The story of The Overtones reads like a modern fairytale. A group of talented singers struggling to get a break, turn their hands to painting and decorating to earn a living.
Singing while they work on a shop in central London one evening, they are overheard by a talent scout for a major record label, who is stopped in her footsteps by their soaring five-part vocal harmonies.They are invited to audition and signed on the spot for a five-album deal.
“It was a bit of a funny one,”
says the group’s Mike Crawshaw, a 34-year-old Bristolian with a mellow West Country burr.
“We had been singing as a group for years before, but did painting and decorating to make some money. We were five guys all trying to put food on the table and pay the rent – which, in London, is difficult. We also wanted to do something together.”
“One of our first jobs was just off Oxford Street and we had a bit of a sing with an a-capella version of Billy Joel’s The Longest Time. When a woman walking by told us she was an A&R for Warner Bros Records, we didn’t believe it. After all, we’ve heard from a lot of people who say they are in the industry and aren’t and have had a lot of empty promises. So we took it with a pinch of salt.”
Mike, and fellow Overtones Timmy Matley, Lachie Chapman, Mark Franks and Darren Everest went into the office a week later to audition. Mike recalls:
“It was only when I saw the neon Warner Bros sign that I realised this was the real deal!”
“I was taking photos, but Darren was saying ‘play it cool’. “But we went in and sang our hearts out and it went great. We didn’t know what they might be wanting to do with us though.”
They were snapped up and went into the studio, emerging in late 2010 with debut album Good Ol’ Fashioned Love. The record initially charted at number 16, but on being re-released early the following year, reached number four — shifting more than 500,000 copies.
The die was cast for the group who, as a four-piece called DYYCE, had in 2009, been rejected from The X Factor.
It was followed by 2012’s Higher and 2013’s Saturday Night at the Movies.
“We realised straightaway we’d found the opportunity we’d been waiting for – after four or five years of playing sticky-floored pubs and clubs around London,” says Mike. “We had pulled it out the bag!”
The group are as known for their sharp looks as their cool harmonies and smooth reworking of vintage doo-wop and modern pop.
Mike agrees, the suits have become something of a trademark image, though for the interview – which interrupts a recording session for their fourth album – he is sporting jeans and a polo shirt.
“There are five us in this group and we come from all over the place, so the suits help bring us together,”
So how have they adjusted to life as musical celebs?
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,”
“But we weren’t signed when we were 16, which helps. technically we’ll be seen as veterans. We were already our own men; I know who I am and what I’m about. Fame wasn’t given to us on a silver platter, we had to work hard. I know we can’t take anything for granted though, and we are not as big as One Direction – though we are striving to grow.”
“We still sing swing pop. In the beginning they wanted us to focus on doo-wop, but as we’ve evolved and developed we have turned our hands to anything vintage.”
“Ours is a genre not widely done by many other acts, if any, and it’s our duty to make it as mainstream as possible and get it out there.”
The boys play Henley Festival on Sunday in a joint-headline set with X Factor star Rebecca Ferguson. I suggest the lads, cutting fine figures in sharp suits and polished spats, will fit right in at the elegant black-tie party beside the Thames.
“We are getting our families along. Our parents and girlfriends will be getting dolled up – and my dad’s bought a tux for the occasion, so he’s excited.”
“We do a lot of festivals, but don’t like getting our shoes dirty – so this is going to be nice and with a lovely audience. It’s the crème de la crème.”
“After all, who doesn’t like getting dressed up for the night? We feel at home in our suits, dicky bows and pocket squares – but it will be nice not to be the only ones!”
It is, he admits, a far cry from his formative years in Bristol.
“The school I went to didn’t lend itself to getting dressed up or drinking Champagne on a picnic blanket. It was more about football and Scrumpy Jack.”
“I didn’t start singing until I was at college. Before I was 18 I didn’t realise I had a voice – and going to places like Henley would never have crossed my mind. It’s so exciting.”
Published: 10th July 2014
Author: Tim Hughes
Source: The Oxford Times