South East Wales

Merthyr Tydfil's Pretty Vicious gain fame before first album

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Media captionPretty Vicious on tour

They played every major UK festival in 2015, had fans greeting them off the plane in Japan and a string of record labels clamouring for their signature.

This relative fame, achieved off the back of one song uploaded to the internet, came far quicker than members of Pretty Vicious could have imagined.

So much so, they turned down a slot supporting rock heavyweights Muse because it would have been their fifth gig and they did not think they were ready.

A year on, there is a feeling this adulation came almost before they achieved anything and now they must earn it.

At an industrial unit on the outskirts of Merthyr Tydfil, the band are working on their first album - that is still more than six months away.

Yet, it was not long ago that singer and guitarist Brad Griffiths was running round his living room "singing Queen, 'Phonics and ACDC songs with a Hoover".

"I wanted to be a rock star and I knew I'd do it since I was 13 because if I'm not into it, I won't stick to it," said the 17-year-old.

It was in March 2014 that the band started to form around him at The Lido - a field where local teenagers go to "camp and drink flagons around a fire".

Brad discussed with Tom McCarthy, now 17 (guitar) and Elliot Jones, 16 (drums) about leaving the bands they were involved with and playing together.

"I wanted to be in involved too and they said if I got a bass by Friday, I was in," said Jarvis Morgan, 18.

"So I bought a guitar and amp off Gumtree for £65 and met a guy at the train station to buy it.

"I even got him to give me a lift home - which probably wasn't the wisest thing for a teenager to do."

Image copyright Pretty Vicious
Image copyright Pretty Vicious

While they gelled musically, they described their first performances - two at the Redhouse in Merthyr and one at an art exhibition above a Brynmawr paint shop in Blaenau Gwent - as dire.

At the time, they only had two songs - Cave Song and Black Sheep, about the pessimism that exists in their hometown and the desire to break free and achieve something.

It was when they uploaded the first to internet site Soundcloud that views kept rising; DJs such as Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe championed their cause and record labels began watching them rehearse.

"That was when we turned down the tour with Muse. It would have been our fifth gig - we didn't have enough songs and weren't ready," explained Tom.

"Instead, we did a gig at Blackwood Miners' Institute in front of 50 people."

This was the time "the world went crazy", according to Elliot's dad Bryn Phillips, who co-manages the band with Tom's father Mark McCarthy.

"Every record label was after the boys, including a Chinese one willing to pay double what everyone else offers," he said.

"In the end, we negotiated with Virgin, with a couple of precedents that nobody had had before."

Image caption Pretty Vicious were signed after a bidding war in January 2015, months after playing their first gig

The band members quit their jobs in a call centre and gym reception, while Jarvis dropped out of college and Elliot took a GCSE exam in the morning, before supporting Manic Street Preachers during their June 2015 Cardiff Castle gig.

During that summer, they played every major UK festival, including headlining the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury.

Supporting roles for The Vaccines, Noel Gallagher and Wolf Alice followed, while they were flown out to play at Club Quattro in Tokyo.

"It was crazy, Japanese people were waiting for us off the plane with picture collages and asking us to sign autographs," said Brad.

"They were singing our songs and there were Welsh flags at the gig."

In an eventful period, they were also caught up in the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, when they were performing at a venue close to the Bataclan Theatre where 89 people died.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Virgin EMI Records signed Pretty Vicious in January 2015 after agents for major companies watched them perform at The Redhouse

The band is now working with Owen Morris, who helped produce Oasis' Definitely Maybe and What's the Story (Morning Glory), with their managers keeping a watchful eye.

Mr Phillips worked as a maths teacher, while Mr McCarthy was part of 1980s band Blue Rondo a La Turk, before he quit the industry to become an engineer.

After hearing their sons practicing and recognising their talent, they decided to become closely involved and now drive them to all their gigs.

They also ensure the boys keep to a daily routine - which includes practising for four hours each day.

"When they started gigging, they would come off the stage and say 'Where are we going out to now?'" said Mr McCarthy.

"We also had an incident in Glasgow, when we had a call at 3.30am to say they couldn't find Tom.

"But now they realise it's hard work and when they are on the road, travelling, they don't go out. If they have a day off, there are no issues."

The band are all still teenagers and with their first album not due out until December, their careers have yet to get going in some ways.

In others, they appear seasoned professionals, with the maturity and knowledge that comes with it.

"I've tried [going out partying before gigs] but I can't sing," said Brad.

"But we still go out when we are home. We don't want people to be different around us as I have known all the boys from school since I was five.

"I've got a bit of money now though, so I don't drink flagons any more - I think I'd be violently ill."

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