Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Photo courtesy Skinny Lister

Photo courtesy Skinny Lister

For the love of music

Skinny Lister is a popular, talented young folk group which as well as delighting local audiences, has swept the international stage in recent years. Hot’s Sean O’ Shea talks with their lead vocalist, Lorna Heptinstall about her journey in music, the band and her appreciation of Hastings.

This band produces a unique blend of traditional and modern sounds in which the influence of some of their heroes, such as the Pogues and the Clash, are very much in evidence. They are particularly at home playing in pubs where they customarily pass around a flagon of rum to warm the cockles of patron’s hearts.

Lorna Heptinstall exudes bubbliness and bonhomie and enjoys spontaneously dancing with her audiences.  My favourite song from her repertoire is What Can I Say: . When the whole band is singing along Lorna can be drowned out by the guys. However she delivers this beautiful lyric with minimal accompaniment demonstrating the quality of her voice to full effect. The video also shows Lorna in a variety of playful poses and places in Old Town. The bands tour dates for the New Year are not finalized yet, but Lorna tells me they may be able to make the Fat Tuesday Festival in 2016.


Could you tell us about your personal background and how it has influenced what you bring to the band?

I grew up in folk clubs listening to my dad and his friends playing traditional tunes at folk sessions and taking turns to sing their songs. At the time I did anything to entertain myself and avoid having to listen but I guess it got so ingrained into me that now when I hear these tunes they feel part of me. Growing up around so much music and singing must also have influenced me as a singer as people I have lived with say that you can hear me singing all the time. I often get in trouble for singing a song that directly links to what I’m thinking too. That and the fact I’m a total show off when in the party mood is probably how I came about being in Skinny Lister. And that is not a bad place to be at all!

Who/what have been some of your main musical influences?

My dad is a great performer and singer and my friends always loved to come over to our house parties and have a sing a long with him so he’s definitely influenced me. The whole band loves The Pogues and The Clash but I also love my guilty pleasures like Queen. Freddie Mercury was so amazing – no one can deny! You’ll always find me dancing on a bar when Queen comes on the jukebox!

How did the band ‘Skinny Lister’ (SL) come about and how did you arrive at the name?

The name almost existed before band became what it is today. He’s a lad that Dan went to school with who was called Stephen Lister. Dan nicknamed him Skinny Lister and there it was. Dan was writing stuff and Max and he were playing traditional tunes at house parties and pubs across London. People almost always ended up having a great time at these gigs and so the idea came to mix what Dan was writing with the tunes to create a party sound. At the same time Sam ‘The Mule’ Brace was singing shanties at a folk club in Greenwich that he still attends. Put all that together and you basically have the beginnings of Skinny Lister. I joined when I realised the band would be able to get into festivals for free and I found that I loved performing.

I’m drawn to groups for their musicality but also admire audience engagement, and the ability to get people dancing. You and the band tick all these boxes – how do you do it?

Well essentially at the core we love the music. Often when travelling in the van Max and Mule will be playing traditional tunes on their squeeze boxes. That coupled with the engagement we’d seen at folk clubs and in the house parties we were playing at is probably where it all comes from. We wanted to create that sense of community at our gigs. My dad was always an engaging singer, making people laugh with his songs and so it just kind of happened naturally I guess. The more you get from a crowd the more you lose yourself in the music and put on a good show. We’re just having a great time and hope that it shows.

Could you tell us a bit about your fellow band members?

Ha! What do you want to know?

Daniel (Heptinstall) – the song writer and acoustic guitarist. He’s got an unrelenting drive and never stops, but with that he’s also pretty weird and a constant source of entertainment for the rest of the band.

Max (Thomas) – melodeon player and my brother, the nicest punk you’ll ever meet. He and I have always been best buddies and it’s so cool to be on the road with him. He’s a softy off stage but as soon as he’s on stage his punk influences take over. He learned the melodeon so that he could play tunes with our dad.

The Mule (Samuel Brace) – nicknamed because he’s called Samuel. He grew up in Hastings and is the reason we discovered this gem of a town on the south east coast. We did a homemade tour where we played a gig in our hometowns and recorded an EP along the way. The gig in the Stag Inn went off and people really embraced everything we were about.

We picked Michael (Camino) up on Vans Warped Tour. Well kind of. We met him and he came to pretty much all our gigs over the seven weeks we toured the States. He used to drop rum off on the stage which was always cool and one evening during an after -hours BBQ we were all drunk and I remember him getting Dan to stand on the bass. From that we shipped him over mid UK winter. Given that he lived in Hawaii this was a challenge for him but definite final test of his commitment!

Thom Mills (drummer) with his beats fills and skills are the latest edition as we used to have a stomp box with a microphone in it to keep the beat. Having played gigs with bands such as Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys we felt we needed to have a bigger sound with bigger dynamics. Now it’s hard to imagine not having them or him in the band.

How would you characterize SL in terms of musical style/s, and could you give readers an idea of the kind of repertoire they might expect at your gigs.

We always play a mixture of songs, old and new and some unrecorded so you’re bound to hear favorites but also stuff you may not have heard before. We mix traditional style melodies with pop riffs filled with a punky attitude. Basically if you come to a gig the people around you will be singing and dancing and the band will probably join you in the crowd for a bit too. I always like to think that you don’t even need to have a mate at our gigs as there are plenty of people around you to be that for the evening. The flagon full of rum will also happily keep you company for a split second at least!

You have been London based till recently, what brought you to Hastings?

The band was born in South East London around Deptford area. We’re from all over originally though. Life has taken band members all over the place again now. Some members continue to live in London but Dan and I were so taken by Hastings when we came here and all the music that goes on here that it was time for us to be by the sea. We tour so much that it feels like the perfect place to come back to. We can always go and see other great music, take in the folk traditions and enjoy the sea.

You have been making a name for yourselves in the USA and Japan as well as the UK and Europe, and you were involved in the Fat Tuesday festival discussing the day-to-day reality of life as musicians. What are some ways in which you deal with your increasing popularity and the wear and tear of being on the road?

I’m writing this in the middle of eight weeks touring the States with Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and Beans on Toast (all Xtra Mile Recordings artists). It’s a British invasion and it’s great! Travelling with the band is part of what makes being in the band so great. We’re all good mates so there are plenty of laughs to be had. That definitely helps on the ten hour journeys we sometimes have to make. We read books, watch films, play cards, write blogs, edit videos, discuss producers/strategy and drink booze and catch sleep whenever we can. The gigs are always fun and I’d say the people we meet along the way keep it fresh and exciting!

Hastings is known for its atmospheric pubs and vibrant music scene, yet pub landlords and musicians – not to mention the fishermen – are struggling to make a living. In regard to the music & pub scene locally how would you like to see this problem being addressed?

A tough question! Small independent music venues need to be allowed to do what they do without having to jump through too many hoops. They should have support as that’s where all musicians start right? Even the biggest guys played their first gig somewhere. The price of beer obviously is a challenge although if there’s a good band on in town that seems to become less of an issue. What’s great about Hastings is that there are some really key people who are genuinely excited about new music and helping to build the music scene so that it is recognized for that outside of Hastings. The guys behind ‘The Stinger’ and Fat Tuesday are doing a great job I reckon.

How about hopes for the future, for yourself – for the band?

The future is an exciting prospect for Skinny Lister. We’re looking at getting the third album out over the next year. We’re off on a folk/punk music cruise to the Bahamas next march with Flogging Molly, Frank Turner, Rancid and Beans on Toast and are already discussing festival offers and tours next year. That’s far enough to be planning for now. As for myself, I’m happy that Skinny Lister is going to be busy and looking forward to spending some time at home and with friends and family over the festive period.

For further information including tour dates:




Posted 18:17 Monday, Nov 16, 2015 In: Music & Sound,SOS

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