It’s been nearly 20 years since UK girl band The 411 burst on to the music scene with the Top 5 hit ‘On My Knees’ in May 2004. They went on to have two more Top 40 hits with ‘Dumb’ and ‘Teardrops’ before releasing their only album to date ‘Between The Sheets’. The album didn’t perform as well as hoped, and with their record label in the midst of a merger, unfortunately the girls were let go and they decided to disband.
Some of the girls subsequently got back together (along with some new members) in 2007/8 but it was short-lived and the band once again went on an indefinite hiatus.
That was until earlier this month when the original line up of Carolyn, Suzie, Tanya and Tisha, took to the stage in Brockwell Park as part of the Mighty Hoopla festival. I was lucky enough to have squeezed into a pretty rammed tent as the girls played their three singles alongside album tracks ‘China Girl’ and ‘Chance’. The audience lapped up the performance as the girls delivered great vocals, subtle choreography and they looked like they were having the time of their lives.
I caught up with Tisha, Suzie and Carolyn to find out how reforming at Mighty Hoopla was for them as well as looking back at their initial heyday and finding out what else they have planned for 2022.
What was it that made you decide to reform for Mighty Hoopla?
Carolyn: We’ve been asked for a really long time to get back together, every year for probably the last 15 years. It’s funny because my brother is really good friends with Jamie who runs Mighty Hoopla and he kept saying that if you guys get back together we’ll book you. When we were asked about this year we all said let’s just do it. It just felt like the right time. We’d all had kids…but they are of an age where now we thought maybe we can pull this together. We said ‘yes’ to it and I don’t think we knew how it would pan out.
It’s been 18 years and you kind of assume that you’re going to throw on your shoes and stand on the stage and it’ll be exactly the same as it was. But in the lead up to it, we realised we’d have a little bit of work to do. Not that it took too much and I’m incredibly proud of us, we were super quick.
Suzie: We only had four rehearsals in total and only two rehearsals with all of us together.
Carolyn: We did say though that if we were doing this, it would be as a four piece – it was all of us or none of us! I’m so proud of us because we put on a show despite the first time we did a full rehearsal being on the stage on the day.
How did it feel to be back performing as The 411 again?
Carolyn: I had my son there, who’s a little bit older than the other girl’s kids and it was really nice for him to have me there. He said ‘Woah! Mum they were actually singing the words.’ When we saw the tent so rammed, it was better than we ever could’ve thought. It was a great festival to play.
Suzie: If we were going to play anywhere, that was the one! It was really emotional, which I was quite surprised about. I’ve been doing backing vocals for other acts ever since we finished and have stayed in the industry, but I did not expect to feel the way I felt on that stage. It just really hit me, being with the girls and singing those songs. It took me right back. Having everyone singing the words back to us with these big smiles on their faces. Wow! Ok, people still like us.
Carolyn: After the show I was in standing in the VIP area for a bit, and a fan came up to me and said he’d flown from America to see us. He said he used to be on The 411 forum when he was a little geeky kid in New York and us and our music had kept him alive. He was in a really difficult place and ‘On My Knees’ helped me through. I burst into tears! It was pretty emotional.
It’s been nearly 20 years since you released your album ‘Between The Sheets’. Losing your record contract soon after must’ve been tough?
Suzie: There was a massive buzz around ‘Dumb’. For a new girl group to do what we were doing at that point was unheard of. It’s difficult for girl groups to make an impression and we did it with our first two singles and had momentum right there. Perhaps we should’ve released the album off the back of that single.
Carolyn: But we wouldn’t have been able to release the album then. The head of our label didn’t believe in us so we started with a single deal and when ‘On My Knees’ did well they said ‘get the album out’. We only had 5 weeks to write and make an album alongside continuing to do all the promotion, TV shows and touring.
Tisha: I don’t think we had a lot of input in regards to the songs coming out afterwards. I think if they had spoken to us as a group collectively and maybe said let’s have a listening party and see what songs people are vibing to more… When the album did come out, a lot of people were saying ‘China Girl’ or ‘Can’t Fight Love’, could’ve helped as a third single instead of ‘Teardrops’. Especially because it was around Christmas time.
Suzie: Well we can speculate about what could’ve happened but there’s no guarantee that things would have gone any differently. We might have peaked then to be perfectly honest and it could’ve been a harder uphill climb from that point. We got to where we got to pretty quick. From when the line up got put together and we had our first Top 5 single was really quick.
What are your fondest memories of that time?
Carolyn: Thinking about it now, there was so much positive but when you’re tired and jaded by what’s happening at the time, you don’t see it. Like standing in the middle of Italy at 18 (years old) on stage in the Collesseum, in the middle of the evening with beautiful barmy weather, supporting Black Eyed Peas at a massive gig… And thinking this is my job!
Suzie: Having our own chalets in Austria! And the apres ski! We had a lot of jokes and laughs. Me and Carolyn were always playing pranks on the other two.
Tisha: You were the naughty girls! Me and Tan are quite gullible I’d say. We definitely had some fun times.
Carolyn: We’d make up a word that doesn’t make any sense and make them say it in the interviews (in Europe) as if it meant something in a particular language. We used to tell Tanya to say kugelscreiber instead of thank you, and in means ballpoint pen or something in German!
You co-wrote nearly every song on the album. Was that something you pushed for or something that the label asked of you?
Carolyn: I’m not being funny but if you had told us we didn’t have to write back then, we’d have probably all been like ‘thank you very much!’. Now I love to write but when you only have five weeks to write an album it was tough.
Tisha: Personally, I love to write but back then it was a real push. They didn’t understand the creative time span that we needed but I did really like the fact that we wrote our own songs as it means more to us. Especially with ‘On My Knees’, Carolyn and Tan and all they went through and where it came from, looking back and hearing that song, it holds a special place in all of our hearts. We can relate to it more and give it more emotion on stage.
Carolyn: I took a moment when we at Hoopla when we were singing ‘China Girl’ and thought ‘we wrote these songs!’.
You are taking part in the 90s Baby Pop Tour in September and October alongside acts like Atomic Kitten, Five and Liberty X. You would have been teenagers in the 90s, are there any acts you’re excited to see on the tour?
Suzie: I loved Damage when I was younger. I used to collect all their CD singles, in the days when they’d release two different versions with all the mixes and different artwork. I still love them now, but I’m going to hold it down. It’s different when you’re all working together – I can’t be a fan girl then!
Which other girl groups have you admired in the last 18 years?
Tisha: My background is in the R&B genre and I would say Destiny’s Child have influenced me a lot. I used to love All Saints, I thought they were really funky and obviously I love Sugababes. I saw them at Mighty Hoopla and they were amazing!
Suzie: I’ve got to give props to Little Mix. They smashed it the last 10 years or so. They have lots of really, really catchy hits. They are much bigger than where they came from on the X Factor.
Carolyn: They can all sing really, really well and they can all dance. Obviously they have now split up, but when you watched them as a group they genuinely connected with each other. You could see in the beginning they were probably a bit like ‘shit, this industry is really mean’ but they were really solid with each other and that’s probably why they have done as well as they have. I know there has been some drama, but they have done so well. I really like them!
I think their label clearly had a belief in them as well, and for me that’s what makes me a little bit sad about our band and perhaps we didn’t have that belief and I’d have loved to have seen what would’ve happened had we had that behind us.
Is there a chance for some new music from The 411?
Suzie: This year we are just concentrating on the shows that we have coming up and making sure they go well. If they don’t go well, no one will be interested in listening to the old music, let alone new music! We want to get a full repertoire of songs up and ready to perform again. We can’t just keep doing the same five songs at every show because it’ll become very predictable and boring for the fans.
Tisha: I would love us to do some new music in the future.
Carolyn: Never say never!
The 411 will be performing on the 90s Baby Pop Tour in September and October. Book tickets at www.itsthenineteesbaby.com
Listen again to The 411’s debut album ‘Between The Sheets’ below: