Hello, hope you’re having a good Thursday and week generally so far – which is about to be that little bit better as I give you another great hidden gem from my own personal archives with this week’s Pop Essays. So without any ado let’s get to this week’s entry…
- Artist: V feat. Tom and Danny from McFly
- Song: Chills In The Evening
- Release Date: 24/05/2004 (on B-side to ‘Blood Sweat and Tears’ single)
- Writers: Tom Fletcher / James Bourne
- Producer: Hugh Padgham
- Chart Run: 6 – 17 – 29 – 40 – 53 – 80 – 80
One of my all time favourite albums has always been Room On The 3rd Floor, the debut album by McFly from 2004. I could go into a whole other blog post as to why it is, but that’s for another time – maybe when it celebrates its 20th anniversary three years hence?
Now here’s the thing; my favourite song from it – or at least, from the same era they wrote and recorded that first album – didn’t actually even make it on there. This despite the fact there exists, on McFly’s YouTube channel, an acoustic version of it performed solo by Tom Fletcher out in the desert in Texas when they were recording what became their Lost Songs album, that has now had nearly half a million hits.
When Busted, the predecessors to McFly burst onto the scene in 2002, all guitars, star jumps and cheeky self written songs about unrequited love and time travel, almost overnight they made the existing boyband template of slick moves, harmonies and matching outfits redundant. For McFly, who were one of two support acts on Busted’s debut arena tour A Ticket For Everyone in the spring of 2004, they thus had a guaranteed market willing to follow everything they did.
However, the going was to prove a little more tricky for the other support act on that same tour. Formed by the very same management team of both bands, Prestige Management, and signed to the same label (Universal Island), Kevin McDaid, Leon Pisani, Aaron Buckingham, Antony Brant and Mark Harle made up V (Roman numeral for Five, which of course had already been notably taken a few years previously).
They were actually the very same band that Danny Jones turned up to audition for, only to be culled when he whipped out his guitar to sing Oasis – which is of course where he met Tom, who was filming those auditions. Yes, V – who still to this day have the most un-Googleable name of any boyband past or present – were operating from the brand of boyband pop that Busted and McFly had suddenly made – unintentionally or otherwise – look a bit old hat.
V came along at a time when the more conventional boybands that were still around were either falling apart at the seams or were close to doing so; Bri(y)an McFadden had just flounced out of Westlife, and Blue were just about to release a greatest hits album and take a “year’s break” that then turned into six. Theoretically, there should have been a gap in the market for a boyband of their calibre. Except cruel circumstances and tastes of the time saw to it that the gap wasn’t to be there.
What new boybands were about – D-Side, Phixx, Triple 8, hello to you – were barely making a dent in the top 10, or selling very much in the way of records at all, at a time when margins on major label record deals were so tight that you needed to shift units to justify the investment made in you. But something did work in V’s favour. Get up on YouTube what videos there are of them being interviewed on the big music telly shows of the time, and their personality, spark and talent was evident. Prestige knew how to pick and form strong pop bands. Even Simon Amstell on Channel 4’s usually caustic Popworld remarked (sweetly, with hindsight) that “You’re probably the first new boyband we’ve had on for a while who don’t seem doomed from the start”.
Admittedly, the choice of V’s first single – ‘Blood Sweat and Tears‘ – was probably not the smart one. A sort of ‘Faith’ aping Stargate written and produced number, on reflection it seemed to ill advisely place them too readily into the same generic box that had already been occupied by others, loaded with some especially clunky and trite lyrics that even they, as openly outward as they were about their boybanding, couldn’t possibly be read without dying a little inside: “I am just a guy / You are just a girl / All I know is I just want to rock your world”.
However, those that did see them on the Busted tour – or who watched CD:UK the weekend before the single’s release – will know that a track was on the B-side which was co-written by both McFly’s Tom and Busted’s James Bourne, with guest vocals from Tom and Danny (yes, Harry Judd and Dougie Poynter are on the performance video above too, but as has been documented in their book Unsaid Things, they hardly played any of the bass or drums on that first album), that proved the promise of potential for the V lads lay in plain sight. This was ‘Chills In The Evening’.
A sweeping, lighters-aloft string and acoustic guitar intro makes this feel, to the touch, like a sort of new millennium ‘Back for Good’, and it’s straight into a forlorn, doe eyed puppy of a first verse and chorus that establishes we are in heartbreak territory: ‘Being with you, was all that I needed / And I don’t know why you were too blind to see it / Now you’re gone, and I need you here tonight / You know that I can’t sleep cause I’m terrified / Feels like I’m falling down really fast inside / And I’m wishing the night away / These chills in the evening / They won’t go away-ay-ay’.
It’s when Tom begins with the second verse: ‘And sometimes I feel like, I can’t go on living / There’s not much to take when you’ve done all the giving / Now you’re gone, and I need you here tonight’ that for McFly, and their founding member in particular, you were witnessing a truly gifted set of pop writers and performers at work. So why this song ended up with V instead is a bit of mystery, but it is one which I will attempt to unpack now.
Having another big name attached to V’s debut single was a canny move. After all, McFly had done the same trick with Busted jumping on their version of The Kinks‘ ‘Lola’ for the B-side to ‘Five Colours In Her Hair’, which had only recently topped the charts. But their own second single ‘Obviously’ was still over a month away from release at this point, and it wasn’t yet clear whether or not they were going to maintain that momentum their debut single had had.
‘Chills In The Evening’ would also, whilst a brilliant song, probably have only made sense being on a McFly album or even as a single of their own once they were that bit more established under their own steam. Viewed in that light, V’s version was probably more fitting to that point, in terms of the style of music and audience they were directly courting. An all dance routines, all harmonising boyband doing a Take That level ballad for the mid 00s? Thank you to you please caller.
If the explicit attempt of the exercise had been to give V the best launch possible – i.e. a number one – it only partially worked. True, ‘Blood Sweat and Tears’ made the top 10 upon release that May, but was out the top 40 after a four week stay. Things improved even more – musically if not commercially – for their next two singles.
A double-A-side of Xenomania helmed banger ‘Hip To Hip‘ and a cover of The Jacksons‘ ‘Can You Feel It‘ hit the top 5 that August, but another ballad of theirs, the truly stunning ‘You Stood Up‘ cruelly missed the top 10 by a whisker that November, and when their debut album of the same name missed the album chart (it peaked at #86), V were thus consigned to the pop dumper after less than a year of chart action.
Ultimately, it was a case of mishandled musical direction and a stubborn market generally that killed them off before they’d even got going. Still, their reading of one of the greatest songs that anyone from the Busted and McFly camps has ever written and produced means that I am at least able to give them the respectful hearing that they have long deserved.
Don’t forget to follow our brand new Pop Essays playlist on Spotify, which includes all the songs we’ve written about. What are your memories of this week’s featured song or band? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or message us on our Instagram.