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‘We’d love to do a zorb gig’

The Bristol punks talk “mental” live shows, class warfare and “violent-toned” new music.

Image copyright Ellie Rumbold Image caption Idles are (left to right) Mark Bowen, Lee Kiernan, Jon Beavis, Joe Talbot and Adam Devonshire

When Idles live-streamed their Abbey Road sets last month, it was only right they took on the challenge of performing The Beatles’ heaviest and most explosive song.

Frontman Joe Talbot threw himself so far into their performance of Helter Skelter he ended up scream-singing whilst writhing around on the floor in apparent pain, as his band – including eccentric moustached guitarist, Mark Bowen – played manically and danced devilishly around him.

It’s just a shame only a few camera operators were able to witness it in person.

Speaking a few days afterwards, a recovering Talbot tells the BBC the physically demanding track will “absolutely not” be going into their setlist, if and when they are able to resume their rescheduled UK tour in May next year.

Current government guidelines for socially distanced indoor gigs during the pandemic recommend quiet music and seated punters, who should be discouraged from singing or shouting, As anyone who has seen or heard the Bristol punks play live will tell you – it’s not like that at all.

“I’d never say never, but I can’t imagine us having a socially distanced gig,” says Talbot. “It would be mental.

“I’d love to do a zorb gig, like The Flaming Lips did. That’d be great. We’ll just do the singing and that, and the fans can all just get in the zorbs and mash each other up.”

The band’s committed and in-places rowdy community of fans (The AF Gang) has been rapidly building over the past few years, and you wouldn’t put it past them, if allowed.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Flaming Heck: Wayne Coyne heads out into the crowd in a giant zorb, at Primavera Sound in 2011

“It’s insane how much support we’ve got” notes Talbot, who says sales of Idles T-shirts – some of which he designed himself – have been “keeping our career alive” this year.

The 36-year-old hopes “someone might come up with a really sick idea” to make thrilling live shows viable again soon, but, he admits: “I’m not holding my breath.”

‘An idiot, or a liar’

More importantly, he stresses his band “don’t want to be responsible for spreading the virus”.

“Anyone who thinks that they’re an expert at this time is either an idiot, or a liar,” adds Idles’ funny-but-at-times-furious leader. “Unless they’re an epidemiologist.”

“I’m not excited by the future,” he sighs. “I’m just excited for the album.”

Talbot says their direct new third album, Ultra Mono, was designed to develop “the conversations we started with our audience”, around self-growth and self-acceptance, on their Mercury Prize-nominated previous effort, 2018’s Joy as an Act of Resistance.

“If you really truly start to understand yourself, and you start to love yourself, you’ll have the confidence to listen and love others, and use empathy as a way of killing fascism,” he states.

The last LP saw them skilfully subvert their raucous aesthetic to tackle sensitive social issues around immigration, masculinity, and vulnerability, as well as grief.

Now the band’s chief wordsmith – who experimented with writing lyrics in the vocal booth this time around – is once again grappling with “how to get sober, be a father, be a better musician, and be a better friend,” he says.

To help with the penultimate one on that list, they’ve opened their doors to collaborators as wildly varied as hip-hop producer Kenny Beats, Warren Ellis from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and piano tinkler Jamie Cullum.

Image copyright Ellie Rumbold Image caption The band’s virtual gigs at Abbey Road Studios were well-produced online ticketed affairs

As well as French singer Jehnny Beth (Savages), who is also listed on a freshly all female line-up of Idles support acts for 2021 – a bid to help tackle sexism within the industry.

After 10 years of grafting away on the west coast in conflicted anonymity, they now have famous friends and admirers; and were able to spread Joy and its message of inclusivity around the world on several tours.

Two years on though, like most other British bands, they are now grounded in a country where Brexit is firmly back on the agenda.

Their marauding recent single,…

Paul Glynn

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