There are several rules that every 20-something single female living in a major city should adhere to. I should think that one of them is probably not to invite five random men into your flat for a cup of tea on a Saturday afternoon. But for this article, that was precisely my plan. Of course, the words ‘One Direction tribute band’ don’t exactly ring of danger – ridiculousness, however, most definitely. This was how I came to find Matt Brinkler, Jamie Searls, Henry Allan, Lauchlan Edward Bain, and Andy Fowler in my living room, singing, wrestling, dropping unintended sexual innuendos and drinking tea in zebra print mugs, all under the guise of talking about their ventures as Only One Direction, the best 1D tribute band around (or so they tell me).
The concept of the tribute band has been around for decades, filling the gap when acts have disbanded or been left eternally fractured by the sudden death of a key member. Yet the idea of a tribute act for a band that is not only on a seemingly a never-ending world tour, but also one of the most popular pop groups on the planet, is one that can be described as odd at best. In this way Only One Direction are more than just a band – they’re an entire stage act. “We obviously dress like them – because we have to,” Henry explains with mild disdain. (Henry is wearing black creepers – a shoe I doubt any of the 1D boys wear on stage.) And this is the crux of the weirdness with this band: how much is Only1D a straightforward musical tribute, and how much is a very well-crafted spectacle?
They seem to be a bit confused themselves. They refer to themselves as a ‘band’, but they have a costume budget, just like a theatre company would. “I’m the hairiest one in the band and I’m playing the person who can’t grow a beard,” Henry laments of Harry Styles’s baby-faced appearance. Every once in a while they “relax a gig”, as Matt puts it.“If we’re opening a club or playing a more adult gig,” they’ll wear their own clothes, and introduce themselves with their real names. The audition process was your typical cattle call, and these lucky five landed in the group, although the production company do keep swings as back up. Swings function to replace one of the main members when their own real lives take priority, just like a West End production has a set of understudies ready and waiting. Being a fan of One Direction wasn’t a prerequisite – “I’ll be honest I didn’t like their first two albums,” Jamie confesses.
Their real lives are almost more interesting than their fake ones, and I was curious to know what they did outside of Only1D – and how being in the band impacts their lives. “It’s so enjoyable,” Andy – the youngest of the group – chimes in. “It’s 0.01% of what the real One Direction get but we get to experience it and it’s mega. You feel like a superstar.” On the whole, being part of Only1D functions for the like a day job – they use the income from Only1D to further their own artistic ventures. Lauchlan was once a dancer with the Asia tour of Cats, an example of their extra-curricular activities, outside of the weirdness of Only1D. Henry explained, “This is my main income. It’s a job. We’re not going to become famous from it. It’s a job. I’d rather be doing this, having fun with them, as long as the money’s in the right place.” And it’s apparently a good enough income to keep them in the industry. “’Cause it’s not a fun industry,” Lauchlan admits. “When I first started I thought ‘oh a tribute act it’s a bit… cringe’,” Henry says, articulating my thoughts pretty well. “But because we all sing live, when you do a good gig and you know you sound good, we’re really proud of it. It’s a show.”
Of course, the most pressing question on my mind was this: who actually books a 1Direction tribute band? The answer I anticipated was rich dads with spoiled daughters. Surprise, surprise. “There was one gig where they flew us out for this nine-year-old girl’s birthday party in Scotland. There were like, 20 or 30 kids there. For us it’s just jumping on a plane and in a limo, but that made her birthday.” Matt detailed the story without embarrassment. Perhaps because, amongst the bizarre birthday parties, they also have real gigs, like playing to 10,000+ people at Graves End, and headlining a 10-day tour in Dubai. And, anyway, riding in a limo is fun no matter where you are. “They get this kind of treatment times 100 every day, but they get the bad bits times 100, too. Like fans who latch on to you and don’t let go,” Matt says, glancing at Andy, who had a recent run in of being plastered against a bulkhead by a crowd of screaming fanatics. “It’s a bit weird – they’ll follow us [on Twitter] as the tribute band, and then they’ll like us on Facebook, and then they’ll follow us individually,” Henry explains.
Despite the obtuseness of their actual show, the five members are a fun group to be around, each with a very distinct personality. Much like hanging out with a bunch of male friends from university, the five-some instantly made themselves at home in my living room. And when the construct of the interview began to break down, we digressed into conversations about alt. rock radio stations and the movie Empire Records, a favourite shared between myself and Lauchlan. As we nerd out over it, the rest of the group gawks, “What is going on?! We could just leave you two to it.” Jamie, nursing his tea, refused to leave: “We’ve yet to be given our sleeping bags and allocated our rooms,” he exclaimed before nearly nodding off on my couch, and Andy started an impromptu wrestling match. Matt was definitely the ringleader, doing his best to reel in the more rowdy of the group, but pretty much failing. It was a far cry from what I anticipated when I pulled open my front door to reveal a mock-British boyband on the threshold.
These five attractive young men, full of energy and nervous laughter, managed to shatter my judgements about what being in a 1D tribute band meant. They weren’t what I expected, and I was glad to have my preconceived notions changed. No, I have not found a love for whiter-than-wonder-bread pop music. But you have to appreciate the professionalism these five guys have, and the respect with which they treat their bizarre, amorphous art form. And who knows, with the prevalence for bands-turned-musical-theatre shows, maybe these five boys will end up on the West End after all… though if they do, I do hope it’s for something other than Only 1 Direction. Regardless, a girl can’t complain when five talented guys serenade her in her living room.