Rock and roll music is all about storytelling. If pop can get away with repeated lines or lyrics barely making any sense, rock always had bigger inspirations. Drawing its roots from the soul, blues and R&B, it became a proud tradition of the genre to take a stance during political unrest, social changes or at least to describe the lives of the common men. Many of the leading voices of rock are also noted poets (Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Patti Smith or Joni Mitchell) or shrewd commentators of the world (Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Freddy Mercury). Their critical eye helped to shape the musical heritage and the entire post war, modern cultural landscape.
The people behind the rock music are not only singing or telling stories on stage, their lives are full of great tales of friendship, struggles, victories or partying. American journalist Kurt Loder has once said that the annals of rock music are the best lecture and indeed the biographies of its stars are anything but dull. And that’s what makes the genre stand out among thousand of other musical styles. The artists come to us with something to say, with their own baggage of losses and gains the listeners can relate to.
Pardon the long beginning, but it was a pleasure to interview Chris Binns of Wigan’s Dirty Circus. The quartet is returning to the spotlight after a decade and their story is truly unique. We have sat him down to discuss the band’s past, releasing their debut album and the future that looks brighter than ever.
Official bio: Hailing from Wigan and Leigh, Dirty Circus consists of Chris Binns (vox), Jon Hollingsworth (bass), Stephen Ahern (guitar) and Ryan Whittle (drums). They catapulted to the top of the North West music scene in the late 2000’s becoming notorious for energy packed raucous live performances and winning an army of devoted Fans. With an impressive CV including a label deal with Columbia Records, work with Hacienda Legend Mike Pickering, a tour support slot to Madchester royalty Happy Mondays, and a very special appearance at Glastonbury Festival, they’re back for round 2 and seem to have something of a point to prove. With their record finally out and northern tour, the band is ready to claim their rightful place at the top.
Dirty Circus have a fascinating history as a band. You formed at the beginning on 2000’s and quickly established yourselves as one of the best emerging bands of that period. You got signed to Columbia, started working on an album and then unexpectedly, you parted ways with the label. What happened?
Chris Binns: In the mid to late 00’s the music industry was in a real transition. This was a time when CD sales had begun to decline, pirating and illegal downloading was rife and record companies hadn’t figured out how to use streaming to their benefit. It was a time before MySpace And Apple Music. The 90’s boom was no longer and the majors had less room for risk. Unfortunately, we were expendable and were part of a cull of bands who were offered ultimatums and too good to turn down offers to terminate the contracts. I think it was a common misconception that we were dropped. The truth is we choose to leave. Knowing that staying with the label at that time would have been more damaging to the band.
After leaving Columbia, the band continued as an independent act for nearly a year under the guidance of manager Phil Saxe. You worked with Mike Pickering of Hacidena fame and toured with Happy Mondays, only to call it a day out of the blue. The infamous “creative differences” were cited as a reason for the split. Looking back on that decision, do you think it was a right path to take?
Chris Binns: At the time we had started to internally combust. In the beginning everything was happening so fast. We had genuine label interest within the first three months. After six months we had 6 or 7 big labels fighting over us. The band got to the point where every show we were playing was sold out and were getting 500/700 plays a day on MySpace. Now throw in a packed out Glastonbury set then signing to one of the biggest labels in the world. We felt like we had landed the greatest job in the world.
Fast forward 2 years and everything had become slower. The band practiced and practiced very rarely playing live, working on new material while trying to get the album done. It felt like the label had lost interest then we got a call and that was it. We walked away and had to get normal jobs again. It was then the infighting started, each member blamed others for what happened.
Firstly our synth player Floyd Woolley left and we carried on for a little while after but the magic was gone. Then bassist Ian Halliwell left and personally I couldn’t see the point after that. We had all been best friends way before the band started and it felt like we had run our course.
Dirty Circus returned as a 4 piece in 2017 to sold out shows and excited public. What prompted you to get back together?
Chris Binns: It was our guitarist Stevie (Ahern)`s wedding so myself and the drummer Ryan (Whittle) decided to go along mainly for a piss up. Me and Ryan hadn’t seen or spoke to Stevie or Jonny (Hollingsworth) for about 7 years so I wasn’t sure how it was gonna be. As soon as we were back together it was like all them years had never happened. We decided then and there to have a practice. The Sunday after the wedding we spoke to Jon and he was up for it. The other boys Floyd and Ian didn’t want to do it which we have to respect and we’re still in contact with them.
I booked a room and when we started playing the energy was back! It was amazing. The day after I booked a gig in Wigan at the Old Courts -an amazing venue which had sprung up whilst we were out the game – and we were off. The place holds around 400 people and it was sold out within few weeks which blew us away.
Your album “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Worse” was finally released on 4th of March 2019. The story behind this record could be made into a Hallmark movie: a successful band is dropped by a major record label, the demos go missing for a decade, they are found on a old computer drive and re-mastered. How do you feel about this record after all what’s happened? It must have been quite a ride.
Chris Binns: When we got the masters back it was pretty emotional – that album was nearly 10 years of work and it was amazing to hear it in its entirety. Up to that point we had been so focused on writing new material we had forgot how good the old stuff was! We had quite an experience getting to that point and listening to the album brought plenty of memories back most of which I can’t repeat in this interview. The songs on that record are a reflection of how we were all living life at that point and the lyrics are all the things me and the boys were experiencing.
You recorded the original demos at the Motor Museum studio in Liverpool. This is one of the oldest and most accomplished recording studios in the North – a home to Oasis, The La’s, Arctic Monkeys and The Coral. Your producer, Tristan Ivemy worked with The Holloways, Towers of London, Frank Turner, and recently The Lottery Winners. Where did you re-mastered the tapes? Did you come back to the same place to properly finish the record?
Chris Binns: In all honesty we didn’t return to the old studios. We got the songs mastered in the US pretty cheaply. At this point we weren’t sure what we were going to do with the album and we got it mastered on a whim. We were originally planning on just dropping it on Soundcloud but when the tracks come back from mastering, we knew we had to make it a proper release. The songs were massive. I remember how excited I was and sent them to them lads immediately. It was full on energy and aggression – just like we sounded live. The only real change was that we decided to record a new version of a track we always wanted on the album. “Dropped” was never recorded in original sessions because we could never get it right. When we reformed we thought we would give it one more try so we worked with our friends Martin and Dan at Strangeway Studios in Manchester. We finally got what we wanted.
We have to ask about the collectible edition of “WDKMYW” on a pink vinyl. Is it still available? If so, where can it be purchased?
Chris Binns: There’s not many records left! We printed 600 initially and we must have 50 left and whatever the stores have. It’s currently in the key independent record stores in most major cities across the UK. And of course in Wigan and Bolton (laughs).
Dirty Circus are currently on tour. You will be playing Manchester soon (The Bread Shed on 26th of October) and a possible date in London is in the works. Are you planning on visiting West Midlands area? We’d love to see you rock Bristol or Birmingham.
Chris Binns: 100% we would love to play in Bristol and Birmingham. Hopefully we’ll get there in the first part of 2020. In fact I had somebody contact me the other day to tell me how big fans of us they used to be, filling mini buses and driving to our Manchester shows from Birmingham. Somebody also had a club night called Dirty Disco named after our song.
A home coming show is booked in Wigan on 17th of November at The Bailiff Bar. We are told it is going to be an acoustic night. What can we expect and how does shows normally go down in Wigan?
Chris Binns: We never did an acoustic performance before so it’ll definitely be interesting. But we’re not doing it full acoustic, we are still gonna have all the electronics in the mix. It’s more of a stripped back performance.
Any plans for the nearest future? Where will 2020 take you?
Chris Binns: Well we’ve currently got 12 new songs we are really happy with so we’re gonna try and get in the studio and hopefully release them as an EP in April. We have always been a band that prides ourselves on new music and pushing things forward and that’s what this music does. Imagine Jonny Rotten singing in Cafe del Mar on ecstasy (laughs)
Last questions are a bit of fun at Indieterria. Let’s say you can go back in time and fix one mistake from your own past. Which wrongs are you going to right?
Chris Binns: Nothing! Honestly it is what it is. We don’t dwell, we just want to make sure we prove ourselves this time around…. No wait! In-fact I wouldn’t sold my black The North Face 3 in 1 jacket I had. It was a banger.
You can follow the band online:
Dirty Circus on tour:
Manchester at the Bradshed (along with Red Bricks/Idle Hands/County Rats)
26th of October
More information: https://www.facebook.com/events/411057949498078/
Wigan at the Old Courts (accoustic performance)
17th of November
More information: https://www.facebook.com/events/713534025768387/
Bolton FM/ November 12th
The Unsigned Show at 7:00 and 9:00 PM
Dirty Circus will be adding new dates and interviews shortly so please keep your eyes open and your hand on the pulse. We will be travelling to Kingdom of Mancunia many times in the new year and if they are playing anywhere close, be sure you will see us in the front row.
Rita and Malicia