Running a Barbershop, the Hardcore Scene & Being a Biker – Interview with Ryan Battle

Ryan is a barber and owns Smoke & Mirrors, just across the Mancunian Way in the Castlefield area. He also fronts Manchester-based hardcore band, Terror Claws. I caught up with him in his barbershop, where we talked about customers opening up to their barbers, the current state of the hardcore scene and what it’s like to be a biker in the UK.

Ryan at the shop, giving us his cheesiest grin!

What’s the most interesting conversation that you’ve had whilst cutting hair?

I’ve had conversations about suicide, which can be nerve-racking. People open up and tell me stuff they probably wouldn’t tell their mates, because they know they’re not gonna see me again for another month or so afterwards. I did a course during lockdown with the Lion’s Barber Collective, which was based around how to speak to people and point them in the right direction if they’re struggling. Generally though, every 40 minutes the conversation changes. It can be from me blagging it pretending I know about football, to me trying to sort out peoples’ lives and sort out the world. It’s pretty diverse.

Why do you think that people open up to barbers?

It’s because I’m a familiar person but I’m not in their circle, so they can vent to me. I’m not gonna go and tell their mates and I’m not gonna be a grass. I’m completely separate to their personal life. Sometimes people tell me stuff and I’m shocked at how open they are about situations and relationships that they’re in, and whilst I try and be helpful I also sometimes feel like I don’t have a right to be talking about their personal lives. I don’t want some guy to go back home and say “right, get out! Ryan said…!”.

Do you find yourself mainly giving advice or listening to people?

I’m pretty good at giving advice but terrible at taking it. I’m old aren’t I? I’ve done stuff, seen things and have got mates. I usually know situations that are similar [to those his customers find themselves in], so I feel I can give advice.

I try to make people leave in a better mood than when they came in. Well, not everyone. With some people I want them to leave in a bad mood [Ryan chuckles]. But that happens with very few people, and they usually don’t come back. I think the shop has an amazing bullshit detector and it generally puts people off. We only really get good folk in here.

You’re in a hardcore band and have been around the hardcore scene for a long time. What do you think of the current state of the hardcore scene in general & more specifically in Manchester?

In general it’s insane. It is the biggest it’s ever been and I don’t see a negative in that. People often get upset when the thing they’re into that’s niche become mainstream, but it means that there’ll be more people in the scene and in theory that means more money for the scene. People should really take advantage of the situation.

Bands like Turnstile are completely changing the game. Then there are bands like Hi-Viz, who I’ve championed from the get-go. As soon as I heard them I thought they sounded like how Joy Division would if they made a band now, and that’s punk as fuck. So yeah, the scene in general is amazing.

It does attract people who probably aren’t as au fait with how the scene should be treated, but you know, wheat from the chaff and all that. I remember when Limp Bizkit became mentally popular and nightclubs were full of knobheads, but they all fucked off again and it’ll probably happen again with hardcore.

The scene in Manchester is pretty good for bands, but I tend to find that Yorkshire has a better grip of the gigs. Between Sheffield and Leeds everything is going on, because there are amazing DIY venues like The Lughole and Boom where they really do support the scene and support those who support the scene. It’s a really good environment. Whereas Manchester is a bit more sparse and we don’t generally have anyone promoting full-time or a venue that is DIY. Obviously I’m a fan of the Star & Garter and I’ve been going there for decades, but it’s not just run by people who are promoters for hardcore, even though it’s run by good guys that do good gigs across the board.

There’s Wrong Side Fest which Adam Kelly puts on and is doing a really good job. It’s gone massive and he’s actually paying American bands to come over and just play that festival. But other than that in Manchester, promoter-wise, it’s pretty dead at the moment.

Cutting hair at Smoke & Mirrors.

Where does the scene reside in Manchester?

The punk scene in Manchester is massive, and kind of goes hand-in-hand with the hardcore scene, but there seems to be a divide between the two. Obviously we’ve got Manchester Punk Festival, Star & Garter, Gullivers, The Castle, Rebellion and The Eagle Inn. There’s some really good promoters out there that are promoting punk and also hardcore to a degree, but in terms of hardcore as a scene, I’d definitely say it’s better in Leeds and Sheffield.

It’s not always been that way though. Manchester and even Wigan used to be super busy. People would play in Wigan because it was easier to play there than it was to pick between Manchester of Liverpool and people from either city could make it to Wigan. Dave [bandmate David Arnold] supported Green Day in Wigan in 1992. It’s pretty crazy.

Hardcore bands usually have a message in their music. Does your band, Terror Claws, have a message you want to put out?

For a bunch of guys that really just want to have a good time and enjoy being on stage having a laugh, our songs are pretty political and social-based. There are lots of lyrics about mental health and illness. I think all of us either deal with something or deal with someone who has something. So yeah, if anyone reads the lyrics then they’ll see that they’re pretty heavy. I think we’re pretty convicted when we perform, even though between songs we’ll laugh and joke and Dave will do some stand-up. We are jovial and trying to have a good time, but we are trying to get across that at times we all have a shit time and if we have a shit time together then it’s better, isn’t it? It’s about all the horrible stuff, but we have a good time doing it.

Switching topics – You’re a biker. In a country with miserable weather, what is it about riding a motorbike that is so appealing?

It’s the freedom. It’s seizing the moments that are perfect. Yes, riding in the rain is shit. I have always said that I will never go for a ride in the rain, but if I happen to be riding and it starts raining then I’ll just deal with it. Those perfect moments are few and far between. As motorcyclists we have between April and September, which isn’t a long time considering how much money, time and effort people put into their bikes. You occasionally get a dry day in winter where you can go out and have a blip on the bike, or someone puts on an event that you feel is better to ride to, rather than turn up to in your car. But yeah, it’s those moments of perfect weather. If you get one of those a year, the other 364 days can be the build up to it.

I’ve found that biker meet-ups are mostly attended by an older generation. Do you think that the younger generations are keeping the spirit alive?

Massively, but maybe not in the same way. There’s this whole ‘bike life’ culture where kids are buying crossers [off-road dirt bikes] and Surrons [a brand of electric dirt-bike] and pulling wheelies down the street and wearing balaclavas. Hopefully they get the same thing out of that as we all do from riding motorbikes. I think certain brands have marketed themselves towards a younger audience. Royal Enfield are doing really good things, where their bikes look retro but modern enough and don’t have ridiculous price-tags, unlike brands such as Harley-Davidson or Triumph. Harley have out-priced everyone from buying one of their new bikes, pretty much. Then you’ve got old companies that have been given new life, like Indian. They are definitely marketing themselves towards a younger audience.

I think in the UK though, the weather definitely puts people off riding motorbikes. You have to be financially secure enough, unless you’re mad about bikes, to buy a bike and it not be your only mode of transport. I do know people where a bike is their only mode of transport, and they’re die-hard bikers and way more hardcore than I am.

With things happening such as congestion charges and clean air zones, I think it’ll push people to ride motorcycles, because the cost of running a motorcycle vs the cost of running a car makes it a no-brainer. You’ve just got to figure out a way of dealing with the weather.

I think that the motorcycle industry are forgetting that people are in a cost of living crisis and we don’t have the money to buy the things that we used to buy. Then you’ve got brands like Benelli that make bikes that might not last ten years, but if you get it on PCP for 3 years and get a warranty, who cares if it won’t last that long? I may own a Harley-Davidson, but I’m not a motorcycle snob. Anyone that wants to jump on two wheels is cooler than anyone else to me. Two wheels, whatever it is and however it looks.

I think there are enough young people coming up and there are enough brands that are marketing themselves in the right way to keep people interested. In this country the enduro scene and adventure biking are becoming more and more popular, because if you were already going to get muddy, who gives a shit about the rain? The mud makes the ground softer, so when you fall it hurts less!

You can visit Ryan for a hair cut at his barbershop, Smoke & Mirrors, in Manchester. You can also listen to his band, Terror Claws, on Bandcamp.

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