Being backstage at The Big Reunion Boyband Tour is a bizarre experience. Seeing familiar faces from the late nineties, it as it feels like I have just stumbled across some kind of time-space anomaly which has allowed me to go back to the days of Smash Hits magazine; however, the atmosphere is more like a tame stag party. As I speak to Mark Read from A1, he tells me that backstage is not as glamorous as people would imagine “With us, you have Christian playing Civilisation; a computer game on his laptop, Ben tweeting and then me watching shows like Gotham and The Simpsons. You need to enjoy your downtime when you’re constantly on the road”.
An average day on this tour for any of the bands can be exhausting. “Different cities mean different schedules. Generally you get back to your hotel then hopefully catch up on sleep the next morning, then it’s back out on the road again”. When asked about the A1’s favourite place to visit on tour, Mark answers with a smile, “So far the O2 in London. It’s a great venue and it was a sell out, so it was nice to see it so jam packed. Everybody was holding their phone torches up in the air and laughing, so that has been the highlight.”
A1’s third album Make It Good was released shortly before their split, and the band developed a change of pace as they ditched dance routines in exchange for more input into songwriting and playing instruments on stage. As the pop scene has developed in the last 12 years to a point where this setup is almost the ‘norm’, I asked Mark if he felt that there was more of a place for the band; “At the time the focus wasn’t necessarily on playing, so I think that we were almost in the wrong era. Our split was bad timing because then Busted came along, then McFly and now it’s pretty standard to be involved in at least the writing. I think it is definitely a better time for us as we’ve grown up and we’re picking up a whole new generation of fans.” For nostalgia’s sake the bands performing on the tour are bringing out the old routines for the fans and apparently lots of stretches seem to be the key to being able to do the old routines. “Believe it or not, second time around we’re not as flexible as we were, so plenty of stretches and lunges help. I think with a lot of patience from the dancers around us and choreographer, we’re actually quite enjoying it now.”
Outside of the band; Mark, Christian and Ben have all had solo careers and also written for other artists. I ask if Mark has ever written or co-written a song for somebody else that he regrets not keeping for himself. “There was a pretty awesome song that I wrote with the original Fame Academy winner David Sneddon called ‘Baby Get Higher’ and I also wrote ‘I Owe It All To You’ for John Barrowman, who is famous for Torchwood, Dr Who and Arrow. They are both really cool songs and would have made good A1 tunes.” A1’s latest single Critical Love, is unusually a song that is not actually written by them, but by a young songwriter called Mathilde Johnson. Speaking of their experience on Norwegian TV show The Hit, Mark mentions “That’s a unique situation. It was written as part of a TV show that is a competition between songwriters. They had songwriters submit about 700 songs and 20 different artists each picked a song to do a version of. We won our round, so now we’re doing the finals on our one day off from this tour. If you listen to the original song, it’s not necessarily a very ‘A1’ song, but I think we kind of made it our own. Mathilde is a great aspiring up and coming writer and the show is really more about her story than ours.”
As we chat about performance and inspirations, Mark says that his influences while growing up were the Beatles and then also Michael Jackson, nodding to Jackson’s nephews 3T who are sat on a nearby table. He also says that Mr Blue Sky by Birmingham’s own Electric Light Orchestra is the one song that he could listen to over and over again. As I talk to him about my love for drumming, I ask him what advice he would offer to anyone else learning an instrument. “I can tell you that my mum was a drummer, she even drummed when she was pregnant with me and she still drums to this day! She was very inspired by Karen Carpenter. I think it’s really cool when you see a really good female drummer, so my advice would be if you ever get a little bit nervous just go for it, get really engrossed in the music and get lost in the playing and passion. You should always play for yourself and your enjoyment and not worry too much about what other people think, because if you’re having a good time then the audience will have a good time. Just keep practising.”
So what is next for the band now that they are back on UK shores? Any new material or more tours? On this tour they are currently giving away a free track. “People can tweet us and get a free track that is a new song to the UK market called ‘That Somebody Is Me’. Then after the tour we are putting together a new album for the UK and planning a tour as well. Also over the winter, Ben’s going into panto, Christian’s doing a Norwegian tour and I’ve brought a new house so I’m going to buy some furniture so that I have somewhere to sleep”.