Viola Beach, 5 years on

The shock may have worn off but the sadness very much endures and it has become a moment in Warrington’s collective recent history which has become etched in our memories…
Can you believe it has been five years since we lost Viola Beach? Many people in the town may not have heard the band’s self-released shimmering indie pop song, Swings and Waterslides, when it originally came out in August 2015.

There is a good chance they did not even know who Kris Leonard, Jack Dakin, River Reeves and Tomas Lowe were.

But I think I am safe in saying almost everyone in Warrington felt that blow following the tragic event in Södertälje, Sweden.

This was February 13, 2016 when Viola Beach had everything going for them.

The four-piece – accompanied by their devoted Woolston manager Craig Tarry – were playing their first international gig at Where’s the Music? festival in Norrköping.

Pictured on the night smiling backstage, they looked on top of the world. Just hours later they were killed when their hire car plunged 80ft off a motorway bridge into a canal near Stockholm.

It has become the sort of unfathomable event where people remember where they were when they heard the terrible news.

Do you remember what you were doing? That Valentine’s weekend is still etched in my memory.

9 things Viola Beach achieved in their short lives (Warrington Guardian)

But let’s rewind a bit further just for a second – what made it hit even harder for me was that I was due to meet Craig and the band the following week. I’d been chatting to Craig over email and just before he jetted off to Sweden we agreed a date for the boys to
come in for a photo shoot and interview.

This was clearly a band that was going places and I wanted to follow this Warrington story every step of the way. I first came across Viola Beach when they were publicising their slot at Reading and Leeds Festival in 2015 on the BBC Introducing Stage.

Their talent, ambition and chemistry together were evident from then on. So I interviewed frontman Kris – who somehow made bedraggled look cool –whenever I got the chance, such as when he got to support his idols Courteeners.

So the date to meet the whole band and Craig at the old Warrington Guardian Academy office in Bridge Street was set and the weekend came.

I spent much of the week chatting to [WAM] Editor Lee, agreeing about what a bright future they had.

I left work excited for them and thought about all they had ahead of them and the sorts of questions I would ask.

After Sweden, they had a gig booked at the Pyramid for March – a show that sold out so fast that Craig also slotted them in for a date at the 1,100-capacity Parr Hall in October.

On the horizon was another trip overseas – to Texas, USA, no less – for South by Southwest festival. A huge opportunity.

So on February 13 I went out for a meal in Lymm with my wife Sarah and, like many, I didn’t find out what had happened until February 14.

There was speculation, messages were going back and forth between newsroom colleagues. Nothing was confirmed but it wasn’t looking good.

But then it was, and I felt shock and disbelief come over me. I hate to think what that moment was like for those five sets of families – some of which I have got to know and their strength has been inspiring.

The rest of that day – and the days that followed – were surreal. Viola Beach were the words on the lips of every broadcaster.

I keep wondering whether it was better or worse that we lost the boys when they had all that potential ahead of them and were approaching the peak of their powers.

Because they were so happy and that is a lovely way to remember them.

Sure, we will always ponder the ‘what ifs’ but thanks to Chris Martin, we have already seen Viola Beach’s ‘alternate future’ play out when they ‘headlined Glastonbury’ when Coldplay performed ‘Boys That Sing’ for them.

Those ‘what ifs’, the heartache, how the boys are remembered and celebrated– none of this has been easy for the families of Kris, Jack, River, Tom and Craig. It probably never will be.

But I hope with all my heart that people’s thoughts of the boys are no longer trapped in Sweden and wrapped in grief and anguish.

I hope they think of their smiles, their endless enthusiasm, that undeniable chemistry they found each other, their drive and ambition and the music that will live on.

I hope they remember the conga around the Palmyra Square, the rainbow umbrellas and
beach balls being thrown around the Parr Hall at one of the town’s biggest parties in their honour.

While the rest of us grow a little older, they will always remain that symbol of youthful effervescence and we can all take some comfort in that. – David Morgan, Entertainment Editor for the Warrington Guardian.

When we talk about the Viola Beach legacy, we could look at the the number of bands and artists who have been directly inspired by them to pick up a guitar and play on stage. Many of these have benefitted from grants or live opportunities since.

But for me, it’s how they inspired bands to no longer claim they are from Manchester or Liverpool, but rather their town of birth. They described themselves as a really lovely indie pop band from Warrington on their Facebook page. They were proud of their town, even as they dreamed about travelling around the world. We will never forget the boys that sing and how they made us proud. – Lee Harman, Editor of [WAM].

This article was originally featured in Issue 4 of [WAM] Magazine.

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