Fair Do’s: No One’s Going To Set Standards For You [Interview]

Manchester’s finest talk working-class roots, quality-control and how hard it is to learn your own songs sometimes!

Interview by Sarah Williams. Live photos by Alia Thomas.

Manchester’s melodic hardcore shredders, Fair Do’s, have just announced that they’ll be releasing their first full album Leopards on July 27th, through Lockjaw Records. I have been begging for this album since 2014 and I can’t believe it’s finally happening.

There are few bands that combine hardcore punk with metal in the way Fair Do’s manage to, and they back it up with a hard-earned technical prowess that makes them stand out from the crowd. They formed in 2009 and released an impressive EP Trying Times in 2014, going on to kill it on stage all over Europe, playing with the likes of A Wilhelm Scream, After The Fall, The Decline and H20, including major festivals like Punk Rock Holiday.

I caught up with vocalist/guitarist Danny Cummings and drummer John Holt over a pint, to learn about the hard work they’ve put into Leopards, their working-class sensibilities and why you might hear hints of Beyonce in Danny’s choruses.

You’re releasing a new album: Leopards! That’s exciting. What took you so long?

  • John Holt: Oh, Jesus.
  • Danny Cummings: It took a while recording it, because we did it over weekends.
  • John: I tracked the drums in September 2016.
  • Danny: It was a different beast to the EP. The EP was thrown together: recording guitar at one studio, drums at another. We made a vocal booth in the corner of Josh’s flat for that. Whereas this we’ve done it properly, tracked everything.

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Quality is clearly a major focus for Fair Do’s – it has to be to produce something so wonderfully technical. How do you keep the bar set so high?

  • John: There’s no one there to set standards for you; you can’t expect anyone to go, “You should be better than that.” It’s your job to do that for yourself. No one’s going to care that you had a bad show apart from you.
  • Danny: And the three people stood next to you.
  • John: When people see Fair Do’s as a band stood next to each other, they think we’re going to kill each other. You have to be able to say things and just move onto the next business. Harsh things need to be said occasionally, so sometimes you have to have a shouty, sweary match.

Do you argue with each other a lot, then?

  • John: One of the pitfalls of Fair Do’s is that we produce tunes before we can play them. The songs are written and composed but we can’t actually play them.
  • Danny: We can play them at that we demo them, or try some midi drums. We make sure we’re writing stuff that we can play.
  • John: Yeah, we’re not faking playing stuff, but we’ll come up with ideas that are not obtainable until after many moons of practice.
  • Danny: Dave’s alright, but for the rest of us it’s the sort of stuff we have to sit down and spend an hour a night working on it for six weeks to be able to nail it.

You can tell you’re incredibly well practiced. You must have spent a lot of time with guitars in your bedrooms when you were 16.

  • Danny: Yeah, we did then. For now, that’s an illusion.
  • John: For us, things should never see the stage until they’re actually passable. We’ve spoken to bands before who can take a set of new songs that they’ve written and see gigs as active practice for those tunes. For us, it’s a case of, until they’re perfectly finished and playable from the first note to the last, it never sees the stage. It’s just a case of personal standards.

One of the unique elements of your sound is that it’s a mix of punk and metal. You’re one of the only bands in the UK that’s really succeeded in that. What did you grow up listening to?

  • John: Everyone likes the heavier side of tunes. I taught myself to play drums off Rage Against The Machine’s self titled album and I quickly got into Capdown and NOFX. The stand-out albums were the late 90’s Fat Wreck releases, like Propagandhi, Strung Out. Those were the albums that we all really latched onto. Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues by Strung Out… even though it’s so old now, I don’t prefer any other albums they’ve done since then. The double-time has been there for me since I was a 14/15 year old kid, but it was just finding other people that were into that.

What kind of music are you listening to now?

  • John: I listen to a huge range of stuff; anything with good drums, and bass follows that. Vocals are pretty secondary in most of the stuff I listen to, the rhythm section is important to me. I can literally go from lo-fi hip hop, to some ridiculous jungle, to heavy metal, to melodic punk in the space of an hour.
  • Danny: I’m more of a classics man. I listen to a lot of Kisstory music station. There’s usually some Destiny’s Child or Gangsta’s Paradise within an hour of putting it on. John and Dave have explored those genres with the rhythm section, while I’ve gone melody hunting for a couple of years.

There’s some catchy choruses on the new album, so it sounds like it’s working. There’s definitely a few songs that have gotten stuck in my head.

  • John: For me it’s always about out-of-context stuff. I try to limit the amount of bands that I listen to that sound similar to what we do, because I don’t want to be influenced by it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some really good bands out there, but I try to avoid putting them in regular rotation so that I’m not tainted by their ideas. I’d rather try to bring other ideas from out-of-context. That’s what makes small parts stand out.

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Where did the name Leopards come from?

  • Danny: It’s from Trailer Park Boys: shit leopards. We thought Lockjaw Records would have trouble getting it into shops if it was called ‘Shit Leopards’ so we just called it Leopards.
  • John: We had the revelation recently that there’s only two swear words on the record.
  • Danny: Only one, actually. ‘Piss’ doesn’t count.
  • John: It’s a testament to our vocabulary.
  • Danny: We’re that angry.

You’ve got a lot of overtly political lyrics on the album – what were the origins of those?

  • Danny: It’s come from various sources. Some songs will be written by one of us, others we’ve all chipped in on. Carried Away is John’s and Royal Flush is mostly John’s. Hanging and Candleman are all Josh. A lot of the time we’ll have a set of lyrics and a few songs, but you match up the first line and it all comes into place.

It’s quite unusual to have the whole band writing lyrics, isn’t it?

  • Danny: Yeah? Maybe. Carried Away, which John wrote, started with a Facebook post about St George’s Day.
  • John: It was in the midst of all the gutter press furore saying you can’t display a George’s flag any more. Essentially I was trying to make a mockery of the idea that you’ve won some sort of cosmic lottery by being born where you were… like that’s some kind of merit to be proud of. You just happened to fall out of your parents in the place that you did – there’s no merit in that. When people are talking about being proud of being English… it’s proper tosh. I took to Facebook and wrote it into about three paragraphs, and Danny just chopped it into being a song.
  • Danny: We had a demo for Carried Away already, and I just sang it into a laptop. “Check this out! Finish it off, John!”

Fair Do's Live cred Alia Thomas 2

Which songs on the album are you most proud of?

  • Danny: I really like Royal Flush.
  • John: That’s developed into the flagship tune.
  • Danny: Dave had written it when we were ready to go in to record and, with Dave’s songs, he comes round and teaches us it bit by bit. I got it down pretty quickly and John had some lyrics. It was ready from his idea, to us putting it into practice within a couple of weeks. We were like, “Wow, this is a great fucking song.” Josh might disagree, he really likes the metal ones.
  • John: What’s the mid-pace one?
  • Danny: Distress Calls.
  • John: Every tune we’ve ever written has been ballpark 200 beats per minute, but that one’s dropped quite dramatically because we specifically plumbed for a tune that’s slower.

I love that you’ve deliberately had to slow yourselves down.

  • Danny: It took a lot of, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. 185. 185.”
  • John: It really does feel like it’s sluggish. I’m quite pleased with that because normally it’s just relentless every time, but we forced ourselves out of it for one tune. I was a bit worried about it, but it’s a good tune.
  • Danny: I think it’s renowned between us that Hanging is the best tune on the album, but it’s not my favourite. That’s the song I’m most proud of.

Hanging is a killer tune. The intro is amazing.

  • John: That was a sticking point at practice for some months!
  • Danny: It was fucking hard work.
  • John: It’s still hard to play now.
  • Danny: Learning that was horrendous. Took me two years just to learn the guitars. The demo was saved as ‘Dave 02/02/2014’ and I got to the point of being able to play it in February 2016. For a year of that I was just listening to it going, “What the fuck is this?” “Show it to me, Dave.” “Nope, I still don’t get it.”
  • John: As I say, we demo ideas that aren’t attainable without huge amounts of practice. To even attempt to throw them onstage without that is just foolish; we’ll just make ourselves look like pillocks.

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The first single off the album is Closing In, which you’ve been teasing with a lot of photos you dressed fetchingly as foxes. Where did the fox idea come from?

  • Danny: We’ve always had a close affiliation to foxes. They represent the working classes.
  • John: They’re the literal underdogs of the canine world. They’re trodden on by very rich people day in day out.
  • Danny: By shit leopards. It’s all comes together.
  • John: We all have a strong working-class ethos on the band. We’re grew up in a trade unionist environment, which is something we’re proud of. Some people think expensive equipment makes a band but we all grew up in places where a guitar was something you’d have to steal or beg your parents for. Drums were so unattainable for me; my family didn’t even have a car until I was 17. We have a strong affiliation with working class people, people without privilege. We see the foxes as a symbol of the downtrodden, so to speak.

You guys are a strong part of the Manchester punk scene, which plays into that working-class, industrial ethos… Do you feel Manchester’s had an influence your sound?

  • Danny: There’s never been many bands that sound like us around Manchester, apart from associated bands [like John’s other band Hoof]. So musically I wouldn’t say Manchester’s had an influence on us, but we do have a lot of good relationships with the music scene here.
  • John: None of us are really from central Manchester either. We all grew up being small town, village idiot kids – you had to get on a bus on a Saturday to go to Manchester with your friends. Where we live you can’t walk down the street looking different without getting in a fight but in Manchester it’s not like that… when I was 16 I had an 8-inch mohawk. I had to wear a hat at my house, but in Manchester you could do what you want. For us it’s always been that holy-grail of a cultural boiling pot. Seeing other people in Manchester who liked what we did made us feel like we weren’t alone. I think it’s had an influence in that the city threw us a lifeline when we were kids.
  • Danny: Going to Affleck’s Palace when you’re 12 years old. “There’s a shop that’s got nothing in but condoms, oh my God!”

What are your future ambitions for the band?

  • Danny: Become millionaires. I’ve got my lottery ticket.
  • John: We want to be the next Hot Topic selling shite t-shirts to people with shite taste in t-shirts.
  • Danny: We want to get our merch in Primark.
  • John: We want to play everywhere that we have not yet played. That’s the entire reason I’m in a band. You get to meet new people that are essentially you, but speak a different language. I do this because I would rather be in a place with a drum kit than with flip flops and a shit straw hat.
  • Danny: Unless you’re Captain Trips, then you can do both.
  • John: Just to clear that up: Rich Mayor, flip-flops are not acceptable stage attire. The same goes for mister Dixon Cox. Two absolute crazed men.

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Thanks to Danny and John for chatting to us! Leopards is available to pre-order on Digipack CD and 12’’ vinyl on the Lockjaw Records Webstore. The band’s first single off of the album, Closing In, shall be available for streaming and download from the 13th July.

You can also catch them on tour around Europe:

  • June 22nd – The Star & Garter, Manchester, UK  w/- A Wilhelm Scream
  • July 14th – Cromstock – Green Door Store, Brighton, UK
  • July 15th – Jeugdhuis Dido – Erpe-Mere, BE
  • July 16th – TBC – Munster, DE
  • July 17th – Autonomes Zentrum – Aachen, AZ  w/- Ducking Punches
  • July 18th – Ballonfabrik – Augsburg, DE
  • July 19th – Kellerperle – Wurzburg, DE
  • July 20th – KNRD – Nuremberg, DE
  • July 21st – KNRD Festival – Nuremberg, DE
  • July 30th – Gullivers – Manchester, UK  w/- MUTE
  • August 17th – Vegan Camp Out – Newark, UK
  • August 18th – Vegan Camp Out – Newark, UK

Interview by Sarah Williams.

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