Big Special: Music from the Black Country

Big Special

For as long as I can remember, music and poetry have always shared an equal and central role in my life, without ever overlapping. This all changed once I was introduced to BIG SPECIAL, an exciting project that beautifully merges spoken word poetry with a rich undertone of musical influences, ranging all the way from hip-hop to folk. 

As I dove in deeper into the music of BIG SPECIAL, it became clear how much care and attention has been given in the creative process, from the intricate sonic layers to the hard-hitting thought-provoking nature of the lyrics. The level and depth of the writing found within is truly mesmerising, leaving you humming the tunes and pondering on the subject matter for the remainder of the day. 

BIG SPECIAL, the duo making serious waves out of Birmingham, is made up Joe Hicklin (Singer)and Callum Moloney (Drums)The pair released their debut EP ‘DOOM SONG’ back in April of this year, which contains a powerful working class tonality that caught the attention of Tom Robinson on BBC 6 Music.

After the well-received release of the EP and a string full of shows, the duo are now ready to drop their second EP from the project titled ‘BLACK COUNTRY GOTHIC’ on September 30th. The first single from the upcoming EP is titled ‘SH!THOUSE’ and was released on September 16th.

There is something incredibly profound, yet utterly refreshing about BIG SPECIAL, perfectly summing up some of the realities of working-class Britain which don’t often get the attention they so greatly deserve. The track ‘ILL’ is a perfect reflection of this, pulling you in with the gripping social commentary, and guiding you upon layers of incredibly catchy melodic moments, as the lyrics read: ‘I need a pamphlet manifesto that comes as two-in-one kitchen roll, because I’ve got ten rough years to mop up’. 

It has sadly become a rarity to feel a great level of surprise or amazement these days with the sheer amount of music available to us, but this isn’t the case with BIG SPECIAL. Being introduced to the duo is something that I am very grateful for, as they are not only setting the path for a style of music that certainly doesn’t garner the attention it perhaps should, but they are also unafraid to comment on some of the aspects of British life that we all just learn to live with.

I have thoroughly enjoyed listening in depth to everything BIG SPECIAL have released thus far, from the ‘DOOM SONG’ EP to the brand new single ‘SH!THOUSE’. I am incredibly excited about the upcoming EP on September 30th, and was thrilled to be able to interview the pair about new music, touring and everything in between. 

Listen to ‘SH!THOUSE’ by BIG SPECIAL

Hey guys, welcome to IAMUR! I firstly just wanted to thank you for taking the time for this interview with us. To begin, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourselves and how you began creating music together as BIG SPECIAL?

It’s actually very romantic. We used to play in bands together 10 years ago after meeting at college in Birmingham.
The planets aligned, our hearts skipped a beat and like all true love stories, we proceeded to not see each other for a decade… We got back in touch during the pandemic after a shift in both our creative goals and here we are, arm in arm once again.

After listening to your music on repeat this week, I loved how seamlessly the contrasts of spoken word and electro-punk merge together so perfectly. When did you realise that this combination would work so well together? Was there any particular musical influences that inspired this?

We don’t know if it’s electro punk really. Not even sure if it’s punk and it’s definitely not electro. We guess because it’s a whole mash up of influences, we don’t know what to call it. We’ve called it “POST BLOKE”, “DOG DISCO”, “COMFY GOTH” and “RAMBLE CORE” in the past but none of them particularly mean much of anything at all. I suppose the unspoken goal is to emulate the characteristics we admire from the genres we love; punk and hip-hop, but also folk and blues. Someone once said we sound like Sleaford Mods mixed with Tom Waits which left us blushing for days.

You are about to release your second EP at the end of the month, the follow-up to your debut EP ‘Doom Song’ which dropped back in April. What was the recording process like for this new set of songs and how did it differ from previous sessions?

It’s been a two year process. In a nutshell, since “DOOM SONG” was released we’ve got the live show up and running, which has really helped us find our sound. The 2nd EP is from a similar place in it’s subject matter, but we returned to the studio to inject the energy we found on stage.
A big part of our sound is our beloved Co-producer and engineer Michael Clarke, who we’ve been with since day one. We respect each others’ ideas and explore them all. We always go with what is best for the song and wider vision. There’s no ego – we have the same core goal but bring different perspectives, and that gets you where you want to go.

Watch the music video for ‘ILL’ by Big Special

The working-class tonality found in your lyrics, is something that I found extremely refreshing and feels really relevant to the world we live in today. Where do the ideas flow from when beginning the process of writing a song and is there something that you find keeps grabbing your attention and makes you want to write?

I’m proud to be working class and from the Black Country, and I’m reminded of that pride whenever I hear that perspective in the Arts. That right belongs to all. We hope to help prove that, along with a bunch of brilliant acts that have been knockin about and doing really well recently. I’ve no particular mission, I just want to write honestly about my experience in an interesting way. When I listen to music, these are the elements that move me. I want to reflect what I admire in others in an honest way that you can tell comes from BIG SPECIAL.

Poetry is clearly a big aspect of what makes BIG SPECIAL, well, special. With this in mind, how do you approach the writing of a song, does it often appear in poem form first which is later set to music, or does the music sometimes influence what it is you want to say?

There’s no method to the start of a song. I write a lot of notes that I can sit with and expand upon as it comes to me. I might write a full song without considering the music. Sometimes a single line might make me want to start experimenting sonically, or we just get into a room and make a load of noise to sample later without the thought of lyrics. The core goal is always the song, it doesn’t matter to us how we get to it, as long as it feels honest to us.

You recently received some fantastic support from Tom Robinson on BBC 6 music, who had nothing but kind words to say about your music. How was that experience for you, tuning in to hear such lovely things said about the music you created with such care?

We have a lot of respect for Tom Robinson and BBC 6 MUSIC. It’s always good to hear praise from the people you admire, which has happened a few times recently. We’re shit at taking compliments but it is encouraging, and we appreciate the support.

Joe Hicklin (left) and Callum Moloney (right)

In April you performed your first two live shows together, in Keele Uni and Leicester 02 respectively. How did you find that experience going out on stage as BIG SPECIAL for the first time and how has the live experience changed in the months following?

The first gig of any new project is always nerve racking. Especially when it’s opening at the sold out Leicester 02. After not gigging since before the pandemic it had me emotionally on my arse, but the second we walked off stage we knew we were on to something. After a solid month of graft being locked away rehearsing, seeing the audience connect to the music the way they did gave us a real confidence boost. After 15 years of playing live music under different projects, it finally felt like we were on the right path.

With the EP release just round the corner, I’m sure you are both incredibly excited to finally share what you have been working on. Out of the new tracks on the upcoming EP release, which song was the hardest to write and what was the inspiration behind it?

It’s always a pleasure to try and find the song. No song was harder to write than any other, it’s optional work, which is never as hard as a job-job. We hope to do this forever.

Listen to Big Special now on Spotify:

For more info on Big Special, find them on Facebook and Instagram. We also just reviewed Big Special’s latest single ‘SHITHOUSE’ which you can find here. If you enjoyed this, check out more reviews from IAMUR here… You might just find your new favourite artist!


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