Blazin’ Squad look back: ‘We needed chaperones – it wasn’t great for our credibility’

The Chingford rap crew on teen fame, atrocious hair and the power of Love Island

Blazin’ Squad in 2003 and 2023. Later photograph: Simon Webb/The Guardian. Styling: Andie Redman. Grooming: Neusa Neves at Arlington Artists using Eyeko and Illamasqua. Archive image: Martin Gardner/Avalon

The 10 original members of Blazin’ Squad met at school in Chingford, north-east London. Known for their fusion of pop, R&B and rap, they had their first hit in 2002 with a cover of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s Crossroads. A further six Top 10 singles followed, as well as two gold records and a sold-out arena tour. The crew’s current lineup is Spike E (Sam Foulkes), Rocky B (Marcel Somerville), Freek (Ollie Georgiou) and Melo D (Chris McKeckney). They play Reminisce festival on 9 September.

Sam (new image, sitting)

The boys used to take the mick back then, as I had a baby face. Looking at this image from Smash Hits, they were right: my face is so swollen, it’s like I’ve been stung by a bee. I couldn’t grow facial hair until I was 19. Thankfully, my head has slimmed down by 300%. My hairline’s gone back a fair bit, too.

None of us were proactively trying to get famous. Everything just aligned: when we were 15, a guy at school was doing work experience at a studio. He knew we’d done garage and MC’d at parties, so he said we could record a demo for £200. After that, he asked us to come back again, but this time we could do it for free. A few weeks later, he called to say some A&Rs from East West Records wanted to meet us. When we got there they said: “Can you MC in front of us, right now?” It was terrifying! A week later, we were in Kensington with lawyers, having dinner and signing contracts. Two weeks later we were performing in South Africa, and a week after that we had our first No 1.

But one minute we were selling out Wembley, the next our phones stopped ringing and we had to find new ways to make money. We could have let the end of the group eat us up, but we didn’t. We cracked on, and I’m always in the mindset that if Blazin’ Squad stopped tomorrow, I’d be gutted but OK.

Marcel (on left)

Me and Melo were always at the back of photos as everyone else was shorter than us. That’s why I’m crouching in such a random pose; it’s what I had to do to get into the shot.

We were promoting our second album at the time. The entire Blazin’ Squad experience was epic, but we were making our best music at this point: Flip Reverse, Here 4 One, We Just Be Dreamin’ – it was good times. Crossroads going to No 1 was crazy, but the music on that first album wasn’t necessarily us and there was a lot of input from the label. On the second record, we got a bit more control. We were living that pop star lifestyle, too – out in the West End, VIP treatment. Not something we ever imagined as a bunch of teenagers from Chingford.

We carried on making a third album even though we didn’t have a deal, but when we played it to our managers they didn’t see our vision – they had ideas about how we could be more mainstream. We were ready to embrace the digital age and self-release but they were more hesitant. In the end, the group naturally faded out – people got jobs and moved on. In 2009, the four of us started to do some small gigs, then in 2017, after I got made redundant from my job, I decided to sign up for Love Island. After going on the show, Blazin’ Squad blew up again: we got booked for all the festivals. Our Spotify streams increased by 3,000%.

The 10 of us have remained friends now for 20 years, but while it would be incredible to get the original lineup on stage, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Everyone’s off doing their own thing: Kenzie is a superstar DJ, MoJam [Mustafa Omer and James Murray] have written loads of successful songs. I might be the most famous member now, though, which is great, because I used to be in the background. The world turns, things change, and these days there’s room for everyone at the front.

Ollie (on right)

I’ve no memory of this shoot, but I’m grateful I didn’t get ripped off as bad as Sam did with those bootcut jeans. Even if he got to keep the Timberlands.

Things moved fast for Blazin’ Squad. In our first year, we went 323 days without a day off. The 4am call times for early morning TV shows were a bit hard to manage as we had to be bubbly, but apart from that it was amazing. One of my highlights was getting asked by Kool and the Gang to cover their song Joanna. We got to meet them, too, but my hair was atrocious that day. I have incredibly curly hair and all I ever wanted was for it to be straight, so I got it done and I ended up looking like I had a lion’s mane.

As we were so young at the start, we needed chaperones until we were 16, which was not great for credibility, especially if we were meeting new people: “Hi, yeah, nice to meet you. Here’s my dad. He has to come with me everywhere I go.” We couldn’t get up to all the things teenagers get up to without getting into a lot of shit. But by album No 2 we could, and we did.

Groups like So Solid Crew, Busted, Sugababes and Girls Aloud really put their arms around us. We were like their little brothers. We had beef with David Sneddon for a bit – for some reason the acts from Fame Academy were not our greatest fans. But as there were so many of us in the group it was hard to branch out and make new friends. It was probably quite intimidating for people to come over to talk to us. We weren’t rude, we just kept to ourselves.

It was a bit daunting when the group ended. I was a bit embarrassed, thinking: “Oh God, what will people think of me? Am I just a failed pop star?” To a degree, that was accurate, but realistically the fame was never going to last for ever. The best thing is that we are still all good mates, and all of these experiences make our bond pretty strong.

Chris (in phone box)

That’s me behind two band members in the phone box. Me and Marcel got pushed to the back because we were the tallest. That’s the reason I was told, anyway.

My favourite memories are of the first day of tour: we’d wait outside a Chingford pub with our parents and the bus would arrive. We were energetic teenage boys and we’d pile in and drive off, waving to our parents from the windows. That’s when the fun would really start. There was always a lot of joking around, so we never got time to be nervous. We’d just done our GCSEs and nobody had cared about us at school. Suddenly we were on stage with thousands of fans screaming our names. There was no chance anyone would get too big for their boots, though: you’d immediately get slapped back down by the rest of the group.

We’ve all got our jobs and families now, so when we do shows we appreciate it more because it’s an escape from normality. My baby son came to see his first Blazin’ Squad show on Father’s Day. When we did Crossroads, each of us brought our kids on stage. That was a nice moment. The Blazin’ Squad junior crew! Maybe they’ll take over: they’ve already outnumbered us.


Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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