Alex Christian joins Stockport five-piece Blossoms on their gruelling European tour
Picture a young rock band on tour. What do you see? Lingering traces of cocaine, screaming girls, lager spilling everywhere? Maybe a TV that’s been smashed to smithereens – possibly floating in a swimming pool?
Venture backstage at Bilbao BBK Live Festival in Spain, though, and it’s very hard to find evidence of any mayhem at all. No drugs, no groupies, no mess. Just two shaggy-haired blokes dressed in denim, asleep on some cushions. That’ll be the band, then.
For indie-pop darlings Blossoms, rock star indulgence is focused on one thing: lie-ins. Sleep deprivation is the reality of life on the road – playing 24 dates across Europe in less than five weeks. An intense 18-day gigging stretch that saw the band play Holland, Denmark, “somewhere in France,” according to frontman Tom Ogden. “Oh yeah, we did Madrid, too. I think.” Touring is, from the sounds of things, tearing the fabric of space and time itself.
It’s easy to see how Blossoms ended up on such a gruelling tour schedule. Following a series of highly acclaimed EPs, support slots with The Stone Roses and limelight-grabbing performances at SXSW and Glastonbury, the five-piece from Stockport have gone from little-known buzz band to genuine rock contenders. Armed with the looks of Tame Impala and the pop hooks of Abba, their disco groove melodies and Madchester-sized choruses have earned them an eager audience. Famous fans include Johnny Marr and Ian Brown, while The Coral’s James Skelly produced their 2015 breakthrough EP.
They’ve earned female admirers, too. “There were three Scouse nurses on the plane from Manchester who recognised us,” explains bassist Charlie Salt as he makes a round of coffees. “This 35-year-old walked over to Joe and went, ‘Where have you been all my life?’”
They weren’t overly keen on the attention from the ‘older’ lady, though. “She came over to me and said, ‘You’re beautiful! You look like me without make-up,’” recalls Ogden. “Then she started stroking my face. We didn’t hang about for them in arrivals.”
It should make ShortList’s journey to the hilltops of Bilbao an exciting one. Our plan: travel with the band from Basque Country to London for two shows, tagging along backstage, on the tour bus and at the bar until the early hours. Siestas were never part of the deal.
STRAIGHT OUTTA STOCKPORT
It’s clear Blossoms aren’t your average band. They may be smalltown boys looking to conquer the world, but they’re not exactly using rock‘n’roll as means of escape. When they’re home, they live with their parents. Donovan and Ogden, both 23, met on a school trip to Alton Towers. Through mutual friends and house parties, a band emerged, with Salt, 25, on bass, Kellock, 21, on keys, and Josh Dewhurst, 19, on guitar.
Of the five, it’s pencil-thin guitarist Dewhurst who suffers most from the band’s schedule. “I’m the weakling of the group. If I had a rapper’s name, it’d be J Sensible,” he jokes. As his bandmates watch other festival acts, he slinks off, complaining about the racket. “You need earplugs for that,” he says drily.
“Josh likes a tea, he’s usually chilled and zoned,” says Ogden. “We like a beer and finding karaoke bars. Me and Charlie did Wonderwall at one in Japan. Myles did Wuthering Heights. It’s one of the hardest songs to do for anyone, let alone Myles. He destroyed it.”
Break-up songs, comforting cups of tea, nailing Kate Bush tracks… it’s hardly all-night raves in dodgy warehouses, is it? Which begs the question: are Blossoms’ antics a bit tame for a rock band? “There aren’t many bands who get up to trouble now,” Ogden admits. “Our schedule is so full, you just can’t. On the first tour we went a bit mad. Then you get too tired to function.” He also matter-of-factly points out that they’re not really a rock band. “We’re pop,” he says. “A guitar synth pop band. Oasis are as big an influence as Seventies disco and the GTA: Vice City soundtrack.” When asked to sum up Blossoms’ sound, he says, “Catchy tunes you can stick on at a wedding.”
LIFE ON THE ROAD
Thanks to a generously-stocked bar, the hours before the boys’ 11.30pm slot trickle by in a hazy blur. There’s the occasional meal (penne bolognese), live set (Basque band Belako) and famous face lurking about; we spot Ocean Colour Scene’s Simon Fowler and popstar Grimes.
Blossoms start playing just three minutes into Grimes’ set on a neighbouring stage – but the crowd fills up as they launch into the jangle pop of At Most A Kiss. That they’re drawing people away from one of the most hyped popstars on the planet is pretty impressive stuff – as is the fact that the crowd is screaming along to every word.
Watching from stage right, they instantly transform from the low-key dudes we’ve been hanging out with. Drummer and King-Of-Leon-look-alike Donovan ferociously pounds the skins at impossible angles, while Ogden possesses natural frontman charm. Blossoms might not be causing trouble like the rock icons of old, but when it comes to showmanship they’re charged up and owning it.
Bassist Salt is the only one who stays up to watch some late-night sets. His bandmates have long since been sound asleep. “I don’t think we can stay for Pixies,” says Ogden. “We’re up really early for a flight back to London for a show, then straight on to Scotland for T In The Park.”
Once in London, we assemble on the tour bus. It’s 9pm and we’re parked up by the venue. Ogden is thinking back to his schedule. “Were we in Bilbao yesterday?” he asks. You can’t blame him – life on the road is a blur.
Once again, though, Blossoms become a very different proposition on stage. The 300-strong Hoxton venue may be a far cry from the sprawling European festival the band were storming last night, but the reaction to Charlemagne, the band’s bittersweet break-up anthem with an infectiously catchy chorus, is absolutely massive.
It’s hard to picture Blossoms playing these claustrophobic venues for long. Ogden agrees, saying he’s excited for the band’s slots at Reading and Leeds later in the summer. "It's where bands come of age," he says.
So there you have it: Blossoms are unapologetically uncontroversial. And that’s just the way they like it.
After our intense, occasionally claustrophobic, time on the road, it’s clear they’re a sensational pop band. But will success lead to them swapping the cups of PG Tips for hard spirits and hookers? “I only write about sh*t that’s happened to me,” replies Ogden. “I’m not writing about being on the tour bus – no one wants to hear that. It’d be boring.”
Blossoms is released on 5 August
(Photography: Derrick Santini)