In 2019, the term “bawbag” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time. It was well overdue for those in Scotland who adopted it into their vernacular many decades ago. It’s one of those wonderfully versatile pieces of dialect too, used in either a derogatory sense or as a term of endearment, all depending on context.
Whilst its roots can be traced back to Glasgow, its infamy has spread not just south of the border, but overseas too. Meet The Bawbags – a self-styled “terrace rock” punk band from Reggio Emilia in northern Italy.
Sounds niche, right? Well, their lyrics are cast in the local Reggiano dialect, and their songs are dedicated to their football club (Serie C Reggiana), its supporters and the local people. I caught up with bass guitarist and lead vocalist Maxi to find out about the band, the club and how they got that name.
So, who are The Bawbags?
The Bawbags are myself, Maxi The Taleban Dictator “Smergloun” (the last word in local dialect means “screamer”), Jeega Un Sol “Sgnavla” (“miaower”) at guitars and backing vocals, and Bruce 180BPM “Ciocapiat” (“hell raiser”) on drums. We met around a decade ago, but started taking it more seriously in the last 4-5 years. We already knew each other from way back; me and Bruce were in local punk and hard-core bands in the late 1980s, and Jeega came along a bit later.
Our influences are mostly my influences as the lads let me have the freedom to put in action my wide (though not necessarily wise…) knowledge of music. Think Glam punk bands of the mid to late 1970s; Slade, Menace, Bilbo Baggins, The Rezillos just to give some examples.
So how does it work, singing about your club in local dialect?
The decision to sing in local dialect was hard, but tells you how we feel about our land, the Reggio Emilia province. The Reggiano dialect covers an area of just 500,000 people, and whilst it is musical enough (more so than Italian), there is a limit to the number of people who can understand it! But we don’t care – and a lot of people from other areas still appreciate our songs and ask for our gigs.
Our love for our local football club is big, but our lyrics are not just dedicated to the club, also to the lads who support them and to other aspects of local life. My favourite lyrics are Nimel, 100 and Du Second. Nimel tells a story of a local lad who loves our Reggiano food products (mostly related to pork and cheese!) but lives in a vegan-obsessed era. 100 is the song dedicated to the 100 years our club (1919-2019) and we created and recorded it in the studio in two weeks with the help of true loyal supporters for the chorus parts. We gave this as a present to everyone, publishing it on Youtube. Du second is a song which talks of a lad waiting for a derby match.
The Bawbags must have played some memorable gigs?
Many gigs have been memorable for several reasons and I don’t think I can pick just one! One that stands out was when our friends from Nottingham came over, which filled me with enthusiasm. We recently played an exhilarating gig in Poviglio for the Epiphany where the crowd demanded that we play the same final song five times!
Our strong affinity to the football club and the province means that we do have to sacrifice playing in neighbouring provinces – for fear of public order issues. But that’s their loss.
You have an unusual connection with Greenock Morton FC – how did that come about?
It’s a particularly weird story. Me and Alle, one of the lads who support our club (actually, he can’t due to a banning order), are Lambretta enthusiasts. We were trying to spot a scooter club in Scotland, writing on several web forums and trying to find a weird place full of fellow enthusiasts.
One night I watched the movie Sweet Sixteen [ed: the Ken Loach film, shot on location in Greenock] and spotted a Morton scarf. And just while I was admiring the terraces of Cappielow Park, my pal texted me to say he had found the right forum, full of a crazy bunch of hard nuts. By total coincidence, we both fell in love with the same corner of Scotland.
The locals call Greenock “the sunny place”, which gives you an idea of the local sense of humour. The band’s name was chosen in tribute to those wonderful people and the place.
You must have some stories from your trips to Scotland?
There are many stories that you’ll understand we can’t share!
After the first match we attended, vs. Cowdenbeath, when we showed our Reggiana flags, we were treated as heroes. Everyone in town stopped us and were cheering us, in the pubs supporters stopped singing or talking and bought us pints to welcome us. It was the most moving welcome I’ve ever had.
The rest of our first stay was a sort of living the movie trainspotting for real. This was also our first introduction to west Scottish slang. I thought I had landed in the wrong country for hours, it took 6-7 pints to understand the first words.
Another good memory is the load of weird pubs in town and the funny people in them. I remember one Sunday, during our pub crawl, a fight broke out and it lasted just until the point when the landlord said he would stop serving if they didn’t give up. All the people in the pub went crazy and suddenly stepped in to stop them fighting!
Your affiliation to the UK runs deeper than just the Morton connection though?
Yes, there are a bunch of Reggiana lads who literally love British football. In particular there are 6-7 supporters who have been visiting British grounds from the 1980s to today and have a lot of stories to tell. We started a strong friendship with a Sunday league club in Nottingham, we shared a lot of visits there and they come regularly to our ground and at away matches too.
I am definitely a British football connoisseur too; I have been a subscriber to When Saturday Comes for many years. I went to one of the last games at The Den in the early 1990s and followed Reggiana around England in the Anglo-Italian Cup too. I love your country and it’s great to meet people who love Italian football too.
Finally, what are your hopes for Reggiana?
Well, right at this moment we just hope this coronavirus stops frightening people and we can keep on playing football. We are second in the Serie C table and we are playing extraordinarily good football as a newly promoted club in the league. It’s been something like 20 years since we saw football that was this good, so whatever comes next we are having a great season.
Sadly, Italy’s third tier is nuts, with only the top team going up directly. Then, 28 clubs from the 3 regional divisions fight for just one remaining promotion place. But who cares, we will try.
This season is special for us, we celebrated the centenary on 25 September 2019 – we played and won 2-0 on that very the same day. The club also did several events and made a special shirt, in memory of the first used, one edition produced on a limited run of 1919 items and another in 100 items (sold out). We will look back on this season as a great one in the club’s history.
Thanks for reading! If you want to check The Bawbags out, you can find them on Facebook.