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Blue
Credit: Alice Backham

Music

Interview: Simon Webbe and Lee Ryan discuss Blue’s new album ‘Heart & Soul’, their new single and upcoming arena tour

We catch up with half of the iconic boy band.

Blue – Simon Webbe, Lee Ryan, Antony Costa and Duncan James – were the leading UK boyband of the early noughties, with hits including ‘All Rise’, ‘Too Close’, ‘If You Come Back’ and ‘One Love’.

In 2005 the band went on hiatus to pursue solo projects and they’ve returned sporadically since then representing the UK at Eurovision in 2011 and releasing the albums ‘Roulette’ in 2013 and ‘Colours’ in 2015. Seven years on from their last studio album, Blue is back and gearing up for the release of ‘Heart & Soul’ on 9th September 2022.

To celebrate the launch of the lead single “Haven’t Found You Yet”, I spoke to band members Simon and Lee to discuss the new music, reflect on their huge success and find out about their upcoming arena tour in December….

It’s been a long time since I last saw you. How are you doing?

Simon: Very good. Trying to get in shape for the tour, which is at the end of the year. I started a diet  today and started walking today. I’m very, very excited for the single to come out and very excited to hear the reaction. We feel that this could put Blue back on to the radar of our fan base with an enormous anthem track, which I think a lot of people will be able to relate to after what’s been going on in the world over the last few years.

“Haven’t Found You Yet” is a corker of a track. It’s a classic Blue bop but it works for the modern landscape of music too. You’ve pitched it perfectly…

Simon: Oh man, that’s so good to hear. When Antony wrote that, and we first heard it we were like, ‘yes, this is the catalyst for the rest of the album’. We’d written songs that we thought were good enough to go out there but then once we heard this song, that was it. We were like, ‘every song that we’ve all written, we’re gonna have to scrap that, start again and this has got to be the catalyst’. It’s just really good to hear that. There’s quite a few people in the industry that have echoed  what you’ve just said to me. We’re grateful to get that kind of reaction after so long, especially being in the industry for as long as we have. It’s very, very hard to revamp yourself and not rely on your past achievements, and expect people to come to a tour. We wanted to give the fans something fresh… something new that they could relate to and come along to a tour and have a bit of nostalgia but also have a bit of the new Blue, and where we’re going to be going from now on for the rest of our careers as well.

Blue - Haven't Found You Yet
Credit: Tag8 Music / BMG

For this single and album you’ve reunited with Hugh Goldsmith, who was the man who signed Blue back in the 90s. I remember meeting Hugh, which is also the first time I met you guys, when I was doing work experience at Virgin Records…

Simon: Oh! Really? So you were there at the beginning?

‘All Rise’, the album had just come out. I always remember it because you guys were the nicest to me, which not everybody I met during my work experience were..

Simon: That’s really good to hear.

What’s it been like working with Hugh again?

Simon: We thought it was a massive milestone for us, our 20th anniversary, and why not go back to the guy that signed us. He’s obviously in a different place for himself personally but as soon as we approached him and showed him the songs, he was like, ‘oh my God, this is a hit! Maybe we should do more and then try and shape together an album?’ If it wasn’t for Hugh, and Paul our management, we probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to put a new album out. Having Hugh in our corner, who’s known the Blue sound since the beginning, it was just great to have that ear again, that experience and that backing of somebody who was going to tell us the truth. He’s now a ‘yes’ person. We wanted him to be a part of this project so he can put his all into this as well, because it’s such a massive milestone. It’s a massive privilege to have Hugh in our corner for sure.

‘Heart & Soul’, the album, is coming out in September. What can fans expect from it?

Simon: There’s a little something for everybody on the album. If you look at our first album (‘All Rise’), it wasn’t one sound that we had on that album. We had a little journey and a little ribbon that tied everything together. ‘All Rise’ had a bit of rock and pop, and it all just seemed to fit. We wanted to emulate that for our 20th anniversary and personally think we’ve done it. There’s a song on there called ‘Stop’, which relates to what’s happened to the whole world, so we can sit back and reflect on what’s important to us as individuals. You’ve got a few naughty tracks on there, which Blue are renowned for. They’re going up to the bar, but not overstepping the line, if that makes sense? We’re parents now so we’ve got to be careful with what we’re saying because we’ve all got daughters. We want to keep the brand clean because we’re not as naughty as we used to be. If you loved the ‘All Rise’ and ‘One Love’ albums, we could probably 90% say you’re gonna love this one!

Blue
Credit: Alice Backham

In December you’re heading back to arenas for an epic tour. How are you feeling about that?

Simon: All right, I’m gonna give you a little bit of a scoop. Over the weekend, we formed in Copenhagen. We did ‘All Rise’ in front of 40,000 people and when it came to doing the second song we all looked at each other and we went, ‘how are we going to do a tour when we’re so unfit?’ (laughs) Hence today, I started my fitness regime and my diet because when it comes to the tour and doing a two hour set, we’re not as young as we used to be, but we want it to be just as impactful as it was 20 years ago. We’re very, very excited to be able to sink our teeth into something new and we’re excited for the fans to hear the new songs. We can take them back with the nostalgia side of things as well. Getting that right balance is going to be the hard part, when we sit down and decide how the tour is going to look and sound.

You’re over 20 years into the industry and you’re still able to play arenas. It’s a massive achievement. Do you have to pinch yourself?

Simon: It’s a massive achievement! Just so you know, we never actually saw ourselves as an arena band. It was the promoters that said, ‘your past has proven that you can sell out arenas’. For us it was a big risk but apparently, the tour has done really, really well after the announcement. We’re just hoping that once the fan base and people get to hear the new songs and the new album, that it persuades them to come along to the tour and have a great time with nostalgia, and witness where we are right now, as a group.

You must be seeing the next generation of Blue fans at shows now with your fans bringing their kids along…

Simon: Just going back to Hugh and the way he puts music together, he made us a family band right from the beginning. If you were at the tours, I’m sure you would see kids, mums, daughters and grandmas and sometimes granddads sitting there with their arms crossed because they’d been dragged along. We’ve always had that crossover appeal. Hopefully, we can get some new fans with a lot of the songs that we’re going to have on this new album. With social media and the way music is pushed out nowadays hopefully we can influence some of those younger fans to come along and check us out, and check out our old stuff and see if they like it. It would be a dream come true to see those families come back with their kids. When we went to Copenhagen recently, we hadn’t been there for 18 years, and the same group of girls that used to meet us at the airport 18 years ago turned up; the same seven girls, all still speaking to each other, all friends, and all still reminiscing about back in the day and what songs they loved. We’re humble about where we are and we’re just hoping that people gravitate to this album the same way that we have.

Many of your fans became friends because of you and your music so really you’ve been the soundtrack to their lives haven’t you?

Simon: I think you’re right. When you say ‘the soundtrack to people’s lives’ I never really thought of it like that. Maybe Blue have made a few friendships in the past and hopefully we can make new friendships in the future as well and have that same impact.

It’s just mad to think the impact that you’ve had beyond the music and how much you’ve changed the lives of your fans. It’s mind blowing really?

Lee: I remember, back in the day, I’ll never forget this… there was a song that I wrote called ‘Stand Up As People’ and it had nothing to do with what this poor girl went through but (a fan) said her sister got diagnosed with cancer, and she stayed by her bed the whole time, and she said she listened to that song over and over again. She said for some reason it gave her strength. For me, that song was never a commercial pop song. It went on the Warchild album. It was never a song that Blue did but the only reason why I could release that song, and wrote that song, was because of Blue, and she was a Blue fan. That kind of reaction to music, and the reason why we make music, is it’s so powerful. It really touched me that she said that song really helped her through that time. To be able to create something like that, to move someone and help someone along in their life… words really can’t express that. Music is such a powerful thing and we’re very privileged to be able to create something can help an individual through such a tough time.

The four of you clearly have such a strong bond and you’re not together because you have to be. Why do you think that Blue is still resonating with fans all these years on?

Simon: I think you’ve just hit the nail on the head. It’s the fact that we want to be (together) and I think when you want to be and something’s organic and genuine, people then see it. When they see it, they can hear it through the music, and that’s that ribbon I was talking about earlier. We don’t go through life thinking how can we persuade people to like us still. It’s just an organic thing that we’ve always had. I personally think the reason for our success is that if you think about most boy bands, most boy bands are made up of individuals that wanted to be solo artists that were put together. Believe it or not Blue wanted to be in a boy band. All four of us wanted to join a boy band. I think from when we did, we all realized what our strengths were as individuals and said, ‘right, this is how we’re gonna play it and we’re just gonna have fun with it’. From the beginning, that’s what’s happened. That’s then continued through our fan base for the last 22 years.

Blue
Credit: Tag8 Music / BMG

I think it’s also, like I said earlier, that you’re always so nice and kind to people, and that goes a long way. It’s certainly not a given in the industry…

Lee: I understand what you’re saying. We’ve all had our fair share of being in the industry where we’ve met people that you think will be really lovely and they’re not. With us, we’ve always brought each other down to the ground.

Simon: (laughs)

Lee: There’s ego and if there is ever an ego, it gets squashed pretty quickly, just being absolutely battered verbally (laughs) in a good way. If someone gets a bit above the station, we always just take the piss out of each other and everyone comes back down to earth again. We always say…

Simon: The only stars are in the sky, that’s what we always say.

It’s the 20th anniversary of the ‘One Love’ album this year, it was the 20th anniversary of ‘All Rise’ last year and it’s the 20th anniversary of ‘Guilty’ next year. Are you doing anything special for them or waiting for the 25th anniversaries?

Simon: Do you know what, we don’t really think about that? It depends on how the music comes across. It’s always music first for us. We could have done a 10 year anniversary or a 15 year anniversary in that case. If we’re able to do a 25th anniversary? Absolutely.It’s a great milestone… quarter of a century… wow! I understand why other bands do that for sure. It’s always about the music first. Lee and myself, we’re very much itching to start the next album.

Lee: (laughs) Yeah!

Simon: Because we’ve done this album we constantly say, ‘do you think we should start recording the next one or put some ideas down?’ That’s because we’re in love with the music first.

Lee: The other day I sent you a song Si, it was something I wrote a while back, but it would be an interesting idea for Blue on the next album. As Si says, we’re always presenting stuff or getting in the studio and writing together. Si said, ‘yo, that’s different man! Yeah, that could work for a new idea’. We’re always creating as Si says.

It’s definitely an opportunity to get the back catalogue out on vinyl for the 25th anniversaries…

Simon: The label’s listening (laughs). That’s not a bad idea! We are doing vinyl for this album, which takes us back to our era of tapes and vinyl.

What else do you have coming up over the next few months?

Lee: We’re starting the campaign now with the single and I think it’s probably going to take us right up to the tour. There’s not going to be too much more that we can do right Si?

Simon: One thing about us is that before we’ve always had individual projects, which might have overshadowed the message that we’re trying to put across. The message right now is that Blue are back. It’s our 20th anniversary and we have this brand new album after seven years. A stonker of a single in our opinion. We just want to keep the message that Blue are back. The label have given us a great opportunity and a great campaign, which we just want to follow through with. Hopefully when people get to hear the single then it will take on its own momentum and we’ll see exactly where that leads us.

Blue’s new single “Haven’t Found You Yet” is out now and their new album ‘Heart & Soul’ is released on 9th September 2022 (pre-order it now).

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