Thirsty Mancunians blend blues, grunge and country – while trying not to fall over too often.
For a young man keen to play the blues but also rock hard into the bargain, there are plenty of spiritual homes to be found: Memphis to Eel Pie Island, Newcastle to New York City. But Manchester? No shortage of musical heritage there, of course, but it’s more often associated with dance music and indie rock. So when a few years ago Arjun Bhishma wanted a place to play the kind of rocking, rootsy music he loved, he had his work cut out.
“There were no blues nights in Manchester at the time,” he says, “So me and some mates launched one and it took off – everyone used to hang out and have beers and it was a good meeting spot.”
Bhishma had self-released a mini-album under the Gorilla Riot name in 2014, but decided to get a full-time band together “with the best musicians I knew” – who just happened to be his drinking buddies. That meant that when they began gigging, three guitarists made for a seriously riff-tastic proposition live.
“I really wanted to have Charly (T) and Liam (Henry) in the band,” Bhishma explains, sitting in the studio where they’re demoing a new album. “And there’s no way I’m not gonna play guitar in my own band – so three guitars it is!”
Since then, singles including the gnarly, ZZ Top-style blues rocker Kerosene Clown and the bitter, country-inflected break-up ballad Down The Road have turned more heads. Both showcase Gorilla Riot’s ability to blend acoustic roots styles with heavy, grungey rock.
It’s helped build them a following and won them the public vote to play at Ramblin’ Man Fair in June, where they proved a hit. Thankfully there were none of the mishaps that have occasionally caused tragi-comic consequences for the band: Henry split his head open after going arse-over tit on one occasion, and Bhishma managed to fall through the stage during a recent gig, ending up with his leg in plaster.
So when you hear a recurring theme in Gorilla Riot’s songs relating to drinking, you wonder if there might be a connection. Their new EP American Honey, for example, has a branded bottle of bourbon whiskey on the cover.
“I know we should rein it in and not drink too much when we play,” says Bhishma, “but we are what we are. We’re often on a similar level as the crowd at a gig – they’ve had a few, we’ve had a few, and we’re all up for a good time.”
This, of course, is an attitude that makes sense at your average rock’n’roll venue, but not necessarily elsewhere.
“It can get us into trouble,” Bhishma admits drily. “A few months ago we got thrown out of a children’s ball pit in a motorway service station. I mean, we were just having a good time – where’s the harm in it?”
The EP American Honey Vol I is available now from gorillariotband.com
“You might hear bits of early Stones, Black Crowes and country stuff in our sound.”
FOR FANS OF...“I was first inspired to get out and play by BB King,” says Arjun Bhishma. “We also like to do both electric and acoustic shows, just like a lot of our favourite bands have done, from Guns N’ Roses to the grunge bands. Then you might also hear bits of early Stones, Black Crowes and country stuff in our sound. It’s all in there somewhere.”