Viola Beach were a band with the world at their feet when a tragic accident cut their promising careers and lives short. Five years on, twelve musicians from their hometown of Warrington have teamed up to release a charity tribute to the band’s hit Swings and Waterslides. Cat Jordan reflects on the projects keeping their luminous legacy alive.
The first I’d heard of Viola Beach was in 2016 when my friend wore their T-shirt to a Blossoms concert in Bournemouth. When I asked who they were, wondering if they were a support act, he explained to me that they had been set to open for the band before a tragic accident on February 13th of that year. Although I have unfortunately only had the fortune of listening to their music posthumously, I hope that my writing can be a testament to their talent and may inspire some readers to give their music a listen if they haven’t already.
Consisting of Kris Leonard (guitar and vocals), River Reeves (guitar), Thomas Lowe (bass guitar), and Jack Dakin (drums), and with a sound comparable to The Kooks or Two Door Cinema, Viola Beach were described by NME as “energetic and exuberant.” This description is particularly reminiscent in the music video for 2016’s Boys That Sing, recorded for BBC Music Introducing. The performance is a brilliant glimpse into the band’s key features: their charm, their energy, and (most importantly) their talent. As their career was only just beginning when they passed, I would definitely recommend giving the video a watch as performance footage is incredibly limited, and the energy they created when performing together is something to be marvelled.
Warrington Music perfectly capture the fun essence that Viola Beach should be remembered for
After watching clips of how much fun Viola Beach seemed to be having during all of their performances, it will come as no shock that the band’s bubbly zeal translated on their debut album. When listening to it in full, it’s easy to imagine how huge crowds would have reacted to the songs live. A great example of this comes in Like A Fool, which begins stripped-back with a focus on the vocals, only to build for a chorus that would have had all of Reading or Glastonbury jumping and singing the lyrics at the top of their lungs.
Although the band will always be remembered for playful, festival-ready hits such as Swings and Waterslides and Go Outside, my personal favourite song on their discography will always be Call You Up. With fairly minimalistic instrumentals, Kris Leonard’s emotive vocals really take front and center. From the immensely powerful opening lyric, “I try to hide that I need you like I need the sky to light up the night / So I can see where I’m going when I’m walking to you,” to the cryptic ending which allows the final chord to ring out until it naturally silences, the song is certainly a stand-out. The only flaw of this ballad is the fact that it’s the only one they ever released, and, for this reason, it is definitely worthy of being a huge part of their legacy.
One of the most touching tributes to Viola Beach came during Coldplay’s headline set at Glastonbury back in July 2016. A choked-up Chris Martin expressed the band’s sadness at their passing, remarking that they understood the hope and drive of being young and in a band. He stated that Coldplay would “create Viola Beach’s alternate future for them, and let them headline Glastonbury for a song.” With their iconic BBC Introducing video of Boys That Sing beamed behind an emotional tribute, it was truly moving to see their song performed for a crowd of 200,000 who seemed to enjoy every second of it. Although Viola Beach will unfortunately never be able to perform to festival crowds, it was moments like this that solidified their place in history and preserved their vibrant legacy in a way they undoubtedly deserve.
Another tribute that would’ve made Viola Beach incredibly proud came on the recent five-year anniversary of their death. Made up of twelve musicians from their hometown and recorded in lockdown, Warrington Music’s cover of Swings and Waterslides is a glorious tribute to a band that touched so many. With dancing, head-bopping, clapping and even hair tossing, the project perfectly captures the fun essence that Viola Beach should be remembered for. This, coupled with stirring vocal and instrumental performances, offered fans a perfect tribute whilst demonstrating the timelessness of Viola Beach’s music. As a listener, it is so incredibly important to keep their music in your hearts and remember them for everything they achieved.
Even five years on, Viola Beach have amassed over three-hundred thousand listeners on Spotify alone
So, five years after their passing, I challenge listeners to reflect on the first time they ever heard a Viola Beach song, which song they have the biggest personal connection to, and perhaps even to introduce a friend or family member to the band. If this is the first you’ve heard of Viola Beach, I ask you please to watch the videos aforementioned, as I know you will fall in love with the band as so many have. Even five years on, the Warrington foursome have amassed over three-hundred thousand listeners on Spotify alone – a testament to the enduring talent. Viola Beach will always be in our hearts, and we can only be grateful that their remarkable discography lives on to be enjoyed by old and new listeners alike.
Featured and article images courtesy of Viola Beach via Facebook. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.
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