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Village Music & Drama

The time is right for 4minutes33

Posted on August 26 2005 at 3:50:38 0 comments

The band

The frontman of a leading young band tells Sally Oldaker how they are flying the flag for local live music.

Headlining in front of capacity crowds in Birmingham, a promotional DVD currently in production – it’s not bad for a teenage rock band who only formed in 2002.
4minutes33 are rising stars on the local music scene, but things looked very different at the end of 2003, when a huge argument between the three musicians almost ended the band – and their friendship – for good.

“We were furious with each other!” recalls the band’s 17-year-old frontman Richard Thomas, of Alvechurch. “I suppose you would call it ‘creative differences’, but there were other problems as well.”

Richard, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, had also been suffering from ME, which made it difficult to keep contact with friends.

“It was a tough time for my family and friends as well as for me – it’s strange how something that happens to one person can affect so many others. The band virtually stopped; if one person can’t play, the others can’t either.”

Happily, Richard got over the illness, but more bad luck was to follow when he broke his back in two places in a skiing accident in early 2004.

The injury could have been the final nail in the coffin for 4minutes33, but the determination and strong friendship of the members meant that once Richard recovered, the band could re-group and look towards the future, with a series of gigs later that year – including coming second in Alvechurch Alight’s Battle of the Bands.

Richard and schoolfriend Jack Winks were the original instigators of 4minutes33, deciding to move into rock after a spell as DJs. After a few local gigs with a variety of bassists, their friend Matt Sherlock joined them and became a permanent addition.

All three had been interested in music from an early age, with Richard experimenting on piano, drums, clarinet and saxophone before learning his guitar skills from Rich Austin, a member of a Redditch band.

“He taught me everything I know, but gradually I wanted to write songs rather than learn more about playing. I started composing when I was young, but…” (he cringes at the memory) “ was dance and trance stuff back then!”

Songwriting duties these days are shared between Richard, drummer Jack and bassist Matt, with the trio working very much as a team to decide which elements of a new song will make it to the final cut.

Richard won’t be drawn into making parallels between their “sound” and that of contemporary groups: “I’m biased, of course, but I think we do have a distinctive sound. However, all bands say that, and we all know that nothing can ever be completely original.”

Their producer, John Hemming, did consider 4minutes33 sufficiently “different” from other teenage groups when he met them at Moseley Road Studios in February 2003.

Richard looks back on their early material with something less than fondness: “What we were playing back then didn’t really sound much like music. But John could see where we were heading, and so we hooked up with him and made a demo.”

This went on sale on a limited basis, but the band’s profile was boosted further with the help of Rob Frost, a Birmingham music promoter, who lined them up with gigs at city-centre venue Edwards Number 8.

“It was a long way from our first gig at Scruffy Murphy’s!” Richard laughs.  (Those familiar with the cheery-but-rather-less-than-salubrious Birmingham pub will know what he means).

4minutes33 also played at private parties to get their name known, and their latest venture is a promotional DVD, featuring two gigs filmed by a camera crew at Edwards Number 8.

The first of these, on May 13 this year, drew a record crowd of 300, having been promoted by manicMEDIA…a promotions company run by none other than Richard.

“I formed manicMEDIA with a friend when we realised that we could do a better job of promoting 4minutes33 and other bands,” he explains. “Our producer had suggested that we think more about the business side of the band, and since my mate is business-minded and has the gift of the gab, we thought we’d give it a shot.”

The idea has paid dividends, with local venues being filled to capacity, much to the delight of their owners. manicMEDIA now has another local band on its books, and the ever-ambitious Richard is also hoping to launch a local music magazine.

He feels that there is cynicism and misjudgement of the local or underground music scene, with few opportunities for bands.

“There’s no shortage of groups, but there aren’t many venues or producers,” he comments. “There are some great bands around who just aren’t being pushed. And there’s not so much room for creative development – labels don’t want to take risks. That’s why we get so much manufactured music, nationally and internationally.”

Richard also feels that people are missing out on local live music because it is associated with dingy clubs, another issue he hopes to address through manicMEDIA and the putative magazine.

“I’m amazed at the amount of people who have never been to a gig – how do they know they won’t like it unless they try it? All these people who sit at home on a Saturday night and watch Pop Idol…they could be having a much better time!”

With live music venues becoming something of a rarity locally (in Birmingham, Ronnie Scott’s is now a lap-dancing club while The Fiddle & Bone was shut down due to complaints about noise, and even Bromsgrove’s Hop Pole Inn had the kibosh put on its live music nights following a similar complaint), Richard wants to challenge the prejudices against the genre and get more people involved.

“There are people working very hard to keep it going, like Edwards Number 8 and the Jug of Ale, but the other problem is that Birmingham doesn’t really get promoted – music mags produced in London never mention anywhere outside the capital, and even big name bands prefer to play in Wolverhampton or Leicester.”

As for promoting 4minutes33, Richard acknowledges that it’s necessary to put in a lot of leg work. “Some people say it’s all about being in the right place at the right time, but I think you make your own luck – the harder you work to get yourself known, the more likely it is that someone will ‘spot’ you.”

So what’s next? Richard, who is about to go into the Upper Sixth (inevitably, Music is one of his A-level subjects), plans to take a year out after school, and see how the band gets on.

“If it doesn’t work out, I may work on other projects, and I’m interested in composing for film,” he muses. “But what I really want for the moment is to be playing live music.”

Luckily, Richard’s parents are willing to “smile and nod along with it all” and seemingly have no objection to their dining room being taken over by a plethora of musical equipment.

“They know this is where my heart lies,” Richard concludes. “It’s all I want to do right now.”

Find out about the band’s latest gigs at

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