They aren’t a boy band in the conventional sense, as no music company brought them together. Very talented and hugely popular with sold-out shows worldwide, the British foursome who call themselves The Vamps can’t be described as merely YouTube sensations now even though that’s how they first came together and gained their fan following. Today, they travel the world and are eager for new experiences. Priya Pathiyan, who creates bespoke tours of Mumbai for visitors, took the boys on a whirlwind spin of sin city to give them a taste of the desi aesthetic while they shared a slice of their lives along the way. She tells us how it went down...
If you have an adolescent daughter or niece, chances are you’ve heard a lot about The Vamps. No, this isn’t that vampire-werewolf series she was ‘soooooo’ in love with yesterday. This is a British pop band that tweens and teens are tracking on social media, although they call themselves Vampettes.
This isn’t One Direction either. It’s a whole other fab four. In fact, The Vamps, ultra cute crooners playing sold-out gigs and having PYTs all over the world chase them with hysterical screams, are the new kings of the boy band scene.
Meet Brad Simpson (lead vocals and guitar), James McVey (lead guitar and vocals), Connor Ball (bass guitar and vocals) and Tristan Evans (drums and vocals). None of them a day older than 23, and they’ve already hit the big time. In less than four years, their YouTube channel (including VEVO) has over 2.7 million subscribers and 379 million views. They’re hot property on Twitter too, with over 3.2 million followers. They have 1.7 million people awaiting their Instagram posts and their Facebook page has close to 6.3 million fans. Their debut album Meet The Vamps went multi-platinum in several countries, charting at Number 2 in the UK, selling over 10 million singles across their seven releases; and their second album Wake Up going straight into the top 10 charts.
In 2016, you probably heard their cover of the track Kung Fu Fighting for film Kung Fu Panda 3 and they even had OMI of Cheerleader fame collaborating with them to add his trademark Caribbean lilt to their latest single I Found a Girl. In October last year, they released an EDM single with Norwegian DJ Matoma called All Night. Closer home, The Vamps have worked with Vishal (Dadlani) and Shekhar (Ravjiani) on the single Beliya, which infuses their pop vocals into a folksy ballad. The music was made and the video shot in London and the boys were in India to talk about it.
The band played at the Global Citizen Festival India in November last year and much to the chagrin of The Vamps’ many fans, who pleaded with us on Twitter to arrange an audience with them, we had the opportunity to spend a day with them in Mumbai. Here are snapshots from that exciting time as part of their entourage…
11 am, Taj Land’s End: They’ve been having a little sleep-in as they just got in the night before. Now that they’re up and ready to hit Mumbai running, they tell me how they were amazed by what happened at the airport last night. The bright-eyed Tristan exults, “This is our first time in India and we had 200 fans waiting for us outside the airport!”
2 pm, photo shoot: It’s a fitting for the HT Brunch photoshoot and they’re quite well-behaved as they try on Indian wear by Arjun Khanna in a plush sea-facing suite at the Taj Land’s End. Predictably, the chat veers to everything Indian. Brad confesses, “I’m excited to taste a lot of Indian delicacies. We just tried a cottage cheese curry, which was delicious.” James admits that he was impressed by the welcome ceremony at the hotel, with blessings in the form of floral garlands.
4 pm, lobby: They’re introduced to director Farah Khan and actor Boman Irani. “We don’t know much about the industry, but it’s fascinating,” says Connor. Tristan adds, “We want to get more involved with Bollywood films musically.”
That makes sense, as they’ve already made a start with the single. We ask them to tell us about the Beliya experience, which has trended in over 23 countries. Connor says, “We recorded Beliya in London and it took just one day to write it!” James adds “It was great recording with Vishal and Shekhar. We sang together in a group vocal. They taught us how to sing in Hindi and the original recording made the final track. They’ve been like teachers to us.” Brad continues, “They’re very talented and incredibly good songwriters. It’s a very different song-writing process than we are used to but we enjoyed it. They got me to sing a few lines in Hindi. It was great to read the YouTube comments of fans happy to hear us sing in Hindi.”
He chortles at the memory of an incident at the airport the night before. ‘Brad, your Hindi is better than mine!’ a chap told him. He naturally breaks into the song, ‘Jaisa mein hu, waisi hain tu…’ admitting he had to practise a bit. “It was difficult to pronounce ‘dil’ correctly. You have to twist your tongue differently to get the ‘l’ sound at the end,” he smiles that smile that wins little Vampette hearts.
4.30 pm, car: We chat with Ted May, senior international marketing manager from Virgin EMI, to get a quick psych profile of each of The Vamps. “Tristan is the craziest. He’s pretty mad, always in a good mood, always super fun. James can be more serious, always going to the gym. Of course he can have a laugh with the other guys, but he is really focused. Connor, from Scotland, is the fan favourite. He’s a bit shy and takes a while to open up. But I think the girls like that. And then there’s Brad, a superstar, always full of energy. They’re a good mix and get on well with each other. They’ve shared rooms and lived in each others’ pockets.”
When we mention how grounded they seem, he nods in agreement, “Their parents are really big on that. In fact, they are all very close to their families. It’s probably because they are away so much. When they return home, they’re looking for that closeness. While other kids are rebelling and looking for excitement, they’ve got enough excitement as it is!”
Have they changed in the time he’s known them? “They’ve maybe grown up a bit but they’ve always been incredible…very mature and serious about their music. They’ve been no trouble…I wish everyone was like that!” May laughs. But no one has to deal with star tantrums with them. “The difference between them and kids their age is that they understand this is an incredible life and want to keep doing it for as long as they can,” says May.
4.45 pm, Bandra Fort: We’re at the Portuguese Bandra Fort, facing the shiny new Sea Link.
Here, after posing playfully for more pictures, The Vamps get into the zone and speak eloquently about their music, which they say is very different from One Direction’s, whom they’re compared to. They’ve done covers of songs like Oh Cecelia and Kung Fu Fighting. James says, “Doing covers is fun, but also a challenge. The question is how much to stay true to the original and yet think about how to make this ours. Like we had a specific sound for the second album Wake Up by the time Kung Fu Fighting happened and we had to think of how to integrate it with those songs.”
5.15 pm, Waroda Road: We’re now in front of St Jude’s Bakery as I tell them about Bandra’s street art and the secret dinners here. Fascinated, the boys wish they could stay longer to explore. They are soon distracted though, jumping into an auto rickshaw and jostling to play driver, just as boys are won’t to do, celebs or not. Is this very different from life back home, we ask. Brad answers, “It is and it isn’t. We go to a gig venue with lot of fans outside. But we are very capable of living a normal life as well. We want that. We’re all normal, grounded guys. It’s easy to get conceited with all the attention. You might want to do it for a bit but then you get bored. We’re happy with the little things. We’ve travelled the world but haven’t really seen it. We’d like to go to many places and explore them properly. But we love what we do.”
5.30 pm, St Andrew’s College: We’re passing a football ground and there’s a game in progress. All the heads swivel in the direction of the mud-spattered players. “I’d love to have a go. I play back home,” says Brad. “Mud is good for the skin, isn’t it?” laughs Connor. Tristan thinks it would be great for one of their music videos, while James says, “Me and Tristan like cricket but we don’t get to play that much.”
6 pm, Bandra-Worli Sea Link: We’re zipping down the open road towards Worli, when the driver has to swerve suddenly as a van comes at us. All our hearts are in our mouths. Tristan exclaims, “How do you survive? That’s the most intense car experience ever! I thought Connor was going straight into the sea through the windscreen.” Connor is shaken but nonchalant, “Yeah, I could’ve touched that railing. That was good driving by the way. Well done, driver!”
This reminds them of other scary incidents. Connor asks James to tell us about the time he felt scared for his life. James laughs, “It was in Peru. There were wild dogs and they weren’t very nice.” Then the talk veers to people eating dogs in the Philippines and from there to tasting crickets. Brad says, “I’ve tried chocolate-covered crickets, which were dry and crunchy. We try different foods everywhere we go. James asks people what’s the best place to eat and we try the staple dish every place we go. The best steak we had was in Argentina.”
They want to know what Indians think about eating beef. They’re also curious about meditation and yoga. And wonder if they’re part of everyone’s daily life in India. We have a long discussion about religion too.
6.30 pm, At Haji Ali circle:A flower seller tries hard to gift them roses. They are quite chuffed by the attention and surprised that she speaks fluent English.
7 pm, Gateway of India: I tell them how it was built to commemorate the visit of the King and Queen of England in the days of the Raj. They admit they feel guilty about being British in a country that was colonised by their forefathers.
7.30 pm, Colaba: We’re discussing their music process at the iconic Café Mondegar, Colaba, which they find quite quaint, even though they can’t find their music on the jukebox! “Because we started so young, our first album captured our excitement. It is very uplifting and feel-good,” James explains. Brad says, “The next one has a bit of an anthem feel. We all contribute to the lyrics. ” Connor adds, “We do a lot of song-writing with other people too. For this next album, we did a lot of it in LA and worked with a few new people.” It’s clear how they prop up each other without wanting to hog the limelight.
That’s when, as I bid them adieu, and truly understand why they are so popular. They aren’t vain or shallow or stuck up in the least. Their appeal has no boundaries because that’s the universe that today’s generation inhabits. I’m enjoying their music; I’m following them on social media. I’m looking forward to their album and their next visit. The question arises, am I a Vampette now?
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