: It’s the community that we’re in. It’s lovely to get people together and, particularly, in our case bringing everybody to Hastings.
- Dan: We have to go up North normally.
- Jens: So once a year they get to come down here and see where we come from.
- Dan: Checking out the bands you’ve never seen too. Today I’m excited to see The Fuckin’ Glorious and Natterers; I’ve not caught them yet.
- Jens: Seeing friends and seeing bands! It’s going to be really strange afterwards, because now it feels like we don’t having anything to do.
What’s the future for Matilda’s Scoundrels?
- Dan: Keep doing the same.
- Jens: Keep chugging along. Keeping touring and playing shows.
- Dan: Write album number two. Get back to Europe.
- Jens: We all have our personal goals, some of them we’ve reached and some we haven’t. We’re always moving on, playing more shows. We want to achieve something. We love it, it’s what we do.
Matilda’s Scoundrels will be headlining the Saturday of Pie Race. It’s their third year of playing there and, as they said earlier, many of us will be a tad pissed by then so it’s the perfect slot for them.
If you’re not at Pie Race, make sure you catch them at one of the following dates:
- November 4th @ The Smokehouse in Ipswich, as part of Zoe Barrow’s birthday bash
- November 12th @ Lady Luck Bar in Canterbury
- November 17th @ Back From The Dead Fest at T-Chances
- November 18th @ The Cremorne in Sheffield
- November 26th @ The Cricketers in Kingston w/Flatfoot 56
- November 27th @ T-Chances in London w/Flatfoot 56
- December 13th @ Nells Jazz and Blues in London
- December 15th @ The Palace in Hastings w/Casual Nausea and The Barracks
Interview by Sarah Williams. Photos and video by Mark Richards.