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Viola Beach

Very rare in the history of rock and pop has there been so shocking a news story than the multiple death/total wipe-out of up-and-coming indie combo VIOLA BEACH. All four members of the young English band (singer/guitarist Kris Leonard, guitarist River Reeves, bassist Tomas Lowe and drummer Jack Dakin) plus their tour manager Craig Tarry were killed in the early hours of Saturday, 13 February 2016, when their Nissan Qashqai vehicle plummeted 80ft off a bridge into a freezing canal in Sodertalje, Sweden. Who drove and who was in the passenger seat was immaterial to all but the traffic police, who revealed later that the pair in the front would’ve died almost instantly.
Named after a locality in Alberta, Canada, VIOLA BEACH formed in 2013 when Warrington, Cheshire lads, Kris, Jack, guitarist Frankie Coulson and bassist Jonny Gibson, rehearsed in their spare time. In May 2015, out went Coulson and Gibson, respectively, and in came River and Tomas (the latter then in his mid-20s). Off the mark when releasing both `Daisies’ and `Love My Love’ to various artists’ website compilations, the quartet’s first official single, the self-financed 7-inch `Swings & Waterslides’ (b/w `Cherry Vimto’), found its way on to the BBC Radio 1 playlist that September. Tipped for greater things after appearing at the Reading and Leeds Festivals, their infectious chanthems and groovy slacker pop resonated well with fellow teenagers looking for the next ARCTIC MONKEYS or COLDPLAY.
A live session for the Beeb in November led to pressure to deliver a second single, `Boys That Sing’ (b/w `Like A Fool’), which, when issued the following January, sold enough copies to dent the Top 50. Critics were quick to compare them to The KOOKS (Kris’s vocal mannerisms very Luke Pritchard), plus Scouse acts The ZUTONS and The CORAL, and the long-gone Britpop. And then came the fatal disaster in February on their way from a festival in Norrkoping, Sweden.
Investigations into their deaths was immediate, and so was the overwhelming response by the British public, who campaigned on social media for fans to buy `Swings & Waterslides’, which duly stalled just outside the Top 10. Warrington Town Hall had flew its flag half-mast in respect to their lost sons. Plans were that they’d been pencilled in for the prestigious South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas and a T in the Park spot, so the promising act were on the verge of a major breakthrough – who knows. Tributes by indie bands from over the country poured in; none more so than from former rivals BLOSSOMS, whom VIOLA BEACH were to support. A benefit concert on 2 April staged at Warrington’s Parr Hall featured The COURTEENERS, The KOOKS, The CORAL, The ZUTONS (briefly) and the aforementioned BLOSSOMS, although nothing was more momentous than when Chris Martin and COLDPLAY covered their `Boys That Sing’ at Glastonbury.
Already in the can was an EP, so inspired by recent build-ups and events, close relations of the band members helped put together a posthumous 9-track album for release by Fuller Beans Records on 29 July. Produced by Ian Grimble, the eponymous VIOLA BEACH (2016) {*8} set – promoted by a brother and sister on media outlets including the BBC – featured all the said hits and several other hook-line numbers that could’ve been top hits: namely `Go Outside’, `Drunk’, `Call You Up’ and live BBC session `Get To Dancing’. Consolation was indeed in the air as predictions that the album would hit the No.1 spot were proved correct – a heavenly conclusion to an otherwise harrowing and heartbreaking loss to pop/rock music.
© MC Strong/MCS Aug2016

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