In the forty years since The Beatles smashed their way onto the American pop scene, the whole boyband concept has changed rather a lot. There have been good boybands, and bad boybands, and really bad boybands, but the strange thing is that for the last ten years the easiest way to sport a boyband has been to listen out for one telltale phrase: “Well you see, we’re not really a boyband…”
You won’t hear anything like this from V. They might soar to heights of aceness rarely scaled by any other band on the pop block, but when it comes to the claptrap associated these days with the launch of a new band, this lot are straight-down-the-line, honest-to-goodness boybanders-to-be. When it comes to charisma, songs and that unquantifiable wow factor V have got more of ‘that’ than Take That. “We’re going back to basics,” says Leon from the band. “With us it’s tunes first, distressed jeans later.”
Throughout March the lads'll be playing to hundreds of thousands of potential fans thanks to a support slot on the massive Busted arena tour, and their music is guaranteed to bring the roof down night after night. Debut single ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ is a catchy, perfectly rounded slice of springtime pop which taps the toe of its cowboy boot on George Michael’s jukebox and is brought to life by a bouncy vid shot in February’s Miami sun. (Its title makes perfect sense once you know what some of these lads have been through in pursuit of popstardom, too.)
Then there’s the anthemic ‘Breakaway’ whose swooshing Indian strings throw themselves into a blippy dance-off with OutKast’s ‘Hey Ya!’ - classic pop songwriting brought to life by fresh-sounding, state-of-the-art pop production. ‘You Stood Up’, meanwhile, is a splendidly underplayed love song. In keeping with V’s back-to-basics outlook, the boys spare us the vocal gymastics and standing-up-off-your-stool key changes of your average pop ballad and allow ‘You Stood Up’ to, well, stand up, on its own merits.
Kevin McDaid spent his first decade on Planet Earth shuttling between Newcastle and Nigeria. Once settled in the UK, V's answer to The Littlest Hobo cleared off to a Scottish boarding school for two years, then moved to Carlisle to live on a farm, and then moved back to Newcastle. His fondness for various aspects of farmery led to a spell on a strange-sounding horse display team ("NOT,” Kevin shrieks, “A CIRCUS!") called Chariots Of Fire, where a typical display would involve a horse jumping through a ring of fire. Kevin learned to ride horses by practicing on a cow. Fortunately this is the only role cows have played in Kevin's personal development and, when he returned to Newcastle after his time with Chariots Of Fire, Kevin sacked off his a-levels in favour of a place at performing arts school. From there it was a short step to the audition circuit, various bands and then, finally, V. One day, Kevin would like to retire in the sun with loads of ferrets.
Despite his broad Geordie accent Mark Harle spent the first few years of his life in Scotland, before hopping over the border to Newcastle at age six and then "grunting my way through adolescence". Mark's always loved music, and while he was at school he learned to play drums, piano and guitar, which subsequently led to a place at a local music college then a spell as a session drummer for some big name artists. In other news, Mark doesn't like skinny girls - and by extension is obsessed with Beyonce Knowles - but concedes that women as a general concept "are fantastic". The faint of heart may not care to examine too closely Mark's CD collection - it's a bizarre musical rollercoaster taking in everyone from Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder and *NSYNC to Incubus, Rod Stewart and, er, Status Quo. "Don't diss the Quo," Mark warns. "I've been to see them with my family six times." It is worth noting that Mark enjoys "jumping off stuff".
Leon Pisane was born on Christmas day, as fans of backwards-spelt Christian names may already have guessed. Half Italian (his dad’s from Italy) and recently in receipt of his first pair of spectacles, Leon boasts a prolific period as a grafitti artist on his CV. At Cantonian High School in Cardiff he divided his time between sports like football and rugby and time in the school choir. It was all a far cry from the music he grew up listening to at home - Leon's parents were into old soul and reggae - and Leon admits that his choir shenanigans provoked a bit of stick from his mates, but he insists that his time with other boys on the choir stood him in good stead for life in a boyband. With school out of the way Leon bought his first copy of The Stage, saw an ad for V auditions in Birmingham, and almost immediately found his place in the band. But if Leon’s journey to V-dom seems smooth, for the band’s remaining two members things took a little longer…
Antony Brant was born in Leicester on January 18, 1983, with the middle name Thomas. While at Lancaster Boys School Antony heard that members of the school choir were provided with an early dinner (!) and his quest for immediate food led him to realise he could sing. As it turned out, when he wasn't stuffing his face with food, Antony could sing rather well. At the age of 16 he threw himself onto the auditioning treadmill where he also found a new flair for pop performance. This led to breaks like an appearance in a badly-named BBC show called Pop Pickers, which was a bit like watching Popstars on fast-forward and involved creating a five-piece pop band in 24 hours. Antony made it to the final six but didn't quite make the final band, who sank without a trace anyway. Celebrities Antony has met include Emma Bunton, Eric Clapton, Busted and Rolf Harris, and he goes a bit mental when people spell his name with an 'H'. Because, as everyone knows, there's no such name as 'Hantony'.
Finally, meet London boy Aaron Buckingham, who grew up in Notting Hill (“before,” he adds, “it got all posh”) and moved to Middlesex when the first of three younger brothers was born. Could-try-harder comments peppered school reports for every subject except drama, a subject which had captured Aaron’s imagination at an early age. After school Aaron joined his first band Most Wanted. When they split up he spent a year performing with the National Youth Theatre. Then he went on the audition circuit (where he met future bandmate Antony), and joined several bands, but none of them felt quite right. . “I remember chatting with Ant, who I'd met in one of those bands,” recalls Aaron - the mum of V, constantly nagging the other guys to tidy up. “And we agreed to give it one more go. We didn't feel like just giving up."
So, where Aaron’s story ends, the V story begins. In late 2002 Aaron and Ant got in touch with Busted’s management company and piece by piece the jigsaw began to take shape. “It might sound like a tiring old process,” says Aaron, “but we’re all glad in a way that those other bands didn’t work out. With V there’s a chemistry none of us had ever experienced before.” The full lineup was finally in place at the beginning of 2003, at which point Leon, Kevin, Mark (who'd known Kevin from his days on the Newcastle pop scene), Aaron and Antony moved into the same apartment block as Busted first shared in their very early days.
In the months since moving in together, the lads have been recording tracks around the globe with world class production teams like Stargate and True North. As well as first single ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ and worthy successors ‘Breakaway’ and ‘You Stood Up’, the V catalogue already includes other belters like ‘The First Time’ (which is about losing the, er, ‘big V’), the stripped-down acoustic thumper ‘Hold Me’, and another swooshing ballad in the shape of ‘Stop The Tears’. 'Hold Me' has a particularly special place in the lads' hearts - it's one of the first tracks they had a hand in writing, and came about when a recording session with Tim Woodcock finished early. "He played us some bits of a song he'd been working on," Leon recalls, "and asked if we wanted to finish it off. It was great to get involved - we've been doing some more writing since and it's brilliant to make the songs a bit more personal." There’s plenty more where that came from, too, and if you think it sounds like V have been busy, you’re right – the boys have already recorded more than 60 songs!
Over the first couple of months of 2004, V have been showcasing their tunes to a lucky few people. From teenagers who always knew in the back of their minds that pop music could be this good to the grown-ups who thought it'd never be like this again, V have been winning over fans left, right and centre - and pretty soon you'll be won over too. This is pure pop music like it's meant to sound from five boys determined to get things back on track.
Make no mistake, pop's about to get good again. In fact, it's going to get V good.
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