Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Small and Final Gift to the World

When a new band emerges from the Holy Land (aka the United Kingdom), it's truly a magical birth. I've seen it so many wonderful times, especially in the last couple decades. The Stone Roses made a few singles and then made what is arguably the greatest British rock album of all time. I remember going to Let it Be records and buying "Supersonic," the very first Oasis single, in 1994. I had "Yellow" by Coldplay before anyone else. I downloaded the first few Arctic Monkeys' songs for free from MySpace (!).

It's a glorious process...a single or two that blows everyone away...NME begins to sing praises...amazing shows all around the UK...a festival, probably Glasto...and then a full length album followed by a stop in my town of Minneapolis in which I am completely floored by yet another magnificent career launched.

This looked to be the case with Cheshire's Viola Beach. They had released their first single, "Swings and Waterslides" in 2015. Their second single, "Boys That Sing," was released in January of 2016. NME had begun to sing their praises. They had played many, amazing shows around the UK and were set to explode into the summer of 2016 as the next, big British band. But it never happened.

Because the entire band is dead.

On 13 February 2016, the four band members and their manager, Craig Tarry, were killed in an incident on the E4 motorway bridge at Södertälje, southwest of Stockholm, Sweden. Witnesses saw the car fall through a gap in the bridge, which was open to let a boat pass. The band had played at the Where's the Music? festival in Norrköping the previous day. There were no drugs or alcohol found in the body of the driver, Tarry, and it's believed that the band couldn't see that the bridge was being raised. It was a bizarre accident with questions that don't really matter. Five young men were gone.

I remember hearing those first two singles and downloading them. They sounded like the next step in the next wave of great Brit bands like Catfish and the Bottlemen. "Boys That Sing" is about a girl telling a guy to go be a rock star. Listening to it now is just fucking heartbreaking.

Relatives of the band released an album of all the material they had recorded and had planned on being a part of their first full length release. I've been playing it quite a bit these last few weeks and have just now gotten up the fortitude to write about it. What a glorious first volley that will sadly end up being all there is from this band. The music has an 80s tinge to it but still manages to capture that core of Brit pop sound. The lyrics tell all the typical stories of young men in the UK and the eternally fascinating culture in which they live.

I close my eyes and imagine myself in the main room at First Avenue, hearing them for the first of what will likely be many times as I have with the likes of the Stereophonics, the Kooks, or the Doves. I see my show people, as I like to call them...Annette, Maggie and/or Todd (from Essex!)...and now my own daughter, Grace...all there with me in this dream. Viola Beach are bril! They are mega!! Mark, how do you keep finding bands like this?

Then, a powerful gut punch upon the realization that this is a dream of a future that will never take place...

My favorite song on their LP is also the hardest one to listen to. In so many ways, it represents everything I love about Brit rock...about music in general, really. Listening to the song and looking at their young faces in the video below, I'm just wrecked. The hope and promise that tomorrow could bring...gone...

My only comfort is that they left this small gift to the world that I, and hopefully many others, will cherish forever.

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