#BlastfromthePast: A1

Again, I’ve been somewhat slack with weekly trips in my blogging DeLorean. Rest assured, even with Strictly live blogs returning next Saturday, things are back to normal where #BlastfromthePast is concerned. Ready or not, here comes today’s one…

As a pop kid at heart, there is a place in it – and a fond one at that – for a good old fashioned boyband. By which I mean outlandish hairdos and outfits, tight harmonies, powerful pop choruses, and an epic dance routine or two. 

In fact, it was for these reasons at the turn of the millennium, whilst watching CD:UK or Top of the Pops, or busting some moves *NSYNC would be proud of at school discos (see below photographic proof), that I had a burning but secret desire to be in a boyband.

*NSYNC were one such boyband that fuelled that desire. Five were almost certainly another. But so too, for 11/12 year old me, were Ben Adams, Mark Read, Christian Ingebrigtsen and Paul Marazzi – better known, like the motorway running between North London and Scotland, and the steak sauce before them, as A1.

Formed by the same management team who bought us Steps, if you picked up a copy of Smash Hits or watched Saturday morning kids TV with any kind of regularity around 1999 or 2000, there is a chance you’d have seen them – but mostly Ben – winking back at you from the TV screen or magazine pages.

Not only going for the dance routine and matching outfit jugular, whilst also having a strong hand in writing many of their hits, the excellent likes of ‘Be the First to Believe’ and ‘Ready or Not’ ticked all the boyband boxes neatly and quickly raced their way up in to the UK top 10 in 1999.

But it was only a year later, with the release of their second album ‘The A List’, when they covered a-Ha’s 1985 smash ‘Take on Me’ as its first single, that they went one better than the original, by taking it all the way to number one that September, and geniusly recreating it’s flying cyber space video at that year’s Smash Hits Poll Winners Party (video is in the below playlist). 

They then quickly followed up with the actually brilliant ‘Same Old Brand New You’, also reaching the top of the charts a mere ten weeks later, leading to their picking up of the ‘Best British Breakthrough’ award at the 2001 BRIT awards.

And then a hush descended in their camp when, following a mall signing in South East Asia, where several of their fans were crushed in a stampede, they understandably took almost a year to follow up this incredible success they’d enjoyed to that point. When they came back in January 2002, they did so with arguably one of the greatest boyband songs, or pop songs generally, ever made: ‘Caught in the Middle’.

Eschewing the dance routines and matching outfits that had bought them success on their first two albums for instruments and a more pop rock sound, it quite simply is the sort of song that had Take That released it as their comeback single c.2006 would’ve been hailed a classic. Alas the ‘Make it Good’ album that followed it failed to find an audience willing to accept that this was A1, but reinvented.

Following Paul’s shock departure from the fold that year, the remaining trio of Ben, Mark and Christian announced they were splitting for the foreseeable future. All three released solo material and or produced for others – Ben notably worked with Alexandra Burke and Har Mar Superstar, Mark with Westlife and Olly Murs – in the intervening four years, before, following Ben’s star turn on Celebrity Big Brother in 2009, they reunited – albeit in Christian’s native Norway.

Originally only planned to be for one single release – the brilliantly anthemic ‘Take You Home’ – for the Norwegian version of Red Nose Day, and a tour, the response they got was of Take That levels, leading to their two albums, 2010’s ‘Waiting for Daylight’ (from which the title track was a single, all blissful and yet heartbreaking) and 2012’s ‘Rediscovered’ coming out to huge success. Both are on Spotify and are well worth investigating.

They were last seen properly on our shores taking part in the second series of The Big Reunion for ITV2 in 2014, but they still gig regularly together. Ben’s also currently touring in a stage version of Flashdance with last year’s Strictly pro champ Joanne Clifton, whilst Christian is busy with releasing solo music back in Norway, and Mark is also dabbling with work with former Strictly pros as he is touring shortly as music provider for a new show starring Kristina Rhianoff and Tristan McManus.

For now though, here’s to this week’s #BlastfromthePast, A1. A first class boyband who did exactly what they said on the tin.

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

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