From stadiums in Rio to being attacked by massive flies in Harrogate, the guitar-pop heroes look back at their gigging career
When they first appeared on our screens as teenagers with beaded necklaces, super-gelled hair and cheeky grins, McFly brought a pinch of vintage rock’n’roll and surf rock into the boy band genre with instant impact. In the two decades since, Tom, Danny, Dougie and Harry have navigated the worlds of pop and rock music with a family-friendly, wholesome approach to reach national treasure status.
But on their new album, Where Did All The Guitars Go?, released 9 June, the band found themselves yearning to go back to where they began. “When we started the record,” Harry says, “there were a few songs that were good but it was like, what do they mean? Our producer was like, ‘guys, this is a bit boring…’ I think we needed that to be able to have those awkward conversations with each other. What is McFly? What did we love about this band? It all came back to that live element and how we come across when people see us on a stage. This time we’ve really gone for a sound and committed to it”.
Buying and building their own studio over lockdown, the band took the opportunity of working without a time limit to relax and adapt to a new way of working as family men with outside commitments. “Not only did it give us no pressure,” adds Harry, “I think making a rock album also just made the process just flow easier. We weren’t distracted by all the production elements you can get wrapped up in.”
And a rock album this is. Latest single ‘God of Rock & Roll’ melds sassy and scratchy riffs and Beastie Boy-esque chants with the band’s characteristic ear for harmonies. Ahead of a summer packed with shows and a headline tour kicking off in November, Danny, Harry and Dougie look back at the highs and lows of the touring life of McFly.
The gig that made you want to play music
Dougie: My first rock show was Limp Bizkit at Wembley in 2000 I think. Funnily, Tom Fletcher was at that show as well, and there’s a bit in the show where Fred Durst would get a girl up from the audience and sing ‘The One’, and the girl was Tom’s mate from school. I remember Wembley felt massive, it was incredibly loud and I just thought it was the coolest f*cking thing in the world.
Danny: The one that made me want to do it was probably Springsteen. I was really young, maybe 7, and my sister fell asleep but I stayed awake all the way through. I was obsessed, and I’ll never forget that. Same as Doug, everything sounded huge, I’ll never forget the sound of it, it was insane.
Harry: If I’m honest, growing up I never went to gigs. My parents loved music but they never took me to gigs, I didn’t know it was even a thing. I fell in love with music just from the music they played me. The first thing that made me want to play music was listening to albums like Hybrid Theory and discovering all those American bands made me start playing guitar. I started on the guitar but was just like, this is too hard, I can’t be arsed. I tried out the drums and that was easier…
You and Dougie bonded over The Starting Line when you first met right?
Dougie: Yeah, I’d just been to see them and then when me and Harry first met he was wearing a Starting Line t-shirt and that was a pretty niche band at the time.
Harry: We were in completely different worlds: I was at a boarding school and Doug was at a school in Essex, going to all these gigs. I wasn’t even aware of them, the internet wasn’t a thing so how would I know about them?
Dougie: From Kerrang! You’d have to just read Kerrang! ads.
Harry: Yeah but I was kind of always at school. I subscribed to Kerrang! and had all the albums but it wasn’t until I got into McFly and we moved to London when I was 17 that we started to going to gigs every other week.
Dougie: What was the very first live show? Supporting Busted?
Harry: We’d done showcases, but it wasn’t a proper gig. We had the songs to launch, but I look back then and you know, we really started to develop as a band on our first tour. We had four or five songs on that support slot and we were just rabbits in headlights. Crazy young. Then we did our first headline tour that summer and that was just madness.
Harry: The biggest ever show we’ve headlined was the McBusted show at Hyde Park.
Danny: Yeah that was cool, British Summer Time.
Harry: Yeah, I love telling people that Backstreet Boys supported us. If you go to America and people are like, oh I’ve never heard of your band, are you big in the UK? When you tell them Backstreet Boys supported us they’re like “Oh my gaaaad”.
That’s where Springsteen will be soon as well…
Danny: Yeah. I’ve got tickets but I’ve got a gig as well, so I’m a bit gutted.
If you’re ill that day, we’ll know where you are.
I was thinking that. I’ve never missed a gig. Maybe there’s one I could miss? For me personally, I’ve seen Springsteen there so many times, even as a kid. To just say I’ve played the same stage as him, I was buzzing.
Danny: That Hyde Park gig was terrifying, because everything was two or three times bigger than what we’d been doing in the arenas. We used to enter the stage via this Michael Jackson-esque lift that would throw us out and you go four or five foot in the air and then land. I’d been used to that but this one threw me up so much higher and we’re just flying out and you see how many people, 40 or 50 thousand? A hundred thousand? I get thrown up and see them all and think I might die. You know when you’re falling and you get that woaaaah feeling? I thought I was either gonna die or savagely embarrass myself at the most important gig of our lives. I just about landed it and started that next song.
Danny: I remember getting my lips stuck on my teeth because my mouth was that dry from smiling. What was cool though was that it rained, and from that there was a rainbow when we played ‘Five Colours’.
Danny: I think we had a really good run recently in Brazil. We were playing so well, we had a really good setlist and we just had the most fun on stage. The last Rio show was insane.
Harry: It’s often just random shows where there’s electric moments, small shows in Europe or something.
Danny: Yeah, sometimes it’s just a different venue. We did a stadium in Brazil, we didn’t fill it up but just doing it within different locations, you know? Glastonbury was fun in every way.
Harry: I loved Slam Dunk as well, because that was going on a random drum kit, sharing a stage and changeover and properly getting to experience that festival vibe.
Danny: I don’t remember any of that. I was so ill for that show, man, I had hand foot and mouth. It was so weird because I was asleep backstage and I could hear Wargasm on stage before us, and I could hear all these double pedal drums and screams and I was moaning, feeling so rough. “Five minutes to go on” and I was like right, Co-codamol and Red Bull… then I jumped into the festival where people were crowd surfing to ‘Five Colours’.
Dougie: How Spinal Tap is that?
Harry: One of the worst gigs I remember was on tour early in our career. It was a long tour playing loads of random venues all around the country. I think we were in Scotland, and I was going through something in my life where I was struggling a bit mentally. I was just not enjoying the shows and I wanted to go home, and I couldn’t feign enthusiasm being on stage. It was a horrible feeling. There was a review the next day saying “lacklustre gig,” “the drummer looked like he did not want to be there.” That was just a sh*t experience and I never want it to happen again on stage. Thankfully it hasn’t.
Danny: Yeah, the hardest thing in any job, but especially ours, is when anything personal happens and you’ve got to go on stage. I think that’s what’s good about being in a band, you’ve got your mates there and you’re gonna get through it, but like Harry said, when you don’t feel in the room and you’ve got to put on your best performance? That’s the hardest times.
Harry: That’s part of the privilege of being in a band though, having to do it even if you’re going through a difficult time. Sometimes doing corporate stuff is a bit eggy, but I kind of enjoy them in a way, because it’s a challenge to get them going.
Danny: I think gigs turn bad when PAs cut out and your ears ain’t right or your gear ain’t working. It just spoils it, because you put in all this work for your guitar to go wrong, it’s just so frustrating.
Harry: Or being hungover on stage. I’ve done that twice out of all of our shows, and it’s the worst experience ever.
Danny: There was one in Harrogate we used to play, and there was a big lake or pond between the stage and the crowd. They were good shows but we used to get attacked by these huge flies. You’re playing a show and a fly would land on your nose as you’re singing and you’re like, get off man. These massive moths! Someone jumped in the lake.
Harry: We did this Loughborough University gig where the PA cut out, but we could hear each other in our in-ears. The gig was going well, but the crowd started to get restless, it was a uni gig, and they started chanting “You’re not singing anymore!”. I started talking to the guys saying “Yeah, f*ck you Loughborough!”. These guys were all sniggering, and I kept going because obviously I was getting laughs, so I kept saying “Yeah, f*ck you Loughborough,” and just before I said it again the PA came back on. And then suddenly the crowd started booing. I was like, “Hey we love you Loughborough!” and they started cheering again. Thank god for that.