For better or worse, you can hear David Byrne’s influence in every new guitar band right now. There’s the frantic urgency of Talking Heads’ early work in the music of rising artists such as Brighton’s Squid, who emulate Byrne’s spectacular vocal range – fidgety yelps and the occasional croon – while Montreal’s Pottery and Nottingham’s Do Nothing are loaded with the big man’s bittersweet mix of surrealism, anxiety and joy.
Even Blossoms have caught the buzz, despite being nearly a decade down the line. Instead of scrappiness, though, the Stockport lads have channelled the iconic New York band’s funkier moments.
‘If You Think This Is Real Life’ – the opener to Blossoms’ recently released third album ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’ – sounds like an off-cut from the Heads’ mesmerising fifth album ‘Speaking In Tongues’, as bonus percussions and disco-flecked guitars jockey for your attention. Loved-up anthem ‘Falling For Someone’ might well be ‘This Must Be The Place’ on half-speed, and with added gospel vibes. You can basically hear Byrne’s oversized suit swishing as he shimmies approvingly in the background.
No wonder: frontman Tom Ogden and the lads caught Byrne’s critically acclaimed New York show ‘American Utopia’ on Broadway (NME over-excitedly claimed the UK run was perhaps “the best live show of all time”). “We came away wondering if we could get chainmail for our tour,” jokes Ogden of the gig’s striking production. The boys were initially put onto the US band by Noel Gallagher after he included 1983 slapper ‘Burning Down The House’ on a public playlist. From there, they went backwards through the rest of the Heads’ catalogue and realised they’d hit inspiration gold.
“When we discovered them, it’s like that excitement of when you find a new band, but they’ve actually been around for over 35 years. After we went deeper, it started to bleed into the songwriting,” Ogden tells NME when we first meet in January, days away from the release of ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’. He might even pinch some of the live choreography for their own shows, and make a move for Byrne’s crown. “I think Blossoms would do a good Broadway show one day,” he laughs.
It’s fitting that we’ve gone for a retro, eye-boggling colour scheme for their latest NME cover shoot. Tom is sporting a superb mane and flares, while the rest – Joe (drummer), Charlie (bass), Myles (keys) and Josh (guitar) – are a combination of straightened hair, porn star ’taches and plunging collars, while an appropriately-titled ‘Disco Forever’ playlist shimmers away on the loudspeakers.
The look is indicative of their mindset. Being in vogue has never been a great concern to the band; they’ve always been somewhat out of step with current trends, doing whatever feels good and sounds right. Currently, the five-piece have the look of the ’70s, the sound of the ’80s and the camaraderie of the ’90s.
A recent review called the band and their sound “marvellously uncool”, but Ogden took that as a positive. “To be called ‘uncool’ in this day and age?” he says. “We kind of are! But ABBA are famously ‘uncool’ and if you put them on at a party everyone wants to fucking dance to them. So I’ll take it!”
‘Foolish Loving Spaces’ is a complete blast. Channelling the soft disco of bands such as the Bee Gees and ABBA, the band have gracefully danced away from the assumption that they’re simply Lads with Guitars and delivered yet another pop masterclass with added pizzazz. The nation recognised it, too, with the album landing at Number One here in the UK – the second time they’ve achieved the feat.
This spring and the upcoming festival season were set to be the band’s victory lap. After a relentless push to land that Number One with record store shows and signings in January, the band were roughly halfway through their UK tour in celebration. It was set to culminate in their biggest headline date yet at Manchester Arena on March 28, a stone’s throw from their hometown.
“Brandon Flowers liked the song we gave him, but asked: ‘What is the singer’s deal?’”
But instead of us catching them on the eve of the performance a few months after the photoshoot, Ogden is under lockdown, as, of course, is NME. The remaining shows have been postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, but the band have set new dates for August. It was a decision taken out of their hands, yet they acknowledge it was the correct one.
“It hurts to not be able to do it,” Ogden says over the phone from his Stockport home, “but collectively it’s such a bigger thing than playing gigs. It was a decision that had to be made. It’s a strange time, but postponing them and doing them at a later date will just make the gigs even better.” As with most musicians, it doesn’t mean the work has stopped – he’s already penned two tracks for their fourth album while being cooped up.
Blossoms released their self-titled debut album in August 2016, bolstered by their breakout single and indie-anthem ‘Charlemagne’ a year earlier. That album also landed at Number One and has shifted over 150,000 copies since. 18 months later, they released follow-up ‘Cool Like You’ and continued their trek up the festival line-ups as the songs became darker and more indebted to sci-fi.
Since their formation in 2013 the gang have remained steadfast. Tom and Joe have been best mates since meeting at school and even have matching jewellery – each wears a necklace adorned with a house key pinched from Joe’s home when they were teens. Charlie and Josh now live together and, when on tour, go off to find what Joe calls “cunty breakfasts” (poached eggs and avocados), while Myles flits between the two groups.
Blossoms are friendly, funny and – crucially – don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re not too cool to perform live on mid-afternoon BBC quiz show Pointless or for a classroom-sized crowd of kids on Blue Peter – and acknowledge what huge opportunities those shows pose. Basically, they’re the kind of lads who’d be a good laugh if you ended up on table next to them at the pub (it’s fitting, then, that their band name comes from their old stomping ground, the Blossoms on Stockport’s Buxton Road).
The lads may not have changed since they were propping up the bar, but the music certainly has. As the live shows balloon in size, the choruses are following suit. An early love of Manchester legends Oasis and The Stones Roses initially brought the band together, but their recent Spotify playlist ‘Weekend Coming Up’ indicates that they’re digging hip-hop titans such as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, alongside songs from the rising likes of Korean house maestro Peggy Gou and Leicester heroes Easy Life.
Some of their heroes are similarly enamoured. Pandemic-permitting, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers have asked Blossoms to join them on their UK tour dates at the end of May through June. As of March 27, the gigs have not been publicly cancelled or postponed.
Before they got picked for the gig, word got through to Brandon that Blossoms were huge fans of the Vegas band. Crucially, they had a little gift to share with him – a demo they’d been working on called ‘God-Sized Problem’ that they thought would be perfect for The Killers, and which Tom describes as “slow and chilled”.
Brandon eventually got back to them, saying that he “loves [the song]” but that it wasn’t the kind of radio single he was looking for. He did have some questions, however. “‘What is the singer’s deal?’” Tom laughs as he reads Brandon’s reply aloud. “‘What does he listen to and who fed him?’”
Was that the response he expected from a hero?
“He replied to an email,” Ogden replies excitedly, “so I’ll take that!”
Songs for ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’, including ‘My Swimming Brain’, a Fleetwood Mac-inspired groover, had been kicking about since January 2018 – before the second album was released. With a dedicated break from touring last summer, the band had time to demo new songs and tinker with them before heading into the studio, something they hadn’t done since their debut.
‘The Keeper’, their most accomplished song to date, came from this period. The frontman initially wrote it on the piano, and it comes off like a reimagining of the more euphoric moments of Primal Scream’s rave masterpiece ‘Screamadelica’. A sprightly piano line meets gospel backing vocals and surprisingly spiritual lyrics about being lost, found and blessed with “skies of blue” and a new love – think Kanye’s ‘Jesus Is King’ but, y’know, not shit.
“I never expected that we’d have gospel singers on an album,” Ogden beams, knowing the gamble has paid off. “I think you do have to be a bit more ambitious when you start songwriting for a new album. From the off we could imagine playing the song live in the bigger venues we’re playing now.”
“We could do a good Broadway show one day”
‘Foolish Loving Spaces’ could have turned out very differently. The band initially planned to record the album in Nashville, Tennessee – the country music hotspot in the US. The move came about after trusted confidant James Skelly, former frontman of The Coral who co-produced both previous albums alongside Rich Turvey, suggested that the band try something new. Their label, Virgin EMI, suggested “the Nashville move”, lined up a new producer Stateside and the band were open to the idea. They soon realised how big of a gamble it could be – a new producer and unfamiliar city don’t guarantee results, but it does cost a shitload of money.
“We were open to the idea, but it’s hard to even imagine what an album made out there would sound like for us,” Ogden says.
They were also set to follow Foals and The 1975 in serialising their songs, with three mini-albums planned. “We had about 25 demos and were going to do seven tracks on each,” Ogden says. “The first was basically what became ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’. The second will make up quite a bit of what the fourth album will be – they were quite dark, different and more guitar-heavy.”
All roads eventually lead back to Skelly. With a huge show at Edgeley Park planned last summer – Stockport County FC’s home ground – the band decided to reward fans with a brand-new song. Blossoms went back to Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios to record ‘Your Girlfriend’, a slippery, stripped-back anthem about voyeuristic love heard through “paper-thin” bedroom walls.
The band realised that ‘Your Girlfriend’ had that fresh sound they sought, and they returned to Skelly – but with a fresh mindset. The jaunty ‘Oh No (I Think I’m In Love)’ wouldn’t be amiss on ABBA’s ‘Super Trouper’, while their knack for the intimate songwriting grows on The La’s-aping ‘Romance, Eh’. It’s a wildly inventive record that neither runs from their strengths, nor relies on them completely. While most third albums can either result in a full-blown sonic reset (think Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Humbug’) or complete crisis (see Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now’), ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’ deftly treads the line between familiarity and evolution.
Their commitment to Stockport, however, is unwavering. They’re not interested in moving down to London to be ‘closer’ to the industry – the band and their respective partners have all stayed in their hometown. And, frankly, they’re fine just where they are. Their frequent hometown shows over the last few years provide a reassuring example that local bands that come good – particularly in the Greater Manchester region – will always receive grassroots support.
It’s a relationship that benefits everyone. Last year’s gigs at Edgeley Park, which included two shows by Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot, reportedly generated over £2.8million for the local economy, via pubs, hotels and restaurants. “In hindsight, we were really proud of that,” Ogden says. “When you’re booking a show you don’t always think about all of the outcomes that come with a show.”
“It hurt to cancel the gigs due, but it was a decision that had to be made”
For Blossoms, they’re keen to share the victory with the community that helped kickstart the journey. “We’ve banged on about Stockport for however many years, so I think we’ll always go back to do shows here. That all comes with the success of the band.” Sure, but literally millions of pounds? That’s pretty special. “It was dead hot as well,” he adds, suggesting that the glorious weather played its part in generating a legendary atmosphere. The glory, however, should be all theirs.
Like the rest of us, Brandon Flowers has come to recognise that Blossoms are happy to be outliers rather than to just fit in – it’s a strength many are afraid to confront. By embracing their sillier side in a time of po-faced competition, and their emboldening swashbuckling eccentricities, they’ve ensured that whenever they’re allowed saunter back onto our stages, providing the smiles we most definitely need right now.