Feature: Bombay Bicycle Club
By Rob Fuller
The Manchester Apollo is a big venue. Huge, for a band like Bombay Bicycle Club. I managed to catch up with Jamie and Suren from the band in the middle of sound check. It’s the group’s third show in a row and there are six more dates to come with barely a day off in between. I ask them how it feels to be on a tour this big. “We don’t normally tour this much”, Suren tells me, “and this is our biggest show ever”.
Jamie points out that it’s their first electric tour for a year and a half, having last toured in support of their acoustic album, Flaws. The new album, A Different Kind of Fix, is another sound entirely. Bombay Bicycle Club have, like many of their contemporaries, moved towards a more electronic sound. They readily admit that it’s a bit of a risk. “Critically, it’s probably been our best received album” Jamie tells me, “it’s more difficult for the fans, to be honest.” But when the quartet take to the stage later and open with new single ‘Shuffle’ the reaction from the crowd is huge. Admittedly, the older songs are probably better received but they are an energetic and exciting live band that easily manages to win the crowd over. Some of the new tracks like ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep’ and the next single ‘Lights out, Words Gone’ are wonderfully received. ‘So Much Sleep’ in particular is an exciting addition to the set. It sounds enough like the older material to be familiar while showing how strong their new sound can be.
When Bombay Bicycle Club first emerged many parts of the media portrayed them as a part of an upstart scene of pop-sounding underage bands. Despite their already varied back catalogue, many music fans and bloggers derided them as being too “Topman”; a style over substance group, not dissimilar to such acts as recent touring partners Two Door Cinema Club. I ask them how they feel about such associations. “We’ve never felt like part of any scene”, Jamie tells me; “we just played at the same underage venues [as bands like old schoolmates Cajun Dance Party]. People have hopefully stopped writing about that”. But he does admit that being seen as a ‘young’ band did mean the boys received more leeway from reviewers than other acts might have. Suren tells me they “aren’t the most social of bands” and don’t have many friends in other acts. Given their hectic recording and touring schedule, it’s perhaps easy to see why. Despite this, female vocalist Lucy Rose joins the foursome on stage for a number of tracks from the most recent album and during set closer ‘The Giantess’ they are joined on vocals by support act Dry the River.
Despite the set drawing heavily from the new album, the gig also revisits a number of less recent tracks from the bands history. Older number ‘Open House’ makes a return to the set after a lengthy absence. Two songs from Flaws are also aired in the middle of the set. In fact, the reception for acoustic single ‘Ivy and Gold’ was one of the biggest of the night. With such a varied back catalogue that changes direction with every album, it’s an open question where the band goes next. For Suren, the electronic sound is the future: “This is the Bombay Bicycle Sound”. Jamie however seems to disagree. “I’d like to make another 4-piece band rock album, but it’s hard to do that and not sound like so many other bands”. For Jamie, the future lies in “the sort of off-kilter pop songs like ‘Shuffle’ and ‘Always Like this’” but “with more guitars”. So can the boys see themselves going back and making another acoustic album? Jamie pauses for a moment and then tells me, “I’m sure Jack [Steadman, the lead singer] will, whether we do it as Bombay Bicycle Club or not.”
When I ask them if they feel intimidated by the size of the venue, they tell me they look forward to it but they worry about being so far away from the fans. It’s a fear that may be well founded. Older tracks like ‘Always like This’ and ‘Lamplight’ have the masses jumping around at the front. But in such an arena, with a considerable amount of seated fans, they don’t have that live moment that can bring the whole crowd to its feet. By playing such a big venue the gig loses some of that necessary energy. Bombay Bicycle Club are impressive and give the fans enough of what they want. But part of me thinks it was a big step up that came just a bit too soon.