The Mountain Goats

Komedia, Gardner Street, Brighton, Wednesday, November 18

CONCEPT albums about wrestling are few and far between.

Aside from compilations of WWE entrance music and the oeuvre of wrestler Chris Jericho’s band Fozzy, the genre contains former Auteur Luke Haines’s Nine And A Half Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s And Early ‘80s, released in 2011.

But now, with characteristic wit and originality, songwriter John Darnielle has swelled the album racks with his 2015 Mountain Goats release Beat The Champ, exploring the US West Coast wrestling scene he grew up with.

“When I sit down to write songs I don’t have a plan,” says Darnielle from his North Carolina home.

“I start in the dark with no sense of where I’m going.”

This method has recently produced an as-yet unreleased collection of songs about former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne as well as highlights from The Mountain Goats’ 25-year back catalogue which includes 2009’s Bible-inspired The Life Of The World To Come, 2004's We Shall All Be Healed about the meth scene Darnielle experienced in California and Portland, and his deeply personal 2005 collection The Sunset Tree penned following the death of his bullying and abusive stepfather.

Darnielle’s departed stepfather casts a shadow over this album too.

“My stepfather’s dad had been a wrestling promoter,” says Darnielle. “He educated me about the old days and characters like Gorgeous George.

“He used to like characters called heels – the bad guys – and he used to get a rise out of me by deriding the ones I liked.

“It was a dynamic you get at high school or college – giving each other s***. It was a weird dynamic between father and son - and terrible if you’re 11.”

That dynamic is explored in the song The Legend Of Chavo Guerrero – a paen to Darnielle’s own wrestling hero and a key song in the album.

It contains the line “He was my hero back when I was a kid/ You let me down but Chavo never once did/You called him names to try to get beneath my skin/Now your ashes are scattered on the wind”.

“For me if these songs work it’s because there’s a bunch of other themes under them,” says Darnielle. “It’s stuff I hadn’t considered for a while.

“This record looks forward more than backwards – telling stories that look towards people’s future. Several people die on this record!”

There are some genuinely sad true stories within the album’s grooves, such as the death of female wrestler Luna Vachon only months after she lost all her wrestling memorabilia in a house fire.

And there is the darkness of Stabbed To Death In San Juan detailing how Bruiser Brody died in a Puerto Rican locker room in 1988 following an argument with a fellow wrestler.

It all reflects the time before the World Wide Wrestling Federation turned wrestlers into global superstars.

“WWF was good for wrestlers who had been working hard for low pay for a long time,” says Darnielle, who grew up in the era of hardcore wrestling – although he was more interested in the more mainstream style closer to gymnastics in the ring.

“In extreme wrestling they would bleed and beat each other up. They stopped going for the victory. It was like a Grand Guignol experience.

“Blood was a big attraction - sometimes a wrestler would use a tiny bit of razor blade to nick their own forehead which would make them bleed like a pig. The older wrestlers’ foreheads are often covered in scars from giving themselves nicks.”

As well as watching the West Coast matches with his stepfather, the young Darnielle would stop by magazine stands to read about the East Coast wrestling scene, featuring names like Andre The Giant and Ox Baker who rarely made it to his LA home.

“There were stories about Greg Valentine who would break opponents’ legs on purpose for pleasure,” says Darnielle who admits the stories fed his youthful imagination.

“Splatter movies [video nasties] could never quite deliver, but wrestling was live theatre – you got something you couldn’t get from a splatter movie, that moment of real theatrical catharsis.”

That feeling comes across in the vengeful lyrics of Foreign Object – a series of horn-driven threats about taking his revenge on his enemies which could almost come from a bullied child.

The young Darnielle made up wrestling names all the time, but knew he couldn’t really grapple in the ring.

“I was really scrawny,” he says.

“I talked about going into management. I appreciated managers like Jimmy Hart who could talk better on the mic than some of the wrestlers.”

Support from The Weather Station and The Hornblower Brothers (DJ set).

Duncan Hall

Starts 8pm, tickets £20. Call 0845 2938480.