Beat Union plays Vail
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” To almost any band, getting your touring van stolen counts as a potentially crippling loss ” without their gear, cash, merch, and livelihood, many groups simply can’t get back up again. But when it happened to Birmingham, England’s Beat Union while on tour near Edmonton, Alberta, they caught a lucky break.
“It was crazy, for a day or two we were climbing the walls in a hotel thinking we lost everything” it felt like it was all over,” singer/guitarist Dave Warsop says. “Then we got a phone call from police, and they’d been in a high-speed chase with our van. They eventually got it, and we lost a bit of gear, but the majority of our s*** had been found. It’s been a lot better than it could’ve been.”
The thieves ” suspected drug addicts ” didn’t give the van back without leaving a few presents, though.
“There was apparently some crack pipes and meth pipes; it wasn’t very nice getting back in,” Warsop says. “It’s effectively our home, and random people were doing God knows what and had hands all over it. For the first drive, I had to clean the steering wheel, otherwise it didn’t feel right. But you just get on with it.”
“Get on with it” in Beat Union terms apparently means blazing a trail of near-instant high visibility. In only their first true year of American touring, they played the massively successful punk showcase the Warped Tour, shared the stage with Irish punk heroes Flogging Molly, and are prepping for UK tour with pop-punk legends Less Than Jake.
“Warped Tour was a crazy experience, a nonstop circus, and completely different to anything we know,” he says in a thick Brummy accent. “You know, it’s hard to really understand, but we had the time of our lives. It makes you a better band, and meeting lots of new fans and bands goes a long way to making it all worthwhile.”
Beat Union traffic in a clever blend of pop-punk revivalism and rock n’ roll modernism on their latest, “Disconnected.” They wear influences on their sleeve, but employ those influences in unexpected ways: A song may begin with Green Day stomp and hoo-rah choruses, but it’ll also feature Elvis-Costello like lyrics and vocal flourishes, adding weight and depth to what at first seems like a straightforward song. While the music may seem bright and energetic, cruising through Police-like reggae-punk grooves, a tinge of working-class Birmingham melancholy always seems to work its way to the surface, an aching undercurrent reminiscent of punk gods The Clash.
“I think growing up in Birmingham definitely informed our music and songwriting, man,” Warsop says. “Sort of being based on the West Coast in California now, your state of mind day-to-day can be different. The sun’s shining, you wake up to blue skies. It makes you get up and go. Def. feels a little more mundane in Birmingham ” you wake up for work and it’s raining, gloomy. That kind of weather and living can affect a bands, and it doesn’t leave your songwriting.”
Birmingham’s deep musical history”Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and countless others all got their start here”informs Beat Union’s mindset, if not necessarily their music.
“Obviously, I grew up listening to lots of Led Zep; it makes you proud that one of the biggest bands ever in the world came form the same area,” he says. “Black Sab, Judas Priest, a lot of that heavy metal came out of that area. Maybe it doesn’t have so much of an effect on our music, but we’re more than appreciative of our heritage.”
The punk heritage that started in England hasn’t really continued through to this day; Beat Union are one of a handful of British punk bands carrying on the tradition. But it enjoys a healthy following in the States, from sweaty clubs to large arenas, and thats partially why Beat Union have made perhaps a bigger mark here than at home.
“It’s weird ” we’ve never fit in to well in the U.K. ” Squeeze or Elvis Costello, a lot of people don’t know who they are in the UK,” he says. “But kids at the merch table in the U.S. must be 14 or 15 years old, and they’re familiar and keen on us because of it. That wouldn’ happen with a 14 or 15 year old kid in the UK.”
It doesn’t hurt that the band brings foreign authenticity to their Brit-punk leanings; unlike Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, they don’t need to fake an English sneer when singing.
“American crowds are a little more keen to check out our life,” he says. “We’re a little bit different, a little more intriguing, and the American audience is more positive. Anytime a foreign band comes to town, people are interested to check the new import.”
When Beat Union brings their bouncy funk-punk to Vail, they plan to take advantage of one unique feature of this region of America: The altitude.
“We’ve played (in it) before, and it can be kind of tough; it’s strange what they can do, d’you know what I mean?” he says. “Even one night out in Denver, we were absolutely wasted on Warped tour. Alcohol affects you different. But you get drunk for cheaper, so I’m not complaining.”
Birmingham’s Beat Union refined their approach to British punk by learning from others” but make no mistake, they learned from the best. Here are five albums that inform their sound. If you love these bands, you’ll dig Beat Union’s unique combination of their styles.
The Clash, “London Calling” (1979)
Rightly billed at the time as “the only band that matters,” The Clash wrapped their fiery political screeds in unstoppable hooks and deep grooves.
The Police, “Zenyatta Mondatta” (1980)
Here, the masterful pop-rockers crawled out from the inappropriate punk moniker and emerged with stoned-out melodies and rhythms from the Caribbean seamlessly woven into their infectious songs.
The Jam, “In the City,” (1977)
While basically unknown in the U.S., The Jam made punk huge in England by fusing it with Who-like bombast, and paved the way for post-punk with their razor-sharp rhythms.
Elvis Costello, “My Aim Is True” (1977)
Elvis’ passion and intense live performance linked him with the punk crowd, but he mixed sounds from whatever discipline he liked”rock, country, Dylan, reggae, and more. This eclecticism has lasted throughout his entire career and inspires too many artists to count.
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