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Derrick Johnston ready to take Inverness on a Tragical History Tour

By Kyle Walker

Derrick Johnston - aka Tragical History Tour - plays the Market Bar alongside Chris Snelgrove on Thursday.
Derrick Johnston - aka Tragical History Tour - plays the Market Bar alongside Chris Snelgrove on Thursday.

When Tragical History Tour rolls into town on Thursday, June 13, the Market Bar will be filled with the twangy sounds of cowpunk.

But what on earth is cowpunk? Ask the man behind the Tour – singer-songwriter Derrick Johnston – and he’ll gladly explain it.

“Cowpunk, like most things with us, started as a silly joke before we knew it was an actual concept that already existed, much like ‘DIY’,” he explained. “I grew up in Alyth in Perthshire, in the country, in the 90s, and we were the punks, so we were the cowpunks.

“It was only later that we discovered that ‘cowpunk’ was a subgenre of hardcore that began in the late 70s/early 80s. I enjoy the ambiguity of it, but it essentially means ‘country punk’, which is probably a broadly accurate way to describe the music of Tragical History Tour.”

Derrick is a man with a lot of strings to his bow. Over the years he has played with several punk bands (Humus Kife, Uniforms, Joey Terrifying), toured across the world, and set up the DIY label Make-That-A-Take Records – through which he organises the annual Dundonian punk/emo/hardcore festival Book Yer Ane Fest.

Finally making the trip up to Inverness – his first time in the Highlands performing as Tragical History Tour – sees Derrick sharing the bill with a friend from across the Atlantic – Canada’s Chris Snelgrove. “I first met Chris at Book Yer Ane Fest X last year,” Derrick said. “He was in a punk rock band called Prevenge and has been performing solo for a few years now.

“I never get to hang out too much at BYAF, I'm always running about, but I caught half his set and we've been friends since. He's at the end of a three-month European tour and we figured it would be a great time to do some shows in Ireland and Scotland together.

“Our stories aren't too dissimilar – both of us have spent most of our lives in punk bands and now play solo acoustic, so it made a lot of sense. Neither of us are particularly good at sitting still. I think he's less of a liability than me historically, though.”

And Derrick insists that the two singer-songwriters compliment each other nicely. “Chris is great, the light to my darkness, and plays positive melodic acoustic punk rock with a big Canadian heart.

“I've got a big mohawked cow busting through a love heart tattooed on my chest and sing polyphonically, so I'm told. Make of that what ye will.”

The tour that Derrick is undertaking alongside Chris at the moment serves as a good precursor to the release of Tragical History Tour’s latest record, Aphorisms. Recording the album with John Harcus of PMX (who previously played Inverness last month), the album is due out later this year.

“Thematically, I guess the record is a continuation of the loosely semi-autobiographical narrative that runs throughout my music; my attempt to make sense of the lessons I've learned from those experiences I've been afforded,” he said.

“More than any other release, this record is the purest musical distillation of my worldview and the experiences and influences that have shaped it; self-destruction, recovery, death, humour, depression, alcoholism, sobriety, capitalism, climate change, redemption, transcendence, politics, etcetera.

“I've been playing as THT on and off since 2003 and have never released a full-length studio album – it's an albatross I cannot wait to throw into the ocean.

“I used to have a notebook with ‘philosophy ruined my life’ written on the front. In some ways, this record is about how punk and philosophy saved my life.”

The debut single from the LP – the barnstorming post-Brexit agit-pop of Come On Home, Hero – has already been released. The thread of politics is one of the things that connects Derrick’s many bands and songs – something that the musician has grown up with.

“I've always written about politics, probably to the detriment of my career. My mum plays guitar and used to sing me Bob Dylan and Joan Baez songs.

“My first band Humus Kife adapted Siegfried Sassoon's First World War poem ‘Suicide in the Trenches’ into song when I was a teenager, I wrote ‘Nazi in the White House’ before the illegal war in Iraq, ‘National Insecurities’ and pretty much the entire Joey Terrifying catalogue, the list goes on.

“So, for me, politics and philosophy is inextricable from my music but not the solitary focus; the personal is political, the political is personal. I try to avoid being a preacher but, being a sober vegan punk, my views are challenged every day.

“Climate change is real, there are Creationists in power and the UK is in self-harming constitutional crisis. Either way, discourse is key; you'll never change anyone's mind with violence, insults – or, in some cases, facts!”

Derrick will be bringing all of that to bear when he comes to the Market Bar – and Derrick jokes that the main thing the crowd can expect is, “Three chords and the truth!

But, apart from that...“From me, you'll get blood, sweat and tears wrapped around some foot-stompin' cowpunk bangers with a fistful of murder ballads – maybe a philosophy lecture too!

“In all seriousness, you'll be treated to two good humans singing their hearts out and trying to connect positively with the good people of Inverness.

“I'm very excited to play the Market Bar, in all my years of playing shows this will be the first time I've played in Inverness as Tragical History Tour. As soon as I knew this tour was happening, I knew we had to make it to the beautiful Highlands.”

But even after these dates with Chris, Derrick – and the Tour – doesn’t stop. “This tour finishes then it's back to Dundee to finish mixing/mastering the LP before heading out for some UK dates with Goodbye Blue Monday, who are the first band I've ever agreed to work with sight unseen. We're finalising details for the Aphorisms release and will be heading out to Europe again soon, all being well.

“There will be a second single and I'm heading out to Scandinavia with my friend Tim Loud in October before we wrap the year at Book Yer Ane Fest XI in Dundee.

“That's the planned stuff, we'll see what pops up in between. Ye do what ye can with what ye got!”

Tragical History Tour plays the Market Bar on Thursday, June 13, as part of a split bill with Chris Snelgrove. The gig starts at 10.30pm, entry is free. For more information, go to www.makethatatakerecords.com

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