Boston Manor:
universal appeal

Formed in Blackpool but forged on the road, Boston Manor became globally famous. Now frontman Henry Cox is restless but has a renewed appreciation for home

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Before 2020 descended into Covid-chaos, Boston Manor frontman Henry Cox and his fellow bandmates Ash Wilson, Jordan Pugh and brothers Dan and Mike Cunniff were rarely in one place longer than the time it took to perform a live show. Now he’s practically housebound.

“It’s the longest I’ve spent in one place my entire life,” laughs the 27 year old when we catch up over Zoom from his Manchester home. “I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and keep creating because I can’t sit still. I think I probably have ADHD – I cannot do nothing.”

Glue is a mature collection on which the band tread new ground but retain their rough edge

Cox’s nagging impatience isn’t too surprising given his band’s typical schedule. Since forming in Blackpool in 2013, this polished post-rock outfit has been in an almost constant state of forward momentum. By 2015, their batch of early EPs had grabbed the attention of California’s Pure Rock Records and frantic debut album Be Nothing arrived a year later. Headline tours zig-zagged the northern circuit across the UK and Europe, before a stint on the Vans Warped Tour in 2017 brought them face to face with eager American audiences.

Their second release, 2018’s Welcome To The Neighbourhood, kept the pace up, delivering vigour and depth to a dismal vision of a fictional town not entirely dissimilar to their seaside home. A hit with critics and fans, the band’s growing success was mirrored in their increasingly livewire shows, with audiences packing clubs, tents and the occasional festival main stage to catch their distinctive and dark-edged pop-rock. Taking a brief pit-stop in late 2019, they decamped to New Jersey’s Barber Shop Studios to record their latest output, Glue – a mature collection of tracks on which the band tread new ground musically while retaining the rough edge that made them a Spotify hit. Designed to be heard live, Boston Manor were set to hit the road following Glue’s May release when everything ground to a halt.

“We had half a world tour booked,” says Cox soberingly from the other side of a laptop screen, reflecting on how the pandemic has affected Boston Manor’s 2020 plans. “We had festival season and then it was going to be a long two-and-a-half years of touring this record. That was underway – then it all got cancelled.” Like many of us, the band’s best laid plans changed overnight, and instead of introducing their new music to fans across the world, they’ve had to find new ways to fill their time.

“It’s had its ups and downs, for sure,” admits the singer. “I’ve taught myself stuff that I never had time to sit down and learn, like piano and how to produce and mix. Everyone’s dealing with it differently but it’s definitely been hard.”

A break from the monotony came in mid-October when the band played their first hometown show – albeit virtually. This long-awaited return to home turf was originally set to be streamed live from Blackpool Tower, providing the band with a much-needed opportunity to introduce Glue to fans across the globe from an iconic venue that’s close to their hearts. Unfortunately 2020 had plans for that too.

“In the end it took place at the Empress Ballroom,” Cox tells us. “It was supposed to be at the Tower and pretty much the day before we got told we couldn’t do it due to technical reasons. Kindly, the Empress Ballroom stepped in at the last minute, and it’s an equally grand space. We’ve been going to gigs in that place forever, so it’s like we’ve cheated our way to playing this massive venue. It was really cool.”

On stage at the Empress Ballroom, at a hastily rearranged showcase of the new album in their hometown Blackpool. Photos: Theodore Swaddling

Still, with no physical audience to feed off, this long-awaited homecoming was a tad bittersweet. Despite Cox meeting bandmates Mike Cunniff (guitar) and Dan Cunniff (bass), Wilson (guitar) and Pugh (drums) through various social circles around Blackpool almost a decade ago, their band have somehow yet to perform properly in the town, mainly due to concerns their fan base might struggle getting to this slightly off-the-touring-track spot. The group’s first official show as Boston Manor took place just down the road at Preston’s live-music haven the Ferret in 2013 – and in the intervening years, a lot has changed.

“It’s a really different world,” admits Cox. “We’ve all been going over old tours and shows and looking at pictures of that era and there’s such fond memories. It’s a cliché – but it’s the funnest part of being in a band, because there’s no stakes. You just mess around and do whatever you want. We started touring straight away. We played the Ferret and a few local shows and then Mike bought a red postal van that we converted into a little tour van and just drove all around the UK and Europe, contacting promoters on Facebook. We’d show up and play all sorts of weird gigs. You’ll never get that experience again. It was fantastic.”

Those carefree days feel an eternity away from where Boston Manor currently find themselves. Having performed in far-flung corners of the world and toured with some of alt-rock’s biggest names, do they ever miss their hometown?

“I loved it as a kid, it has such an energy about it,” says Cox, who moved to the town from Burton-upon-Trent aged four. “You always remember the fun stuff, like the illuminations and shows. There was a lot of live entertainment going on everywhere all the time, which was really cool. The more I started travelling, it actually gave me much more of an appreciation for where I live. I’ve been super-lucky to go to the most incredible places that I probably never would’ve seen otherwise and you see that there’s a lot of towns that have the same issues Blackpool has – but not its character or sense of community. There’s lots of merits to where we live. I’ve not been to anywhere that looks or feels like this town.”

As the band progressed, their northern roots inevitably found their way into their writing – most notably in their conceptual second album. “Visually, I started to see the duality of the town – how poor it was but also how weird and wonderful it was too – and our music got darker and darker.

“On Welcome To The Neighbourhood we built an aesthetic world around this fictional version of the town, being a little dramatic and edgy, but having fun playing with its landscape, twisting and distorting stuff.”

The more Boston Manor toured the world, the more unlikely parallels they found with their seaside stomping ground. “I think a lot of these problems are fairly universal. You talk to people at shows – promoters, friends and all sorts of different people that you bump into – and you find that the common issues tend to be ubiquitous. It’s kind of comforting in a way because you see we all have a common aim.”

This shared end goal is reflected within the layout of Boston Manor. While Cox takes the lead with the band’s video output, and Dan Cunniff handles photography, their music is created democratically. “Everybody has their roles and everything is split five ways musically. We all kind of pitch in together. Obviously I write the lyrics but that’s not to say other people won’t change it if they think it’s not good enough.”

While Glue provides Cox with the opportunity to flex his skills when it comes to vocal performance, knowing exactly how much of himself to share with the world is something he still struggles with. “I don’t like feeling too naked when it comes to lyrics. I just don’t think I have enough confidence in myself to do that. I’d like to be a little more frank or honest lyrically but it’s definitely something that puts me outside my comfort zone. I’m quite a private person.”

Glue has been hailed by critics as the band’s most accomplished work yet. With lockdown providing an opportunity for reflection, Cox is confident this strange experience will improve the band.

“Playing the Empress Ballroom reminded me of where we were headed when we were writing those songs. I pictured playing them to a packed club – and it’s going to be really fun when we get to do that – but we went straight from Welcome to the Neighbourhood into recording Glue, so we haven’t really had any time to sit back and reflect on anything. It’s been nice in that sense.
I think the next music we make would have been different had we not have had this break. We’ve had a really good chance to take stock of everything and figure out what kind of music we should be writing and what we want to write.”

While the future of entertainment remains cloudy, Cox has no doubt that live music will return – and when it does, Boston Manor will be ready to meet it. “It sucks, but I’m hopeful. It’ll come back, but let’s not pretend a lot of people aren’t going to be hit hard and some might not recover.

“I don’t think too many people in our world are going to entertain socially distanced gigs. They’re fun but they’re not a viable solution. I miss the really rowdy bits with everyone going nuts and people throwing themselves all over the place. That’s my favourite and obviously we can’t do that at socially distanced gigs.”

It might still be a while before Cox can get back to commanding a crowd but when he can, Blackpool better watch out. “Another hometown show is already in the works,” he teases. “We’ve already sorted a venue. It’s definitely something that’ll happen in the future.”

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