Appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2008
Every great band needs its thunderbolt. Y’know, the charismatic rock god guy who joins the band, sacks the crap drummer, brings in a new keyboardist, writes most of their huge hit songs, insists on playing all the guitars and singing and transforms them into a globe slam-dunking rock Atlas. Oasis had Noel. The Clash had Strummer. And One Night Only have George Craig.
Shaggy of hair, snarly of lip and with the indie god gene throbbing deep in his marrow, George joined what was, in 2003, a not-entirely-hopeful Beatles covers act from Helmsley, North Yorkshire, made up of older schoolfriends from his secondary school. He insisted on playing guitar and singing. He began writing most of their best songs. He brought in a new keyboard player. Drummer Sam Ford, presumably spotting a pattern emerging here, must have feared a putsch on his stool but was thankfully deemed good enough to survive. The signs were all there – One Night Only had been struck by their thunderbolt.
Thing is, most thunderbolts aren’t twelve years old.
“There were three of us,” explains 19-year-old guitarist Mark Hayton, “and we had literally just started to learn our instruments, we were about 14 or 15, so we were just making noise really, in a really small village. And then we met George. He was friends with the drummer’s brother who was also at the house and he just started singing whenever he was up there.”
“There was another guitarist, wasn’t there?” says George with all the glowering cool and knee-twitching enthusiasm of Richard Ashcroft, at only 17 years of age. “I kind of persuaded these guys to let me be a guitarist and a singer when they only wanted me to be a singer. So I persuaded them to let me do the other guy’s job.”
Mark: “When all of us were jamming, none of us could sing, and he could sing. So we were like ‘Why can’t you just be the singer!?’ and he was like ‘No, I want to play the guitar as well’, so we had to kick out the guitarist…”
And so began the classic tale of rock ascendancy, but told against a backdrop of age and environment that’s like The Twilight Zone gone indie. Back in 2003 Helmsley, a rural village community who’s nearest alternative heroes numbered Embrace (from Brighouse) and Shed Seven (from York), had a thriving punk-pop underground of late-teens skater bands aping Blink 182 around the local village hall and fete tent scene. Into this Royston Vasey of valley pernk back-biting sprang One Night Only: George, Mark, Sam and bassist Dan Parkin - a punk pop band with a pubescent singer who’s voice was showing its first signs of dropping. To the indie scene elders – around 20 full-fledged local bands, they estimate - they appeared something of a novelty.
For two years One Night Only paid their Helmsley dues, shaking off their novelty status by tearing the vaulted roof off the local scene with unrefined gigs that were punk bastard pop way beyond their years and lyrics that took a surprisingly accessible tack on the (usually painfully self-indulgent) art of teenage angst. George’s lyrics weren’t all suicidal grumblings about how Fiona in 3C won’t cop off with him or the embarrassment of not getting served in pubs; this stuff ran deep.
“I remember some of the first songs I wrote were about when my parents divorced and just sort of friendship/relationship based things,” he explains, “and that’s how it is for me now as well. There’s a song we’ve got called ‘He’s There’ which is going to be on the album as well. It’s about how our friend died of leukaemia. Just after we got signed I went away to Marrakesh for a week and I just got the news that one of my closest friends had died. I came back and I had all these lyrics and parts for the song. In all our music there’s nothing there that’s a down feeling. A lot of our lyrics are about being happy and having a good time, loving life.”
With George’s voice and lyrical nous maturing at a stratospheric pace and the band’s sound gradually developing from emo pop into a Kooks-y meld of classic songwriting and jaunty melodic bounce, it was only a matter of time before One Night Only broke out of Helmsley. And when George brought schoolmate Jack Sails into the band as keyboardist in 2005, that’s exactly what they did, knuckling down to write some “proper songs” like first single ‘You And Me’ and driving for three hours to play gigs in Liverpool to ten people. After all, they weren’t welcome in Helmsley any more thanks to their, shall we say, exuberant rehearsal habits.
Mark: “We got banned from all of our rehearsal spaces, because well, we’re just so loud.”
George: “The first one was in a historic village with a monastery and we were just doomed from the start. Then we went to this dugout place underneath the town hall and trashed that as well. Well, we didn’t trash it, they just didn’t like the holes in the walls they kept finding.”
After eighteen months of rocking the Northern toilet circuit, word spread South of a new noise in the provinces. Last October Steve Lamacq began spinning the demo of ‘You And Me’, prompting the band to really take themselves seriously. George dropped out of school and they frantically phoned every venue in the UK asking for gigs. They got about ten and the A&R pack duly pounced: some caught them first at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in front of a busful of their most mosh-happy York fans and within a month every major label in the UK was trekking up to their rehearsal room for a personal showcase.
George: “We knew friends’ bands who’d had a bit of interest from labels and gone down to London to play to them and it was like ‘go away, come back when you’re a bit older’. So we didn’t want to do that, we cancelled all our shows and said ‘if you want to see us you’ll have to come to York’. Then we hired out the rehearsal room, practiced there for a week, got really tight and then we did individual showcases. We were so tired by the end of it. We couldn’t be arsed to talk to them. We’d had all week of doing three a day, all asking the same questions.”
A month later, in March 2007, One Night Only signed with Vertigo Records, hit the road for two months supporting Milburn and The Enemy and then took a break to record their first three singles with Steve Lilywhite before embarking on a jaunt with The Coral and around the nation’s Club NMEs. Then it’s back into the studio to nail the album, which is already promising a far more widescreen experience than the grandiose-yet-jovial pop of ‘You And Me’ might suggest. Future singles include ‘It’s About Time’, a Dexy’s-ish stomper about “fresh starts or moving on. I was 15 when I wrote that song. It was about when I was leaving school and moving on in life to sixth form and meeting new people” and the electro-throb of ‘Just For Tonight’ which is a love song to NPower. Um, sort of.
“That was about a power station.”
Mark: “We were recording some demos and there was this power station on the horizon with a load of lights on it – it was the most epic thing you’ve ever seen. It’s not about a power station but it was inspired by these epic lights. That was the feeling we got for the song, it’s a big epic song. We went out for a drive one night from the studio and we sat on this hill looking across at it. After that we wrote that song which is our best song to date.”
That’s One Night Only: all grandeur and electricity. They’ll hit like a thunderbolt.
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