“That’s brewed in Stockport, isn’t it?” Blossoms frontman Tom Ogden asks his best mate Joe Donovan, who’s poised to sup an ale in the Stockport boozer that gave the band their name. Donovan merrily misses the question: “Ahh – it’s so fucking nice, isn’t it… beer?” The five bandmates are huddled in a corner of the room, making light work of their bevvies while the Friday afternoon sun of their native ‘Costa Del Stockport’, as they call it, floods into the back room of the now-infamous watering hole.
“We never even used to come in here”, laughs Ogden. “We just plagiarised the name and have been bothering them ever since.” NME could be larking around with any gang of long-time pals as they crack jokes and mull over their weekend plans, Ogden’s labrador George even briefly gate-crashing the party as they all fuss over what feels like the band’s unsung sixth member.
Though there’s a murmur of excitement as the hometown heroes have just walked in off the street, locals embrace the band as almost any other punters – a couple at the bar are quick to bemoan the fact they missed out on tickets for intimate, 500-capacity album launch shows for the arena band’s fourth-full length ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’ later this month.
All members including Charlie Salt (bass), Josh Dewhurst (guitar) and Myles Kellock (keys) and Donovan (drums), have stayed loyal to their stomping ground since striking fame with their Number One self-titled debut album in 2016. But they say it’s not hard leading a normal life around here. Ogden has a theory. “If you embrace the attention, the novelty soon wears off,” he laughs, before adding, “Stockport have got to the point where it’s like, ‘Blossoms still live here’ – there they are’; they’re not as arsed. Whereas if we go out in Manchester, you’ve got all the external towns and cities on their night out where it’s like, ‘Fucking hell – there’s that band!”
They might seems the same tight-knit group that arrived six years ago with sparkling, synth-heavy anthems set to seal their stardom – albeit clad in a bit more Gucci these days, which they all sport for today’s NME cover shoot – but Blossoms aren’t the fresh-faced indie upstarts they were. The band’s second-full length, 2018’s ‘Cool Like You’, grew out their open-hearted festival anthems and solidified their status as indie-pop giants. By the time the punchy Talking Heads and gospel-indebted third ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’ arrived in 2020, they were on the cusp of their first Manchester Arena headline slot – before it was all cruelly snatched away by the pandemic.
But things weren’t quite as rosy on the inside at that point, admits Ogden. “There was a period before lockdown where I wasn’t very happy with what we were doing. We played at Edgeley Park in the summer of 2019 and, frankly, I didn’t enjoy it.” The 15,000-capacity show at their local football club should have been a champagne moment to cherish, but the frontman was preoccupied with fighting other battles: “I had a bit of imposter syndrome. I was comparing myself to everyone and I just wanted everything to be perfect. I really lost sight of living in the moment and enjoying it.”
Donovan was on a similar wavelength. “I think it was a mad time at that point anyway,” he says. Going onstage and playing these huge gigs had become the norm.”
“There was a period before lockdown where I wasn’t very happy with what we were doing” – Tom Ogden
Ogden explains that life on the road was becoming a machine they needed a break from. “You put the treadmill on, don’t you? It’s like, release an album and tour, promote it – that becomes the normal thing. Sometimes you need to take a step back.” Although it hurt at the time – and scuppered all their best-laid-plans for ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’ – lockdown provided the scope to recharge and gain perspective. “It made us realise how lucky we are and how amazing our job is.”
Blossoms look like a band loving life again as they strike poses for their fourth NME cover story. We’ve made our way just around the corner, to a red brick industrial mill that feels emblematic of this proud Greater Manchester town. Ogden has commandeered the stereo as our photographer snaps away, opting for a playlist of wedding classics from Sister Sledge, Wham! and Elton John. Between shoots, he checks his flares and fluffs his locks in the mirror, “Can I get away with the waistcoat?” he asks NME, without waiting for our response. “Fuck it. I’m doing it.”
Their hallmark vintage stylings feel fitting as the band gear up to release ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’ later this month. The album is overloaded with the revolutionary playfulness of great American songwriters Harry Nillson and Paul Simon, and Ogden says they looked to these figures when penning the material: “We touched upon it percussion-wise on the last record whereas this one we did go fully down that Paul Simon route. We are all into it. I’m not a die-hard fan – I only know the big singles – but it definitely bled in through the writing and production.”
You can tell from the sweeping, cinematic string section of opener ‘The Writer’s Theme’ that this is a more mature version of Blossoms. The bounding synthlines of their early, rowdy anthems have been replaced by orchestral sections and shuffling guitars, the glossy main stage production stripped down to allow the more introspective songwriting shine. A highlight comes with the single ‘Ode To NYC’, a tourist’s love letter to The Big Apple, referencing everything from dollar slices to the Empire State Building. Ogden is at the height of his game as he swoons through a dizzying montage: “Times Square’s a kaleidoscope of colour / The skyline’s my valentine / I feel like a first-time lover.”
“Finding longevity has always been important. To achieve that, you have to change the pace a bit”– Joe Donovan
Does the album feel like a growing-up moment for the band? “Definitely,” nods Ogden. “Your life changes a lot – especially in these last few years. The lockdown gave me a chance to think about who I am and how I got here.” A defining line comes on the grand ballad ‘Visions’, as he sweetly ponders: “Was I complete at 23?”. At that point in life, Ogden – who is now 28 – had already made a Number One album and met his partner Katie, whom he married last year in Stockport Town Hall. He reflects: “I had everything I could have dreamed of at that age, that’s what this album is kind of about.”
In making a coming-of-age record and growing up with their listeners, the band believe they’re sealing their longevity. Donovan says this has always been a focus: “Finding that longevity has always been important for us as a band. To achieve that, you have to change the pace a bit; you’ve got to try things out and test yourselves. You have to test the fanbase as well and see how they take to it. We love this album and we fully believe in it. This is the first record I see as an album in its entirety. I’ve never really had that before; there’s a connection this time.”
That’s partly because there’s a theme at play this time around. Ogden has moved on from penning straight-up, shameless love songs and has instead turned in on himself. As he puts it: “Every song is written from the perspective of the writer.” As the process unfolded, he realised that the central figure was him, something best illustrated in the ‘The Sulking Poet’, a bright and buoyant anthem toasting his former self: “Now the child is a young man / Everyday is like a rolling storm / And he’s playing in a covers band / Does a Sunday in a clothing store.”
Ogden says their long-time producer and mentor James Skelly of The Coral, with whom they’ve worked since their inception, was crucial in honing the album’s cinematic narrative, sonically and thematically: “As soon as he heard the album title, he was like, ‘We need to do something different on this album’. He’s been a mentor the whole way through for us in terms of guidance and even as a songwriter because none of the [other] lads write songs, it’s someone to bounce off and just get advice from. He’s been with us from the start and he’s rooting for us. It’s not just a producer drafted in to make a hit.”
“The Johnny Marr ‘feud’? He was like, ‘It’s water under the bridge – let’s hug it out’” – Tom Ogden
Donovan is quick to add that “you can’t mention Blossoms without mentioning James”. At this point, he pulls out an ancient message he sent to The Coral’s Facebook page, when Blossoms were just starting out, asking if they could be the Merseyside legends’ support band. It’s riddled with the typos and the giddy excitement of kids hoping for a break. The polite decline came back: “We’re not touring at the moment but we’ll keep you in mind.” It’s just as well destiny did pull Skelly and Blossoms together, Donovan enthuses: “He’s been such a big figure in getting us to where we are now. He does it for the love of music.”
The Coral’s keyboardist Nick Power even penned a poetic essay to accompany ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’. Written after the album was recorded, his words slice through to the album’s core theme: “The writer in this story is the writer in all of us; the thing we can never really possess or escape, or grab hold of and shake, to see if it’s real, or just or rags stitched together being blown by the wind.”
Skelly came up with the idea for the essay, which Ogden took to immediately. “We were looking for additional interpretations of the album because we see it as this cinematic thing – we wanted someone to run away with their imagination from the songs,” he explains, adding that such narrative depth has always been on the horizon for Blossoms: “I would have tried to go into making films if I wasn’t in the band; we’ve always had these influences but they’ve never bubbled to the top until now.”
Echoes of the Manchester greats appear throughout ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’ – namely those of The Smiths. Shimmering, Johnny Marr-style guitars appear liberally on the likes of ‘Born Wild’, a track that also employs haunting ‘Strangeways Here We Come’-era vocal lines as Ogden delivers some of his best, most revealing lyricism to date: “I feel so wrong but boys must be strong / You’d have a shock if I told you what I’m thinking of.” The strutting ‘Edith Machinist’ represents the biggest nod to the masters of melancholy, though, nailing that upbeat sense of gloom.
When NME mentions the influence, Ogden laughs: “Well, we’ve made no secrets about our love for them…” He’s referring to the band’s Rick Astley-fronted tribute to The Smiths, which saw the unlikely collaboration play classics from Moz and Marr’s catalogue with two sold-out shows at Manchester’s Albert Hall and London’s Kentish Forum last winter.
Johnny Marr slammed the band upon the announcement, describing the affair on Twitter as “both funny and horrible at the same time”, adding ruefully: “[Blossoms] didn’t mention [it] when we were hanging out a few weeks ago. Must’ve slipped their minds.” Morrissey, meanwhile, thanked Ogden and the band via a statement on his website: “My sincere thanks to Rick and the Blossoms for their recent recentness. Anything that generates interest in that tired old Smiths warhorse is testimony to the wallop it packed. THANK YOU!”
Considering that the ever-outspoken Morrissey has become pop’s persona non grata, while Marr has unwaveringly upheld the enduring cool of indie’s nice guy, surely most bands would want the praise to come the other way around? Ogden and Donovan burst into laughter.
“Being in a band is the best thing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way than with my mates” – Joe Donovan
“You couldn’t write it,” says the former, before the latter picks up the thread: “I mean, we were expecting the opposite. It is what it is – you can understand both sides. The thing Johnny got upset with was the fact we didn’t say anything, which we fully accept and apologise for… It was meant to be a bit of fun and a laugh – especially after such a shit year. We got that, and the crowds absolutely buzzed off it.”
A week after the fracas, Blossoms shared a stage with Marr at The Courteeners’ huge homecoming show at the 50,000-capacity Old Trafford. Was it awkward backstage? Ogden chuckles: “We knocked on his dressing room door and said, ‘Look… We probably should have told you, but we were just too scared.’ How do you turn around to one of your heroes and go, ‘I’m starting a covers band with Rick Astley playing your songs?’ There’s no easy way to say that. Even the most fucking confident person in the world would struggle to say that.” The unlikely feud was soon buried. “He was like, ‘It’s water under the bridge – let’s hug it out’.”
The celebratory – and, it seems, conciliatory – night saw the band coast through a set of anthems, partying with an endless sea of Mancunians on home soil. In a five-star review of the show, NME said: “It only takes the closer of ‘Charlemagne’ to see they’re on the brink of heading to the very top.” Given that they’d finally conquered their headline date at the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena just weeks prior, the Old Trafford gig hinted at the kind of venues the Stockport gang might soon rightfully own.
Growing up on the doorstep of legendary shows from Oasis, The Stone Roses and more recently The Courteeners, Donovan says the blueprint has always been right in front of Blossoms: “Bands like The Courteeners play a bigger part in our story than we’ve ever mentioned – purely on the basis of us getting together in a room and it becoming a glint in our eye. We thought, ‘They’re from round the corner and they’re doing those gigs, so why can’t we?’”
Even as they’ve scaled up over the years, Blossoms have held their playful spirit close both on and off the stage – and why wouldn’t they? With their fun music and cheery personas, they’ve always felt more like a goofy ’70s -pop-rock band a la Slade (indeed, back in 2021, bassist Charlie Salt promised NME that this record would be “Paul Simon meets Showaddywaddy”) than their current more serious indie peers – take, for instance, Fontaines D.C.’s stark poetic drive and Sam Fender’s bruising political angst.
Do they feel like outliers in the current indie scene? Ogden says their happy-go-lucky attitude comes naturally: “Considering where we’re from, what we’re like and the people we’re surrounded by, you can’t take yourselves that seriously. You can get into a different mindset when you’re onstage and you can be someone different. Like – fucking hell – some of the shit I’ve been wearing today, you wouldn’t wear it. I wouldn’t normally do it!”
Fate will always insist the band laugh at themselves, it seems – even at the highest points. “At our Manchester Arena show… you finally feel like a proper band and then the fire alarm goes off at the after-party and you’re on the street waiting,” Ogden laughs, turning to Donovan. “It kicked us right back down to reality, didn’t it? We had to go out onto the streets with all our friends and family. I was like, this doesn’t happen to Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner isn’t standing on the street, is he? It just summed us up. Honestly, you couldn’t write it. It’s just tragic, isn’t it?”
Having emerged the other side of the pandemic with one of their finest albums to date, it feels like the world is Blossoms’ for the taking – though their ambitions still fall a little closer to home.
“We’ve got such an affinity with Stockport,” Ogden declares, “[that] the next step would be a show in a huge fucking field somewhere here. We don’t see a limit to what we can achieve.” Donovan concludes that as long as they stick together, the rest is a bonus: “Being in a band is the best thing in the world, but I wouldn’t have it any other way than with my mates.”
Blossoms’ ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’ is released via Virgin EMI Records on April 29