It’s remarkable how people in their early 20s, who were in Key Stage One when Scouting For Girls were on the charts, are still so fond of their music. It’s a testament to the band’s longevity. Indeed, whilst they have not had a successful single in over a decade, their catalogue has aged like fine wine.
The band is made up of childhood friends Roy Stride, Greg Churchouse, and Peter Ellard – alongside touring member Jamie O’Gorman. I interviewed Stride earlier this year and discovered that, not only did the guys not expect the band to have such longevity, but they didn’t even expect to “make it” in the first place. They got together in their early teens and had a record deal by their late teens, only to be dropped shortly thereafter. It wasn’t until their late 20s that they finally made it, and that’s old in the music industry (remember The X Factor‘s over 25s?!). Now in their 40s, the band has embarked on a huge “best of” tour to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their self-titled debut album.
Each gig has not one but two opening acts. The artists vary at each gig, but in Manchester we had Rosie Smith and Jessie Dipper. Smith has an androgynous presence – a boyish charm and deep vocals. You cannot fault her artistry – she’s as talented a singer as she is a songwriter – but the performance was a bit slow and downbeat for a fun, nostalgic Scouting For Girls gig.
However, when there’s two support acts, they are often quite different in tone and performance, and sure enough, Dipper was much more lively. Like Smith, she’s a skilled songwriter, and she succeeded in bringing her songs to life onstage. However, her set could do with some structural change. She began with a personal song; she even offered us some context before she started singing. It’s always best to start with a more lively song and not go into the personal until you’ve got the audience on your side. It also feels cleaner when artists introduce themselves after their first song, not before it. As an unknown singer, the first song is the first impression.
That was the other issue with Dipper’s set: every song was given 30-60 seconds of spoken context, and some songs had both intros and outros. It felt a little heavy. That being said, her last performance was superb. She certainly saved the best for last, but she might have began her set with it – the audience would have been instantly captivated.
After Dipper left the stage, the DJ played some nostalgic bangers to get us in the mood for the headliners: ‘Human’ by The Killers, ‘Viva la Vida’ by Coldplay, ‘Ruby’ by Kaiser Chiefs, and all that jazz. Just before Scouting For Girls arrived onstage, ’20th Century Fox Fanfare’ was blasted from the speakers – a cheeky, dramatic arrival for a fun band that doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
As this is a tour to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their debut studio album, a good chunk of the setlist was made up of that. Stride offered us historical context and insight into some songs. For instance, the guys wrote ‘I’m Not Over You’ when they were 17 or 18. After they were dropped, it took them another decade to get a record deal, and this is the only song they wrote as teens that made it on to their debut album.
The band sang all eight of their top 40 songs. The second song of the setlist was ‘It’s Not About You’, which Stride called their first single: it was originally released as a limited release EP, before coming out as their fourth single. This was then followed by ‘Heartbeat’. Placing such a well-known song early on in the setlist is a great idea; it quickly gets the audience excited.
They wisely followed ‘I Wish I Was James Bond’ with ‘Michaela Strachan You Broke My Heart’ because, as true SFG fans know, ‘Michaela Strachan’ was a hidden track on ‘James Bond’. “Remember those?” Stride asked with a laugh. I love little poetic tributes like that. I’m reminded of Queen often pairing ‘We Will Rock You’ with ‘We Are the Champions’, for they were released as a double A-side, and radio stations often played the songs (which are only two and three minutes long, respectively) consecutively.
A short while later came a great chunk of songs, beginning with their penultimate top 40 hit, ‘Famous’. For this performance, Stride attached his phone to a selfie stick, with the front camera recording the audience. He then climbed upstairs and mingled with the fans in the balcony, even leaning over and recording the fans down below. Stride is a real showman; he oozes charisma and charm in every movement and breath (so much so that it leaked from the screen when I interviewed him via Zoom!).
‘Famous’ was followed with the beautiful ‘Butterflies’, their final hit ‘Love How It Hurts’, true-fan-favourite ‘Posh Girls’, and their only number 1 hit, ‘This Ain’t a Love Song’. The band then brought us back to the present with a new song – the lead single from their upcoming album, which they are yet to finish recording. There is a singalong part in the song, and the band used a recording device to record the audience so that they can include audience vocals in the final product.
The final song of the main set was the anthemic ‘Elvis Ain’t Dead’. As soon as the band left the stage, the whole audience erupted into a “one more song” chant. The band knew what one song the audience was wanting, but first they sang the fun, festive ‘Xmas in the 80’s’, which made the Christmas lights in the venue twinkle a little more. Stride told us they’d planned on wearing Christmas outfits but, because of the Royal Mail Strikes, only Ellard’s had arrived on time. Ellard took one for the team and wore his costume with pride.
The final song was, of course, the band’s signature hit, ‘She’s So Lovely’. It took me right back to my youth; when I was eight and energetic and happy to be alive.
Scouting For Girls are touring the UK with The Best of… UK Tour until December 11.