So you hear Bishops Green, and frontman Greg Huff sings with what sounds like a British accent. The band’s sing-along anthems draw on a steady diet of vintage British street punk like the Cockney Rejects, Cock Sparrer, and Sham 69 while displaying a working-class consciousness that goes with the territory. You’d be in your rights to assume that Bishops Green is named for the village of the same name in the county of Hampshire, in the U.K.—or maybe it’s the hamlet in Essex? Perhaps some famous U.K. punk was born there, and the band took its name in tribute?
Nope. “It’s so funny—we get that question all the time,” drummer Orville Lancaster explains. “If you want to know the real reason, it’s the name of a gated community/senior citizens’ home out near White Rock. And we’re all old!”
Lancaster—who’s actually only in his early 40s—has met the Straight in a Commercial Drive coffee shop near his apartment, and follows up with a Thanksgiving phone call. With Huff, bassist Adam Payne, and guitarist Scott Farquharson all AWOL, he’s apologetic that we only get to talk to the drummer.
“Normally, we try to do these interviews all together as a group, but just because of the holidays, Greg’s away in the Prairies and the guitarist is busy, so…” he notes.
Lancaster has a long history with the shaven-headed lead singer.
“I guess the family tree starts with Greg. He was in a band called the Glory Stompers, from Edmonton, and moved to Vancouver and was in a band called the Subway Thugs, which eventually broke up. People went on and did their own thing, and Greg and I linked up and we started a band called the Lancasters.”
That band originally recorded two of the songs that appeared on Bishops Green’s eponymous debut EP.
“Scott was actually in the Lancasters early on, and then he moved on.”
Then the Lancasters broke up, with Lancaster and Huff and Farquharson forming Bishops Green in late 2011. Many members have come and gone since, but the three remain, along with Payne. (“If it wasn’t confusing, it wouldn’t be a punk band,” Lancaster quips.)
Vancouver punk scribe Chris Walter has observed that if Huff would just stick with one band (and one band name), he would be legendary by now. But to everyone’s surprise, in the current permutation, Bishops Green is not far from being a punk household name, especially in Europe.
“We’re all kind of shocked by the whole experience,” Lancaster admits. “We’ve all played music for a long time, but most of the time we’ve been in smaller clubs. The last year has been almost overwhelming. A fellow by the name of Master Brille in Munich contacted us in November of last year and said, ‘Hey, I want to bring you guys over.’ Our first show there was in Munich at something called the Pogorausch-Festival, in March, and it was a huge facility that was packed full of people singing along with our songs.
“We were just back again in August for another month,” he continues, “and got the same sort of reception playing the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool. It was a pretty crazy experience, and a bit nerve-racking.” The band has been picked up by a German booking agency, M.A.D. Tourbooking, and will be returning to Europe in the spring, by which time it hopes to have another album ready.
Why the sudden success? “It’s a good time for punk rock,” Lancaster observes. “If you go back to first-wave punk rock, it’s protest music, it’s people who are observing things and singing about it. And if you look at what’s happening in Canada and other parts of the world, it’s a ripe time. There’s things that need to be said that aren’t. There’s so many issues, from climate change to poverty, and we can be completely overwhelmed by some of the things that are going on around the world. But these issues need to be thought through and addressed. And so maybe by singing about it and putting it out there in the form of music, it introduces people to these concepts in a way they can at least be faced.”
Pressure, the band’s most recent LP—which sold out its second vinyl pressing in April, a month after its release—is shot through with street-level politics. “‘Another Door’ is, like, about opportunities that are just shut. ‘Gross & Net’ is about working hard and you look at it, and what do you have left in your hand? ‘Pressure’ is about the pressure that is being put on people—especially in Europe, over austerity measures, which have been brutal on families.” The band doesn’t define its politics with any one label, but social justice and inequity are themes that are definitely important to them.
“Maybe it’s something to do with our ages, as individuals, from working our entire lives, and it’s like—what the heck? We live in a city like Vancouver that has these inflated property prices, and you see friends in this city that can basically just afford their rent, you know? Or even, you have the U.S. housing-market crisis, where the majority of the population took the brunt, and then you can see it sort of spread. And that’s affecting everyone, everywhere. You’re asked to work harder, you’re asked to work longer, but how do you participate, then? It’s nuts!”
Bishops Green plays Funky Winker Beans on Saturday (October 18).