On the 29th July 2016, Viola Beach released their debut self-titled record, “Viola Beach”, through their own record label, Fuller Beans Records. It is a nine track album packed with undoubtable indie anthems and huge hits. I had hoped to be one day writing about how four young, copiously talented lads in their amazing up and coming band were about to release their debut album, but it’s hard- and quite rubbish really- that this album comes with the tragic story it does.
The album opens up with Swings and Waterslides which is a brilliant, upbeat and catchy song. It’s full of witty lyrics and has a catchy chorus. It’s a song that you can imagine being played to, and sung back by, hundreds of people and I can’t understand why it wasn’t really successful before hand. It’s anthemic.
“Like a Fool” is equally as brilliant. Through a mix of cleverly written lyrics, a Catfish and the Bottlemen cross sun-kissed Circa Waves feel something really impressive is created, which is admirable (and enviable) for any debut album (considering these songs weren’t even necessarily intended for album release). There’s even a slight Vampire Weekend feel about the album too, which only aids the summery feel.
“Go Outside” has an infectious bridge (“Why don’t we go?”) and continues that sun-kissed, ‘T-shirt weather’ feel. It’s destined for hot days, summer drives and beach trips and definitely deserving of a July release. “Cherry Vimto” is a ‘bitter-sweet’ love song and “Call Me Up” is an unapologetic ballad. “Drunk” has melancholic undertones, whilst still remaining upbeat and, perhaps inappropriately or rather optimistically, cheerful. “Really Wanna Call” is a brilliant song, too (as are most of the songs on here), which, again, boasts that easy listen, effortless indie-rock summer tune feel. Many of the songs have “Catfish and the Bottlemen” style bridges which build to a climax and burst into a final chorus, or two. Each song is well and expertly crafted.
The album ends with “Boys That Sing”. It’s somewhat poignant in the fact that these were just ‘boys’ following their dreams and singing to entertain. It’s hard to disassociate their tragic end from the song, but it still remains powerful, melancholic and sad. It’s a very strong song and one of my personal favourites on the record. It’s simple and brilliant.
Overall the album, whilst uncontrollably short and sweet, is a huge triumph and will, not only, be remembered for the sad story that surrounds it, but for being a genuinely huge album full of potential hits (“Boys That Sing” even made it onto the latest Now album… It doesn’t get much bigger than that, eh?). It’s optimistic, dreamy and a ray of sunshine at the end of a pretty shit story. The album radiates happiness which is intended, but a far cry from the reality of it all, and that’s the best. They wrote songs to make people happy, and that’s important. There’s also not a dodgy debut album song in sight!
Sadly, this will be Viola Beach’s last record and is a collection of nine songs (many destined for EPs and single releases instead of specifically for a record) recorded by all four members of the band before they tragically died in February this year in Sweden. The band members families chose to release the album in memory of them. In case you didn’t already know, Viola Beach were tragically killed in a car accident when their car plummeted more than 80ft into a canal whilst trying to cross an open bridge after playing their first ever overseas show. Devastatingly all four members, and their manager Craig Tarry, were killed in the accident. I don’t really want to detail every little horrific detail; you can read up enough about it online. I wanted this post and review to be more of a celebration of their admirable dedication and amazing spirit and of their incredible, incredible music. They had toured with huge bands like The Courteeners, Eliza and the Bear, and, most recently, Blossoms, who they were touring with on the night they died. That night they were due to play at the Boileroom in Guildford with Blossoms, but the event, obviously, got postponed (Blossoms did, however, continue to play a recorded version of their set every night when they would’ve played on their tour). They were on their way to huge success, given a few years, and, I’m sure, would’ve gone on to big things internationally.
I first got into the band when I heard Huw Stephens raving about them on BBC Radio One. Every time I tuned in he would be going on about how great they were and how big they were going to be (they were part of the BBC’s “BBC Introducing” scheme, which sees many artists graduate onto huge things (see Catfish and the Bottlemen or Slaves for example)) and he was raving about their BBC session last November. On the 9th September last year I wrote “Viola Beach” in the notes of my phone so I could give them a proper listen and swiftly integrated them into my day-to-day master playlist. I remember one key moment (in January this year) when I was in my college library listening to the playlist and “Swings and Waterslides” began playing. As with many of the “integrated” songs, I seemed to just know it, but I was hit with a feeling of excitement as I could feel they were on to something big (Swings and Waterslides is a huge tune). From here they made it onto my “January 2016” playlist (onto this blog) and I had planned to hopefully go to The Great Escape Festival or see them support Blossoms (incidentally play at the Boileroom). I begged by mum to let me go to see Blossoms that night as “I love Blossoms and their support act is really good too”, but little did I know what was to come. I remember the shock of that morning when I woke up and turned the news on to see what had happened (it was Valentines day, if I remember). To many they were just an “up and coming band”, but I knew them as a band I was just beginning to love and support and couldn’t quite believe it all. I genuinely believe we would’ve crossed paths a few times and that they would go on to huge things.
Tributes have poured in from many and it’s an event that really shook the music world and tugged on the heart strings of many established band as they could sympathise with the “just about to break it” excitement of touring across borders for the first time. Blossoms paid tribute to the band at Glastonbury festival by dedicating “Charlemagne” to them at the end of their Friday morning Other Stage set. Coldplay also paid (a slightly higher profile, but equally as appreciated) tribute to the band by letting them “headline the Pyramid Stage”. Chris Martin and co stepped out of the way to let huge screens show the band playing their BBC Maida Vale session of “Boys That Sing” before the band joined in to finish the song. There was something genuinely moving about it. I’m sure, with time and continued dedication, the band would’ve gone on the play the festival multiple times themselves (as they already had successful gigs at festivals such as Reading and Leeds under their belts) and that they were just on the beginning of a long journey to success and, who knows, maybe they could have headlined the pyramid stage themselves one day.
I guess what I think we should take from this is that there are so so so so so many brilliant up and coming artists and bands out and about, like Viola Beach (on the brink of success), who are just as good (if not better) as some of the existing artists creating highly successful music. It’s sad that people have gotten to know their incredible music under such devastating pretences, but it’s good that people have found them and their music. The album itself is incredible and, as Saint Raymond (@Callum_SR) put it on Twitter, “that there’s some brilliant new bands, if you scratch below the surface”. So why not go to that concert an hour earlier and catch the support act or visit the smaller stages earlier in the day at festivals or spend countless hours combing through the discover pages on Spotify for new bands? You could start with Blossoms, Sundara Karma or The Sherlocks to name but a few. Enjoy music, it’s made to be heard, and let’s get Viola Beach to number one!