Preview: Miles and The Chain Gang at The Crescent

Miles and The Chain Gang close their inaugural 12 months with a headline gig at The Crescent this coming Sunday 22 December 2019.

Feature photo by Jim Poyner Photography

The York-based three piece features Miles Salter (vocals, guitar, pictured centre), Tim Bruce (bass, pictured left) and Billy Hickling (drums and percussion, pictured right). The trio are augmented by lead guitar player Alan Dawson, who is based on Scotland.

The band formed in late 2018 after a series of coincidences during the summer. ‘It was pretty odd how it came together,’ says Miles. ‘I’m not particularly superstitious but it was bizarre how it happened – in a good way. Alan Dawson literally walked into the Three Legged Mare one Tuesday evening for the open mic night. He was on his way from Scotland to Love Supreme. It was pure fluke that we were in the same place that evening.

‘Billy I’d seen play in King Courgette and thought he was brilliant. I turned up at Ruby Tuesday (Chris Helme’s excellent acoustic night) and Billy was there. He was keen to play and we did a couple of things.

‘Then we played a music and poetry gig at The Basement and Tim Bruce happened to be there. We got talking in the pub afterwards. He was very humble but I knew straight away he’d be good. The first time we played with the three of us, it was brilliant. I’ll never forget it. It was all very odd how it came together – but in a good way.’

Miles started out in the late 1980s, the start of a creative journey that led him to music, poetry, and running an arts festival in York. ‘This year it’s thirty years since I started writing songs and playing in bands,’ says Miles. ‘We all have thirty years experience. Collectively, it’s over a century of playing. I’m not the greatest musician, so to play with these guys is amazing.’

What Miles does have, though, is a strong voice and equally strong songs, with occasionally enigmatic lyrics and good hooks. Mystery Girl, for example, is a terrific bit of soul meets rock. ‘That’s a hit waiting to happen,’ says Miles. ‘It’s never been recorded quite right. I’d like to try again, and try to nail it.’

Who are the band’s influences? ‘For me, it’s all about songs, good hooks, things that the ear can latch onto,’ says Miles. ‘That, for me, is universal, whether it’s Metallica, Miles Davis, Hank Williams or Taylor Swift, you stand or fall by the melodies. I grew up on ‘80s pop. My first influence was Abba, listening to those songs when I was about six years old in the back of my mum’s car. Fantastic! In the ‘80s I went to see Queen, Bon Jovi, Meat Loaf, Whitesnake, Guns ‘n’ Roses. These days it’s more likely to be Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen or Jackson Browne.

‘It’s not exactly the cutting edge of music, and I worry we’re not especially ‘hip’, but there is a big audience out there for good songs, played with heart. The nice thing about playing with the band is they push the songs in different directions. Tim likes disco and funk. Alan loves jazzy stuff. Billy likes The Stone Roses. So all it helps to keep things fresh. Billy toured the world in the Stomp show, and he’s full of ideas. Billy thinks about music as theatre, which is really unusual. Most bands don’t think that carefully about it.’

The band have been out and about recently, playing The Yorkshire Gig Guide Awards in Bradford in October, and picking up mentions on a few websites, thanks to help from musician and PR enthusiast Lee Heir. ‘Lee’s been great,’ says Miles. ‘Building a team for a band is really important – manager, agent, publicist etc. Lee is a real asset. A few more like him and we’ll be laughing!’

Miles and The Chain Gang play The Crescent this coming Sunday after a busy couple of months that has seen them record their first song, When It Comes To You. A video is being made and the song should be out by the end of March 2020.

What next? ‘We need to get out there and play,’ says Miles. ‘I really want to. In some ways, though, getting your platform right on the web, with video and images, is more important. You can reach so many people with a good video. But I’d love us to tour. It’s something I have always wanted to do. I hope it happens. We’ll see.’

Miles and The Chain Gang plus Sauce! and King Courgette play at The Crescent, York on Sunday 22 December 2019 at 8pm. Entry is £6.00 on the door.