Once famously described as ‘Slayer meets The Slackers’, Beat The Red Light are a genre-defying collision of metal, punk and ska, probably best likened to Voodoo Glow Skulls or Capdown, if Capdown listened to black metal. Their combination of heavy, overdriven guitars, double-kick intensity and coarsely shouted vocals isn’t too hard to fathom, but the killer difference with this band is the way they use their four-piece brass section like an assault weapon. They flip from bouncy ska sections into hardcore beatdowns before your feet have figured out what’s happening, inspiring absolute chaos in a pit. It is a truly unique sound that’s perhaps a bit niche, but immensely enjoyable for those of us who’ve gotten our heads round it.
Sadly, Beat The Red Light officially disbanded in November 2015. Now, almost exactly two years after the split, they’ve announced that they’ll be reforming for Manchester Punk Festival in 2018: the most ideal reunion imaginable. Having released their album Salt The Lands on Manchester DIY label TNS Records in 2011, crowds in the Rainy City have always given them the best reception, even more so than in their hometown of High Wycombe.
At present, MPF is their only official booking, but rumours abound for more on the horizon! Salt The Lands on vinyl for the first time? Support slots with Lightyear? A mainland Europe tour with Faintest Idea? A Mexican mega-tour? I caught up with singer/trombonist Pook and sharply-dressed saxophonist Eddie O’Toole to dispel a few myths, and to find out why they’re coming back now.
Beat The Red Light have gotten back together! What have you got in store for us?
- Eddie: I wouldn’t say that we’re ‘back together’. We’re just doing a few shows that we thought it would be fun to do. We’re being very choosy about them. We probably split up because it was so hard to do all the shows we wanted to do….
- Pook: And to get everyone together for band practice.
- Ed: Everybody lives in different places and they’ve got kids, so it’s not going to be any easier! It’s going to be very selective.
- Pook: Hopefully the motivation of us wanting to do these shows should be more than enough for us to try and, um…. have some band practices.
So you haven’t managed to get together for a practice yet?
- Pook: I don’t think we’ll be practicing until maybe the day before Manchester Punk Fest.
- Eddie: Can I just note that it is exactly two years to the day since we split up?
- Pook: It’s weird because we didn’t really have any plans. Andy and Bev from TNS messaged me asking us to do it. At different times when we all got together (which were very few and far between) we’d be like, “Aw, I miss the band.” It just seemed like the right gig. If we were going to do a reunion gig then it would have to be for the right reasons, and what better reason is there than going back to your band’s second home? We never properly did a goodbye gig for Manchester.
No, your last Manchester show was Manchester Punk Festival in 2015.
- Pook: I actually announced it on stage, “This is going to be our last Manchester gig.”
- Ed: That was kind of the break up announcement as well.
- Pook: Half the band members didn’t even know! “Yeah, that was our last Manchester gig.” Deal with it! [Some other band members] were fuming! But I was right. That was our last Manchester gig.
You played the after party in the Joshua Brooks that year, right?
- Ed: The aftershow was much more fun [than playing in Sound Control]. It’s always nice to play in a bit more of an intimate space.
- Pook: There were a lot of lunatics at that gig. I remember there was a lot of body diving, and then some guy got on stage. I thought he was going to go for a stage dive but then he rugby tackled me to the floor and started screaming in my face. I was hitting him with the microphone trying to get him off me. He was off his rocker; he was having a fantastic time. That was a nice hot, sweaty gig.
You did a small run of farewell shows: Boomtown, Bristol, London and Wycombe.
- Ed: We played Wonkfest as well.
- Pook: That is still is one of my favourite Beat The Red Light shows.
- Ed: Twenty minutes.
- Pook: My voice held, because it was only for twenty minutes. I was just about to get tired, then all of a sudden they were like, “Right, you’re done.” Wicked.
- Ed: It was the first show we had done with Bill Hargood [of The Liabilities and The Junk] on guitar. He properly slayed. We’ve had a strong run of slayer guitarists.
Over the years you’ve had a few different people in the line-up. Who have you got in the current incarnation?
- Pook: It’s pretty much the original line-up, but with Bill Hargood on guitar. He’s just fucking incredible. Having him and Jona on guitar, it’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s a force to be reckoned with.
In the video of the final hometown show you did in High Wycombe, the best bit is the call-and-response guitar solos from Bill and Jona at end. That was really unexpected at the time!
- Pook: The shred-off! It was fucking phenomenal. Have you seen the bit where the camera just zooms in on my face… I’m too old and tired for this!
The ‘shred off’ is 01:03:00 into this video:
At the moment you’ve got MPF booked. If you could do any other shows or festivals what would you go for?
- Ed: We do like Boomtown; we’d love to do that.
- Pook: Boomtown would be great. We’d love to do Level Up festival.
- Ed: It would be nice to go out to Europe again. Belgium particularly.
- Pook: I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico. There are guys out there with their own handmade BTRL t-shirts and tattoos. It would go off! I was chatting to the Unidad 69 guys. They said we could easily ram three nights in Mexico that would all sell out, which would be insane. But it’s getting eight of us over there…
When you finished Beat The Red Light you had some unrecorded material. Are you thinking about doing a release?
- Pook: I would love to do that but it’s all dependable on how the others feel about it. It’d be nice to have an EP under the belt.
- Eddie: I think a lot of what we came out with towards the end was quite different. We recorded Salt The Lands with Mike on guitar, and I think as a writing trio Pook, Mike and Jona all together with all three of their ideas made that sound. We’ve got Bill on guitar now…
- Pook: He could put his own input in. I think for me, I wouldn’t want to release another Salt The Lands. For starters that was a very thrash album. I’m 5 to 10 years older now – I can’t run around like that how I used to. I’d have a hernia and an asthma attack. There were a few songs that I’d written, that I’ve started recording [but I’m not sure that the songs would be for Beat The Red Light].
Pook, you’ve been recording your own one-man-band solo material under the name Me Me Me Now Now Now. If the songs you’ve written aren’t right for Beat The Red Light would they be better suited that project?
- Pook: Me Me Me Now Now Now was a small little project that was kinda like the pop-punk and ska side of things, so I think that name suited that. I don’t think that name suits this kind of stuff. On the new stuff I’ve written the metal parts are all very classic Metallica, Megadeth, bit of Pantera… but I can’t solo for shit so I was going to ask Jona and Bill. Eddie, do you remember the drunken conversation we had last night?
- Ed: Er…. no. Well, not all of it.
- Pook: I asked you and Bill if you wanted to record on it.
- Ed: Oh right. I probably said ‘yeah’?
- Pook: You did! I’ve got four songs, and I’ve got some of the horn players from the original line up of Voodoo Glow Skulls working on it. They are some of my favourite musicians. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know what BTRL would sound like. Let’s be honest, we’ve ripped them off. I’m surprised they’ve not taken us to court.
Outside of BTRL you two have probably been the most active, musically. What else have you been doing?
- Eddie: I joined Pook in The Filaments a year ago.
- Pook: Has it been a year?!
- Ed: Yeah, last October.
- Pook: As if! Your first gig was something else.
- Ed: My first gig was hilarious.
- Pook: I was drumming. I drummed for The Filaments.
- Ed: And I hadn’t practiced with the band. At all. I just ran through the songs at home.
- Pook: Bless him, Eddie was learning the songs with me. I’d go over to his and we’d just play along with the songs on the record. We were kinda used to that, but before that gig the drummer at the time couldn’t make the show. Instead of cancelling, I got a phone call from Mike [Filaments guitarist] and he just said, “How would you feel about drumming?” I said, “I’m well up for this, this will be priceless, however there’s one small thing.” “What’s that?” “Well I only drum in three speeds and that’s ‘fast’, ‘fucking fast’ and ‘Pook, what the hell are you doing, slow the hell down’.”
- Ed: Pook hadn’t practiced the drum parts either. We were listening to the MP3s on the way up to the gig and Pook was just drumming on the steering wheel while we were going.
- Pook: I even looked at you at some point and said, “This song is fucking slow. I’m going to speed the shit out of this.” Blast beat it. Bastard Coppers (which is nice and slow) was pretty much double the BPM. On the video all you can see if John and Mike getting wankers cramp over the guitars because they’re having to strum so fast. All I can remember is Herve looking at me, loving it, but laughing so hard.
- Ed: It was a hard! I was trying to keep up, but with every song it was just like, “Well this isn’t how it goes on the record that I’ve been playing with.” I felt like I’d just been pulled through a hedge backwards. What the hell just happened.
- Pook: You smashed it, though! From what I saw on Punk Unity it was in the pocket. It was fast. For me, that was a lot of fun.
You’re a bit further down the line though now. That was a year ago, but you’re going in to record in January, right?
- Eddie: John’s demoed about nine new tunes and we’re writing horn lines for them. We’re just on our way to see how they all work now. Then we’re recording in less than two months time, with Pete Miles, who’s produced The Skints, Shitty Limits (my old band). All the good records.
Alright, back to Beat The Red Light. What have you missed the most?
- Ed: Hanging out. Seeing a lot of bands as well. I still go to a lot of shows, but you don’t go to anywhere near as many as when you’re playing. You drive to Manchester and your petrol’s paid so you can trek around without having to think of the cost of everything.
You may not have thought about this yet, but with the live show can we expect more of the same?
- Pook: It’s going to be the same songs, we’re just going to be a lot less mobile because we’re that little bit older.
- Ed: For these first shows it’s going to be all classics. We’re not going to be chucking new songs in the set.
- Pook: All the bangers! All your mum’s favourites! All the golden oldies.
- Ed: I don’t think any of us are wimping out – we’ll give it as hard as we ever did.
- Pook: Until I slip a disc.
For Manchester Punk Festival, what are your top three bands you want to see? Are you going to be there for the whole weekend?
- Pook: Oh yeah, Eddie and I will definitely be there for the whole weekend, wouldn’t miss it.
- Eddie: It would be nice to see Stand Out Riot again. Propagandhi will be big.
- Pook: I’ve never seen them before! I’m proper looking forward to that. And Lightyear.
- Eddie: Ditto. I’m a bit out of the loop, but last year I found loads of cool new stuff.
- Pook: Ooh The Bennies are playing!
- Ed: I’m just looking forward to just seeing all the people. I love the social side of it, and finding out about new bands.
Finally, is there anything extra you would like to mention in relation to Beat The Red Light?
- Pook: We’re sorry.
Make sure you catch Beat The Red Light at Manchester Punk Festival, buy a hat and yell ‘all the best’ at them. In the meantime, brush up on your band history by giving Salt The Lands a spin or checking out their Facebook page.