Longstanding cover band The Boxtones are preparing to reinvent themselves with their first gig of original material. Rob Garratt speaks to singers Gary Tierney and Louise Peel.
Dubai’s live music scene is sliced directly down the middle into two distinct halves. On one side you have the emirate’s original rock scene, creative bands of part-time musicians who manoeuvre for one-off gigs and support slots to showcase their own material, in between the grind of a day job. On the other there are the professional covers bands, formed from itinerant musicians often brought together to fulfil a booking, great players slogging away on stage with covers of ‘Hotel California’ six days a week, but with little chance to express themselves. Rarely do the two sides meet.
That’s not the way The Boxtones see things. After seven years flogging their repertoire of more than 400 cover tunes to bars, clubs, weddings and even aircraft carriers across the region, the half-Scottish, half-Canadian quintet is preparing to reinvent themselves as a credible band playing original material. When they take to The Music Room stage at the Local Rocks festival on Friday June 28 they’ll be debuting a set of their own songs, and the band’s summer will be spent putting the finishing touches on an album, due out in October.
The band claim their secret weapon? Sharing lead vocals between guitarist Gary Tierney and front woman Louise Peel, two 36-year-old Scots who, it happens, are engaged to be married. The pair met a decade ago when they were placed together in a weddings covers band, where they were both seeking refuge – him, from an unprofitable attempt to find fame with his originals trio Fuse, and her from an Abba tribute band (she played Freida). ‘The first time we met, Gary was very rude,’ remembers Louise.
‘I thought “how am I going to play in a band with this arrogant man?”.’ After ‘bonding over harmonies’ in rehearsals, in 2007 they broke away and formed The Boxtones with Gary’s sister Gill, also a former Fuse alumnus, on drums. ‘It was love at 14th sight,’ laughs Gary.
The new band’s first gig was a three-month residency at Bahrain’s Sherlock Holmes pub. Then after fleeing a booking in China because they couldn’t cope with the food, the group took a gig at Dubai’s Time Café, beginning a five-year run of contract work in and around the emirate, playing at venues such as Chi@The Lodge and The Music Room.
In that time the founding trio have worked through four bassists and two keyboardists, but the current line-up seems pretty stable, not least because it’s based around two couples: as well as Gary and Louise, 29-year-old Gill is partners with keyboardist Will Janssen, a 33-year-old Canadian. That leaves just French-Canadian bassist Patrick Thibault, 32, the only member unattached to a fellow player.
Readers are most likely to remember the band from a long-term residency at Marina Byblos Hotel’s Nell Gwynne, which wrapped up in February. Since then the quintet has formed its own company The Boxtones FZE landed festival gigs at Taste of Dubai and My Music X, and hatched a long-held plan to reinvent themselves as an originals band. While Gary and the others are keen to stress they’ll still be whipping out ‘Zombie’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ on the covers circuit, it’s this new phase they’re most excited about.
‘People know us for being a really great covers band that can play a good variety of music, but I’d like to be more than that,’ says Gary. ‘You don’t get a lot of money for originals, but you’re doing them for kudos and, I suppose, artistic expression.’ He sighs loudly at that sentence.
The band’s ethos is perhaps best crystallised in the title of its forthcoming album. ‘The pop scene is a circus, where it’s not about how well you play but what you look like,’ Gary explains pensively. ‘With the album we’re getting out, while everyone else is stuck in The Pockets of Clowns.’
The Boxtones play at Local Rocks on Friday June 28, 9pm-3am. Dhs60. The Music Room, Majestic Hotel, Bur Dubai (050 714 0427). www.boxtonesband.com
Local Rocks – also on the bill
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Grungey alternative rock trio with gritty vocals and big choruses.
A mix of progressive rock originals and classic rock covers.
Upcoming UAE punk rock band.