I started The Yalla Yallas with Matthew Dempsey in November 2007. I had been a solo artist making some mad techno-punk music. I’d even been doing well with it. I’d done a few decent festivals and was selected as of one of the Leeds Bright Young Things winners alongside Dan Smith of Bastille. The shows we’re hit n miss but they shaped me as the frontman I am today. I have been a mate with Dempsey since I was 16. He used to attend the same college as Sam from King Zepha. I went to school with Sam and when the time came to go to college we got separated when my GCSE results had different ideas for me.
I stayed on at school for a little while. I didn’t like it at all. My business teacher was very neurotic; she would stand and scream at me for not doing my coursework or something. Anyone who knows me at all will know that you won’t get any joy out of me behaving like that. Compare this with my English teacher Kerry Hazlewood. I used to hate poetry. Really hate it. I have a school report in which I’d written “I hate poetry, I will never need poetry, waste of time, teach me something useful”. Kerry who now twenty years later is a friend recognised my love for music and especially lyrics. Instead of sending me home with Seamus Heaney poems for which I had no desire to read. I would be sent home with lyrics to ‘Just Like Heaven’ by The Cure, ‘Loverman’ by Nick Cave, or ‘Rock n Roll Nigger’ by Patti Smith and instructed to explain and analyse the content and emotion of the lyrics, which I happily would. In fact I loved it. I even started to do it for fun on the bus to school with my cassette player and scraps of paper. I would transcribe and handwrite the lyrics to all my favourite songs and then try and decipher the meaning of the song. I went on to get a poor result in English but over time my lyrics have become my strength. Kerry’s recognition in my potential ability helped me to become who I am. I could never thank her enough.
I didn’t enjoy sixth form and I came up with an ingenious plan, which worked up until I was kicked out and had to get a job. My plan was to attend my school in the morning and simply attend Sam’s college unofficially in the afternoon. I attended the classes, as I didn’t want to be left behind. It worked for months until one of the tutors questioned wether I was actually a student at the college. I was escorted from the premises and told never to return. “I only want to learn” I pleaded. I made lots of friends up there. One of them was Dempsey. We would all meet up at 11am and go to the University where we would sneak in the Old Bar to get drunk. I had a job in a working mans club and would earn £21 per week, and with that wage I would buy a sleeve of imported cigs from one of the customers. I would then sell them up at the university and earn my beer money. The other lads had their own scams. We were never without booze. To be fair it was a lot more affordable in those days.
Dempsey was one of my favourite of Sam’s college mates. He was really funny. He still is. He’s a little odd too. I like his oddness. I’ll never be able to fully figure him out. He has a similar background to me. Good parents and family. He also worked in a working mans club. He was the master of 101 intros on a guitar. Sam and our friend Cav were the better guitar players. We’d all stand on the corner of St. Marks Avenue. They would all be jamming and I’d have nothing to join in with, only my lyrics. They weren’t the best but I would try and freestyle over little jams that Sam would play. Usually making up silly rhymes about my friends and trying to make the others laugh. It’s probably where I honed my skill in making up lyrics on the fly, which has been my saviour on so many occasions over the years. There are times when I have completely forgotten a verse and I’ve simply written a completely new verse in front of an audience. Whole songs even.
The next couple of years we would have this routine of drinking, girls, music, parties. Dempsey never went to university, I got a job, Cav went to University in Manchester, and Sam went to Leeds Music College. About the age of twenty I decided to buy a guitar. I was way behind everyone else. Cav was a great rock guitarist, Sam was a jazz musician, and Dempsey could now play 202 intros on guitar. I would have a lot of work to catch up. Within months of buying my guitar I’d learned enough songs to fill a twenty-minute set. I wasn’t any good but I had the bollocks and the desire to get on the stage and learn in public. The audience would heckle me. “Get off, you’re shit”. I couldn’t sing, and I couldn’t play, but I was exactly where I wanted to be. I was expressing myself and writing my own songs. I worked really hard. I even met my first love at one of my gigs. I think she thought I was funny rather than any good.
Eventually with the help of digital technology like fruity loops or reason I was able to start making some backing tracks. I even made some visuals to project behind me and put it in sync with the music. Dempsey would often help me run the show. I started getting gigs in other cities too. I remember we went to London, Manchester, and there was also a night in Liverpool that Dempsey and myself vowed to never talk about again. Returning to Liverpool makes me feel nervous to this day.
By the end of 2007 Dempsey and myself had been friends for nearly ten years. I was twenty-five and I’d just split up with the woman I loved. I was heartbroken. I reacted by starting a band. I asked Dempsey to be my bass player and we put an advert out for a guitarist, which ended up being Will. We got a drummer called Kev to help us for the first few months until we found Matt. Up until splitting with Clare my lyrics weren’t great. Looking back I needed to have my heartbroken and to be free to write the lyrics without restraint. It was the catalyst I needed. I had a difficult time breaking up but it needed to happen. I fell apart. Clare always cared for me, even afterwards. She was much more emotionally mature than me. We wanted very different lives. Clare moved to London and though it was hard for her at first I’m pretty certain that we’re both extremely happy in the way our lives have turned out. I’m very proud of her and I’ll always have a soft spot for her.
When The Yalla Yallas played our first gigs Dempsey would be very nervous. He would hide behind curtains or amps. It was funny. I was also nervous but I had much more live experience. I was also enjoying the freedom of playing with a band rather than a pre-recorded backing track. I could conduct the band, I could keep a riff going if I felt that inspiration onstage. There were times where I would write a full song onstage or just minutes before walking onstage. That freedom was glorious. There was this great mix of Will and the drummers being actual musicians with Dempsey and Myself being really raw and primal in our skill. It was dangerous. Songs might fall apart but it was rock n roll. I would preach to the guys that it didn’t matter if things went wrong, as there is an excitement in the chaos. Nobody wants to stand and watch four lads super rehearsed, looking bored, and pissing their pants. Lets get on that stage and cause some chaos … and we did.
We had various drummers but for just short of ten years it was Dempsey, Will, and myself and we achieved far more than we ever imagined, some wonderful memories and stories.
I miss Dempsey now he’s gone. Vince is a far superior and more capable bass player than Dempsey ever could be, but that was never the point. The point was it was us two talentless fucks getting as far as we could. I think Dempsey recognised or felt during and after the recording of the Medusa album that he had gone as far as he could. My musical skill and writing over the last few years had improved dramatically. Dempsey didn’t improve at the same rate. I would see him struggle with structures and more complicated pieces but he’d always manage it in the end. He’d also found a new passion in powerlifting. Doing well enough to get into to some high profile tournaments. He’s one of those irritating people who is brilliant at whatever he puts his mind to.
When Dempsey couldn’t make some of our tour dates in Europe we asked Vince to cover him. In order for Vince to be match fit we gave him a few gigs locally to ease him into the band. We would rotate between the Vince and Dempsey. I think it got to a point for Dempsey that he realised that The Yalla Yallas would be a much better band with Vince as bass player. I asked Dempsey to hang on until Rebellion Festival because I wanted to end the band anyway. Lets go out together. It would be strange to have the Yallas without him. Dempsey expressed that he didn’t want the band to end.
The ever-selfless Dempsey left us with a gift in Vince. Though I refuse to accept his resignation. He’s still on the books, he’s still in the group chat, and his opinion does still count. As with any of our previous members the door is always open.