Courting: Unflinching social observations delivered with rampant sense of fun

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite bands. For now, here’s the first word on Liverpool’s Courting, who are going studs-up on hypocrisy and football culture with their fun and frantic guitar anthems.

Courting have wasted no time in getting under the skin of the UK on their first three singles. The Liverpool four-piece’s biggest anthem so far, ‘David Byrne’s Badside’, is a rowdy stab at casual pub racism (“He spits at the people when they’re not his own / I thought we united, he says it’s his home”), but in the same breath they’re just as determined to cut loose and make light of the tropes of Little England.

“It’s about this idea of people pretending to be poor and how racist this country really is,” frontman Sean O’Neill explains over a socially-distanced pint in a Bold Street bar in Liverpool city centre. “It’s so deeply ingrained: once you realise that it exists, you see it everywhere.” He has a sharp vision of the type of person he’s calling out with the lyrics of ‘David Byrne’s Badside’. “It’s the person who says ‘buy British’ but owns a German sports car; who doesn’t understand what they’re voting for but is inspired by hate politics.”

Drummer Sean Thomas points out the more light-hearted elements of the song. “There’s also lines about British culture, like The Chase, in there. The idea isn’t to bombard the listener with the sad reality of our society, but to balance it out with the music and lyrics at the same time.” It makes sense: no matter how heavy the subject matter, you’ll struggle not to get caught up in how frantic and fun Courting’s sound can be — something also born out of circumstance.

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“I think we try not to make things too deep,” O’Neill says. “There are a lot of bands who, when you listen to them and they’re saying something important, it’s so focused and it’s less of a song, and it comes off more like a blog post. I think a fundamental thing of what makes our band go is that no matter what we talk about, we try to make the music enjoyable. You can take it on a surface level, or you can listen to what we’re trying to say.”

Despite this, there’s definitely an antagonistic edge lying just below the surface of Courting’s tunes, whether that’s the blunt reality coming through in the lyrics or the band’s overall chaotic energy, which has been inspired by their own gig-going habits. “There’s been a culture in Liverpool for a while where you’d go to these pleasant indie shows and everyone would want to start walls of death and fights at gigs. So I feel like we played to that attitude — that people like to feel angry at concerts — a bit and it informed the music.

“At the same time, I don’t want to come across as a band that’s pissed off with everything and trying to fix it all,” he adds. “I just feel it comes from a more cynical perspective. We try to write from a viewpoint that maybe we don’t even agree with, and think about things we don’t always consider.”

Some things, though, are just unavoidable — like the presence of football on Merseyside. “As a kid I wasn’t a massive football fan, but it is impossible to ignore football when you are Scouse — you can’t get past it,” O’Neil sighs. “You can’t avoid it: it’s what we see and experience.”

Courting’s January single ‘Football’ captures the reality of hitting William Hill to place your morning accumulator before getting on the pre-match pints come mid-day. But the band themselves don’t partake in such rituals. “None of us are the most macho men, shall we say,” Thomas admits. “We don’t like sports, and to be a lad in Liverpool you [have to] like football. We’re more artistic and seen as less masculine, so [‘Football’] was a way of us saying in your face: ‘We are this.’ But we’ve pulled back away from that now.”

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O’Neill smirks when asked what prompted him to get the song out there. “We supported Sports Team at the end of last year, and after that gig at least three people matched me on Tinder saying: ‘Are you the person who kept shouting football?’ I thought if my love life is being dominated by people recognising me as the man who shouts “football!“, then we should release it.”

Courting are also taking plenty of inspiration from their Mercury Prize-nominated mates, with O’Neill praising Sports Team for “loving it — that’s key [as a band].”

NME can’t help but ask: do you think David Byrne has heard ‘David Byrne’s Badside’ yet? O’Neill pulls his phone out and laughs: “I hope so, yeah! I’ve emailed it to the address on his website three times.”

While there’s still been no response from the Talking Heads legend in O’Neill’s inbox, the universe does drop a little hint that Byrne may in fact be listening. As we settle up and the band leave the bar to soak up the remainder of a sunny evening on Merseyside, ‘Once In A Lifetime’ starts playing through the speakers — if that’s not a sign, then what is?

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