Sat 15th Jul
Some breaking news... Busted not broken. This just in... Busted no longer busted... Almost 11 years after the mega-selling, double-Brit-winning pop-rock trio said goodbye after a record- breaking 12th show at Wembley Arena, James Bourne, Matt Willis and Charlie Simpson are back together. The reunion that many – including, to be fair, the band themselves – said would never happen? In 2016, it’s happening, and happening in 13 British arenas.
“Why are we here?” ponders Simpson, the guitarist whose departure precipitated Busted’s demise after four Number One singles, two albums, five million record sales and that run of 12 sold-out Wembley Arena shows. “Because a year ago James and I got together and just started hanging out. It really has been 10 years since we hung out; we’d talked on the phone a few times, and met a couple of times. But there was this huge void of time where we just didn’t speak. Not because he had any issues but I was off doing my own thing, and he was busy, so we just drifted apart.
“And we just started... getting on,” he smiles. “And it felt really different, somehow, to how it had ten years ago. And the idea crept into my head after all that time apart: what would Busted look like today?”
“For me, there’s a huge sense of unfinished business,” acknowledges bassist Willis. “I think I always thought in my heart we’d do Busted again, but that it was just a matter of when and how. But then there was a period in the last few years where I have to admit I didn’t think it would happen – because maybe no one would give a shit, ’cause it has been such a long time.” Bourne, guitarist and the band’s main songwriter, admits that, for a while, he too was similarly pessimistic about the return of the band he had co-founded in Southend-on-Sea in 2000. “I thought it was dead and buried when the band had been gone for five years. There’d be rumours in the papers about the band coming back, then Charlie would issue a statement saying, ‘no way, but I wish Matt and James all the best...’ And I thought to myself, ‘wow, he really must have hated it... he’s never coming back.’”
Before we get to how it’s all gone right again, where did it all go wrong?
Willis and Bourne were 18 when Busted began. Kids, really, but not so much as Simpson, who was a 16-year-old schoolboy when he joined the band. Before they had time to catch their breath, the teenage trio had stratospheric lift-off. They made the cover of Smash Hits in the summer 2002, without even a single to their name. By September their debut release, What I Go To School For, was a Top Three smash. The follow-up, Year 3000, reached Number Two. And the follow-up to that, You Said No, hit Number One. No other band in chart history had managed that feat of ascending chart positions.
Busted toured, and toured some more, and all the while kept writing songs. A little over a year after the release of their self-titled debut, the trio of vocalists released their second album, 2003’s A Present For Everyone. It spawned Number Two hit Air Hostess and three Number Ones: Crashed The Wedding, Who’s David? And Thunderbirds/3am. They began 2004 with two Brit Awards (Best British Breakthrough Act, Best Pop Act), and they ended it with that record-breaking Wembley Arena run.
It was some hit-rate, and some work-rate. Little wonder that the cracks began to show.
Simpson, always a fan of alternative rock and metal, began to feel stifled in Busted. He
formed a side-project, Fightstar, to satisfy that side of his creativity. But he soon realised
he couldn’t do both. He had to devote himself to one band. And he chose, he reflects now,
where his heart lay.
“When I left Busted I felt I had so much to prove,” Simpson admits. “I was unhappy with the way we were perceived – people questioned whether we wrote our songs, whether we would play our instruments, whether it was real. That was incredibly tough for me to take. “And being called a boy band pissed me off,” he continues. “A boy band are five guys that stand on stage and dance and don’t write their own songs – it’s a manufactured thing.
But Busted wasn’t that. Yes, it was pop music, but we all played and we all wrote. And that was
one of the main things that drove me away, to be honest.”
“It came down to one fundamental issue: the band was a true representation of me and Matt as artists,” remembers Bourne. “And in the second year that wasn’t the case for Charlie. His passion drifted, just when the band were at their peak. He thought, ‘this isn’t me.’ Or: ‘This isn’t what I want for me right now.’ And I completely respect that, even though I was sad because I really wanted him to stay. If someone told me I couldn’t do a project I was passionate about, I’d tell them to fuck off too.”
“I know where Charlie’s head was at the time,” adds Willis, “and I don’t really blame him
As all three stress, there was never a big bust-up, a stand-off, a falling out. It was the age- old “musical differences” that scuppered Busted as 2004 turned into 2005. After Simpson announced that he was leaving to devote himself to Fightstar, Bourne and Willis considered carrying on. But Busted had enjoyed a short, intense and perfect ride. Why risk spoiling the memory by limping on as a duo, or with a new vocalist/guitarist?
“We weren’t Sugababes,” says Bourne, “we weren’t this big radio brand. Busted was about
our faces and us as three individuals. The idea of messing with that...” He shakes his head.
“And we all thought we were able to do other things.”
Willis duly embarked on a solo career and turned his hand to acting. Bourne formed a new band, Son Of Dork, and wrote three musicals. Simpson released four albums with Fightstar and two solo albums.
But old bonds, and old associations, die hard. Publically, Simpson stuck to his guns, saying that he’d never rejoin Busted. But privately he, Willis and Bourne resumed contact. There were repeated music industry offers for a Busted reunion, so around five years ago, Willis and Bourne visited Simpson in his London flat.
“We just wanted to get a proper face-to-face answer about where his head was at,” recalls Bourne. “If we were going to do something, we didn’t want to shut out the possibility that Charlie might get involved. But he still said no. So there was a little bit of tension... But it was funny – we were sitting in his garden and he had a Spotify playlist on. And all of the songs on that playlist, I liked them all – everything from Phoenix to Bruce Hornsby! And we said, ‘this is weird, we listen to all the same music...’”
“That day in the garden, it was literally every song – ‘oh yeah, I like that song!” laughs Simpson. ‘I was like, ‘what!?’ And I remember saying to my [future] wife that night, ‘God, it’s so different than it was it at the end of Busted, five years ago... James and I now had this creative common ground.’”
The conversations kicked up a gear when news broke of the McBusted “supergroup” in late 2013. The union of Willis and Bourne with old friends McFly was a huge, arena-filling success. “That changed a lot for me,” admits Willis. His pessimism about a possible return for Busted faded. “I thought, ‘fuck, people still care about this music.’ And that’s hugely exciting.” Simpson took note, too. Yes, he’d repeatedly said he wasn’t interested in a Busted reunion. “And every time I said that, I genuinely meant it and believed it at the time. But,” he shrugs, “I changed my mind. It’s literally that simple. The circumstances changed.”
That is, witnessing the huge excitement around McBusted must also have been a reminder to Simpson of the enduring popularity, and brilliance, of the Busted songs. Plus, ten years on, there were now more shared musical tastes between the three of them. And, finally, there was a sense of “job done” – all three had gone away and done their own things.
“I had to show people there’s other elements of who I was,” states Simpson. “And now I’ve done that I just feel so much more relaxed. And I can be here and enjoy it – and all that stress I remember from before just isn’t there. So in the last two years I felt like I went through a massive therapy session, of getting back to realising that actually Busted wrote great pop songs and it was a really great time. And the idea of doing it again is exciting. It’s the most unbelievable journey.
“And this is a progression, a new thing,” he affirms. “This is not just a nostalgia trip, or me cashing-in. If I’d wanted that, I would have done McBusted. And that’s so far away from where I am. But the prospect of performing the old songs is still exciting for me – especially as that leads us into the idea of writing and recording new songs together.”
Willis echoes that sentiment. “Charlie was very quick to talk about new music, which was
very exciting for me. The idea of going out and playing the hits again is fantastic, especially
with him – but making new music is more exciting still to me and James.”
Over the summer, after McBusted’s tour with One Direction was complete, the trio met up in a studio in secret. But just to ensure no word or Instagram pic leaked, they met up in... Philadelphia.
“Firstly because it’s the city of brotherly love,” laughs Bourne.
“...and also, James’ mate Eric has a studio there,” adds Willis. “We flew into New York, then we road-tripped to Philly, and we had four amazing days in the studio.
“Matt was driving ‘cause he rented the car,” recounts Bourne, “and Charlie was in the passenger seat, and I was in the back. I wish I’d had a Go-Pro to film it – it was weird enough for me to see the three of us in that car, far less the fans. ’Cause I thought this whole thing was dead and buried; I’d made peace with the fact that it was over.”
Those four days produced three new songs. More importantly, almost, was how readily the three locked back into their friendships.
“That’s what made this awesome: it was easy,” says Willis. “And I remember coming back and my wife saying: ‘Did you talk, did you get everything off your chests?’ And no, we didn’t. Because as soon as we were together, I felt we didn’t need to talk about anything. We all immediately knew where we were. Charlie’s 30 now, James and I are 32. So much has happened since we left the band, and I feel like time has taught us all exactly what everyone else was going through.”
The men of Busted are back, but they’re taking it one arena tour at a time. They appreciate that the differences that broke them up are, for one thing, now completely understandable. But also, it’s those differences, that volatility, that make their three-way partnership hugely exciting now. Rather than rue them, it’s time to celebrate those varied personalities. Because as the Busted threesome find common ground all over again, the music they make has the potential to be wildly greater than the sum of its parts.
So, yes, they’re bristling with song ideas. Yes, they would love to do an album (and studio time is in the offing...). Will they look for a new record deal? Do they need a new record deal? There will be no hurried, panicked decisions. Things were helter-skelter mad enough the last time round – and for sure, they still have ground to make up – that no one’s rushing anything.
The most important thing is that James Bourne, Matt Willis and Charlie Simpson are together again, older, wiser... and excited about what The New Busted might be. All for one, and one for all.
Simpson: “I spent ten years showing people what else I can do. So I feel that coming back, that weight is lifted. I don’t have anything to prove any more. Being in Busted was brilliant, and before I got bogged down with the stuff that in the end drove me crazy, it was amazing. And the three of us never fell out. So I feel like I can come back and do this and have fun with it.”
Bourne: “We’ve done this crazy, exciting, adventurous, scenic route back to being Busted. And now we’re here, we’re all super-re-energised.”
Willis: “It’s ten years on and we’re all different. And we’re now in a position where we can do whatever we want. We don’t have to be controlled by anyone, or make any music that will make anyone unhappy. And that’s a good place to be. Busted can be anything we want it to be. What’s more exciting than that?”