State of The Nation: Catholic Action on Coronavirus, Brexit and Scottish Independence

With the world in an even more confused state than ever, we caught up with Chris McCrory, singer and guitarist of Glaswegian quartet Catholic Action whose second album Celebrated By Strangers, a writhing collection of skewed indie pop dancefloor fillers and seething political rage, is released on 27th March through Modern Sky Records, to see if he could make any sense of what on Earth is going on.

It’s been a pretty horrendous time in global politics over the past few years (although I’m not sure I can remember a time when it wasn’t, come to think of it), was there a particular incident which proved the tipping point for you to start writing about political issues?

There wasn’t a particular incident no, and I never consciously decided to start doing it, nor realised I was doing it either until after it was finished. I was just trying to write songs that actually meant something to me. I think it’d be hard to have any kind of awareness of what’s been going on over the past few years especially and not become politicised in some way or another.

I suppose that we have to start with the big story of the moment – there have been a number of gigs cancelled due to the Coronavirus lockdown, and many bands that were due to travel for SXSW have also had to change their plans. Have you been affected by any of this? What effect do you think it will have on independent bands, labels, venues and promoters?

We’ve just had to cut our trip to the US short actually. We were in NYC for a few days playing a festival before we were due to head to Texas for some gigs that were still on despite SXSW’s cancellation. I did have a feeling we’d be heading home sooner than planned – it was the quietest I’ve ever seen the airports, and NYC itself was a ghost town. Plus, as soon as we landed, Trump announced his European travel ban and we assumed we’d be next. After seeing how things were there, and getting a feel for how they were going to end up (everything was shutting down, and even US bands were pulling their own national tours), we knew we had to change our flights and get out of there quickly. Fortunately, we had a last minute gig with The Dead Kennedys in Philadelphia and that paid our way home, so we got off very lightly.

I can’t begin to imagine how seriously this is going to affect independent music, especially if the situation drags on. In these first weeks I know already of good venues permanently shutting their doors, record deals falling through and release schedules being wiped. Plus, I know of so many bands that sunk a big chunk of their own cash into getting over to SXSW (and it’s expensive, believe me) to have it all pissed away. And as you know, bands and indie labels were already essentially skint all of the time to begin with. It’s not good.

One ray of light however. With the abundance of home studios and enforced self-isolation, I think there’ll be a lot of great music coming out of this.

With the virus taking up most of the news agenda, Brexit has barely been mentioned in recent weeks. You’ve been speaking about its potential impact on touring bands – what is the problem and what could be done to minimise the damage?

Remember I said getting to America was expensive? At the moment, getting a US work visa costs a UK band around three or four thousand pounds and you usually need to organise this somewhere close to a year in advance. It’s largely prohibitively expensive for most independent bands, and it’ll leave you a nervous wreck to boot. It is not a pleasant process.

To tour in Europe, it costs nothing more than the ferry ticket and your petrol, and you could book the gig the night before if you felt like it. Basically, if there isn’t some kind of streamlined, inexpensive process that allows essentially free movement for bands in the EU after Brexit, the continent will be locked off for all but established artists and we’ll be abandoning an enormous market right on our doorstep.

Touring in Europe is much (much) more fun than it is touring in the UK. People don’t take live music for granted and there’s a real culture of respect for the art. The promoters are less exploitative too and the venues are often publicly funded. Imagine that, eh? Incredible stuff. I just hope we don’t lose it.

There are some pretty overtly political songs on the album, do you think that there are enough bands at the moment willing to make these sorts of statements and can music really make a difference?

Not at all. There’s a lot of bands making a lot of noise and saying essentially, “Fuck the Tories”. Boo and Hiss. That’s a fine sentiment to have, but people need to actually DO something for things to change.

I think it’s really difficult line to tread though as a songwriter, and often, people quite rightly want their music to be pure escapism.

I’d like to believe that music can still move people to action, or challenge their thought processes. Despite the industry’s best attempts, we’ve not been relegated to the background noise in McDonald’s quite yet.

One of the issues tackled on the album is that of Scottish independence. How has the reaction been at home and in the rest of the Uk to the song – have you noticed a difference from region to region?

People have been almost unanimously understanding. I think it makes perfect sense why Scotland should be an independent country, especially given the way things have been since the 2014 vote and plenty of my friends in London and Manchester seem pretty keen to come up and join us once it happens.

OK, fantasy politics time – you’ve been installed as prime minister for the day with carte blanche to introduce one new policy, what will it be?

Universal Basic Income.  And if you need convincing, go and read Rutger Bregman’s, ‘Utopia For Realists’.

Catholic Action’s new album Celebrated by Strangers is out March 27 via Modern Sky.

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