I’ve been a fan of South London’s Holy Roar Records since around 2009. My introduction to the label was the Rolo Tomassi/Throats split 7″ – Rolo covered a Throats song and vice versa, it was pretty mind blowing. From there I delved further back into the label’s catalogue and discovered the likes of Maths and The Ergon Carousel.
I was doing my undergrad degree at university at the time and made the most of my student loan by picking up records – as you do – and continued to follow the label, picking up as many releases as I could afford. It’s been amazing to watch them grow, picking up some amazing bands and putting out some eclectic releases along the way; the Throats/The Ergon Carousel – Kyuss Covers Split 7″ will forever be a firm favourite, alongside releases by the likes of Brutality Will Prevail, Hang The Bastard, Abolition, Slabdragger, Last Witness, Svalbard and most recently MØL.
So, when I found out last year that Holy Roar had done a collab beer with Bristol’s Good Chemistry Brewing, I made it my mission to try it – a 6.66% black IPA, it’s one of my favourite beer styles and it spoke to me on all levels. Low and behold, in my day job as a Bar Manager, I managed to get a keg of it for a beer festival we were doing. It was everything I loved in a beer. As a result of that, I struck up a back and forth with the gang at Good Chemistry, which ultimately lead to this interview.
When I found out that the pair had come together once again for the difficult second album, Roar Power, I knew we needed to have a natter for Headbrewer’s Ball. A good collab beer is like a good split 7″, two likeminded groups coming together to showcase what they do best with others who share their ideals and tapping into each other’s audience. Only seemed fair to get the two groups together and find out why they decided to collaborate in the first place. As it turns out, everything’s connected as you’ll soon find out. Funny how things work out.
With the Roar Power tour kicking off next week, which sees Holy Roar bands Slow Crush and my good pals in Pijn heading out on the road in support of the beer, I spoke to Good Chemistry Brewing co-founder/Rolo Tomassi enthusiast Kelly Sidgwick and Holy Roar Records head honcho/Ghost Whale bottle shop impresario Alex Fitzpatrick.
Read on for all the details on Roar Power, the RP tour and the Good Chemistry tap takeovers that are happening to launch the beer. As well as everything else you could possibly want to know about this collab!
Let’s talk about the first Holy Roar beer, how did that come together? Who approached who?
Kelly Sidgwick (Good Chemistry): “We met Alex at the first Bristol Craft Beer Festival, which was nearly two years ago now. He also runs a bottle shop in Brixton and was just in the process of setting that up and got in touch and said “I’m coming to the Craft Beer Festival, it’d be really great to come and meet you, ‘cos we’re looking for potential suppliers and like the look of what you’re doing.” Obviously we said, yeah of course, come and have a chat. So I then did what I [laughs] often do when we get approaches from people and I looked him up on Facebook and I saw that he also runs Holy Roar Records and I thought, that’s kinda cool, that’s quite big. I’d gone to ArcTanGent and 2000trees for many years and I first saw Alex’s very first signing Rolo Tomassi in like 2007 at a tiny little venue here in Bristol and followed them ever since. That culminated in… this is quite a big back story [laughs]. So, my previous business before we had the brewery was the Festival Elderflower Company, so we used to pick elderflowers on festival sites, mostly Glastonbury, and then turn it into elderflower cordial and then take it back to the festival to sell it to people. So I was doing that at Glastonbury, Womad, 2000trees, ArcTanGent and I met James Spence [vocals/synth] from Rolo Tomassi and he said “oh my sister loves elderflower, oh it’s a shame she’s not here”. So when they played two years later, I took Eva Spence [vocalist, Rolo Tomassi] a cup of elderflower just before she went up onstage, she took it on stage and was drinking from it and she gave us a shout out! It was so exciting, it was just the most awesome thing to happen. I was in the crowd, I wasn’t on the stall, and I was with a big group of friends of mine who I only ever see once or twice a year at those festivals and she gave this shout out and we all just gave a massive cheer, it was really exciting.
So I told Alex this story, and he was blown away by that, he thought that was really funny and quite an odd connection [laughs] I suppose between us. He opened the shop and we sent beer up and stuff, then he kind of said, “oh hey we should brew a beer together” and it just came from that really; a mutual admiration and respect for each other’s businesses I guess. So I’ve been following his bands since they started. Sam, who then joined us in February last year and who had only been with us a really short time when Alex came down and we met here at the brewery to talk about the beer and stuff, he’s been following Alex’s bands for years as well and really loves heaps of them. When he was in bands back in the day, he played alongside some of Alex’s bands and stuff, so quite a big connection really.”
Alex Fitzpatrick (Holy Roar): “When me and Stuart, who owns Ghost Whale with me, our bottle shop in Brixton. When we were in the beginning of the planning stages for that, we went to the craft beer festival in Bristol run by We Are Beer. Good Chemistry were at that and we enjoyed their beers and we spoke to them for a little bit. I just came at them from the perspective of we’re opening a bottle shop, would love to stock you, kinda thing and then we obviously started emailing them. Then I think the penny dropped that they realised I did Holy Roar as well and Kelly had been a fan of Rolo Tomassi specifically for quite a while and met them at one of the early ArcTanGents I think it was. So yeah there was this natural mutual respect, and then they took on a guy called Sam at their end who was basically into Converge and Unbroken and all of our bands and then it was a complete no brainer at that point. I just went back and forth with Bob, just riffing on – no pun intended – ideas for a beer basically. At the time I was really into my hoppy stouts and Black IPAs, just ‘cos me being a contrarian, I enjoyed the fact that they fucked off beer purists, because it’s something that shouldn’t exist. Obviously we should make the ABV 6.66%, and I think we got pretty close actually. I was really happy with how it came out and I thought it tasted awesome to be honest. It raised awareness of their brewery through a bunch of Holy Roar fans and maybe made certain music venues pick up the beer and vice versa, it showed to a niche beer community what we’re all about, and we’re not just your traditional long hair and leathers, kind of heavy metal. I think our creative vibes fitted each other as well.”
“If the first collab was Secret Cutter or Throats, this one is distinctly more Brontide”
So what was the response like for that first beer you did together?
Kelly: “We had really great feedback on it and I think what was really cool was to hear from people who had never drunk our beer before and who’d never heard of us before. Holy Roar have got such a big reach and people feel very strongly connected to them, they will go for something that’s got Holy Roar’s name on it, so that was incredible to reach people like that. Then, Alex I know has said that he has had people say stuff like, “oh I normally don’t drink dark beers but I tried your one and I really liked it.” That’s awesome because that’s something that’s really important to us, we always try to have in our lineup quite a broad range of beers, so it’s not just massively hoppy stuff, it’s not just all dark beers or all wheat beers, or whatever.
We always try to have a big range. Certainly when we get people coming to the brewery and especially, we run an event called The East Bristol Brewery Trail with four other local breweries [Arbor, Dawkins, Left Handed Giant and Moor] that are really close to us, we’re all within about a mile of each other. That’s just not really a beer geek-y event, it’s more like a community event, and so you do get people who don’t normally drink beer but who come along with their mates, who kind of sidle up to the bar and say quietly, “I don’t really like beer” and for us it’s really important to be able to give them different beers to try and not focus on, this is an IPA, this is a wheat beer. Actually, this is a beer that’s really hoppy and its got all these tropical fruit flavours in it, try that one. This one’s got loads of chocolatey, coffee flavours in it and for it not to be about style and that sort of thing. So it was really cool that Alex said that and we had it as well, people saying “oh I normally don’t drink beers but I tried this Holy Roar collaboration and I really liked it. So that’s awesome, what more could you hope for really?”
How was it releasing something that’s not a band, it’s not a record, it’s a little bit different to what Holy Roar would do normally. What was that like?
Alex: “It was pretty weird, it wasn’t obviously like some traditional promotional campaign. I have to give Kelly a lot of credit here, ‘cos she is wonder woman when it comes to being organised on relevant promotion for beers ‘cos obviously that’s what she lives and breathes and obviously I essentially promote records. What did make it a lot easier was that we could almost sell it like a record and like a pre-order through Holy Roar because we just linked it through to Ghost Whale and shipped it out of Ghost Whale. That really really helped and we shifted quite a lot of it actually, just our shop ended up doing about 14 cases of it and then 2 or 3 kegs, which for one shop in Brixton is pretty silly to be honest. You occasionally had someone come in, in a black t-shirt and you were like, “I think I know what you’re gonna buy”.”
Let’s talk about this new collab, it’s almost like the difficult second album, how did you go about following up Holy Roar?
Alex: “[laughs] Yeah, I think the answer to that is we just literally tried to flip it on its head and do the exact opposite of what we’d done before. Everything about that first one was like blacker than black and then this one… if the first collaboration was Secret Cutter or Throats, this one is distinctly more Brontide and stuff of that ilk [laughs]. This is definitely the one to drink at the festival or on a beach or something. I just went to Bob and went “I really want to make a beer that’s a bit like this” and he was like “well, that sounds quite good but what about this, this and this?”. And I was like “yes to that, no to that” and we arrive at a place where we all agree. It’s got that marriage again between the packaging and the colour of the beer for sure. Hopefully, the reception will be as good as the first one, if not better. I’d hope better because in theory it should be a beer that appeals to a wider base of people.”
Kelly: “[laughs] Well especially when your first album is like this enormous, black beast of a beer. So this year, the beer that we’ve brewed is called Roar Power. It’s a 5% pale, with quite a sweet malty base, and then shit loads of American hops. Alex’s mantra is just, “can we put more hops in it?”.
“Shall we? What about? Some more hops?”
“Shall we put some more hops in it?”
“How many hops are you putting in? Shall we put a bit more in?”
He just loves it, absolutely loves it. So we’ve reigned him in a little bit, but it does have loads of American hops in it and we’ve also put sweet cherry and peach into the beer as well. So it’s got this beautiful fruity flavour and awesome colour as well. So it’s bright pink and the pump clip is pink as well. So we’ve moved quite a way away from [laughs] Holy Roar the beer which was none more black. We’ve taken quite a different tone with this one, but the idea is for it to be a summer smasher and really easy to drink and quite accessible and just fun really. We call it a beach ball of a beer. It should be really great for people to drink over the summer really.”
“It’s a 5% pale, with quite a sweet malty base, and then shit loads of American hops”
How was it going up to Bristol to do the brew day?
Alex: “It’s great! There’s not much to say about it really other than it’s just nice hanging out with Kelly, Bob and Sam. You couldn’t ask for better people to make beer with. We all had a lot of fun. We always use it as an excuse to go to Bristol and have some nice food and drinks as well, everyone wins. It was really good. I’m being somewhat crass here but their two top dogs are a bloke and then a woman and then they employ someone called Sam and then it’s exactly the same at Holy Roar [laughs]. It’s pretty funny, it’s like a weird mirror image business but across the line of music and beer; we think the world of them. It wasn’t difficult whatsoever, I’ve done other brew days and collaborations and stuff and it’s been too much like hard work [laughs] where I’ve actually had to dig out a mash tun or something but this was very nice [laughs]. As long as I don’t have to carry spent malt or whatever [laughs].”
Let’s talk about the Roar Power tour with Pijn and Slow Crush, where did the idea come from to do a beer tour and a touring Tap Takeover?
Alex: “This was really weird actually, because I emailed Joe from Pijn and just said “we’re working on this beer, what about doing a tour at this time and maybe taking Slow Crush?” Because those were the two bands that I thought we had that were in the right place of a record cycle, the two that fitted the idea of the beer. He emailed me back almost instantly, “as it happens I’ve just finished booking a five date tour for us and Slow Crush.” And I didn’t even know about it [laughs]. I was like that’s really fucking weird. So I was like “well, that’s good, as you’ve already booked it, can I just say that it’s for this beer?” And he was like “yeah of course”. And that was it [laughs]. This is the easiest thing ever, this plan has come together without me trying, it’s great. Usually those things are a struggle, or one band doesn’t want to be associated with beer, there’s usually always something that comes up as a stumbling block but this time it just seemed to line up perfectly. Pijn’s record is out in October and Slow Crush in September so it’s a nice way to promote those two bands in advance of the records without loads of pressure. Maybe it’ll reach a few more people simply because of the beer, so I thought it was quite good in terms of timing and sound and everything basically. Not that I sit there trying to think about all this and calculate it too much, honestly.”
“If we collaborate again next year I’ve no idea how we’re going to top it”
Kelly: “It’s really, really exciting, we’re so thrilled about this. So when we launched Holy Roar the beer last year, we had 3 Holy Roar bands play a gig here in Bristol. This year we’ve gone big, we’ve got 5 cities, 2 bands playing every city and then we’ve got Tap Takeovers in separate venues in some of the cities as well. Pijn and Slow Crush are playing five dates to launch the beer, so they’re playing in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and London and then we’ve got corresponding tap takeovers in Birmingham at The Wolf, in Manchester at Grub, in Bristol we’re going to do an event here at the brewery in the afternoon before we move over to the gig in the evening. Then in London we’re doing a closing party the week after the London gig which is at the Black Heart and Holy Roar are going to be DJ-ing at that as well. We’re really excited to get the beer out to places, we haven’t worked with The Wolf before so it’s great to have some beer there. We were in Manchester at the end of March and visited Grub and just thought it was an absolutely incredible place, a really amazing concept and we loved what they were doing there. So, when we were thinking about the idea of doing tap takeovers in some of the cities, that was the place we really wanted to be in, so they’re very generously hosting a lot of our beers on that night as well, which we think is going to be brilliant! They’ve got this awesome looking outdoor setting, so hopefully the sun will be shining and Roar Power will just be perfect for that setting so we’re really excited about that. Here at the brewery, Holy Roar are coming to set up a stall, so they’ll have merch and records and cool stuff and we’ll have the bands down here in the afternoon and we’ll have Roar Power pouring and then we’ll all head over to the gig in the evening and have a big party there. So super exciting to get the beer out there and to get the bands playing and involved and stuff, it’s really cool. If we collaborate again next year I’ve no idea how we’re going to top it [laughs].”
“Hopefully it’ll expose people from both audiences both to the beer and to the music.”
Is there anything special planned for the shows and Tap Takeovers?
Kelly: “The main focus is Roar Power, the collaboration, but apart from that we’ll have beers in Birmingham and Manchester and London that the venues won’t have seen before. There’ll be beers that these cities have not seen before and I think the important bit again for us is to make sure that we’ve got a reasonable range of beers on. So it’s not just about hoppy pale ales, although there are quite a few of those, but we’ve also got a wheat beer going which is a really great beer that we’ve just brewed again recently for the third time because it’s just taken us a bit by surprise by how popular it’s been. It’s always on here at the brewery tap and I think it’s one of those beers for those people who are not too sure if they like beer or not. It’s really accessible, really refreshing and light and great in this kind of weather. Kokomo Weekday is our 4.3% session strength tropical IPA and another good one to look out for I think.”
Alex: “I think we just wanted to try and build it between Kelly and myself, so it wasn’t just five gigs where we said it was for a beer… like how Jägermeister used to sponsor a tour then it had no relevance to the band and then they didn’t even have Jägermeister on the bar, not that you’d want it most of the time. Whereas we wanted to actually flesh this out a little bit and make it more of a thing where even if you didn’t entirely give a fuck about the music, you could still go and enjoy the beer and almost participate in the tour a bit or vice versa. So yeah, a load of credit to Kelly, it was a way to make it a bit more interesting and hopefully expose people from both audiences both to the beer and to the music.”
So you won’t be going around at the gigs with test tubes of Roar Power in a big foam block then?
Alex: “I might [laughs]. I’ll have a 20 litre plastic keg strapped to my back, I’ll be like one of those promo girls from a club. I’ll even wear the little outfit and just pour it into people’s throats. Tell them to fuck off whilst i’m doing it [laughs]. I wish I’d run with that now, that’s a horrifying image… Luckily craft beer hasn’t gone down that avenue yet.”
What’s next for Good Chemistry? What are you up to at the moment, what can people look out for?
Kelly: “We’ve got quite a lot of other stuff coming up later in the year but a lot of our stuff is quite Bristol focussed. So we have our Brewery Tap open through the summer, we’re open every Friday and Saturday and we run quite a lot of events here. In August, we’ll have our third birthday party which is very exciting, and then at the end of August we’ll be running the sixth East Bristol Brewery Trail which is with four other breweries all around us here in East Bristol. That’s an incredible event and we really love doing that, it just gets bigger and bigger every time that what we run it, we do it twice a year. We have Bristol Beer Week coming up in September as well, where we’ll be running events for that; for the last two years we’ve done an event called Think While You Drink, which is bringing academics to talk about their beer/brewing related research and then last year we also had a couple of brewers talking about their very different approaches to brewing and that’s really great, really interesting. Then at the end of Bristol Beer Week we’ve got the Bristol Craft Beer Festival which we’ll be at again as well. Other than that we’re a really small team and we try not to take on too much but we usually do [laughs]. So, fun outward facing events, and not so fun but really important inward facing things like the beer.”
What else is on the cards for Holy Roar at the moment then? What’s going on?
Alex: “We’ve got a record by Modern Rituals coming out on Friday, that’s currently our little focus in our microcosm at the moment. We’ve literally got at least one record a month now for the rest of the year and beyond. We’re not bound to that, don’t get me wrong, we do that because we have a subscription service as well, where people can subscribe and basically get something every month. We would rather they were receiving good new music rather than us porting in a record from another label or something. But it’s good, people seem really really excited about that and I feel like people have been really excited about a bunch of our bands generally this year.
It’s been weird, it feels like there’s been something of a tipping point over the last year or so, which has really gathered a bit of momentum this year where some of the more mainstream magazines have seriously started covering our bands. That’s not through us throwing piles of money at them or using different PR people or anything, it just almost feels like some of those people or some of those cultures have edged towards us a tiny bit or something. I couldn’t put my finger on what it is, but we haven’t changed what we do or how we operate. I mean I still talk crap and we still put out what I think are pretty weird records. Obviously there’s no drone or new Wolf Eyes record, but by Kerrang’s standards, I would say we put out pretty weird music. It’s just felt like many years of hard work have started to, not pay off, but at least we’re being recognised a little bit which is quite nice, I just hope it’s not a flash in the pan thing and then we lose favour. I just hope that door is open now and we can just keep on doing what we do. I don’t want to start releasing shit music just to be featured in magazines or anything, that’s not the point. Just hopefully continue to gently, organically, grow and keep on promoting the bands we just genuinely love really.”
Dates for the Roar Power tour and Good Chemistry Tap Takeovers:
Wednesday 27th June – Leeds, Roar Power at Wharf Chambers
Thursday 28th June – Birmingham, Roar Power at Subside / TTO at The Wolf
Friday 29th June – Manchester, Roar Power at Soup Kitchen / TTO at GRUB / First day of Manchester Beer Week!
Saturday 30th June – Bristol, Roar Power/After Party at Mother’s Ruin / Holy Roar Records and Church Road distro pop up at Good Chemistry Brewery Tap
Sunday 1st July – London, Roar Power matinee show at Old Blue Last
Friday 6thJuly – London, official end of tour party at Black Heart feat. Holy Roar DJ set plus Good Chemistry TTO.
For more info on the beer, the tour and the tap takeovers, check out the Good Chemistry Blog.
New to Holy Roar Records? Check out this playlist for an introduction: