We interview the singer songwriter as he returns to play his biggest show at the O2 Ritz
Before you begin reading this article, do musician Brian Christinzio aka BC Camplight a favour and go touch some wood. That’s not a euphemism. If you’ve got a horseshoe kicking around or, god forbid, a rabbit’s foot, rub them too. Brian needs the universe to cut him a break so any help is welcome. If you’re into prayers, send them over.
That’s not to say the universe isn’t easing up on him, slightly. On Wednesday 8 December Brian will play a headline show at the O2 Ritz. The show, set to be an emotional one, will be a milestone for a man who - before moving to Manchester on a whim - was homeless and living in an abandoned church in Philadelphia.
Knock on wood, it will be the first record in a while that wasn’t recorded surrounding some awful tragedy
The Ritz gig, which Brian has joked about getting married halfway through (unfortunately, he can’t legally do that), is BC Camplight’s biggest show to date and will cap off a turbulent, bittersweet, creatively productive yet extremely difficult time for Brian and his band. The product of this is the "Manchester trilogy" of albums.
Ahead of his home away from homecoming show, we caught up with the adopted Mancunian musician to talk about his time in the city and how it saved his life.
From abandoned Philadelphia churches to Manchester Castles
It was a sprinkling of tour dates in the mid-2000s that first gave BC Camplight a window into the city that saved his life.
“All I remember is every time we played Manchester, it was just bedlam. Totally insane. Don't get me wrong, there was only ever two people at the shows but they were having the time of their lives.” He tells me over the phone.
Those early shows, one at the now-defunct Jabez Clegg another at Night & Day, now fuzzy memories, were followed by raucous nights out at after-hours clubs in the gay village and 6am taxis that never made it to Travelodges.
“The driver would let us out and we’d assume we were in the right place but one time it was just some field,” Brian says.
The BC Camplight Manchester origin story starts later. A tale of great music fuelled by misfortune. In 2011, homeless and struggling with mental health, drink and drugs issues, living in an abandoned church and having burned all of his bridges in Philadelphia, Brian scraped the money together for a plane ticket and moved to Manchester on a whim after a friend, the music journalist Mark Powell, suggested he come over.
“Mark was like ‘seriously, dude, just show up. I’ll find you a place to stay.’ Four days later I was there at the Castle Hotel on Oldham Street.”
The Castle, which Brian describes as his “life support system” for his first seven years in Manchester, has played a central part in his life.
“90% of my friends and my band are people I met there, people who bartended there. These people who ran this pub, I was sleeping on their couches. I was sleeping in the pub. I was spending all my money in the pub. That is the place that probably means the most to me,” he says.
With the help of newfound friends in the Northern Quarter, Brian settled, signed to the Bella Union label and released his third studio album under the BC Camplight moniker, 2015’s How To Die In The North. His first outside the US and the first album in the Manchester trilogy.
4 years ago today I wrapped production on a record that rejuvenated me. I owe it all to @theresa_may. pic.twitter.com/iSs6yKWmKY
— BC CAMPLIGHT (@bccamplight) December 1, 2021
The day after the album was released, Brian was deported from the UK and banned from returning. Brian had outstayed a business visa whilst hospitalised for a serious leg injury. Tours and promo were cancelled.
Eighteen difficult months of dealing with the fallout back in the US and plotting his return passed. In 2016, he was successful in gaining Italian citizenship through his grandfather and returned to Manchester. The episode would inspire his fifth studio album, 2018’s Deportation Blues. The second in the Manchester trilogy.
A day before the album was released, his dad passed away. The experience of finding out the news fed into his song Ghosthunting.
"And we stopped off for a tropical drink / At the Arndale Centre smoothie stand / When the phone rang, my sister she gave me the news / Now I never want to smell mangoes."
The events surrounding the death of his father led to the songs on his sixth studio album, 2020’s Shortly After Takeoff. The third in the Manchester trilogy. His best album to date.
The catch? It was released during a worldwide pandemic, the lead singles were called Cemetery Lifestyle and Back To Work which made them extremely radio unfriendly as thousands of people were dying worldwide and the tour that was meant to ride the wave of the album’s critical acclaim was cancelled.
All things considered, the Ritz gig is understandably a big deal.
The Oldham mafia, Larry David and an outsider inside the music scene
As Brian put it in a recent tweet, he’s “holding Manchester till the end, like those Pompeii skeleton couples.” He’s extremely fond of a place that gave him a new lease of life when he was “rotting” in Philadelphia and the city has also gifted him his partner Laura and their dog, Frank.
“I think Manchester appreciates the novelty of the outsider. They give you a chance. I’ve always sensed that whilst being in Manchester, people were genuinely interested in my story and what I can bring to music here. You don’t get that in other places.” He says.
“I’ve always felt like a part of the city here and I never even had that in Philadelphia.”
When quizzed about the ins and outs of the Manchester music scene, he politely suggests talking to Working Men’s Club instead. Although he’s an insider of sorts, he takes an outsider’s approach. He’s grateful. He’s thankful for the support but he keeps himself to himself. References to Manchester are everywhere in Brian’s music.
He compares his songwriting to Larry David’s approach to comedy, “If it happens in life, put it in. Someone will relate to it, I’m sure.” There are references to the aforementioned Arndale Market smoothie bar in Ghosthunting, dreams of Oldham-based gangster camaraderie in I Want To Be In The Mafia. and even a nod to Crewe in Born to Cruise.
Lyrics are usually served with bittersweet humour. Tales of sadness and breakdowns, bad luck and mental health struggles told with a stream-of-consciousness hilarity and delivered with a cinematic and often addictively catchy soundtrack. BC Camplight doesn’t really sound like anyone else and he’s extremely proud of that.
Whalley Range, barbecue and success in your forties
Despite being a staple of the Northern Quarter for years Brian has since moved out to Whalley Range. Too much Captain Beefheart chat in the elevator with hip, young neighbours was a sign. He can still be sighted in his beloved Castle Hotel though and of late has grown fond of the nearby Peer Hat.
“I think that’s become [the place] where the lost souls and weirdos hang out now, which always attracts me. You go in there and you see all the faces and you’re like, I feel ya. It’s like the opposite of Cheers! It’s where nobody wants to see your fucking face.” He adds.
He recommends Café Marhaba as a hidden gem for excellent curries and Siop Shop and Northern Tea Power as good spots for drinking coffee and eating snacks. As a keen barbecue enthusiast and someone who enjoys cooking, he can see through your “fat ass burger with extra Texas sauce" too.
Get your American spin out of my face, he jokes, "it's borderline insulting."
As for life in the suburbs, although the pandemic was difficult for Brian professionally and mentally, it has its advantages. A big garden for Frank to run around in and less temptation to go to the pub. Rich material for songs too, with much of last year’s Shortly After Takeoff being written over the road from Alexandra Park.
After a rough decade, things are looking up for BC Camplight. Finishing touches are currently being made to a seventh studio album due for release in January and the upcoming Ritz show will be followed by a full UK tour.
“Knock on wood, it will be the first record in a while that wasn’t recorded surrounding some awful tragedy. It’s definitely a richer record, theatrical, and grabs onto a lot more of my classical tendencies - big cinematic strings and horns.” He says.
“I think it’s probably going to be my best record but it could also turn out to be a big steaming pile of shit. That’s the beauty of art.” He adds.
Despite the rollercoaster he’s been on, there's no sign of slowing down. Brian is determined to keep improving. He points to the fact that few, if any, other artists in their 40s are making their best work and his story and the persistent graft he’s put into his art is something that resonates with people. Incremental steps. Hard work.
“The last tour that I did which ended last week was sold out, it was weird and I make sure I tell people every night. I need you to understand that I’ve been doing this for 16 years and it was basically the past month that people were at my shows."
"It’s my job to keep appreciating every second of this.”
The few remaining tickets for BC Camplight's O2 Ritz show are available on the venue's website. Tickets for next year's UK tour are now on sale too.
Cover image: Courtesy of Bella Union
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