Think of Flight Brigade as a family as much as a seven-strong band and you start to understand the chemistry between them. Think of their songs as epic stories to which each member is essential and you begin to grasp what makes their music so powerful. Watch them perform and you can't fail to be struck by the special bond they share.
Flight Brigade's strength in numbers suits the scope of their songs, the ambition of their arrangements and the myriad of musical styles in their melting pot. The grand orchestral sweeps, the crunching anthemic guitars, the striking mix of male and female have brought Flight Brigade comparisons to Arcade Fire and Of Monsters and Men, other pop troupes who refused to compromise their size for the sake of their sound. "We didn't set out to be so many,” says keyboardist and singer Miriam Baines. "It happened because we couldn't not let it. We wanted piano, we wanted strings and orchestration. We wanted our songs to be big and our stories to be told with lots of layers. That's how we hear them in our heads. We hear an orchestra and the drama that adds.”
At the core of Flight Brigade is an actual family. Ollie and Miriam are married. Miriam and violinist and vocalist Dorry are sisters. The trio grew up in each other's pockets, their parents best friends, their families part of a hippy commune in Hampshire. The other four members – bassist Tom Clay, guitarist Thomas Pink, keyboardist Jonny Barker and drummer Neil Blandford – were childhood friends who lived nearby.
Music runs in their blood. Miriam and Dorry's parents were the folk duo Mask, who performed at the first Glastonbury Festival and spent the ‘70s on tour, supporting the likes of Hawkwind, Roxy Music, Paul Simon and Supertramp. Ollie's dad often drove them to gigs in his camper van. All three grew up playing instruments, not just the usual piano and guitar, but violin, mandolin, accordion, dulcimers and whatever else happened to be to hand. The sisters' front room doubled as a studio and musicians came and went, day and night. "They recorded to tape in our front room,” recalls Dorry. "We heard them when we went to bed. When we were little and our parents were on tour, they'd put us to sleep in flight cases. We loved it so much we caught the bug. Watching our parents on stage, we knew nothing in the world could be better, so why try anything else.”
Aged 12, accomplished violinist Dorry won a place at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, where she spent five years. On her return to Hampshire, she and Ollie formed a band. Soon, Miriam quit a career in theatre to join and Flight Brigade grew gradually until they were seven. In 2012, they found their sound when Dorry brought a violin motif to the band and, together, they turned it in to a song. "That was the start,” says Dorry. "We changed the way we worked, all of us throwing ideas in to the pot, making the music together and Ollie writing the lyrics.”
Soon Flight Brigade were gigging all over Britain, swapping shows with bands they befriended everywhere from Scotland to Bristol. "We'd finds bands we loved online and get in touch,” explains Miriam. "We were living in London at the time, so we'd host a gig there for them and they'd host one for us in whatever city they were based. It was hard work, but it got us loads of gigs.”
They won competitions to play on the main stages at both Blissfields and Hop Farm festivals and, for the first time, all seven had room to move around. In 2015, having been named the Best Unsigned Band at Brighton's The Great Escape, they got management and an agent and their bookings exploded. The summer saw them perform at 16 festivals, including Bestival and Glastonbury, where they played three sets. In November, they released their first EP proper, ‘Stealing Fire', to rave reviews and radio play everywhere from 6 Music, Radio X and the BBC. Lead track ‘When We Were Young' had its video premiere on Channel 4. Flight Brigade saw in 2016 named one of Time Out's Rising Stars and commenced recording their debut album, ‘Our Friends Our Enemies' at a studio in Eastbourne.
Before the start of another packed festival season that saw them back at Glastonbury and hailed the best act at Blissfields, Flight Brigade released their second EP, ‘U Kill Me', four majestic, complex, passion-soaked songs that drew from diverse influences hard rock to classical, and sent the scale of their orchestration up a gear and saw them compared to Muse and Arcade Fire. As ever, Ollie's intense, storytelling lyrics helped set them apart from other bands.
The album's title track has an equally intriguing tale. ‘Our Friends Our Enemies' was inspired by a story about Czech factory workers forced to make bombs for the Nazis. Some risked their lives by neglecting to include detonators, so that when the bombs dropped, they didn't explode. "It was on a production line, in front of soldiers,” explains Miriam, "so it's a story of bravery. One even put a note inside a bomb saying ‘this is all we can do for now'. Tearaway' is about finding a soul mate as an outsider and the statuesque, astonishingly-arranged ‘Thick As Thieves' was inspired by the real-life story of a baseball player told to Ollie by his brother Seth, who is responsible for Flight Brigade's acclaimed videos. "It's about a baseball player whose younger brother was great at analytics and knew by looking at the stats that if his brother pursued his baseball dream, he'd be incredibly successful,” says Ollie. "And he was. But the brother had depression and committed suicide. So whenever this guy pitched, he did it for his brother. "It was such a moving story, I had to write about it. I try to take the feelings stories inspire in me and translate them in to lyrics. I want to feel those emotions when I perform so that people hearing our songs feel them too. It's a great way to be able to use words and phrases you don't often hear. I mean, I'd never write about baseball otherwise.”
That Flight Brigade aren't the sort to settle for simple love songs is no surprise. Their passion for performing, their desire to make music that moves those hear it and their ambition to share the community they've created with the world wouldn't allow it.
"We make the music we want because we feel we don't have a choice,” says Ollie. "For all of us, there's nothing in the world we'd rather do”.
Flight Brigade supported Poet's Of The Fall on their sold out Clearview tour of Germany and the UK in 2016 and have a headline tour of the UK, Germany and Holland booked for 2017.
Flight Brigade is supported by the International Showcase Fund, which is run by PRS for Music Foundation in partnership with UKT&I, Arts Council England, British Underground and the MU in association with PledgeMusic.