If there’s a better example than The Vamps of just how quickly a band can go from a standing start to becoming a huge success in just a few months, then they’ve escaped me. A year ago, we saw them make their Brighton debut supporting The Wanted at the SD2 festival. Then, just a few months later in March we saw them at the Brighton Centre again supporting The Wanted. Their performance was confirmation that whilst one band were on their way out, another was on their way to the top.
Apart from not having emerged from a TV talent show, what separated The Vamps from so many other manufactured boy bands was the fact that they all played instruments and had more than just one or two strong songs, songs they actually wrote themselves. So confident were they, that back in March they’d even announced this headline show at the Centre.
The last few months have seen their star rising to the extent that – after One Direction – The Vamps are arguably the second biggest boy band around. And whilst 1D are a phenomena all of their own, they now have some pretty serious competition. Indeed. October saw The Vamps named Best British Group at the Radio 1 Teen Awards.
And whilst they might have been “speechless” at beating One Direction, they’re following in their footsteps by also making a big noise outside of the UK. With their first headline tour sold out, confidence is not surprising flowing, but what was surprising was seeing just how far they’ve come in the last six months.
Last time round, the improvement was noticeable, now it was jumping up and smacking you round the face. Here was a band that have fast tracked everything, not least their playing and their performance. And what’s great about The Vamps compared with so many of their contemporaries, is that all four of them catch the eye, each of them makes a big contribution. Perhaps the most noticeable change was with lead singer Bradley Simpson, not only does he all-of-a-sudden look older, but his confidence as a front man has really grown. He’s always had a distinctive voice, but his vocals and stage presence have now been ramped up.
Also ramped up was the production. The last time they played Brighton Centre, they played in front of a curtain, now they had the full works: video screens, a multi-level stage and some pretty swish lighting. But they didn’t just look better, they sounded way better too. The sound quality was out of the top drawer – it needed to be to compete with all the screaming girls in the audience, most of who were carrying messages to their loved ones. It was, by some margin, the closest in atmosphere to when One Direction played the same venue in January 2012. I was at that show and it was obvious straight away they were going to be superstars. On the strength of this show, I think the same can be said for The Vamps.
Beyond playing instruments – and doing so surprisingly well – the big difference between them and ID is The Vamps feel like a genuine band, rather than a group of singers, and even more importantly, they already have more of an edge to them. And this gig certainly provided enough suggestions that they’ve got a lot more in their locker than many might assume. Their cover of All Time Low’s ‘Dear Maria’ was a case in point, sounding like it could be the kind of music The Vamps end up playing. Of course, right now, their own music consists almost totally of catchy, pop songs, like ‘Wild Heart’ ‘Can We Dance?’ and ‘Somebody To You’ but one senses it was never their plan to continue along that path.
What’s absolutely clear is the four of them are really enjoying themselves: “We’re having the best time ever!” And it certainly shows. The only other band I’ve seen this year who can match them for sheer exuberance was McBusted. And just like the McBusted boys, they continually keep things fresh for their audience. One moment, Brad’s (pictured) doing a solo on stage with an acoustic guitar, the next James is on lead vocals, then they’re all down the front with Tristan playing a cajon. And it was Tristan who arguably stole the show with his drum solo – and it wasn’t just any old drum solo. Apart from being totally frenetic, it was synced to equally frenetic graphics on the screen and manic lighting. It’s the only time I’ve heard an audience scream along to a drummer!
There’s no doubt The Vamps are quickly developing into great showmen, however, there are times when they come across more like salesmen: we get plugs for the new single (they even played the video before they came on) plugs for the Christmas album (a re-release of their debut album with extra tracks) and plugs for their next tour. It’s blatant commercialism, but the audience just can’t get enough. Their merch desk even opened at 4:30 to satisfy demand and judging by the amount of Vamps gear being worn, reports of some £30,000 worth of sales might not be an exaggeration.
It’s testimony to the “four sweaty boys” as they described themselves at the end of the show, that they’ve achieved so much in such a short time. And already they’re raising the bar even higher. Next year they embark on an even bigger tour, including a date at the 02 Arena. What’s more, they’re even confident enough to include Union J as their support.
Before they left the stage having sung ‘Oh Cecilia’ their biggest hit, they said “Can we hear Brighton scream?” It was a pretty silly question, Brighton had never stopped screaming all night long!
The Vamps’ debut album ‘Meet The Vamps’ is out now
Photos by Images Out Of The Ordinary
Words by Gary Marlowe