Last year, the British metal quintet found themselves at UrRock Music Festival in the small historic town of Sarnen, surrounded by mountains and overlooking the picturesque lake of the same name. So far, so distinguished. Except, of course, Fury weren’t there for the alpine vistas. After nearly two years of streaming shows, four days of high voltage noise and giddy, fleshy excess ensued. With their loud, fast and furious fun, they easily made new fans.
“We’re not afraid to dance and make a fool of ourselves,” smiles bassist Becky Baldwin, looking ready for the stage on Zoom with her licorice black locks, eyeliner and tattooed choker.
“We found ourselves in the locker room of [Indian hard rockers] Girish And The Chronicles”, recalls Julian Jenkins, the leader/founder in the woolly hat. “We were consuming several bottles of rum and everything. I think we had to sing all the metal songs. We were just at the top of our voices, drumming on things, singing… we were going for about three hours like that, I think.
Speaking from the same sofa in Birmingham, the two friends quietly conflate stereotypes in a genre where women are often meant to be on the mic (or simply absent). For Becky, such preconceptions have long been part of the course. She says:
“I’ve been in bands where they’re female and people say, ‘you gotta be like Evanescence or Nightwish’ and we go, ‘no, we do that kind of metal, we sound like Iron Maiden!’ And they say, ‘You can’t, there’s a girl singing!’ It’s very frustrating.
In 2017, still scattered across the country, the band underwent a complete line-up change (having first formed in Julian’s hometown of Worcester in 2011). Becky was a natural new addition, having previously performed on shows for the former Fury bassist. Based in Bristol at the time – where she studied at BIMM – she had carved out a strong reputation in line-ups that included punk bands and a metal cover band. “Becky was and is certainly the most prominent bassist in the underground scene.” Julien is enthusiastic.
“He’s an amazing bass player. He’s an amazing person, very easy going, we had a very similar rock ‘n’ roll ethos. Plus he’s the most professional person I know.
Julian moved to Birmingham in 2019 to live with his girlfriend, Fury backing vocalist Nyah Ifill. Becky followed at the end of 2020, during confinement. “My other band, Hands Off Gretel, is in Sheffield,” she says, of the grunge-punk mavericks she also plays bass for, “so I’m closer to them now, which is really useful. And it’s a really cool city.
It all led to their fourth album, Born To Sin; a meaty, catchy gumbo of classic heavy metal and dramatic sensibilities. Think Iron Maiden, Metallica and Dio, but with a warm, soulful dose of Julian’s voice theater. The kind of thing Jim Steinman might have come up with if he’d spent more time hanging out with metalheads at Comic-Con.
Heavy Metal Storytellers
Fueled by a heady combination of action movies and Iron Maiden records, lead songwriter Julian enjoys telling stories through songs. He says:
“I love telling stories, it could be a space flight story, or a space casino…lots of space songs.”
There are also real-world moments. The moody ‘Who are you?’ is to reconnect after confinement.
“It’s kind of going back to live music,” Julian explains, “and seeing people again, and the line ‘who are you?’ is saying, “maybe you haven’t taken the time to get to know people as well as you should have before.” But now we have a new appreciation for friends and family.
Long time ahead
Julian grew up floating between his great-grandparents, his grandparents and his mother (his parents separated when he was born). Meanwhile, he ingests a strange cocktail of Simply Red, Michael Jackson and Jean-Michel Jarre, quietly developing an ear for ambitious beats and big melodies.
In high school, a friend gave her S&M, a 1999 live album with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. “My mind was just blown away,” he says. “I listened to that CD obsessively that night, and the next day I went to school and said, ‘We have to start a band! I need to be able to create music, feelings, whatever they do.
Undeterred by the fact that none of them played an instrument, Julian and a small group began jamming in a friend’s coal shed throughout the summer school holidays, playing Metallica tunes and writing their own songs. He never looked back.
Meanwhile, in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, Becky’s gig-playing parents brought classic rock and pop into the house. Weird from the start, even as a teenager Becky didn’t like “cool” music. She laughs :
“I was kind of a friendless weirdo. I loved Michael Jackson and ABBA and my parents’ music. I felt very ‘altered’ by the kids around me.
Hearing Alice Cooper for the first time, at a local carnival, was a turning point. Poison’s sound blasted through the speakers, while the dancers dressed up as skeletons; Becky would forever be addicted to the marriage of horror, drama and hard rock. “And also, it was welcoming weird people,” she says. “That’s where I found my place.”
Heavy metal may have come a long way in terms of balance and diversity, but it’s still a mostly testosterone-fueled world, where bands are meant to look a certain way. Becky says:
“As a woman, people often assume you’re there for merchandising or that you’re someone’s girlfriend. Or they assume you’re the singer.
For Becky, a member of MU who handles much of the management of the group, it’s particularly frustrating, not to mention condescending. “Sometimes they think I’d be hard to deal with,” she says calmly, “or that I’m inexperienced or that I don’t know how to book gigs, or that I don’t know how deals are normally done…and I I’m like, ‘I’ve been touring constantly for 10 years, I know what I’m doing.’
“If it was one of the male members [of the band], they might give them more benefit of the doubt on some things,” she continues, “but they read a certain tone when I say it. Maybe I don’t put enough smileys in my emails or something! I feel like you have to think about it a lot more when you’re a woman; because if they feel like you’re telling them how you want something, then you’re bossy.
“I guess you’ll never know if that’s really how that person’s attitude is, you just get an idea, or you see what they post online.”
Between them, Julian and Becky have worked a multitude of jobs to finance the life of the group. Becky gives music lessons and makes jewelry with bass strings. In addition to bar work, years ago she spent a summer at the factory where her father works. This convinced her to pursue music full time, in any way possible.
“A lot of people look down on cover bands and I’m like, ‘just let me cry in my money…'” she laughs. “Or teach. I do not care. As long as I don’t have to work in a factory that smells of oil! It’s so monotonous, and Heart radio plays the same five songs for nine hours a day.
So far it works. 2022 brings more shows, including their first real European tour. Unsurprisingly, Brexit-induced red tape complicates matters, especially importing goods, carnets and tourist visas.
Like many of their peers, Fury has little to no crew, so it’s up to them to make it work. “There are so many things like that to figure out,” Becky laughs, “and we’re not naturally inclined to that!”
And this is the reality; the vast majority of today’s emerging bands, heavy or not, need to be a bit more savvy to thrive, compared to their predecessors. They learn the craft because they have to, in the service of the music they love – and you can’t be in such a world if you don’t love it.
“Our first gig was Bloodstock, after almost two years. As soon as we started playing again, I realized that was who I am. That’s what I love to do.
Equality and UM
Becky joined UM in 2011 after her teachers at BIMM in Bristol had recommended her membership so she could access advice on finances and more. A few years later, she was struggling with gender bias on an arts job board and contacted MU. This led her to join his equalities committee. Becky adds:
“There was this website where you could apply for various jobs. I was looking at bassist roles and an alarming number of them said ‘male applicants only'”.
She recalls: “If you registered a man or a woman – and you are forced to choose a man or a woman – you cannot contact that person at all. All those that were “anyone can apply” were unpaid projects, but those that guaranteed money were all for men.
“It’s discrimination on so many levels. There was a Beyoncé tribute show, and it said ‘male contestants only.’ She has an all-female support group!
“There were several times when I approached UM to look into a contract,” she continues, “and at first it was largely for networking; I was fairly new to the Bristol music scene, there were social events, you could take free lessons. I think that’s a good thing.