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JLS biography

3 Days/ 30 Bands – 18 – 20th of June, Bay Festival, Isle of Man. Info & Tickets –

When JLS, Britain’s favourite new boyband in a generation (official!), signed with Epic records at the start of this year, the hallowed imprint meant one thing alone to the boys. This was previously the house of Michael, the home of their hero. Little did they know that a tragic turn of events would soon see them battling with Jacko for chart honours in the unlikeliest and most unforeseen passing on of a pop baton. The irresistible urban pop bounce of their debut single Beat Again eschewed all industry thinking about the potential of pop-stars born out of the reality TV genre and sailed to number one at a time when nobody, understandably, seemed to want anything musically other than Michael.

Beat Again became the fastest selling debut of the year. JLS’s stella debut has already earned them two prestigious Mobo nominations, for Best Newcomer and Best Single. As if to prove that their appeal lies outside of the standard pop network, JLS celebrity fans have announced themselves, unashamed, in as varied and distinct personae as Pet Shop Boys and Tinchy Stryder. At least one notable cover version of the song has been recorded and released, from pop girl du jour, Little Boots. It was a much more rarefied meeting on a red carpet that sealed the deal for Oritsé Willians, one corner of the irresistible pop prospect that JLS is turning into. ‘When Judi Dench told me she and her family were fans, that was it,’ he says, putting modesty aside for a second. ‘That woman is a Dame!’ Prepare, then, if you will, for the ascension of four new pop ‘Sirs’.

In the summer of 2007, Oritsé had a dream. ‘It was this idea of taking elements of the members of the greatest boybands of all time,’ he says, ‘And you’d end up with a supergroup.’ He could well just have turned that dream into a reality.

With their self-titled debut album fine-tuned, polished and awaiting a screaming reception from their loyal devotees and many more unusual quarters, the boys are feeling primed and ready to go. ‘I must say, though,’ says Oritsé, ‘we know how to make things difficult for ourselves.’ After releasing their debut single into impossibly unforeseen Jacko hysteria, their album will be released the same day as Robbie Williams comeback. ‘Robbie and Take That were one of our major inspirations,’ he says, ‘this feels like we’re really competing with the big boys.’

Oritsé’s companions for this assault on the big time are JB, Marvin and Aston. Together they collude to offer a blizzard of showmanship delivered with pure energy, passion and commitment. If their ambitions are high – secretly, they see the Jonas Brothers as their only real competition for global musical affections – they have the work ethic and sensational performance dexterity to substantiate the dream. ‘We work hard,’ says Jonathon ‘JB’ Benjamin. ‘That’s our ethos. It’s important to do things properly. JLS is all about excellence.’

You might think that you know JLS already (part 1): For most of the British public, Oritsé, JB, Aston, and Marvin are only the most successful group of all time to enter The X Factor, Simon Cowell’s star-making vehicle that ascended the ratings scale last year to become the most popular show on British TV. What lurks behind the scenes in JLS is an altogether more focussed proposition.

JLS found one another two summer’s ago. Vision firmly in mind, Oritsé had put up signs online and around his University of North London campus. He had been into the guitar shops on Charing Cross Road in London’s West End and begun a tireless trawl through MySpace pages to scout people he believed could turn his boyband supergroup dream into life. He knew exactly what he wanted.

In the event he found them: first Marvin, who he met outside Niketown on Oxford Circus and auditioned on the street. Then Aston, who he called on a football pitch and persuaded to try out. The final place was reserved for JB, who he’d been given the name of from a contact at University. They met at Starbucks. He toyed with different line-ups on his computer, pitting face next to face, working out how they would fit together, before alighting on his dream team. ‘And as soon as I saw the four of us, I knew it was perfect.’

The boys soon formed a brotherly bond, giving over all their time to rehearsals, polishing their act in blagged down time at The Dance Attic studios in West London. Their fervour for JLS bordered on the devotional. ‘It clicked immediately,’ says Aston now, ‘Oritsé had put in the groundwork and we felt like a group from the start.’ There was no time for time-wasters. ‘If one of us was late for rehearsals,’ says Marvin, ‘they’d have to pay for the rehearsal time.’ The dream was not just to be slick and solid, it was to fly.

Various parties, both within the boys families and industry contacts they had amassed, began mentioning the idea of trying out for X Factor. ‘We were quite anti the idea of going into it,’ says JB now. ‘We were of the opinion that through sheer hard work we could get there. It was about creating our own path. We’d won a best-unsigned act award, we’d arranged photo shoots of our own and we were doing paid gigs by the time we entered. We were our own industry, doing our own management meetings, organising our own showcases, sorting out our own lawyers. We got stylists and photographers to work for us for free. We had that level of achievement before any of the X Factor thing started.’ ‘The Leona effect changed the perception of the whole show,’ confirms Oritsé, ‘The chance to become a global superstar existed through it now.’

JLS were primed and ready to go. ‘The name,’ says Marvin, ‘came from our British identity.’ Jack the Lad Swing was a composite of their cheeky onstage persona and the US music genre New Jack Swing that had birthed their favourite boybands, Jodeci and Boyz II Men. ‘Britain had never had one of those before,’ says JB. ‘There were a lot of quality UK solo acts like Lemar and Craig David, but Oritsé had spotted a gap in the market that we wanted to fill. But to do it with a British twist.’

From the outset it was clear that JLS were not usual X Factor fodder. A year’s worth of disciplined rehearsal had turned them into something special. ‘Everyone said to us’ says Oritsé, ‘from the producers to the judges to the back-stage crew at X Factor ‘we can’t believe that you’re a real group.’ That was alien to us. We couldn’t believe that people would go for it if they weren’t. Everyone at The X Factor has a TV show to look after,’ says JB, ‘we had our lives and our careers to look after.’

Throughout the series one name kept on being mentioned to them, that of Epic Records Managing Director Nick Raphael, responsible for the platinum careers of Lemar and Jay Z. Since signing with them, they have doubled their workload. The X Factor was only just the beginning. They are all delighted with their experience on the show. ‘That sort of thing,’ says Marvin, ‘opens up so many doors for you that you didn’t even know existed before. Without that platform it would’ve taken us much longer to get to where we are now.’

You might think you know JLS (part 2): As it marched its way out of radio speakers up and down the country, the infectious, addictive, street-savvy pop gem Beat Again skewed perception of the fourpiece. ‘I think people might have expected a black Westlife,’ says Oritsé. ‘But that wasn’t what we wanted to do. We have our own sound and you can hear it all the way through the album.’

‘The music we are making,’ says JB, ‘is exactly what we wanted to make.’ Breaking every boyband rule as they go, JLS were involved in every aspect of the creative process as they put together their debut album. The boys have got involved in the writing, making sure that the sound of JLS is exactly what they first had in mind when they met to audition. They all talk excitably about the process and delightedly of the results.

Second out of the blocks on the single front is Everybody In Love, a song so begging to have a sea of blue-screened phones lit up in front of the band it might just as well have found sponsorship from every mobile network in the land. The vulnerability of four boys in love is an intrinsic part of pop’s landscape, from The Beatles to Take That, but rarely has it been put to such instantly anthemic proportions so early in a career. Prepare yourselves. This one is about to catch fire. ‘It was the obvious second single,’ says Oritsé, ‘in many ways it is even catchier than Beat Again. And it was important for us to sing about experiences we knew. The album as a whole had to be a collection of our own life’s experience.’

Fully aware of the fickle nature of the iTunes generation’s approach to investing in albums, the four boys made sure that every one of the songs on the album could be a potential single. You can hear it in the almost Backstreet Boys-ish, classic international boyband sound of Close To You, the flamenco punctuated disco-on-steroids of Heal This Heartbreak, the Kanye-ish robo-skip and saucy intentions of Private and the yearning melody of mid-paced winner Only Tonight.

So is the dream becoming a reality?

‘Everyday I have to pinch myself,’ says Oritsé, ‘that it has worked out exactly as I wanted it to. This is closer than I ever could’ve imagined to the original idea for JLS. Getting a number one single was just the validation of that for us. We’ve put every single bit of our energy and devotion into making this record. There can’t be a first time for JLS again so we have to make this right. I never anticipated anything happening this fast for us but somewhere along the line the stars have aligned for us. And most of all it is about sharing the most incredible journey of your life with three other guys that share this ambition and love for what you do. I set out wanting a pop supergroup and sometimes I have to say to myself ‘be careful what you wish for’. Because it might just come true. Let’s just hope people love our album as much as we do.’

Really, how could you not?


Filed under: music, Social media

One Response

  1. More X Factor news… The Unconventionals replease their new single Sugababes ‘Push The Button’ on June 28th and have a NEW ALBUM ‘Flower To The People’ featuring guest rapper Bernard Chumley (othewise known as Matt Lucas) coming July 25th..

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