A1 @ 02 Islington Academy-03/11/2019

Sunday 3rd November was a day that I had waited to experience for a long time. I was going to see a music act that I had been excited to see perform live since I was around 10 years old! That act is nineties and noughties boy band A1.

The band originally formed as a quartet in the late nineties. Consisting of band members Mark, Ben, Christian and Paul, they had seen huge success around the world after releasing well known singles Everytime, Summertime, Like A Rose, Same Old Brand New You, Caught In The Middle and the huge hit Take On Me – a cover single of the well known classic by Aha! A1‘s version of the track actually went straight to number one in the UK music charts while Aha only reached a number two position! In that time the band had also released three albums.
Sadly, around five years into their expanding career and shortly after the release of their third album ‘Make It Good’, band member Paul Marazzi had announced his departure from A1 due to personal reasons. The fan base were left feeling concerned for the future of the band since the news broke.

Thankfully, remaining band members Ben, Christian and Mark had come to a decision to keep the act going under their original band name as trio. Since then they have seen a huge increase in fans over in Norway and Asia. They have also since released a few more albums and worked on their own solo material too.

Just a short time ago, in mid 2018, former singer Paul decided to reach out to band member Christian during A1’s brief period of appearances in the UK at the time and had asked arrange to meet the guys to catch up, in which they all did. Thankfully for both original and new fans, the band decided to reunite as the original line up and hit the road once again. So A1 The Reunion Tour was announced including shows in three UK locations. The guys had purposely chosen to play at smaller venues with just a few select dates as they weren’t sure just how well the Reunion shows would be recieved in the UK as they hadn’t fully persued their careers there for a number of years. Oddly enough, due to popular demand a fourth show was added to their UK dates, which to the band’s surprise, later meant that all of their UK shows had completely sold out in just four minutes!

It’s very clear that the guys of A1 and their management team were keen to really make the reunion work, they seem happy and enthusiastic about the future of the band. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to meet and interview them before they went on stage at their second London show, the Islington 02 Academy. Honestly, all four band members seemed very comfortable with each other and quite at ease and excited about all of the reunion shows in general. It appeared like Paul had never even departed at all. Upon first meeting the band, our photographer and I were greeted by management and taken to the VIP lounge where the meet and greets were taking place before the show. And there they were, all four original members of a band that I had admired for years just standing by the bar smiling for photos.

It wasn’t long until the two of us were introduced to the band and then taken downstairs to their two small dressing rooms to conduct a full interview. Now, I have only done a handful of interviews before as I’m usually too nervous to bring myself to actually do them, let alone perform in a professional manner. And in all honesty this is the one I was most anxious about doing. However, I’ve never been made to feel so welcome, calm and relaxed at a show that I have attended and reviewed. Ever! I have never met a nicer group of people! Christian provided us with traditional Norwegian spiced Christmas biscuits and bottles of water, I had discussed parenting and the wonder of baby wipes with Paul, Mark made sure we were comfortable by moving things around to make room for us to sit down on the leather sofa within the dressing room and Ben was talking to us as casually as you would speak to your best friend while doing his hair for the upcoming show.
Fortunately, I was able to record the chat I had with the band as I asked them a variety of questions about their reunion, performing again as four members on stage and the potential of new music and future tours. I have used our photographer’s photos to create a video showcasing the live show and the interview that took place. Very kindly, both management and all members of A1 were happy to allow me to publish the audio recording for all of you to hear. The audio clip video and images will be linked in with this review, but here are a segments that I have picked out to share with you!

I expressed how excited that fans (including myself) were to see the original line up back together and once again performing live too. So of course I had to ask them how they felt about the big reunion.

Q: So how are you feeling about it being back as four?
Ben: “It feels great! It’s a bit like riding a bike, it was a bit strange at first, Christian, myself and Mark had continued on for ages and ages and it had been about fifteen years since you joined (looking at Paul), initially it was a bit like oh, ok it feels a bit familiar and a bit weird, but like no time had passed really.”

Q: How are you feeling about all of your reunion shows?
Mark: “Really good!”

Ben: “Really Great! The fans have been frickin brilliant because we’ve been tryingto work out what to do with the set, it’s funny, we’ve had big songs that were different in different countries so one song has been number 1 in the Phillappenes and over here (UK), they’ve never heard of it. So we just thought lets do everything! Everybody knows the words to pretty much every single song and that’s the beauty of Spotify and things like that now.”

Paul: “We knew it was going to be big as it sold out so quick.”

So now over twenty years on since the beginning of A1, of course I was curious to know how being in the band differs now compared to back in the day.
Christian: “One of the biggest differences is that before, we would literally wake up to a sheet coming in under the door of our hotel rooms saying what we are going to do that day, starting at like 6am! Then we’d have dinner while doing other interviews getting ready for another gig and then fly to the next country. Now we are much more in control of our day. Generally we now have more control over our lives and what we say. We also have a better attitude this time around as there was a lot of pressure and money invested in us, so there was a lot expected from us.”

Ben: “Now, no one expects anything”

Christian: “Everything is just a bonus now and we are having a lot more fun. We are better songwriters now and better musicians than we were twenty years ago.”
Just like any other A1 fan, I of course have my favourite tracks. I expressed to the band that I remember spending a lot of time in my bedroom during my early teen years playing ‘Caught In The Middle’ on my acoustic guitar, but there is one song of theirs in particular that will always have a special place in my heart, their ballad ‘Like A Rose’. So I was intruigued to see if the band members themselves had any preferences of their own.

Christian: “To me, it’s always ‘Everytime’. It was one of the first songs that broke us internationally, I remember so clearly when we wrote it and the thoughts that we had. I remember this dream I had in my head thinking wouldn’t it be so awesome if one day this melody and these lyrics that started in our little heads, if someone on the other side of the planet knew them, and that’s what happened! We had the biggest dream come true moment!”

Q: What else have we got to expect from A1?
Ben: “The Boys Are Back tour next year, a new album, then booking in more and more concerts and we love doing the full hour and a half concerts with all the songs that fans want to hear. They don’t just wanna hear the hits, they wanna hear all the album tracks, all the B sides and everything like that.”

Christian: “It’s quite mind blowing that people still want to hear us all over the world. Over the years A1 has become a bit of a side project for us, but now it’s taken over as the main project for all of us.”

So there you have it, it’s official. There’s still plenty more of A1 to come!

The Reunion Show
As the gig was completely sold out, this meant the venue at the London o2 Islington Academy was completely jam packed with excited fans! Both newcomers (including partners that had clearly been dragged along to the event, admit it you know you had a great time!) and original fans from all twenty years ago.
Originally, a support act was planned to get the crowds ready for the main event! However due to unforseen circumstances there was a cancellation of their appearance. However many didn’t mind as this meant that A1 were due to come on stage earlier in the evening.

Around 9pm, the lights dimmed, a screen at the back of the stage displayed a variety of graphics and a gentle accapella tone could be heard, Yep! This was it! Time for Ben, Paul, Mark and Christian to open their long awaited reunion show! The band opened their show by performing before even appearing on stage with their beautiful ballad ‘Forever In Love’. As the track faded out they appeared on stage with lots of enthusiasm as they continued on to perform one of their biggest hits ‘Same Old, Brand New You’ with original chorepgraphy while under bright flashing lights, which was quite something to see!

The band went on to perform ‘Be The First To Believe’ and ‘Summertime’ before taking a moment out to talk to the audience and welcome back Paul to the line up. He proved to be very popular with the audience and all were glad to see him return. He was applauded and met with screams and a lot of appreciation. Marazzi then introduced a song of his choice that he was really looking forward to perform back with the rest of the band. And he made a good choice (yes, slight pun there), he chose the title track from their third studio album ‘Make It Good’.
All four members interacted with the fans with such ease, continuously checking in with everyone there, asking where fans had travelled from, encouraging interaction through choreography, the works!

Of course we got to hear all of the hits as expected which included ‘No More’, ‘Everytime’ (which was met with a room of swaying lights from torches on mobile phones), ‘Ready Or Not’ and many more, but when the band had told me in their interview before the show that they had tried to fit in everything, they weren’t joking around. I’ve never been to a live show for a band where they have managed to perform as many tracks as A1 did there that evening. One clever way to fit in so many of their songs was to perform a medley, but no ordinary medley. They titled this selection of tracks ‘The Songs We Never Did’ a play on words referring to their track ‘The Things We Never Did’. This medley included ‘Here Comes The Rain’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Make It Through The Night’ (which was brought to an abrupt, yet amusing end as singer Ben decided he “didn’t like that one much”), ‘Learn To Fly’, ‘Living The Dream’, When I’m Missing You’ as well as a the more upbeat songs ‘Hey You’ and a snippet of a personal favourite album track of mine ‘Scared’. You see? They really did put in a lot of effort to get everything in, which of course went down very well with the audience there that evening.

For the majority of the medley,the four members were sat on stools, and one band member decided to share what we were all thinking during this segment of their set. Yes, Ben Adams made that very obvious musical link to Irish based band Westlife. In his own words he announced “I can see why Westlife like to do this!”. This simple and amusing statement was met with a huge roar of laughter from the crowds stood before him.

What was great to see was that the band performed the songs that the UK fans know very well and love too, however to show how they have progressed as musicians they also showcased some of their material that was released in other parts of the world which included their singles ‘Don’t Wanna Lose You Again’, ‘In Love And I Hate It’, their latest release – the beautifully written ‘Armour’ and also a brand new track which was exclusive to their UK reunion shows. The new song ‘Can We Go Back’ is very personal to all of the band members as it is a song about looking back on past fond memories. This composition was so exclusive that we were politely asked not to film or record them while performing it.

In an attempt to round off the night’s performance A1 performed one of their biggest hits to date, ‘Caught In The Middle’ before then exiting to the right side of the stage. I say an attempt to bring the evening to a close, as everyone there that evening had realised that there were a couple more very well known A1 hits that hadn’t yet been mentioned. The entire audience were very much in demand of hearing more music as the room was taken over by fans chanting “We want more!” and “three more songs!” As we had anticipated Paul, Mark, Christian and Ben returned to the stage once more to perform an encore segment of their set. This segment included the stunning ‘Like A Rose’ and most likely their biggest hit to date ‘Take On Me’ which brought the show to an actual close.

This show had everything that I had expected it would, great music at a huge variety, fantastic lighting and graphics on stage, amazing audience interaction, nostalgia for many and most importantly four happy, energetic and very talented band members that fans clearly still adore twenty years on! All A1 band members, management and their families should feel incredibly proud of these reunion shows, not just in the UK but all around the world. And I for one am so excited to hear new material from them in the future! Thank you A1 for being “The Same Old, Brand New You”.

Review by Kimberley-Anne Simmons

Photos by Kane Howie

Wilkestock Festival 2018

Wilkestock is one of the best annual events in the small festival scene. Returning for it’s 11th year, the festival provided possibly the best line up that it has ever had.  For those who aren’t aware, Wilkestock is situated at Frogmore Hill just on the outskirts of Stevenage in Hertfordshire.  The tiny  festival consists of a main arena scattered with recycled sofas, two bars, and also several other stages around the outline of the main arena, all constructed from straw bales. No bricks and mortar needed! Wilkestock even introduced a brand new addition for 2018, the “Home Grown” stage.

This years’ event basked in glorious British sunshine for the whole weekend which was perfect to lie back, relax and enjoy a cold brew to watch the huge array of bands on the multiple stages. On arrival to the site and after picking up my press passes for the weekend, security had ensured to do a full bag search to ensure everyone’s safety.  Wilkestock, unfortunately have had security problems in the past, although for this year’s fun filled weekend, they appeared to have stepped up their game.

Of course aside from the stage points, the festival also provided appropriate bathroom facitlies, a camping area- with a fancy shower block making it’s debut this year, a childrens area including crazy golf and inflatables to play on, also stalls including sales of traditional festival attire and accessories and also a glitter tent where everyone could treat themselves to a sparkly makeover (this small tent was run by some very jolly people and artists). Surprisingly this small sparkle filled tent often filled with men. It was great to see them walking around with crystals on their faces and glitter filled beards. One thing that stood out for the glitter stall was that all the glitter that was used was biodegradable and is made from plant sources.  Very eco friendly. And I can’t leave out the food court! Oh my goodness, there were some simple, yet amazing food on offer at this festival.  I sampled many, many seasoned sweet potato fries, a pizza (which in my opinion was a little over priced at £8 for a simple cheese and tomato stone baked pizza so there isn’t much to them, although still tasty), and also noodles. The Chinese/oriental cuisine vender served some delicious meals and even though I opted for the simplest most plain option on the menu – I think it was even called plain and simple noodles (which was also a vegan option), but it was big in flavour! So Wilkestock provides ticket holders with three days of great live music variety.  The whole weekend just kept giving, with brilliant performances from all.  Although I have chosen to highlight my top acts for each day of the event.

Friday 31st August 

Day one of Wilkestock 2018 was opened by grunge/rock band Tigress.  The five piece from Chelmsford took to the Main Stage to perform their edgy tracks including, “Paranoid”, “Hangman” and more. Unfortunately during their set, they were faced with a few techicnal difficulties so there were occasionally left in silent pauses while not much happened on stage to fill the silence.  Although the band did make light of the teething problems and were able to continue with their set fully, with no further hiccups.

Continuing with a heavier style of rock music, Defences put on an unusual performance. I can kind of liken their music to a combination of Evanescence meets Linkin Park perhaps.  Roaring male vocals and softer female vocals to assist.  The band released their debut album last year and appear to be doing well in the music scene.

Later in the afternoon the Bella stage opened and also had a great variety of artists. One I particularly enjoyed was Bedfordshire based all male pop/punk band Behind The Lines. Not only did they perform some awesome tracks, they also packed out the tent for the duration of their entire set!  If you like music from acts such as Bowling For Soup, Sum 41 or maybe even Blink 182, then this band will probably be one for you to check out.

Later in the day, I also got to see a great set performed by Radio 1 favourite, Fizzy Blood. A rock/alternative band who are currently making their way up into the music world. They also actually sound far better live than recorded in my opinion.  So if you get the chance to see them live, then I reccomend you buy a ticket.

The most stand out act for me on friday was Glasgow based rockers The Lafontaines.  Taking to the Main Stage, their set included mostly upbeat feel good catchy music, which got many people up off of their rather comfortable sofas.  At one point the band’s front man even leapt down from the stage to take a walk around the main arena.  He also decided to literally couch surf before leaping off of one of the recycled furniture pieces. Thanks to our photographer, there is an epic jump shot of this exact moment.  We managed to catch up with band after their set backstage and their singer was rather impressed with this photo that we had managed to capture.

Friday evening also saw another big techincal problem. Unfortunately the festival was left in darkness and almost silent as the main generator had failed (rumour had it).  This had affected almost the entire site, including the food vendors appliances. In total this issue lasted for around half an hour, although during this time the Bella Stage at the back of the site was still able to generate power. So even though the poor Main Stage was hung out to dry, the feel good party vibes continued in the Bella Stage.  Despite the rather large technical hitch, people really weren’t too bothered.  Everyone was still in high spirits and were happy to chug down their drinks from their refillable plastic cups.

Thankfully with the efforts of the organisers, volunteers and production teams, the generator was back up and running.  The site was once again lit up with light and a buzzing electric energy. Everyone was more than ready to welcome the evening’s headline act, Mallory Knox.

The Cambridge based alternative rock band were anticipated by many.  I for one, was very much looking forward to seeing them perform live.  They have had a lot of airplay over the years, particularly from the very popular BBC Radio 1.  As expected, they put on a brilliant show for us all to see, although there wasn’t too much movement on stage from the band, there was an array impressive laser light shows accompanied by smoke machines and performances of all of their well known hits including, “Black Holes”, “Ghost In The Mirror” and personal favourite of mine “Shout At The Moon”. 

Saturday 1st September

Although a little tired from Friday night’s frivolities, myself and our photographer headed back for day two of Wilkestock!  Saturday was opened by this year’s local Battle Of The Bands winners Slap.

Slap were shortly followed by the band Fiende Fatale.  Their set was just a tad eccentric and I won’t lie, the singer’s appearance was somewhat different to say the least.  With smeared bright red lipstick (putting The Joker to shame) and a vest covered in hot dogs, the vocalist dominated the space he had with his on stage antics and interesting lyrics in the band’s music including a song titled “Vegan Cocaine”. An unusual act, but it totally works, they seemed to be quite popular there that day.

Another act worth mentioning is Wilkestock veterans The Scruff.  The band have been very well recieved in previous years while performing at the festival.  The band’s lead singer Adam, opened their set with probably the most amusing statement of the weekend “I’ve had a stella for breakfast and a hash in the van on the way here, but who cares? The sun’s out!”. The Scruff have returned to the festival fresh from playing at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festival. During their set we heard songs including the band’s current single “White Flag” and the very emotional “Her”.  They ended their set with a brilliant instrumental piece before exiting the stage.

There is one act that cannot be forgotten wherever they go.  They always leave their mark. The act I’m talking about is the very bonkers Strange Bones.  There is no other place to be for this band except on the main stage.  The band, from Blackpool, brought in some impressive crowds to surround the main stage as they performed.  Before this band had even entered the arena to perform, our photographer had said to me “The singer is known for jumping into the crowds”.  Low and behold, he was spot on!  The singer leapt from the stage numerous times, not only to perform and just be part of the crowds of people but also to just lie back and crowd surf too.  As their segment went on they were still pulling in new onlookers to join the masses in the main arena.  There is only one way to describe a live music set from Strange Bones, and that is loud, lary, madness!

All female rock band PINS brought a different vibe to the day. It was a performance to showcase girl power. I heard many people infront of me using that phrase over and over again. With two band members looking like love children of Sia and Lady Gaga, they certainly brought something different with their style of music, including heavy guitar riffs. Halfway through their set the bands drummer gave us an impressive intrumental solo. The main vocalist had great onstage presence and was often seen standing up on the drumkit platform to perform.

After a fantastic performance just two short years ago, the festival welcome back Eliza And The Bear. They have just finished a tour to promote their newest album “Group Therapy” which is due for realease in October this year. As anticipated just as they did two years ago they proved to be a very popluar act within the Wilkestock community. As far as the eye could see people could be seen up on their feet dancing, even on platforms and props scattered around the grounds. We got to hear performances of their singles “Lions Heart”, “It Gets Cold”, the almighty anthem that is “Friends” and not forgetting an awesome cover of Earth Wind and Fire’s well known hit “September”.

Saturday evening was brought to a close after a performance from headline act The Fratellis.

Sunday 2nd September

Althought their was a variety of performances on the Sunday the atmostphere was far quieter and much more relaxed. Performances included sets from Minnie Birch, Didi, Zoe Phillips, Crystal Tides and more. The final act on main stage came from Oh My God! It,s the Church! What a way to end an awesome weekend!

Throughout the entire weekend inbetween each act there were also DJ sets from DJ Adam O and Matt Crawley which encouraged giant, not necessarily pitch perfect sing-a-longs.

Wilkestock Festival is an event that you will unlikely be dissapointed by, with affordable ticket prices and alot to offer as there is something there for everyone, no matter what your taste in music may be.

Don’t forget to check out the Wilkestock site for more information and next years tickets here!

For more photos by Kane Howie check out our flickr page here!