10 Years together is no mean feat, but it has been achieved by Pocket Billiards – the best ska band to come from NI. We spoke to them about a decade of nostalgia ..
► How did it all start for Pocket Billiards? Was there anything in particular that brought you all together?
Chris Savage: Three of us played in a band called Geisha when we were in school. Once school ended so did the band as members were heading off travelling. I had always been a big fan of reggae and punk in school and felt that I would like to try to start up a new band. I called round to chuck’s gaff one evening with a riff and a few ideas to see what he thought. Thankfully he was up for it. My housemate at the time was a best friend from school and he played sax so we him got him on-board too. Quickly we scrambled together a band and started practicing in Giro’s. At that time the common bond i guess was love of music and love of partying.
► What are your memories looking back at your very first gig?
To be honest memories are a bit sketchy. We played a gig in Giro’s under the name ‘Idols of the Tribe’. This was a pot-luck glance through a dictionary of proverbs or something like that. The name only lasted 1 gig because we soon settled upon the cheekier ‘Pocket Billiards’. The gig in giros was quite alcohol-fuelled and we were nervous. We played a couple of american-style ska-punk covers and got heckled by some of the older punk crew. However, our own stuff went down ok, with people up skankin’. The first gig under the name Pocket Billiards was supporting The Mad Caddies in the Limelight. If I am honest we were not ready for this. We scrambled a set together the night before and still it only lasted 25min. I am sure we were a nightmare for the soundman. All of us making noise at once, not really knowing how you are supposed to do a sound check. But it was a great experience and made us want to keep at it!
► What has been your highlight of the 10 years together so far?
I am sure everyone in the band has a different highlight. I really cannot single one experience out. I guess I look more at milestones and get a great sense of pride and achievement from them; recording our first EP ‘skandalous’, releasing our first proper studio album in 2009, last year’s summer European tour and festivals and then playing with our ultimate idols the Specials on the biggest stage in our home town! Hopefully this Saturday 12th May 2012 will be the next highlight!
► What have you guys got planned for your big Birthday celebrations?
When we released our album in 2009 in the Black Box we would never have expected to sell it out never mind have people turned away. The same happened at our vinyl launch. So when we were discussing as a group how we should celebrate our big birthday the Mandela hall was suggested. Now I have to say we weren’t sure but then we thought ‘what the hell, why not?’ I always like to try to improve and move forward. We then thought that there are so many great bands we know and that we could definitely get a party going that people would love. Soon the mighty Axis Of and Bomb City 7 were on the bill and then Chewing on Tinfoil, a great ska band from Dublin, joined it. Most recently Giant Sekoya, who did a dubstep remix of our recent single, came on board. I couldn’t think of a better way to party and I just hope everyone else feels the same. I predict craziness!
► You’re a band that has garnered a reputation for being a fantastic live act. This was recognised through a NIMA nomination for Live Band; is that something you’ve prided yourself on over the years?
As long as I remember we have always played with huge amounts of energy. Always jumping, skankin’, headbanging, poggoing, you name it, we are at it. Sometimes it was to the detriment of our instrument playing. The hardest part for us was being such a big band. However, we have worked so hard at getting tight and it now definitely shows. But it’s the crowd that we get the real energy from. Our first appearance at Glasgowbury opened my eyes. We walked out to play a packed tent and with the first chord things just kicked off. The crowd were skankin’ and jumping everywhere. There were circle pits, crowd surfing galore and even people swinging off the lighting rig! We couldn’t believe it. It’s amazing to see people having so much fun and that makes us want to give more back. Believe me though it is exhausting!
► There has been talk of a second album after the recent release of “So Many People, So Little Time”. Is this true? If so, what have you got in store for the new record?
Yes, we released the single as a free download via our bandcamp and it also has a great remix version by Giant Sekoya. Our new album is called ‘Last Chance to Dance’ and its release coincides with our big birthday bash at the Mandela hall on Sat 12th May 2012. Whilst I have never considered our music to be solely ‘ska’ or even ‘ska-punk’, this album will definitely dispel any ideas that we are simply a ska band. The songs are a lot more complex, it’s grittier and there is some pretty heavy riffage. But don’t worry there are still lots of catchy hooks, driving brass lines and skankin’ beats. We are delighted with how it turned out and I am sure Billiard fans will be too!
► Performing (what many consider to be) a niche genre of music – did you find it difficult to find gigs at the beginning of your musical journey?
As I alluded to in the last question there, we do not see ourselves as just a ska band. But for a long time I think that’s the label we had. We got loads of gigs in the punk scene and they were amazing. But we always wanted more people to hear our music. It was really tough to get gigs outside of the punk circle. However I felt our chance would arrive and it did. When Rory Friers and the ASIWYFA lads put on the ‘A Little Solidarity’ event we got a chance to play to a more diverse crowd. Then we were asked back to support them at their album launch. This is when people actually noticed us and enjoyed what we were playing. I guess we were coming out of a stagnant period and when this happened we never looked back and just went for it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see us as some uber-popular band or anything but I am proud of our achievements.
► Is there a certain place or venue which you enjoy playing the most?
We had some great times in Giro’s and The Front Page. These days anywhere with a bit of stage room helps!
► Being a band that has been playing music up and down the country for so many years – what do you think has changed in the music scene of N.Ireland since ’02?
So many bands have come and gone. Decoy 47, Mr Nipples, Fool, The Dangerfields, Los Cabras, Clutch, to name but a few. I think maybe these days bands that are doing well seem to have an idea of what they need to do and how to achieve it. There are certainly more events now and great work being done by the likes of Radar, ATL, Glasgowbury and many others to help promote local talent. In saying that, Pocket Billiard’s should really have its own crèche, so parent duties mean we are maybe not at as many music events as we once would have been!
► Which of our current local acts do you guys really enjoy seeing live?
Well For me, 2 of the acts are playing at our launch with us. Axis of (prob my favourite local band) and Bomb City 7 are so full of energy and riffage that they simply cannot be ignored! However my hat also has to be tipped to the boys that ‘beat us’ at the NIMAs – ASIWYFA. Great band, great lads.
► You have a great summer of festivals ahead of you playing both Pigstock and Glasgowbury. Does the band have many other shows planned for the rest of the summer?
Along with these 2 great festivals, we will be heading off around Europe again this summer calling in France, Cataluña, The Basque country, Belgium and Luxembourg. First things first though – we’re going to party like its 1999 this Saturday 12th May at the Mandela hall. Bring it on!