Fresh On The Net Meets Vic Galloway

Check Masses

Vic Galloway is amongst many things, a published author, BBC Scotland and BBC 6 Music DJ, member of Check Masses and all-round lovely human being.

OK Vic, standard icebreaker chat but let us know your first musical loves in the form of singles bought and first album please?

Initially I was obsessed with 50s rock’n’roll, mainly coming from my Dad’s collection and the music of his youth. But if you’re asking me, the first record I bought with my own money, I remember exactly. As a 9 year old I bought ‘Stand And Deliver’ by Adam And The Ants on single, and my Dad then got me the band’s previous album ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’. It was a jumping off point which became an early epiphany and inspired me to want to become involved in music. Drama, costumes, make-up, punk-rock and pop tunes… Who could ask for more? That led me onto bands like Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. The door was blown wide open, and off I went into every genre of music.

So we understand you’re good pals with James Yorkston, and your first band together was called ‘Miraclehead’. We found some YouTube gold in the form of a track called Shameus Neckbreak with the line “A single skinner outside within”.  I thought it sounded a little like The Levellers. How did that come together then and what is the chronology in terms of your bands?

James actually moved into the house across the road from me in the village I grew up in, in Fife. I’ve known him since I was 3 years old and we grew up immersed in music. We started messing around in bands after school, and our first proper band ‘Miraclehead’ probably came to fruition and started sounding good around 1992/1993 in Edinburgh. First band madness, crazy gigs, loads of fun, we cut our chops on the scene and actually had a decent loyal following – to the point where we could fill ‘The Venue’ in town. Funny you mention The Levellers… because a colleague at the BBC said that the other day, but he was far more disparaging! We weren’t huge fans of The Levellers to be honest – we felt that track was more like Madness meets the Kinks.

Next came ‘Khartoum Heroes’ formed from the remnants of Miraclehead and ‘Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra’, whose members included ‘King Creosote’ a.k.a Kenny Anderson. We blended psychedelia, indie, ska and breakneck bluegrass. That was a totally mad band and really exciting! After that band, Kenny eventually went solo and made his name as King Creosote with Fence Records. After Khartoum Heroes, I then hooked up with James Yorkston again and we formed Huckleberry. This time our sound incorporated a Hammond Organ with influences from 60’s garage rock’n’roll, and bands such as Cardiacs. Main-man Tim Smith tragically just passed away last week by the way – RIP!

Finally Huckleberry evolved again and became ‘Hail Caesar!’ A new drummer got onboard and we went darker, progier and much heavier. We’d had some reasonable success up to this point and had become a good live band, gigging nationwide, getting loads of support slots and living the life. But it was around 2003, having started as a BBC Radio DJ on Radio 1 in 1999, I could see my career moving away from touring and constantly playing LIVE music. The tipping point came when I was at ‘South By SouthWest’ for the first time and was blown away by the sheer number of bands, and ultimately the competition. I’d seen how difficult it was to break out and make a living in that field, so I concentrated on the broadcast side of things for the next few years.

You wrote a book titled Songs In The Key of Fife. The one aspect that really struck a chord with reviewers and readers alike was the candid interviews with the artists about aspects of mental health. Looking back now it could almost be treated like an industry survival book. What drove you to go down this route?

As discussed before, I’d pretty much stopped playing LIVE music and wasn’t 100% committed to an on-off music project called ‘Deaf Mutes’, which was mainly studio based. I’d been at the sharp end of Radio 1 broadcasting for over a decade, when out of the blue at the end of 2010… my world fell apart! My job on Radio 1 ended, my girlfriend left me and my role as a writer for a music publication was also axed. I literally felt that I had two choices: be that drunk guy in the pub… OR do something positive.

I’d had the idea for the book for a while and pitched it to an agent, he then got some publishers interested, whilst I called round the guys at Fence Records, The Beta Band and KT Tunstall and went in at the deep end. Some of those interviews… man, they went on for over 10 hours. With every topic imaginable that an artist faces in the game – but then I had to write it all up! Some people were brutally honest on the record, but it had to be that way. It’s all true, all the stories, both good and bad. That’s what makes the book for me though. In the end, the whole experience was massively cathartic. It helped document that talented scene of musicians, but also helped me evolve as a person and get over my own issues.

For our readers here who may not have heard of your new band, gimme a cheat sheet on what it’s all about please?

In essence, CHECK MASSES is a melting pot of life experiences manifested in our version of psychedelic soul music, straight outta Leith in Edinburgh. Taking flavours from hip hop, soul, dub, rock’n’roll and all stops in between.

So tell us about the album, because we have heard singles DRIPN ANGEL which featured on Tom Robinson’s show, and the equally brilliant LOST IN THE CITY, and loved the lyrics. “Tall, black, elegant and wasted. Lazy lapels, you’re still draggin’ him around”. If you don’t mind the suggestion, the whole album would be perfectly sat in the soundtrack to TV series ‘The Wire’, which featured artists such as ‘Tom Waits’ and ‘Sharpshooters’. Can we agree on that?

Well, I’ve never actually seen ‘The Wire’, but I’m told it’s brilliant. My mum loved it and my brother has it on DVD, so maybe I’ll get onto that soon. CHECK MASSES found support from Triassic Tusk Records (again based in Fife) and by that time had 20 odd tracks, which we honed down to a final 10. Lyrically, the album NIGHTLIFE is a combination of perceived experiences, joy, loss, our relationships past and present, and how we tap into that feeling of nostalgia. Musically, the album is a celebration of black and white cultural influences – psychedelia, soul, hip-hop, reggae and rock’n’roll. LOST IN THE CITY, which you mention, is a part-fictional, part-autobiographical tale of slightly inebriated, fuzzy, late night clubs, going with the flow and watching the nightlife go by. Lead singer Philly describes that song as sounding like ‘Gil Scott-Heron being abducted by David Bowie’s Young Americans’… I love that!

So we know you have submitted to Fresh On The Net in the past yourself with CHECK MASSES. How did you come to discover us?

Simple really, Tom Robinson. The man is a legend and has done more than almost anyone I know to support new music, new artists and give them a platform that is respected, with an open door policy to his shows. I have nothing but huge love for Tom and nothing but respect for his career as a groundbreaking musician in his own right too. This forum is unique, and Tom deserves an award or some form of national recognition for all the work he constantly does.

We heard your song LONESOME LITTLE PARADISE on the Craig Charles show. Was that a bucket list airplay for you?

Absolutely! I mean, I’ve never been in a band that falls under his musical remit as much as this one, so to be played on his ‘Funk and Soul Show’ on 6 Music is a big feather in the cap for us. We’re big fans of that show! Remember, Tom Robinson has also played us lots on BBC 6 Music – all three singles too, DRIPN ANGEL, LONESOME LITTLE PARADISE and LOST IN THE CITY. Big thanks to Tom, Craig and all the other DJs supporting our music.

Lastly, what do you see as the future of live gigs as far as you are concerned?

Listen man, I don’t profess to have all the answers here and nor am I going to sit and pretend that this isn’t a horrific situation for artists and EVERYONE connected to the arts right now. But we have to try and find something positive in all this, because the world will always want to see and hear LIVE music. From a CHECK MASSES point of view, we are in our home studios writing new stuff, exchanging ideas and being grateful we are cutting down on our environmental footprint. Like everyone else, it looks like we are preparing ourselves for a lean 12 months or so… at least.

Who knows about LIVE music returning. Recently I hosted some socially-distanced performances which were filmed by WIDE DAYS, Scotland’s Music Convention, at the wonderful Leith Theatre. It was a pioneering operation with a live set-up and recorded sound, to give viewers at home a showcase gig experience with 6 new artists. Maybe this experiment will hold water and show what is possible moving forward? Let’s hope it’s safe to return to gigging in some way, shape or form as soon as possible.

Finally, I’d just say to anyone out there… It’s probably best to use this time to rehearse, redraft, practice and try not to worry. It’s going to work itself out, music will find a way. It always does.

Check Masses: Soundcloud | Facebook | Twitter | Bandcamp
Vic Galloway: Twitter | BBC Radio Scotland

Check Masses – Nightlight album artwork

Chris Ingram

Chris is a poet and performer with new collective Vulpes Urbana who have been recently signed to Welsh Independent label CEG Records and is former lead of The Glendale Family. Read more about Chris here.

3 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed reading this.

  2. Steve Harris

    I had no idea that Vic was part of Check Masses, but for me that track was one of the most interesting and enjoyable we’ve received so far this year. Great to find out more about Vic!

  3. Really interesting piece Chris. I didn’t know Vic was still involved in bands and, like Steve, I didn’t cotton on that Check Masses was his band. I know Vic is also a fantastic supporter of new music via BBC Scotland including bands we’ve supported in recent times like Cloth and Garlands.

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