In it for the Frills

Blossoms’ fourth album has topped the charts with its more contemplative sound. Tom Ogden and Joe Donovan from the Stockport band talk about their desire for longevity – and Rick Astley

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Sitting on a leather sofa backstage at Manchester’s Band on the Wall, moments after a celebratory album launch show in front of 500 fans, Blossoms singer Tom Ogden and drummer Joe Donovan are describing the mixed emotions they feel whenever a new band hails them as an influence.

“If we’re 60 and we can’t afford to retire, we’ll be doing this till we’re 70.”

“I find it depressing,” half jokes Donovan, sweat still visible on his brow. “They say to us: ‘We used to love listening to you in school.’ When you hear that for the first time, you’re like: ‘Fuck off. I thought I was dead cool and as young as you.’ I remember when we were the new band saying that to other groups.”

“Oh, God. They say it’s a young man’s game, don’t they?” responds Ogden as the pair fill the room with laughter.

Although far from old hands, 2022 marks eight years since Blossoms’ first release: 2014’s three-track Bloom EP, featuring early fan favourite You Pulled A Gun On Me. A record deal with Universal swiftly followed, laying the foundations for the group’s rapid rise to become one of the country’s most popular guitar acts of the past decade.

In that period, Blossoms – named after a local pub in their hometown of Stockport – have released multiple number one albums, toured relentlessly and performed two huge headline shows: the first in 2019 at Stockport Football Club’s Edgeley Park stadium and, more recently, a pandemic-delayed sold-out gig at Manchester’s AO Arena in front of 15,000 fans.

This month, the band’s fourth studio LP, Ribbon Around The Bomb, became their third to top the UK charts and earned the quintet – made up of Ogden, Donovan, bassist Charlie Salt, guitarist Josh Dewhurst and keyboardist Myles Kellock, who are all “still the right side of 30”, asserts the singer – some of the strongest reviews of their career.

“It’s a reflection of where we are as people. You get a little bit older. You want to keep things fresh. You don’t want to do the same thing over and over again,” says Ogden, looking just as boyish as when the group first broke through.

The album title references André Breton’s famous description of Frida Kahlo’s art and Ribbon Around The Bomb proves to be an apt metaphor for the record’s charming combination of light and dark, built on the loose concept of a writer character who Ogden openly admits is based on him.

“I knew I didn’t want to just write love songs again. I’ve done it before loads of times. I wanted to do something different. At the back end of 2019 I wasn’t enjoying the gigs as much as I should have been. I wanted everything to be perfect. I was picking out ridiculous things and driving myself mad over it. I felt like I had just got my head sorted with it and then lockdown hit.”

When the pandemic shut down touring overnight, the singer took the opportunity to pause and reflect on how all five band members’ lives had changed since they first got together in 2013. Visions, a ruminative seven-minute song influenced by The War on Drugs that sees Ogden wistfully look back and ask “Was I complete at 23?”, proved to be a key track in the album’s development.

Other songs poetically reflect on life’s up and downs with a deeper maturity than previous Blossoms’ records have contained, matched by sweeping cinematic arrangements that carry deliberate echoes of Harry Nilsson, Bee Gees and Paul Simon, as well as local rock heroes The Smiths. Ogden credits The Coral’s James Skelly, who has co-produced all of Blossoms’ music, with giving him the confidence to go down a more introspective direction after two LPs of synth-heavy indie-pop anthems.

“He helped guide me,” explains the 28 year old, who relishes the responsibility of being the group’s sole songwriter. “I think I probably do quite like the pressure of it, in a weird way.”

He recalls a moment of panic when Blossoms’ 2016 debut entered the charts at number one and his celebrations were momentarily punctured by the sudden realisation: “Fuck. I’ve got to do it again now.”

“It was when we first got [road] crew and we were like: ‘Oh God. We’ve got people who rely on us to pay their mortgage,’” interjects Donovan. “I remember saying to you then: ‘You’ve written tunes all the time since you were 16, so worrying about it now is only going to make it ten times worse. Just carry on doing what you’re doing.”

Donovan jokes that no one in the band shares in the songwriting duties because “Tom’s too good. If I wrote a tune, I’d be more nervous playing it to him than playing the arena. It would be like that Family Guy sketch where Ringo writes a song and the other Beatles put it on the fridge. Tom would be like that. ‘Good try, Joe. We’ll put it on the fridge for you.’ Like a well-done sticker.”

Tucked away on a nondescript industrial estate in Stockport, not far from where all five members grew up, is Blossoms’ rehearsal space and de facto band headquarters.

Above: with Ricky Astley in 2021 playing Smiths covers (Lorne Thomson/Getty)

“When we’re not recording or touring, we just go in there,” says Donovan. “We painted it all together, tidied it all up. We’ve got a ‘shit shelf’ where things picked up from tours get piled up on. We do mundane things like sort through that. Doing little things like that together and not putting one person above another makes us fundamentally remember that we’re mates.”

He says the close brotherly bond that exists between the five members of Blossoms keeps them grounded (all of them attended the same secondary school and have known each other since their young teens).

“It’s mates first, band second. It sounds mental to say, but that’s what it is. Because without friendship there is no band,” says the drummer, the more gregarious and outgoing of the two musicians seated next to each other. Ogden is a quieter, contemplative interviewee, but just as friendly and down to earth.

When disagreements do inevitably occur between band mates, says Donovan, they confront them head on.

“We’re always dead honest with each other. If someone pisses you off, you tell them they’ve pissed you off, we have a little argument about it and then we get over it.”

In August, Ogden married Donovan’s sister, Katie, making the two men brothers-in-law as well as childhood friends and bandmates. The wedding took place at Stockport Town Hall, naturally, and all five band members remain proud to call the town home.

“We all still live ten minutes from each other,” reveals Ogden.

“We actually live on pretty much the same road,” adds Donovan, who got engaged to his girlfriend on the same night Blossoms played Manchester’s AO Arena a month later.

“I was shitting myself,” he animatedly recalls. “Usually when you play a gig, you get in there, bang, straight into the first tune, all nerves go and you’re just into that moment. Whereas I was sitting there for the whole gig thinking: ‘Oh my God. What if she says no?’”

Preserving the band’s northern roots is one of the reasons the band members continue to be such close friends, believes Ogden.

“It gives us a sense of identity. Because we’re so tight knit as a band, we don’t really make many friends with other bands. We never did that London thing and socialised. We just weren’t like that. We never felt like we were part of a scene. We always felt like we were in our own little world.”

Donovan says that whenever they do find themselves at events with other musicians and famous people, the five of them invariably end up in the corner of the room “doing our own little weird jokes”.

That same sense of camaraderie can be seen in Blossoms’ jubilant live shows and heard in the uplifting music that they create. Their confidence stems from the strong relationships that drive the band.

“We do all have our own friends and different hobbies, but we seem to be an anomaly,” agrees Ogden. “From the moment when we first got in a rehearsal room together, cracking jokes, it just clicked. I can’t remember songs ever taking ages and us sitting there scratching our heads.”

Looking back on all that Blossoms have achieved, the singer says he is most proud of the band’s attempts to try something new with each album.

“You’ve got to keep it fresh and entertaining. Whilst you want the gigs to get bigger and bigger, ultimately you want to enjoy it. That’s what I think is the most important thing. I wouldn’t want to be playing arenas and be miserable. I think if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll get to where you want to be.”

Selling out the AO Arena last year served as validation that they are on the right path and belong on the biggest stages. In contrast, 2019’s show at Stockport FC’s stadium – then Blossoms’ largest headline show – left Ogden and Donovan disheartened and feeling like they were imposters.

“We’d only had two albums at that point and, in hindsight, I don’t think we were ready to do that gig,” says the singer. “Whereas the arena was bang on.”

Last year’s unlikely collaboration with Rick Astley for two concerts performing covers of Smiths’ songs was a further demonstration of their strengths as a live band, even if the gigs did upset Johnny Marr (he called the team-up “both funny and horrible at the same time”. The parties have since made up).

As for the future, Donovan says he wants to continue playing in Blossoms until old age. He turns towards his bandmate. “You’ve always been a bit more like…”

“I don’t want to be doing it when I’m 70,” answers Ogden.

“It depends how much money we have. If we’re 60 and we can’t afford to retire, we’ll be doing this till we’re 70, mate,” responds Donovan laughing.

“We’ve always wanted longevity and I suppose we’re starting to get that now. Even though four albums in six years is not a lot, I think we’re starting to be spoken about as a band that’s been around for a bit now,” continues the drummer, who admits to still pinching himself when he reflects on how his life has turned out. “When you think about how many good bands never make it, what we’re doing is mad.”

“We don’t see a cap on where we want to play and also we don’t see an end to the band,” says Ogden, running a hand through his long hair. “Everything’s open and quite free.”

Ribbon Around The Bomb is out now. Blossoms play Neighbourhood Weekender in Warrington’s Victoria Park on 29 May and support The Killers at Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester on 11 June

Main image: Madeline Penfold

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