The Gulps: fearless globe-trotters determined to kick off disco-punk revolution

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’ll see opening the bill for your favourite act. After hounding Alan McGee to be their manager (and succeeded in doing so), the band's next goal is to reignite some rock'n'roll chaos in a scene sorely in need of some colourful characters

The beasts are on the streets. Charging headlong into screaming crowds, scattering terrified runners at their heels. Five bulls, let loose on the streets of Alfaro for fiesta, for the most foolhardy local death-wishers to race as though their lives depend on it. Yet only three figures in the entire bull run stand their ground as these angry 1,000lb beasts charge them down, staring death in the steaming nostrils. One punk haired pin-up. One moustachioed denim bandito. And one flamboyant ‘70s Italian pimp in cream flares and retro tie.

They are (three fifths of) The Gulps, the most fearless disco punks this side of Pamplona. And right now their death or glory attitude is proving terrifyingly real.

“Every year people die,” says singer Harry All, a veteran of the bull runs of the La Rioja region in northern Spain. “Many years, I saw the bull hitting people, and it’s so stressful because you don’t know what’s gonna happen to the person, it’s one minute and thirty seconds of fucking panic. You have to be quite careful, be sober. Keep the distance.” This, from a man who just stepped through the street-side barriers to face down five wild meat tanks after treating NME to a celebratory feast of barbequed meat oddities (“have more pig face! You have to try it hot!”) and free-flowing rioja at his family’s dining rooms in his nearby hometown of Calahorra, to welcome the band home from a recording session in LA with producer Danny Saber (formerly of Black Grape).

Advertisement

The Gulps

“You feel the danger, the adrenaline,” says retro-chic guitarist Francisco Buffone, hailing from the mafia stronghold of Calabria in southern Italy (“they arrested the mayor!”) but now hot from his closest ever brush with mortality. “It brings you to another world.”
As, for The Gulps, did rock’n’roll. Growing up in Calahorra, his life changed at an early age by The Beatles, The Stones and The Clash and in thrall to the thriving British rock scene he pored over in NME, Harry told his guitarist friend Charlie Green at the age of sixteen that if they moved to London with the sole intention “to be fucking rock stars” they’d end up being managed by Alan McGee.

“We were really sick of our situation,” he grins over a traditional lunch in the mountain town of Arnadillo. “It’s really beautiful here, the food is amazing, the weather is nice, but if you want rock’n’roll, you don’t find it here. You go to YouTube. I was all the time on YouTube watching all the festivals and all the shows, dreaming about the idea of going to London. It was another planet, because you don’t have access to it. Your dream is going there and doing what your heroes are doing.”

A fortnight hanging out, by chance, with Pete Doherty in Barcelona (“for me it was like hanging out with God”) hardened his resolve; via rough sleeping and squat life in Milan, Venice and Munich, Harry arrived in London in 2015 and enrolled at the Institute Of Contemporary Music Performance purely to find fellow punk insurgents to start a band with Charlie and himself. An exotic crew came aboard: Francesco, Thai boxing drummer Raoul Khayat from Beirut and classically trained French grunge bassist Simon Mouchard, who joined the band mid-arrest, when a knife fight with their neighbours in a Camden block called Kingston House broke out during his audition jam. “I was so drunk I went to sleep,” says Charlie, “and I wake up with seven police around my bed.” Harry chuckles: “I was already arrested in the car.”

‘The King’s House’, as they dubbed the block in a hyper-charged Hives punk single in 2019, was a hotbed of chaos. It was here that the band would hold pre-gig parties fuelled by “magic Sangria” so that they’d have “maybe 80 people in a small venue, all of them super fucked up, going ‘waaaagh!’”. One such gig, the closing night of the Alleycat in Denmark Street, ended with a stage invasion that saw the bouncers throwing punches at the crowd; others would see them stealing the headliners’ rider and destroying their backline.

Mashing classic rock’n’roll, punk, ‘60s psychedelia, The Strokes and IDLES intensity into tracks such as ‘Stuck In The City’, The Gulps clearly had the fire, and “there is no option to fail”. When they spotted a competition for a slot at Madrid’s Mad Cool festival, they campaigned for votes around the pubs and tube stations of Camden until they won, and when Francesco befriended the actual Alan McGee near the Borough Market record shop where he worked, he refused to take no for an answer until he’d agreed to manage them and signed them to his It’s Creation, Baby label.

Advertisement

“He said ‘Alan, sign us or I break your legs’,” jokes Charlie. “I was not letting him go,” Francesco says. “I read in a newspaper that Pete Doherty did the same. He persuaded him to be their manager. Alan said no, but afterwards he said yes, so I was convinced that I need to try again. He needed a little bit more time – I’ll send some friends from southern Italy.”

“Francesco met Bobby from Primal Scream in the market and he told Bobby ‘Alan McGee’s gonna be our manager’,” says Harry. “Then Bobby was having a coffee with McGee an hour later and Bobby said to Alan ‘who’s this band The Gulps, they say you’re gonna be their manager?’ And Alan’s like ‘what the fuck?’ So many people were going to him talking about The Gulps he was like ‘I have to do this’.”

During lockdown The Gulps expanded their perimeters during rammed secret house gigs that made the Tory party look like a responsible pandemic government (Harry: “we’re young, we’re in a band… we’re not evil but we’re no angels”), and recording in LA they took on an electronic party aspect on ‘Candy Candy’ (inspired by “revolutionary transexual” Candy Darling and Studio 54’s “golden age of New York”) and stomping new single ‘King Of The Disco’.

They’re excited, if a little torn, by this synthetic swerve. “We are the generation who really love guitar music like Sex Pistols,” Harry says, “but I feel really comfortable using these new things with Saber.” Francesco, meanwhile, bemoans the state of contemporary music as “all digital and really boring” and Charlie puts the lack of a major cultural scene in Britain down to “a lot of the music industry, they focus on the crap music.”

Yet they’re determined to kick off a new disco punk revolution. “You never know when it’s going to explode, when it’s going to happen,” says Harry. “And if you keep pushing it, it’s going to happen. People in the industry, people outside the industry, the audience, everyone is craving for something good to happen. Because it’s been a long time since we had a really strong scene, like what happened in the 90s with Britpop or punk in the ‘70s or hippies in the ‘60s.”

As we retire to bathe in the outdoor hot springs at the foot of the mountain, Danny Saber Facetimes, enthusing about new mixes. “I expected a band swinging from the chandeliers but they weren’t that,” he says of his experience recording with the band, “they were in the right place.”

Indeed, as hosts and tour guides of a wine-sodden weekend in La Rioja, The Gulps are as charming as they are punk rock. After a spot of wine tasting they drive NME to the stunning hilltop town of Laguardia, little knowing that this diehard rioja addict had got engaged there; they even recreate the moment on a balcony overlooking rolling wine country with Charlie standing in for my wife, and acting significantly more excited about the prospect of wedlock. The Gulps are, after all, a band who will inevitably make you love them; there is no plan B.

“The only plan,” says Francesco, “is triple-A.”

The Gulps’ new single ‘King Of The Disco’ is released May 27

Advertisement

TRENDING

Advertisement