Blue Bendy frontman Arthur Nolan: ‘I see a lot of myself in Kendall Roy’

Motley blue: the band have a formidable live reputation  (Trinity Ace)
Motley blue: the band have a formidable live reputation (Trinity Ace)

Blue Bendy might’ve been just another post-punk band lost in a sea of distortion were it not for their frontman’s “fickle” attitude to genre. The six-piece’s excellent debut album, So Medieval, is evidence enough of this: it’s an ambitious record that revels in the push-and-pull of sound and ideas, and is brimming with bon mots.

Tortured centrepiece “The Day I Said You’d Died (He Lives)” gallops merrily along a frenetic guitar riff, punctuated with sunny, Vampire Weekend-style bursts and squelchy synths. Instead of taking on the snarling sprechgesang of bands like Shame or Black Midi, Arthur Nolan sings in a strange, lopsided moan. It’s also, remarkably, a record that never feels cluttered, despite its profound cacophony of instruments.

Blue Bendy rode in on the tail of the Brixton Windmill scene. Nolan, now 27, arrived in London from Scunthorpe in 2017; he and guitarist Joe Nash were joined by Olivia Morgan on keys/synths, Harrison Charles on guitar, Oscar Tebbutt on drums and Nolan’s brother, Ollie, on bass. In certain circles, they already have a formidable live reputation, even if they clearly need a bigger stage to play around on. Every song snakes around a loose melody, building and releasing tension, while Nolan sways back and forth, trance-like.

“I was having a bit of an identity crisis when the band was first starting; the only constant was that we wanted to be a bit weird,” he tells me now. We’re speaking at a pub in east London; it’s midday, and already a gaggle of City bros are huddled around the bar, four pints in. One of them cackles suddenly, slopping his beer onto the wooden floor. Nolan grimaces. The moneyed confidence of their gilets and booming voices exists in stark contrast to Nolan who is soft-spoken – and “so poor”, he laughs.

He and the rest of the band aren’t used to luxury. On tour, they sleep huddled on the floor of a friend’s living room or at the cheapest hostel. Performing gigs last autumn with Brighton post-punks Squid, they managed to score a night at a Travelodge in Birmingham. “It was the best night’s sleep on the whole tour,” Nolan recalls wistfully, a faraway look in his eye. “We got a vegan wrap from McDonalds, got into bed, and watched Graham Norton. It was wicked.”

‘We got a vegan wrap and watched Graham Norton’ (Michael Julings)
‘We got a vegan wrap and watched Graham Norton’ (Michael Julings)

With his youthful features and silver-grey crop of hair, Nolan resembles a cherub gone through the wringer. Appropriate, given the themes of So Medieval, which delves into the binaries of good and evil, right and wrong, rich and poor. His evocative songwriting conjures Hieronymus Bosch’s visions of eternal punishment, hellfire, and torture – inspired in part by his lapsed Catholic upbringing.

They’re finding more fans: Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos has praised the band’s “wonderful lyrical imagery”, evident on tracks such as “Clean Is Core”, where Nolan sardonically asks: “Is there any fun in this utopia?/ My inner monologue is being trolled/ But this Becks blue bacchanalia is a thrill to behold.”

Nolan’s extended family remain “very religious”, and so he frequently finds himself at communions, christenings, and confirmations. “I found [church] quite boring as a kid, but I liked singing the hymns,” he says. “And I was always quite interested in the iconography in Catholicism, the bombast of it. I feel like a lot of things I’m saying are quite trivial – mixing these big Catholic pain statements then subverting it with me crying about a girl or something. It’s poking fun… but also trying to take it as seriously as I possibly can.”

I see a lot of myself in Kendall Roy... at least I’m honest about it

Nolan seems partial to a spot of self-flagellation. Several songs on the album were inspired by his four-year relationship, which ended last year. “A lot of it is quite autobiographical, or verbatim,” he says, referring to lyrics that sound like snatches of conversation. “I had to clear it with a couple of people.”

There were, he says, some “traumatic incidents” that transpired towards the end of the relationship, the details of which he won’t get into right now. “I was riddled with guilt, but also felt wronged,” he says. “Entitled but also feeling really s***.” They broke up around the same time as the final season of HBO’s Succession was coming to an end. Nolan found himself fascinated by the tortured, pitiful character of Kendall Roy, who gets a mention on the skittery, brooding “I’m Sorry I Left Him to Bleed”. “I see a lot of myself in Kendall,” he says, adding with a wry smile: “At least I’m honest about it.”

2023 was a heavy year for Nolan. “I was behaving quite, well, medievally,” he says. “It was cathartic at the time.” Is he referring to his reaction to the break-up? “To one of the incidents, yeah,” he says, making sure to stay as vague as possible. He had been working as an art technician at a local college in Scunthorpe when the relationship ended, the same year he ended up attending “quite a few” funerals, and then “pretty much hit rock bottom”.

“It was about three months of chaos,” he says. “I had to quit the job and retreated up north for a while. I wasn’t speaking to anyone.” Including the band. He’d get the train to London at the weekend, do vocal takes, then return home without seeing anyone. “I remember this one time, I was hungover, and my stepdad dropped me off in London for a session,” he recalls. “I walked to the Wetherspoons on Holloway Road, got breakfast and a pint, and had a cry.” Then he went to the studio for a Sunday exorcism. “I was shaking, tired, upset,” he says.

You can hear it on the title track, on which Nolan howls like a wounded animal. It certainly sounds like he’d been crying – maybe he never stopped. “I think the song is better for it,” he says. “Not that you have to do that,” he adds hastily. Did he find closure by unleashing so much onto the band’s debut? “I exorcised a lot of it,” he says, but Blue Bendy are already working on the follow-up, and he anticipates some of the themes on So Medieval will stick around.

For now, they’re heading back on the road for their first headline tour. Nolan is gutted that their latest funding application was rejected. “We were hoping to stay in hotels this time, but it’s looking like it’ll be floors again,” he says. Nolan tries his best to put a romantic spin on it, but he and his bandmates are getting fed up: “I think everyone was looking forward to a Travelodge this time.” Judging by the quality of So Medieval, it won’t be too long before those lavish dreams become a reality.

‘So Medieval’ is out now