Fiona Friel has become a bit of an icon in the punk community. Whether fronting Dragster or sharing vocal duties with Conflict she cuts a commanding figure on stage with her visceral delivery. Away from the limelight we see a very different person. This Fiona is softly spoken, thoughtful and clearly relishing playing Rebellion. She spoke to Gary Trueman ahead of two performances in Blackpool. Up for discussion was the disappointment of missing out last year with Dragster, playing festivals and losing her luggage on a trip to the US.
There was a bit of a disappointment last year because you weren’t able to play Rebellion with Dragster but you are this year. Is all well now?
“Fingers crossed yes. We’re really excited to play and last year was really disappointing because we’d had such a break. It was really great to get back on stage in the last year or two, and then that happened.”
You had a band member get Covid?
“Yeah, and the worst of it was is that he tested clear on the day we were meant to play but it was too late by then.”
Dragster are progressing really well though aren’t you? You’re making a lot of new fans and you’re playing bigger shows.
“We’ve been invited to do a lot of festivals. We did Punk And Disorderly in Berlin. We’ve done it before but this time we had quite a high slot so that was great. Obviously we’re doing Rebellion Festival and we’re doing North East Calling as well so it’s kind of a festival year for us. We’ve got the Morecambe one in November as well. We’re not doing a lot of gigs because Tom and his fiancé had a baby last year. Ben is sort of between Coventry and Cornwall which is quite a distance and Ryan is in Nottingham, so it’s been difficult to get together really. Hopefully next year things will start coming back together and will start creating more music.”
So you’re aiming to start to write more music soon?
“Hopefully, we’ve been on a bit of a hiatus as far as that’s concerned.”
What about the writing process as you all live so far apart? Do you send stuff to each other over the internet or do you still just get together every so often?
“Previously we’d just get together every so often and come armed with ideas. Then the lyrics would come after that once the melodies are decided.”
You also perform with Conflict who have been busy playing in Europe. What was that like? Was that a different experience and audience?
“Yes it’s a completely different animal really. It’s a different audience and a different vibe. Obviously when Conflict play a festival there are tons of people there. We did three shows with the Exploited in California at the end of May and that was fantastic. That was an experience even though BA didn’t deliver my suitcase until an hour and a half before we were leaving. I had to manically get a stage outfit which I wore three times. I did wash it on the second day though. You plan your outfits so it’s not just jeans and a t-shirt. And I had dressed quite plainly to get through customs so I couldn’t wear what I had travelled in. But I got sorted on the day. I was frantically googling places the night before. I didn’t get much sleep. Thankfully the people who were hosting us took us to some shops.”
So you got a whole new wardrobe out of it?
“Yeah, I got two pairs of boots as well. I’m hoping BA are going to pay for them.”
So you ended up with two lots of luggage as well?
Getting back to Rebellion it’s very noticeable that the line up is getting more diverse every year. Do you think that’s a sign of the times and a shift in music taste of fans?
“It’s been evolving over the years constantly. It’s a lot different to what it was when I first played here in 2007. We were one of only a few bands with women in, us and In Evil Hour. It was quite male oriented, but now there are a lot more female performers and people from the LGBTQ+ community. There’s more diverse music as well. It needs it, it needs that fresh blood running through it. It’s great to have the big acts from the late 70s and 80s, they’re fantastic. They are the trail blazers. But they’re not going to be here forever. So for it to continue it needs to evolve. I think they’re doing a great job.”
Punk itself has evolved though hasn’t it? It’s not what it was in the 70s, it’s a completely different kind of scene.
“Absolutely. I love the fact that there are bands coming from China and Korea and places like that, it’s fantastic. It’s great that they are able to come over. It’s very exciting.”
Do you think that a little bit of that music that’s coming in might find its way into Dragster as well at some point?
“Possibly. Everything you hear goes in so probably comes out in another way, and you don’t realise it.”
If you were to perform a gig with Dragster and could invite any band to share the stage who would you choose and why?
“I really like Eryx London. They supported Conflict in Nottingham a little while back and I just thought they were a very interesting band.”