Like many others, I was absolutely heartbroken when I heard the news about the Viola Beach boys and their manager, Craig. I’m not one to get emotional much, but I couldn’t get this off my mind. I have emails from these people in my inbox. I’ve spoken to these people in real life. I have memories of sitting across a table from these people, with a pint of lager in my hand. My thoughts are with those close to each member of the band and the man guiding them.
I first got put in contact with the band back in August of last year. A PR company that I was in talks with showed me their first single “Swings & Waterslides” and asked if I wanted to work with them. I jumped at the chance. That track is a breath of fresh air. Lyrically, it’s a song I wish I had written. My favorite line is “It’s summer all the time with you, you make me feel alright.” It’s the simple, honest way of saying things that I love about Kris’ writing. Plus, the band didn’t shy away from a catchy melody, and I loved that.
So, the PR company put me in touch with Craig and I introduced myself over email: “Nice to e-meet you,” and all that jazz. Craig replied when I was on a train to Leeds Festival for the day to see Porter Robinson’s live show. Coincidently, the content of the email was about how the band would like to work with me too, and that they’re playing Leeds Festival today. My mind was immediately blown, but of course, the time slot clashed with Porter Robinson.
After missing the beginning, I managed to catch some of Viola Beach’s set, and they were incredible. I had no idea they were so young. Kris’ voice held perfectly live and they were just the coolest guys on stage. I didn’t get to meet them that day, but a few weeks later Craig had emailed me saying that the band were playing at Oporto in Leeds and wondered if I wanted to head over during the day to hang out. I didn’t do this often. I’m a writer and producer, I’m not on the gig circuit and I don’t get to meet other acts much. So I jumped at the chance.
I got there fashionably late. By fashionably late, I mean I was pretty apprehensive about meeting people I admired, so I put it off as long as possible. I got there, and River immediately waved me over and within the first 30 seconds, Craig offered me a pint. While other bands were in the venue sound checking and whatnot, we hung out on the sofas in the bar. We screamed over the sound check and just about managed to understand each other.
I saw a lot of my own friends in them, a lot of my own life.
By this point, Kris was writing a vocal to one of my tracks and I was working on my remix of “Swings & Waterslides.” To this day, I still haven’t heard the vocal he was writing. I really should’ve pestered him for a phone demo or something of the sort (he was writing it in the van while touring). I thought we were only going to speak about our work, but that wasn’t the case. I felt like I was hanging out with my own friends. Maybe that’s why this whole tragedy has led me to vent the way I am. I saw a lot of my own friends in them, a lot of my own life. We spoke about drunken nights out in new cities, girls, writing, record labels, and had a strange, five-minute conversation about doppelgängers. They were normal lads riding an incredible wave that life had given them, and they were enjoying every minute of it. Nothing had gone to their head. They were an absolute joy to be around.
Although there was a clear wild and cheeky side, they were all so mature and appreciative of everything that was happening to the band. I saw this appreciation in Tomas especially. I believe he mentioned that he knew Craig for a while before Viola Beach was born. It made sense, as Craig seemed to genuinely care about these people. When I spoke with Craig, I got the impression that he knew how special the band was, but he didn’t have dollar signs in his eyes. He came across like a passionate and proud parent. He was so excited for the opportunities that were arising.
I took a couple friends to the gig that night and managed to catch the whole set this time. They were incredible once again, and my friends loved it. After shaking all of their hands post-performance, Kris said, “Let us just put our gear backstage and we’ll come have some drinks.” I had to leave because we had plans for the evening. They thanked me for coming, and I said I hope to see them again soon. I wished them luck with it all, finished my gin and tonic, and headed out on to Call Lane.
If I could go back, I’d spend the night with them, I’d drink with them and enjoy their company, because I know I would have. The lesson here is to say yes. As much as I saw my friend group and myself in these guys, they were different than me. They grabbed hold of opportunities with a tighter grip than I did, they were confident, and they were up for anything. I learned from them.
They grabbed hold of opportunities with a tighter grip than I did, they were confident, and they were up for anything.
I have my foot in the door of the music industry enough to know a little about what goes on behind closed doors. I know for a fact that there wasn’t a new band in the UK creating an industry buzz quite like Viola Beach. I could see them headlining festivals in years to come. They were doing everything right, and they were on the cusp of something monumental. My hope now is that their unreleased music will be shared with the world, and appreciated the way it should be. Although it’s a tragic way to discover a band, I think this is really important and I’m glad that they’ll have this legacy. I’ll do my best to finish my remix for them and put it out there, too.
Why did I write this? Like Kris, I vent by putting pen to paper. Like the band did, I do what makes me happy for a living. It pains me to see such tragedy when they were doing such an admirable thing, working towards greater success. I wanted to share a brief yet fond memory of my time with the band and their manager. As a final note, I hope that Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, Jack Dakin, and Craig Tarry rest in peace. My thoughts are of course with family and friends of these gents through this tragic time, and I hope their music is remembered for years to come. I know I’ll still be listening.