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Bluesdoodles reviewed Aces and Eights: Sons Of Liberty show their hand on Aces and Eights a wonderful album of heavy British rock shot through with bourbon, grits and gravy! Well worth a listen and then buy a copy – Read the Full Tom Dixon Review HERE
Liz was delighted to spend time (via Zoom) with two members of the Sons Of Liberty guitarist Fred Hale & vocalist Rob Cooksley. Here is what we talked about….
BD: Let’s start off with the lead single – “Damaged Reputation” with the video by Rowe Films shot amidst the recent Bristol Bridewell police station riots with a rather fitting side-show to the band dressed as convicts. The riots were obviously not part of the plan. Fred: It was BD: (I’ve heard of people setting things up and setting up a riot.) Fred: Trouble it seems to follow us. BD: You were dressed I believe as convicts! Fred: We were indeed. So yeah, we were in the cells of the old Bridewell police station dressed in stripy convict suits.
BD: Do you think this added dimension to it though the fact you had riots going on around you?
Fred Yeah, I mean luckily, we didn’t come out with the suits on. That would have been, yeah, I think we have made the headlines on all the news on the television, but yeah, that was it was bizarre, you know it was. I don’t wanna go in the cells properly. It was a bit scary wasn’t it Rob – Yeah it was actually yeah yeah.
BD: Well jails are not supposed to be pleasant experiences.
Rob: Yeah, no, we don’t want to go back there again. Fred: Once was enough. The video was a great experience and Tommy Rowe, the filmmaker, and Alex, who helped him you know, were just on another level. So you obviously see the video. BD: Definitely Fred: It was incredible with the lighting and the ideas and Robs acting. I have to say we didn’t know he could act that well and. It was quite impressive I have to say.
Rob: Well, it’s been building up for a long time. I’ve been building up for 50 years while 60 years. That’s why so I suppose it came out in one big lump. Yeah, it was great fun. We didn’t have much of an idea of what we wanted to do. We had a sort of a look that we wanted to go for, but it was very much down to the guys who filmed it. They saw it straight away and everything you see on it was their idea. To be honest with you. And then you know, it’s all the lighting and that the smoke and the and everything. It was just incredible. It was a learning experience for me personally as I hadn’t been in that situation before, to be honest. It was very good. And we all enjoyed it.
BD: It made a change for me. There have been so many lyric video videos out in the last few months. Obviously, because people have been trapped indoors it was fabulous to see one that seemed to have a bit of artistry to it and relevance to the single as well. I think it’s you know you get some really arty videos and you think clever shooting, but where does that connect?
Fred: Yeah, Moose, the other guitarist in the band scouted the location and as soon as he saw the bars and the cells, we thought Damaged Reputation is perfect for this location and it just fits the story. It would have been too obvious to have gone into a bar and done Damaged Reputation. Rob: It looks it from it actually looks it from a different side. It’s about a guy who’s trying to live a decent life and he’s got involved with someone who is quite bad for him, and it’s created a problem for him so much the extent that is that his reputation is damaged and I think it reflects a lot of things these days. It happens the other way. It was very much based on the story of somebody else making some of these, like a little harder and more a little bit more difficult.
BD: As we discussing singles, I’ve noticed recently they seem to have made a resurgence in the last three years, but the last 18 months have certainly gained a lot more. I get a lot more singles than I used to. It’s odd because it’s not as easy as an affordable 45 rpm that influences the charts. So what do you think is the power of the single in 2021?
Fred: I think it’s a lot of bands, a lot of young, not, you know, not really rock bands, but other types of music. All they release is singles now that they’re always looking for a chart position. And you know, we’re not in the first flush of youth, we grew up with long players with our rooms and treasured them and played them from start to finish in the order that the artist intended them to be played in. And that is still what we do. But I think with the use of things like Spotify, Apple Music and other online platforms, really allow you to give people a taste of the albums, beforehand, so there are really a good way of people saying that you know, I like that. I think I’m gonna like the album. So for us, it’s. It’s a way to reach a wider audience with the hope then that they’ll like what they hear in the single. They like the look of the band in the videos and they’ll come and see us live, ultimately, but now they’ll want to buy the album. Because we’ve recorded it anyway it’s easy to put out singletracks. They are uploaded. So you are not producing a physical single we’re just releasing singles. I think it helps build the anticipation. You know we’ve had reviews of the singles as well, and you know that has worked for us. But ultimately, you know we’re really proud of the album and all of the songs on there. We write albums that are quite a contrast, so they’re not all singles, and we’re not looking for that. What we want is, is something that someone is going to kind of buy-in and look at the sleeve notes and read the lyrics and treasure like we used to do. And still do.
BD: Tell us about the influence of Sons of Liberty. You are a band from the southwest of England and and you’re full of Southern American heat, so where’s that coming from?
Rob: Well, Fred, Moose started the band they, initially they came up with the idea. They had played together for a while, so they knew each other anyway. and we were all in covers bands at the time and I think we all got to the same conclusion at the same time that we wanted to do something a bit different. I was tired of singing Free. I was tired of singing Rainbow. I was tired of singing Deep Purple. So they came and saw me playing. I think they had Mark and Steve on board by then and they suggested getting this Southern Rock Band. I love Southern rock. I’ve loved it since the day I saw Jim Danny dancing across the screen, it was incredible. There was no, no for me it was a definite yes. The boys have decided on the name. I am sure Fred can go into that in the name that more detail, but we got together, it worked. We started doing Blackfoot, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, all that type of stuff that we liked. And picked up some new stuff Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke so we decided to mix the old and young and it was just a great feeling. We went out and did some gigs and we got a great response. I think after about 18 months two years then an opportunity came where we can actually sit down and say, right let’s do this coz I’ve had enough to be on soon. I wanted to do some original stuff and I think Fred was in the same situation. [Fred nods his head in agreement] And we said, well, let’s give it a go. The few gigs we played our new stuff fitted very well. In fact, some people came up and said I like that where who’s is it and we said well it’s actually ours and suddenly it all happened. We recorded them on an EP. We did another EP. Then we did the album and it’s just built up over a period of time. I think we latched on to something that was new for the UK market particularly ‘cos they haven’t heard that music for a long. long time and also we came on the wave of the Cadillac Three than the Blackberry smoke so we were in a lucky position. But I think since then we’ve caught the mood a little bit, and it’s quite nicely. Everybody comes to see us have got those bands T-shirts on and they mix this in with those groups and it is a great honour to be mixed in with those types of groups, to be honest. But the name I’ll leave you with Fred as he makes a far better story of it than me.
Fred: Laughing I will fill in the influences to fill in just a bit before Rob. Moose and I were listening in the van to some music we’ve been knocking around in bands together for a few years, and all this other rock came on and we just looked at each other and said, we’ve got a playlist – some of the old classic Skynyrd, Allman Brothers and ZZ Top. Yes, and Blackstone Cherry, BlackBerry Smoke and Cadillac three. They were just starting to sort of pick up. We just thought this music is fantastic it has got everything. What we really like, what Rob is great at is the storytelling that goes along with the Southern Rock, the lyrics listen to the old stuff like Simple Man. Or even the newer stuff like Hell and High Water they really great songs. They are not frivolous, and they’re not overblown, and they’re not all about Vikings or murdering people. They are stories of real people. It helps when you’re trying to write music, to have something that you can believe in that’s believable and engaging for people. And so we wanted to do that type of music and also it’s great fun to play. You know you can do it at a slide, yeah Rob gets a harmonica out occasionally it’s good time music.
There was a gap, you could see the American bands coming over infrequently. But in between, there wasn’t any UK bands really doing the harder-edged more rocky stuff. There’s quite a few doing this country-tinged Americana, but there was definitely a gap. Rob is probably on the lighter end, but the rest of us are all pretty heavy rock kind of people, so we dragged him towards that end of the spectrum.
We were looking at names that have that American flavour. Sons of Liberty came out of a couple of things we’re thinking of. It has got some dubious connections with the American Civil War, but that’s not where we picked it up from. It’s actually the militia in Boston that threw the British out of America and the Boston Tea Party, so the militia there were called Sons of Liberty, they were not Southern. We thought it was kind of quite poetic that we’re going to take American Music to the Americans, so we’re going to be coming back. So yeah, that’s where the name came from.
BD: How did you curate the 12 tracks Aces and Eights, which vary in length and texture and tonal intensity?
Fred: The process kind of starts right before even anyone’s heard some of the riffs and ideas. We used the lockdown period we started writing just before lockdown. So we probably took a bit longer than we would have done normally. Rob and I will be in the end were there knocking about sixty ideas around between us? Then the ones that we like the most, we shared with the rest of the band as ideas. Then actually together we said, well, we kind of like this one we can do something with that and Moose, Mark and Steve bring all their ideas to those songs as well, so I think we worked up about twenty in the end up to full songs. And we shared those with the producer, but we’d already in getting from the sixty to the twenty and even within the writing, very early stages were are always thinking about writing something that’s in this kind of feel. Or Rob will send some lyrics over, he’s got an idea and you know, kind of what type of song that’s going to be. So we tend to try and write albums that have that kind of variety. As if we’re going to listen to them, so yeah, I don’t wanna listen to everything the same. What we like listening to. So there is some humour in there, some blues, Damage Reputations is really kind of quite heavy and, and there are quite a few tracks that are boogie and up-tempo numbers, and there’s some kind of epics and slow moody songs in there as well. But that’s you know that that’s by design, trying to bring something together that works as a whole, and is not too tiring for someone to listen to. So yeah, it gives people a bit of break and a bit lighter shade and then you get more impact when the things rock up. I think it’s just what we like to listen to is something that’s as well put together and Josiah J Manning the producer really then had a big part to play in the final song selection, ’cause he’s got a fantastic ear and also some ideas for those songs to sort of bringing them even more to life. He’s kind of, I think, described him as it’s a bit like going from the old, the old grainy films, the Metro Goldwyn Mayer films, when technicolour came in. Josiah is the technicolour. He takes something that is kind of looks fine it’s what you bought it’s good and he puts these layers – if there is humour he makes it more humorous – if something is heavy, he makes it heavier. He exaggerates the music to give it that sort of technicolour vibe to it. So yeah, that was kind of the process so it’s kind of long and we think about song orders a lot and setlists we don’t throw them together. We’re always thinking how is that going to be for the listener and that’s what we did with both albums, but particularly this one with the input from just an incredible producer.
BD: You recorded the album down in Momentum Studios. Was that your choice?
Fred: Yeah it was our choice. We are independent, we were working with the record company a bit with the last album, some of that was a bit frustrating for us. We wanted to do this ourselves and we wanted to do it as well as we possibly could. We looked around, listened to music, some that Josiah had worked on, some of Kris Barras. Looked at studios we know. We did what residential actually, it wasn’t the first choice or ones to look at, but when we were thinking about the music; that became our first choice. Then when we spoke to Josiah, he needed to be interested in what we were doing, the reaction we got was encouraging so it just fell into place really. But yeah, we looked around quite a lot of different options. We wanted to step this one up and give everything we possibly could and Josiah and Momentum was the perfect place for us. We stayed down there for about 2 weeks. BD: You formed your own little bubble. Fred: Yeah, yeah, we had a bubble. It was in December, and they were Tier 2 down there at the time so we were able to because we were working, we were able to live together. So we lived together before we went down and then when we were down there. Which added to the whole vibe of the thing. Living it, I know I like that any. I think it. Yeah, there’s some of the best times we have as a band together so yeah that helps. BD: Free from daily the distractions of other things? Fred: No, it was just totally immersive experience. It is a bit otherworldly. You are right, you’re not thinking about day jobs or painting the front of the house. Rob: It is part of the process as well. We get the album title when we were down there and go through the ideas of the cover. We do everything down there when we’re together in that situation, Animism was the same thing we spent the last couple of nights down there trying to decide what we call it. So, it is a very productive time because we’re all in the same place and as soon as you move away from it, then you tend to lose that.
BD: Is there a meaning behind the album title?
Rob: It actually comes from one of the songs. I am a fan of American history in particular, the 1800s when we first went over there. As a boy, I was always interested in Cowboys and Indians, as they say, but I didn’t really understand it, and it’s only when you start looking into it and understand everything that went on there; it’s a very interesting time. It is based on the card game that Wild Bill Hickok played before he died. The actual hand he was holding when he died is called Dead Man’s hand. The song Dead Man’s Hand is based around that game. It is interesting when you look back in history, we released the single while ago called Fools Gold, written about the Welsh miners going over to America in the early time of the gold mines and one of my ancestors is one of them.
So I like to write about things that really happen in history as Fred has said, and that particular song was about an incident that really changed Deadwood in itself. Fred: The other part of the process was this was an all-in stakes game for us. We have thrown everything in apart from the houses that we can live in everything. So it was a high stakes game so it kind of worked on that as well.
BD: The final track Whiskey is my Vaccine, does that also bring us right back up to the here and now?
Rob: I didn’t want to associate with covid, to be honest with you, I didn’t intend doing. I have had the song for a long time perhaps it just fitted in with everything that’s going on at the time. it wasn’t written about the covid. The song has quite an interesting back story. When I was a young lad I used to be very ill and my mother, in her wisdom used to put whiskey in tea to give me at night when I was small, to try and get me to sleep and I hated it. I hated whiskey. I don’t drink it all. I didn’t drink it until I turned fifty-five, I had a drink one night and I thought, that’s quite nice and I stayed away for all that time. And since I’ve been drinking it, I haven’t really had many colds, so I put it down to that. I wrote this song I thought it would fit the occasion. The interesting story about it was when we were recording it, I decided to sneak a bottle of whisky into the recording studio. The little booth I was in and had a few sips and started drinking it and then the actual bottle was actually opened in the studio in that room. The producer thought about it. I like that and kept it in. Basically, it’s a bit of fun. As Fred said, we like putting some funny little ones in there. I think it’s important to make it a bit humorous. And yeah, vaccines whiskey is my vaccine. Fred: And it was nice musically just to play some Blues as well, obviously. Rob: Yeah, absolutely. BD: And the belch? Is that Tony Ashton and the inebriated Newt from the butterfly ball by any chance? Rob: No, that’s very interesting. You know why I put that in there? Josiah’s Dad was a big fan of Slade. And I am a huge fan of Slade they were my band. If you listen to Slade Alive,’ Darling Be Home Soon’ is a live recording and Noddy Holder, burps, I remembered that bit and I thought I think I’ll have a burp on this one and see if they put it in.
BD: Sons of Liberty are back on the road again with a mix of festivals venues. What have you missed about touring?
Rob: Everything, everything we miss our crowd. We missed the build-up and the excitement of putting our stuff up to play. We missed the feedback. Everything that you can imagine. We missed it. We have had two gigs. They went down a storm and we were back in the back in the groove. I think isn’t it Fred? Fred: Yeah, we are a live band, we fill a stage. Yeah, we’re not the youngest, but we are quite energetic. Would we like to put on a performance and Rob is a hugely engaging frontman as well. He kind of sheds himself all over the stage with bottle tops and feathers, sticks and all sorts in a trail behind him. If you have seen our live performance, you know we absolutely love it and you know everything we do really is around that this enables us to take the music out to people and we love meeting people. We have incredible people that come out to see us, they are like friends, like a big family. When we played Giants of Rock, which is something that about 1200 people in the room for our performance. We seemed to know all of them, it’s incredible the feeling you get from that. Those are the moments that you spend it every other waking hour looking forward to again. You know it’s magical. We played together quite a lot, we were quite comfortable with live performance, and it’s just great fun and camaraderie of being together and the mickey-taking in the van and everything is all part of that and we get to some great places as well. Yeah, we visited places to go and play that I certainly haven’t been to. Playing live is our thing.
BD: Despite people over the last 12 months, we’ve found our entertainment through streaming etcetera. You don’t feel little impact on people’s desire to purchase your CDs and go into town for live performances. Fred: No, not at all. I’m not sure it will be much bigger than it was. I think this. I think it will go back to how it was. Certainly, the people that come out and see us have, that is what they do, they go from one town to the next to see bands, or sometimes they see us on two consecutive nights in different places and stay over. It’s a lifestyle for the audience as well I think, and the festival are fantastic. Yeah, I think people really missed that, and you know, as Rob said, we played a couple of shows already. They were, socially distanced but they were both full. In fact, for the second one, I was giving people queuing for two hours outside, which was a bit embarrassing because they come to see us and they couldn’t fit them in. We will be going back there to play again so we can play for those people when it’s less restrictive but there are no signs of people not coming out. Obviously, some people would be cautious, and that’s entirely right. If people feel that way, but as soon as it’s safe for people to come out I am pretty sure they will. Rob: I think I think the venues have done very well as well. They understand what we need to do, and they put everything in place to make sure it works. I think they are perhaps more looking forward to getting back to the norm than anybody else. You know, there’s been so many great places closed and they go out their way it costs an arm and legs open these clubs they have more staff on etc; the potential of making money is not that great. They still pay the bands, they are honourable, and that’s what it’s about. However, I think once they start opening the door properly, I think there might be a bigger interest, personally, despite what Fred said. I think the other thing, of course, which is the interesting thing is that there’s a lot of new young bands out there who are attracting audiences of their own. A lot of youngsters you know up to the age of 25 many haven’t seen live bands. They see these artists on stage and suddenly the opportunity to go to see some of their friends playing it just whets the appetite. It gives them a totally different experience. I think what you’ll find over the next couple of years you’ll find a lot of the young bands will attract a younger crowd, and it’s going to go back to the guitar sounding music that we all grew up in the 70s and 80s. I think it is going to come back. The excitement to go into a show and see and band. I think it’s a different time in front of us.
BD: Lastly, what songs, albums have had the biggest influence on you.
Fred: This is hard there is so much great music out there. I probably go back to some of the earlier ones that you think of the things that inspired you quite early and for me, it was live records like Live and Dangerous, Brian Robertson and that recording for Thin Lizzy. Michael Schenker in UFO Strangers in the Night. I thought, yeah, that’s an incredible album. I was into Pink Floyd as well early bands like Budgie, a lesser well-known band but I loved them. I have massive music collection and all of it.
Rob: Obviously I’ll go for vocalists Noddy Holder was for me, one of the best. I loved the way that Ian Hunter sang as well so Mott the Hoople was, somebody liked. I liked the early stuff; they would have it off the wall. From the point of view of showmanship well to me, there’s a couple – Dandy from Blackoak, also I love Alex Harvey. I think Alex Harvey was a misunderstood singer and performer I still watch his videos now and get quite sort of engrossed in them. Vocally, wise David Coverdale early days I love David Coverdale his early blues stuff was great. I don’t particularly like his Whitesnake stuff to be honest with you. Glenn Hughes, you know that the guys who sang out the box a little bit they were a bit usual Bon Scott, not a Brian Johnson fan. Scott was a better singer and for me anyway, some of the AC/DC fans won’t like that. But unfortunately, that’s my belief anyway. He had a wicked wickedness about him which I loved. I like theatrical singers. I only saw Peter Gabriel here recently and I was blown away by him. His show was just incredible. And believe it or not, one of the best ones I ever saw was the singer from the Heavy Metal Kids Gary Holton he was unbelievable. I saw the band many a time and you never knew what was going to happen. I like danger. I like to go and see something that you don’t know what’s going to happen. There are always looking to see what’s going to happen, so I’m. I’m heading back to the old days. New days, I don’t listen to many vocalists really now. I just like the ones I like. Chris Cornell was in a world of his own, unbelievable. Guitarists, I don’t know any, or drummers or bassists. I don’t. get them in slightest. Fred: It’s all about you, isn’t it? Rob: Yes, I’ve been told off too many times for saying that. Fred: Talking about danger you won’t try going on the stage with you. Rob: Even Blues I love James Brown as a showman? Unbelievable, I was watching a video recently. Patti LaBelle as a singer I love I love soul singers, people who gospel singers, people who can sing totally out of their skins and that is an inspiration to me.
BD: Thank you for your time and insights into your music. We look forward to reviewing a live show very soon. This is the video of the latest single, Fire and Gasoline from the album.