The Virginmarys frontman takes to the road across the UK to raise food and the awareness of poverty and homelessness in local communities.

Earlier this year The Virginmarys reached out to the internet to see if people would be willing to host a charity show in their local community. The band received such a strong response that they were able to string together a DIY full UK tour, which has been named the “People Help The People” tour. But these weren’t your usual Virginmarys shows, for this run of dates you couldn’t buy a ticket, but instead, entry to the show was via a donation of a bag of shopping which would then be distributed to local food banks. 

Subsequently, these shows were also a rare opportunity to hear Ally Dickaty perform solo, whereby he was playing reworked renditions of many of The Virginmary’s classics and rarities as the band’s fans had never heard them before.

During the course of a week, Ally Dickaty and Danny Dolan of The Virginmarys drove almost 900 miles whilst circumnavigating the UK. There was no tour bus or road crew but the pair drove themselves between cities, set up the show each night and even managed to complete an ambitious seven concerts in seven days. Throughout the course of the week, the band were able to raise a substantial amount of food and awareness for this vitally important cause.

National Rock Review recently caught up with Ally Dickaty before his solo acoustic show at Pins and Needles in Newcastle to talk about the “People Help The People” tour, the recent departure of bass player Matt Rose and The Virginmary’s plans for 2017.

NRR: So you are currently out on the road doing your “People Help The People” tour where you are raising awareness for local food banks across the UK. I was just wondering how did this project come to fruition?
Ally: It was an idea that I had a few months ago, it just came to me and I thought it wouldn’t need much practice because I can play these type of songs acoustically at home anyway. I thought that I could rally up enough support in Macclesfield to sell it quick.
The idea is just to show how easy something could be if people get together and there’s a bit of a feel good factor to it, but I think like I wanted people to go out and buy food rather than just not think about it and it’s more about awareness than anything. Human rights is a big part of my life at the minute, and it seems to be getting worse. Maybe this is making me feel a bit brighter a bit better anyway.
NRR: You are coming up to the end of this run, you’ve got a couple of shows left. What’s the response been like to the shows so far?
Ally: It’s been amazing, the gratitude has been incredible, there’s been a lot of teary eyes at the end of the show and people come up and it has really moved them that something like this would take place. I’ve kind of wanted to show that there are people that are interested and gather all of these like minds. In a way, it’s incredible to see the amount of food we’ve made, but it’s not going to solve the root cause of it. I think it’s just about raising awareness, it’s been cool.
NRR: What was it about these particular charities that resonated with you the most?
Ally: I’m pretty sure that if everyone believes in the prison system where you could perform the worst crime in the world but in prison, you would still get a bed and something to eat, so there’s no excuse that people can’t eat. I believe that people are alike, they are for a reason, everyone is kind of in that situation because of their environment or the experiences they’ve had through their life. It just blows my mind that people are starving, this seemed to be just a little thing I could do for that.
NRR: For those who can’t get out to one of the shows, or haven’t been able to get out on this tour, how can people get involved? Are there any particular starting points or resources online that can point them in the right direction to help?
Ally: Again this is about where they live and their local community and I’m not looking to reach this target. It’s really for them to look at it and want to get involved in their community and help people their way. Really anyone can put on this type of event, it’s just the shows are kind of like parties I guess where all these people get together and it’s amazing that people do get together, it brings people out of their houses. I just thought I’m a musician and people would come to see an hour and it just seemed to make sense in my head. Christmas is a vulnerable time and I thought this would be a cool thing to do in a week off.
NRR: Obviously the shows are very stripped back, very intimate and you are performing songs acoustically or on your keyboard or piano. Have you had to rework the songs to perform them to this particular format or this particular audience or is this how the songs were originally conceived?
Ally: I have kind of been changing them about every night just to keep it fresh and entertain myself really. I think it comes across, there’s a rawness that comes across and I don’t ever want to be too rehearsed and just going through the motions. Writing is what it’s all about and creating. I’ve reworked some of the parts, the likes of “Just a Ride” was kind of written how I’m playing it, so there’s a little bit of a mix.
NRR: Which track have you enjoyed performing the most on this tour?
Ally: “Living In My Peace” I think is one that’s got so many layers on the album, it seemed impossible to translate it acoustically but a lot of people were requesting it. So I went for it, and yeah, I think it’s been working really good. “Cast The First Stone” has been going good.
NRR: Obviously, we heard the news recently that Matt has left the band. I was just wondering did that come as a bit of a shock to you guys?
Ally: It didn’t come as shock in as much as Matt, it’s not been right for him for a little bit. There’s no point in any of us doing it if we are not feeling it anymore. It was the right move for him to be happy. You shouldn’t be in this really because there’s not really much money there to be made for a band who aren’t massive. Matt has other commitments also and it’s just how long he can make it, and it wasn’t making him happy. You know we still love each other and we are still brothers, but no it didn’t come as a big shock.
NRR:  We are coming to end of the year now, looking back on 2016 for the band what’s been the highlight for you guys?
Ally: It’s getting out and meeting the fans and still performing these songs and still creating. You know we did the main stage at Reading and Leeds that was great, but all that kind of stuff – It’s always looking forward for me. I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t excited about the next thing, so they are all a little bit kind of material the things that we’ve achieved really.
It’s just about the potential and the possibility of meeting new people and new experiences. Me and Dan were talking in the car today and it’s all about speaking of like, I don’t want to be in the house that long and doing something that we might find mundane, I think you just need to keep it fresh because you are only here once, just meet a load of new people.
NRR: What’s on the cards for next year?
Ally: We want to release another album next year and we’ve got the material for it, it’s just about me and Dan, we’ve already put a lot of stuff together. More touring in the UK early next year I think. But yeah, it will be just about getting the next chapter of The Virginmarys up and running.
NRR: Do you have a new bass player lined up potentially?
Ally: We’ve got a really close friend who was Matt’s bass tech, he knows all the songs and he’s kind of like a session player also, so it was an obvious thing. We are more about creating the next album, we can still play an amazing live show and we are gonna be helped out. I don’t know as for a full-time member, we don’t know, it’s too early for us.
NRR: Thanks so much for the update.
Ally: Pleasure man.

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About The Author

Adam Kennedy is an experienced music photographer based in northeast England. He has been shooting concerts for several years, predominantly with the band Vintage Trouble. In 2013, he was one of their tour photographers, covering the UK and Ireland tour including the headline shows and as opening act for The Who. As an accomplished concert photographer, Adam's work has been featured in print such as, Classic Rock Blues Magazine, Guitarist Magazine, Blues in Britain magazine, broadcast on the MDA Telethon on ABC Television in the US, used in billboard advertising for Renaissance Hotels in the US, and featured online via music blogs such as Uber Rock and Guitar Planet. He is also the official photographer at Newcastle Rock and Blues Club.

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