2020 saw Mystery Jets release ‘A Billion Heartbeats’, a record that called for global compassion and the need for the NHS at a time when both have never been in greater demand – it could hardly be more timely. But as the year went on and live music showed no signs of making a full return, it became clear that the Jets wouldn’t get the chance to show off the most relevant album of their career.
The pandemic, however, has done nothing to dent the optimism of frontman Blaine Harrison – who insists that the London band will eventually get their chance to perform to fans once more – even if we’ll have to wait a little bit longer than anticipated. With 2021 on the horizon, NME caught up with Blaine to look back on the strangest of years – and some unexpected gems from his career. Here are five things we learned.
The pandemic is inspiring new music
Like the rest of us, Blaine has spent most of 2020 in lockdown, but has been using his time at home to work on new material. “Escapism is often where the best music comes from and I’m feeling hopeful. We are going into a new era and I’m feeling creative and inspired. I’m just going to try and channel my experiences into new music,” he says. “I do think great art comes out of miserable times in history. The ’70s were a bit like that, you had strikes and austerity and post-punk came out of that, and new wave.
They really, really love the NHS
Last year the band released single ‘Hospital Radio’, which celebrates the importance of the National Health Service after Trump’s threats to include it in a trade deal. “I just thought, we need to stand up and fight for this,” Blaine explains. “It was the 70th anniversary of the NHS and it’s something that is so close to the hearts of everyone in this country. It’s been called a national religion because we’re all born in it and the NHS is there right from the point we enter this world to the moment we leave it.”
He adds: “It’s when it’s being threatened that we stand up and recognise the importance of fighting for it. The way people have come together to support frontline carers has been incredible and we know how important they are, but we’re so busy in our own lives that we don’t necessarily recognise the need or importance to champion and support them until we need to. And we’ve really needed them this year.”
Blaine met Greta Thunberg on her 17 birthday
“I met her on her 17th birthday, which is just mad,” he tells NME. I was staying in Stockholm for New Years last year and my girlfriend and I were walking through the town. I noticed that Greta’s birthday was trending on Twitter and she’d just met David Attenborough.
“I called up a Swedish friend of mine and he told me that she would be doing her school strike and I was like, ‘Really – on her birthday?’ He was like, ‘Of course! It’s Greta Thunberg, where else would Greta want to be other than protesting outside the Swedish parliament on her birthday?’
“Sure enough, I went down to the Swedish parliament and there she was. There were only like five or six people with her. I went up, shook her hand and said, ‘Thank you – happy birthday! Thank you for teaching us and opening the window onto the world we want to live in.’
“It’s incredible that this younger generation are lighting the way forward and she’s right at the forefront of that.”
Looking at the band’s past albums helps them decide where to go next
2021 marks 15 years since the band’s debut ‘Making Dens’ came out, does it feel like it’s been over a decade since they dropped it? “It does, actually!” Blaine says.
When they’re kept busy making records the band don’t often have a chance to look back over their shoulder at past releases, but credit their ‘Jetrospective’ shows in 2017 (where they played each of their five albums in full on consecutive nights at London’s Garage) as a chance to look back on their journey so far.
“The main thing was that it allowed us to see where we need to go next, but most of the time we’re too engrossed in what we’re doing right now,” Blaine says. “We started really young though. Will and I were just eight when we started calling ourselves Mystery Jets as a band. I’ve been in it for two thirds of my life!”
An early Arctic Monkeys show blew Blaine’s mind
The band have done a few tours with the Arctic Monkeys, including the NME Awards tour in 2006, “but that wasn’t the first time we met!” Blaine reveals. No, the first time the two bands crossed paths was earlier than that. “It was when we played an early show up in Hartlepool, and it was us headlining, a band called Dogs and this new little band called Arctic Monkeys were on first!” he says.
“I think they might have just had a little write-up in the NME, but they showed up and we were like, ‘We love your songs!’ We’d heard ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’ or something like that and there was about six people watching them and it blew my mind.
“The NME tour happened later that year and we played a slot before them at [Reading Festival] that year. We’d just released ‘Making Dens’ and had a great show, but then they came on and it was insane! We were watching from side of stage and were like ‘You guys supported us four months ago and were first on!’. There were 20,000 people trying to fit into a tent that fit hundreds.
“It was nuts and we’ve done tours with them since and stayed in touch. I bump into Jamie [Cook] a lot in London and I was listening to their live album yesterday. It’s amazing and they’re so close to our hearts. They’ve always carried on evolving, and whenever a new Monkeys record comes out, I listen with huge admiration.”