May 16: Scottish punk troubadour Billy Liar rolls through The Shaskeen 

Catch Billy Liar on May 16 at The Shaskeen. Photo/Grant Anderson

MANCHESTER, NH – Hailing from the Scottish city of Edinburgh, Billy Liar has an approach to punk rock that exudes a genuine honesty and exhibits a sonic range. Some of his songs are rabble-rousing angst-ridden rippers while others are acoustic-driven tunes that have him wearing his heart on his sleeve. This way of writing songs has garnered him acclaim from the likes of Tim Armstrong from the punk icons Rancid among others with his latest installment being the sophomore release “Crisis Actor” that came out last November.

As part of his North American tour, Liar and his backing band are going to be performing at The Shaskeen in Manchester on May 16. Massachusetts punks Oh The Humanity! and local rock acts The Doldrums and Jonee Earthquake Band will be kicking the night off at 7:30 p.m. 

We had a talk ahead of the show about the making of his most recent album, working with a couple extraordinary collaborators and his thoughts on touring the United States so far. 


The Shaskeen, 909 Elm St., Manchester

Tickets: $5 at the door (21+ show)

Rob Duguay: Your latest album “Crisis Actor” that came out last November had you working with producer Joe McMahon for the second straight time after he worked with you on your debut full-length “Some Legacy” that was released back in 2019. What was the experience like working with Joe this time around? Was it similar to when you made your debut LP or was it a bit different?

Billy Liar: That’s correct. “Crisis Actor” and “Some Legacy” were both produced by Joe McMahon and co-produced by Tim Van Doorn at Big Dog Recordings in Belgium. I approached the recording with more confidence this time as I already knew what was possible with that team, and what I mean by that is that literally anything is possible with them. The “Some Legacy” record was almost entirely finished in terms of writing, structures, etc. when I first took it to Belgium, whereas with this one, I wrote the bulk of the songs in Scotland but I also wanted to explore more of the ability to be spontaneous and write in the moment. My favorite part of being in the studio is to be spontaneous, it stresses everyone else out sometimes but I think the end result is stronger for it. 

RD: Do you feel that you and Joe have a certain creative dynamic when you’re working together and that’s why you wanted to bring him into the fold again?

BL: Joe and I have a very special relationship that was forged out of years together on the road. We’re often in each other’s heads and can usually finish each other’s sentences so when it comes down to working together, we can bring all of that in. We also have a lot of the same influences but also an excitement about music, art, movies, books that means we love to share new things with each other. We’re also both smart enough to take anything the other says with the spirit it was intended and no ego bullshit, which is the same for everyone I work with or it wouldn’t work. I’m blessed to have my entire team in the studio. 

Robin Guy absolutely smashed it out of the park on drums for both these records and is someone I’ve been playing with since I met him in 2008, and Little Dave Parker who joined up for “Crisis Actor,”, rips on guitar and is the best singer I know. We’re in this forever. 

RD: That’s fantastic. Along with Robin and Little Dave, you also had fellow British musician Frank Turner and Franz Nicolay from The Hold Steady and The World/Inferno Friendship Society involved in the making of the album. How were you able to bring them into the fold?

BL: Frank was a happy coincidence. We’ve known each other for years, but he reached out after I released “Some Legacy” and said how much he loved it so I sent him a record and we met up at gig in Glasgow, which turned out to be the night both of our tours got canned and the world spun off its axis in March of 2020, but that’s another story. Frank is clearly one of the best songwriters and performers in the world, and if anything is massively underrated so it meant the world to work with him. I loved Million Dead when I was a teenager, and then got into his solo stuff when I chanced upon a very early gig in Edinburgh where he was still billed as Frank from Million Dead. I went along hoping he would play some songs from that band, which he did, but I was actually more taken by his solo material. 

I met him briefly that night and we kept in touch over the years. The serendipitous thing about having him on this record though was that during the lockdown years, I realized early on that I needed to find productive, positive stuff to do with my time. One of the projects I set myself was to write a new record but to approach it in a new way, so to write every day, and be methodical about it. In the past, I would tend to squeeze writing in where I could in a capitalistic society where I need to work a normal job to make money, and I’m tired all the time. One of the ways I approached it differently was by reading some books on songwriting, and one of them was written by Frank and I found it fascinating. 

I got out of the shower in Antwerp, Belgium, on day two of the studio sessions for “Crisis Actor” and looked at my phone, and Frank had posted “Antwerp, Belgium tonight!” on his socials. I had no idea so I looked up how close the venue was, and it was a 20-minute drive. I reached out to him, and we made it happen. It was a very emotionally intense day, as the studio often is, but watching and hearing him record his vocal parts in the booth was something I will never forget, and made me massively up my game in terms of vocal performances. Franz Nicolay has been a friend and someone I’ve looked up to and respected as a musician and songwriter, while also playing gigs with for a long time. I am a huge fan of The Hold Steady and Franz’s solo work, so it was an honor to have him record his parts for the record. 

We’ve been trying to do it for years and an unreleased, unmixed version of Franz playing accordion on a demo of “Noose” from the previous record exists somewhere. No idea where though, a shoe box in someone’s attic presumably. 

RD: Being from Scotland, how has it been touring the United States so far? Are there any major differences with the audiences versus the United Kingdom?

BL: Longer drives, more picklebacks, although the United Kingdom is catching up on that front. It’s hard to compare audiences, although people often ask me to. It’s different every night, I just wanna go where people wanna hear music and have a good time and we’ll be alright. If I can do some cool shit during the day, even better. I’ll tell you what is better, late-night food options over here. The fact that you can go and sit in, eat some food and have a drink after the gig is a blessing. Much harder to find over there.

RD: After this run of shows that includes a stop at The Shaskeen, what are your plans for the second half of the year?

BL: To be honest, a whole load of stuff I can’t talk about yet! I know I’ll be back in the States later in the year and will be doing some stuff in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe but yes, it is to be announced so I’m afraid I can’t reveal any secrets yet!