Entertainment & Arts

Skinny Lister: Folk's festival fixtures

Skinny Lister
Image caption Skinny Lister played more than 30 festivals last summer

English folk five-piece Skinny Lister were named the "Britain's hardest-working band" last summer after playing at more festivals than any other group, according to performing rights organisation PRS For Music.

They are now gearing up for another festival marathon, their debut album is to be released next month by DJ Rob Da Bank's label Sunday Best and they have just done a session for Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2. Frontman Dan Heptinstall says they are trying to make morris dancing music cool.

What were the highlights of last year's festival season?

We did five shows just at Bestival. We had our main slot but we'd also get offered other slots in various tents. We're quite acoustic so we can just rock up anywhere and try to get a party going in the middle of a field.

We had the Skinny Sisters with us - they're a troupe of dancing girls that we have in tow. We also have a big flagon of rum and, as well as having swigs ourselves, Lorna [Thomas, singer] passes it out into the crowd.

Festibelly was probably the messiest. We played a main stage slot in the afternoon and then did a midnight performance in a smaller tent. Our bass player forgot we had a gig at midnight so proceeded to get particularly drunk. We dragged him on stage and he could barely remember what he was playing. I think he was trying to pass his bass out into the audience so someone else could play it.

Any other disasters?

Max, our accordion player, forgot his accordion when we played Leeds festival. We're pretty dependent on our accordion. That was quite a disaster. But we just had to get on with it and he became a bit of a Bez character [the dancer from the Happy Mondays]. He had to dance around the stage while we got on with the set without him.

What was your tour bus like?

We travelled everywhere in the Land Rover. To be honest it's not the most practical vehicle for getting a double bass in. We normally strap the double bass to the roof and chuck everything else in the back. But it comes into its own in a muddy festival field.

You're about to take part in the Vans Warped Tour in the US - what are you expecting from that?

I think it's 41 dates over 50 days. Apparently a million people go to this festival over its course. That's another 17,000 miles I think. This one is going to make the last tour look easy. I think there are around 100 bands so it's like one big travelling circus. It goes from city to city, so that's going to be an eye-opener.

Your sound is quite English and quite folky, so how have you gone down in the US?

They really went for it. A lot of Americans mistake us for an Irish band, even though we're English, because it's quite good time music.

Has the success of Mumford and Sons opened a few doors for you?

Possibly. They've got quite an American slant on the way they do folk music - it's almost bluegrass, with the banjo. We're very English. We take English morris tunes and work them into our original songs.

They're a bit 'stare into middle distance' music. Whereas we're much more 'have a good time' sort of music.

You use morris tunes?

Yes, we'll take fragments of things like that and work them into our original songs. For instance [the single] Rollin' Over has got a little bit of a tune called Harper's Frolic worked in there. People will be aware of these things in the backs of their minds.

Are you aware that things like that have been hideously uncool for about three centuries?

Maybe… Max and Lorna, who are brother and sister, grew up with their dad being heavily into folk. When they were little and their dad was dragging them into folk clubs, they thought it was the most uncool thing. They'd hide under the stairs while their dad was doing these folk tunes in the pub with his mates. They eventually came around to getting involved with that and becoming part of it.

It's just good fun. At a good Skinny Lister gig, the notion of cool gets abandoned and people surrender themselves to it. And hopefully by the end of it we'll have made it cool.

Dan Heptinstall was speaking to BBC News entertainment reporter Ian Youngs.

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