UK Band Hadrian’s Union Releases Rock Video Celebrating Bears

The UK band Hadrian’s Union have just released the video to their new song ‘Big Ole Daddy B’ which is a rockabilly anthem celebrating bears, daddies and big boys everywhere. The video features a cast of delectable bears and was shot at The Eagle in Newcastle. So, obviously we had to get the scoop.

The band’s lead singer and bear aficionado supreme, Stew Simpson joins us to give us some insight on the video, the band and his musical career.

BWM: How long has Hadrian’s Union been together? ‘Big Ole Daddy B’ is a rocking track, but I thought the band’s roots were in folk music. What type of music do you primarily create?

Stew Simpson (SS): Hadrian’s Union started as a folk/bluegrass duo way back in 2006 with myself on guitar and vocals and Danny Hart on fiddle and lead guitar. After a year of gigs and a self-released first album (Trapped in Time) we were signed to Fellside Records and released (In Your Own Time).  Due to musical differences, wesplit after 4 years working together. Since that version of Hadrian’s Union, we have had several lineup changes which in turn has influenced the genres that we play. The current lineup of Hadrian’s Union is by far the most punk rock we have ever been, but in previous lineups we were mostly known for work in the field of contemporary folk-rock. We previously had melodeons, fiddles and keyboards, but at first no drums.  However, we now have David Pratt returning on the drums for his second Hadrian’s Union album, Mat Mellor has been the lead guitarist with HU for over 2 years and our most recent member is Mike Turnbull on fretless bass guitar. To someone coming to this Indie Alt folk Rock (folk with a very small f) for the first time they might think it a little odd to jump from Folk to Rock, but if you listen to the new album Splendiferous, you can hear many musical influences and I think that’s because we are all but products of the time we live in. As a child I was really into the Beach Boys, then Michael Jackson and subsequently got into Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Poison, ACDC, Metallica and so much metal, but then Grunge landed which changed it all and to this day Nirvana are still my favourite band. So in answer to your question ‘What type of music do you primarily create?’ I would say ‘Ummmm it’s fun and it’s independent alternative and rock (ish), so the closest we can get to is Indie Alt folk Rock (with a very small f) and what we do is always reflective of everyone in the Union, David loves his blues, Mike likes his folk music, both Mat and I are into punk, rock, rap and so much more’.

BWM: Would it be correct to refer to you all as a queer folk/ rock band then? Because ‘Big Ole Daddy B’ is delightfully gay!

SS: I wouldn’t say we were a solely queer folk band because it’s not all about my sexuality, although as the lyricist and lead songwriter those themes will crop up from time to time, for example on our last album we released a song called ‘Falling Free’ and it’s all about cruising the streets of Soho in London and in ‘English Eccentric’ I use old English rhyming slang to allude to having had previous encounters with various Ginger Beers (aka Queers). I believe it might be a hark back to Polari. Most importantly on the new album Splendiferous we have a queer anthem song which helped me get to the semifinals of Pride’s Got Talent in 2023 here in London. The song’s called ‘Raise Your Hand’ and is all about the injustices faced around the world by LGBTQIA+ people everywhere. In the West we can sometimes be complacent about our rights, but they can be taken away at any moment and we’ve fought hard to get here and must fight to help those who are not in the position to fight for themselves. I do hope that song will go in some way to help people understand that in 64 countries around the world it’s illegal to just be yourself.

Hadrian’s Union (L-R) Matt Mellor, Stew Simpson, David Pratt, Mike Turnbull

BWM: Do all the band members identify as queer or gay? And if so do they all love bears as much as you do?

SS: David, Mat and Mike are amazing LGBTQIA+ allies but I am the only queer person in Hadrian’s Union, so I’m the only one of us looking out into the audience hoping for a flash of flannel, a beard and a belly that I just want to hang onto. It’s a very interesting dynamic and we all just accept each other for who we say we are. We do have a bear on the drums and his wife and child call him Paddington, he does love a drop of marmalade and gives a great bear hug. 

BWM: Tell me more about the bear you wanted to star in the ‘Big Ole Daddy B’ video and how the video became a tribute to him. Who was he to the bear community and to you personally?

SS: I became friends with Darren Etherington via our joint love of bear alt rock duo Man on Man… We were friends online with the intention of meeting up to talk about bands, bears, bars and balls or whatever might pop up. Eventually we were scheduled to meet at the Man on Man concert in Newcastle Upon Tyne but before the gig I caught Covid, so I couldn’t go. Fast forward another year and Man on Man was back in the UK and we were going to meet up at that show but a film job came up in London and as my work is very sporadic and unreliable I just had to take the job and say no to the gig. 

After a while of friendly chat on Messenger I thought Darren would fit the character of Big Ole Daddy B in our video and as he loved his rock music I thought he’d be a good fit. Easter Sunday rolled around, and I asked him if he’d be up for it. Llittle did I know but at that point he wasn’t well at all, so I said I’d check back in at the end of the day and asked him to imagine that I was holding his hand. I checked in and nothing, same again the next day. Then out of the blue I get a message from my ex saying ‘I’m sorry to hear about your friend Darren’. I was shocked as was a lot of the Northeast British bear community to hear of his passing. It was Mat (HU’s lead guitarist) who suggested we dedicate the video to Darren, so I asked Ian Addison (a previous Mr Bear UK and Mr Bear Cub World) who was Darren’s partner for 25 years if it would be okay to dedicate the video to him, and with his and his other close friends’ blessings they said yes.  It was suggested that we shoot some of the video at the Eagle, one of Darren’s favourite bars in Newcastle. So I got in touch with the bar manager (Stan Lock) and explained the situation, one thing lead to another and eventually I was surrounded by some of North East England’s sexiest men with my straight band mates dressed up like members of the blues brothers and me resembling a cross between FranknFurter and Freddie Mercury.

Darren Etherington – The inspiration for the ‘Big Ole Daddy B’ video.

I found out (after Darren’s passing) that he was pivotal in perhaps my survival as a young man. Darren helped set up a project called MESMAC (men who have sex with men action in the community) that provided a safe space for men in the 1990s to openly talk about the issues of being anything other than straight. Working through the trauma of a Catholic upbringing,  I received free counselling from the organization and met lifelong friends there.

BWM: Well, the video is a beautiful tribute to him. In addition to Hadrian’s Union you pursue other artistic and have released some music as a soloist. Tell us about that.

SS: In addition to HU, I’m a visual artist, poet, podcaster (occasionally) and I also have a queer Grungetronica band based in London with Rob Des Roches called Big Boys Camp.

As a solo act, I have two solo albums and a very rare EP, with a few singles thrown into boot, one of which is my most successful song on YouTube, an anti-christmas tongue in cheek number called ‘The Ballad of the Grumpy Old Men’, which I occasionally perform with Hadrian’s Union at our annual Christmas show. I have also released a single with Professor Tim Wilson from the UKs version of the reality show The Circle (Season 2), he’s also a smidge beary. That song was called ‘Love Simply Love’. My first solo album was pretentiously called The Best of…Yet to Come and my second solo album is called Hyem which is a traditional folk record with songs about, and from, my hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne. You can find out more about my solo shenanigans on my website www.stewsimpson.co.uk 

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John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.