BIG SPECIAL interview: “Working-class creatives aren’t wanted in this country. Loyal factory workers are wanted.”

black and white promotional shot of BIG SPECIAL

We’re moments into our introductions and BIG SPECIAL drummer Callum Moloney has offered me a beer and snapped the cap off the glass bottled premium European lager with an incisor: “from doing it enough I’ve got a flat tooth… Sort of how the chimps became us, I’ve become a bottle opener”.

The pair are gearing up before a big support slot at Manchester’s New Century Hall, sharing the bill with Antony Szmierek. The evening has that feeling that occurs on a big Friday night, and the pubs in the city are humming and crackling with British Summer Time anticipation in a way that only Manchester can. Punters are thronging outside New Century Hall as the band’s manager leads me through the winding corridors and metallic stairs that make up NCH’s innards.

BIG SPECIAL are in high spirits: Joe Hicklin (vocals) and Callum Moloney (percussion) seem to be cool, calm and collected while embracing a schoolboy level of giddy excitement all at once. Their tracks have been permeating the alternative scene via regular 6Music play and snowballing critical acclaim as their upcoming debut album, Postindustrial Hometown Blues, burgeons on the horizon. 

The pair met whilst studying music at college “I’ll tell the love story, shall I?” Moloney proliferates. Teenagers at the time and clicking on all things musical, Joe and Callum “just got on in every way”, with compatible tastes, writing styles and penchants for “drinking in the same ends”, BIG SPECIAL began their relationship in a series of joint musical endeavours, namely focussed on “bluesy shit”. 

“Until I fucked off down south for a decade!” Moloney went to the Big Smoke to pursue the dream and found himself drumming in a wedding band (“Have you ever tried to make money as a drummer? It’s like getting blood from a fucking stone”). “Then lockdown hit, and Joe reached out, wanting to start a band”. Moloney said no initially, but once Hicklin sent over a formative version of ‘This Here Ain’t Water’, BIG SPECIAL was born. 

“I’m pleased he called me back, and before long I ditched the bow-tie. “No more Mr-Fucking-Brightside”. Hicklin chips in with an action move style quip, delivered like prime Bruce Willis: “No more Mr Bright Side”. The chemistry between the two is palpable, and they chuckle at the revelation that our conversation is taking place a matter of days past the second anniversary of their first gig. 

We chat through their influences, primarily post-punk standards both old and new, “good music is good music, innit”, but their eyes light up recounting their penchant for fellow Brummies The Streets, who attended the same music college and earns the title of “Brummie Icon” from the pair: they enthuse further still when discussing “lamenting Irish folk, Lankum, The Mary Wallopers, all that stuff”. “A lot of the time the van sounds like a funeral,” Hicklin admits. 

Their enthusiasm for their Irish roots is audible, and Moloney recounts his pre-showtime ritual of kissing each of his rings “I dunno why but it feels like a good omen”, and explains the family significance of much of his treasured pieces. Before each show, Hicklin reveals that the pair also like to recount an Irish folk tune recounted by Pecker Dunne and The Mary Wallopers over the years: without even a nod to count the other in, the pair begin recounting in unison, and their baritone rings around the high ceilinged greenroom to transcendent effect: 

“And the music began, in an old fashioned style
You would travel to hear it, for manys a mile
We were laughin’ and dancin’ away all the while
I thought I was dead and in heaven”

After a brief silence and, as if it were nothing, Moloney follows, “Yeah, we usually just do that and have a big cuddle. Everyone says “BS FOREVER” and we go and be silly fuckin’ buggers”. 

It’s apparent that the pair are fundamentally committed to their art and their politics, whilst presenting themselves with an amiable sense of humour throughout; sinking beers and recounting tales as they relax on the green room sofa. “It’s not a serious thing”, and they each grin at the mere mention of getting on stage. 

Joe and Callum recount the themes of the upcoming debut, and how there is an inherent sense of dread to the record, particularly that distinct shudder which fills the night before waking up for yet another day of a job you hate: “It’s about the frustration that comes with normalising that feeling. Every day, for the rest of your life, for 99% of people. Forever.” 

Passionate about their roots in the regional working class, Postindustrial Hometown Blues is a love letter to the wage slave, and the band rage spectacularly and eloquently at the plight of the modern British worker. They are real and frank with discussions of depression associated with the relentless capitalistic grind, and neither pull any punches when it comes to holding those responsible to account. Cuts from the LP are relentless in both rage and sorrow, and the way BS can seamlessly pivot from rich, soulful melancholia to rabid spoken word punk is testament to the pair’s talent. 

Their frustration is raw and genuine as Moloney berates the state of arts funding in the UK. Birmingham Council filed as bankrupt earlier this year, and the creative revenue stream has died a spectacular death. “Even when that funding was alive it was for opera and Royal ballet and that,” Callum says. “There needs to be more funding across the board, you know make sure schoolkids can fucking eat before you even get to working-class bands.”

“Working-class creatives aren’t wanted in this country. Loyal factory workers are wanted. The act of making something musical, especially from this background, is political in itself,” he continues. “I don’t think there is gonna be a push for any more of that from outside, it has to come from within its own scene.” There is real fire in the eyes here, and for a band who carry themselves with such joviality, BIG SPECIAL speak powerfully when it comes to uplifting and shouting out working-class creatives. They bemoan the loss of culture that comes with the gentrification of Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and other post-industrial powerhouses: “The world doesn’t need more Londons. It needs more individuality and places with soul.” 

“We wanted to get the album out this year” Moloney recounts. “There is a general election this year, and it’s an album about the times we live in.” A deep sigh rings around the green room: “There is an election this year, but nothing will change” he adds, met with begrudging nods of agreement amongst the room. Highly politicised music can be tricky to land, but with their brash mix of in-your-face-punk and melancholic soul, BIG SPECIAL have a wonderfully paced yin and yang of shouted/spoken with soulfully crooned, all backed with processed beats and gigantic drums. 

The duo play a monumental set as New Century Hall fills to capacity. Positioned side by side on stage, their vocals and cataclysmic percussion command the space: they make some noise for a duo and both band members find themselves in the audience at different points of their short set.

BIG SPECIAL have the makings of a band who are not merely good, but important: politically savvy and remarkably talented, their upcoming debut, Postindustrial Hometown Blues feels poised to strike a chord in the politically uneasy climate percolating in the UK. 

featured image: Isaac Watson

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