We’re on the phone to a promoter. It’s been a long, hard day and now, to cap it all off, our ears appear to have broken. ‘Sorry,’ we say, ‘can you repeat that last sentence? It sounded like you said Toploader are playing in Dubai.’ ‘Yes,’ she replies. ‘Toploader are playing in Dubai.’ ‘Nope,’ we say, ‘sorry, but that still sounds like “Toploader”. What’s the band’s name again?’
It takes a few more seconds to sink in: there is no mistake. This is not a joke. Toploader are playing Dubai, and it is weird.
Why? Okay, here’s a little musical history. Back in the dim and distant days of 2000, when the world was new, Toploader were pretty much inescapable. Their debut album, Onka’s Big Moka, was at number four in the UK charts, and their cover of King Harvest’s ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, a twinkly, warm, feelgood singalong, was on continual rotation on both the radio and the various TV music channels. And quite right too – it was perfect upbeat music for a summertime when things were peaceful and the idea of another war in Iraq was unthinkable.
The band’s success took them all over the world, and it looked like they would be regular chart fixtures for a long time to come – not least because Sony had signed them to a six-album deal. Then, two months after the release of their second album, Magic Hotel, in 2003, they were unceremoniously dropped from the label and disappeared into the ether.
So, we ask guitarist Dan Hipgrave, what the hell happened? ‘Downloads,’ he says, succinctly. ‘When Sony BMG saw how much money they were losing to downloads – especially as there was no iTunes back then – they just culled 60 per cent of their roster, even big-hitters like Will Smith. We’d come off the back of a two-million-selling album and our second LP not only charted better than the first, it went platinum really quickly. But still they dropped us.’
The band might even have sought out other labels if they weren’t feeling disillusioned with the entire industry. ‘We’d been pimped around the world by people who wanted to squeeze every last buck out of us,’ says Dan wryly. ‘Put that together with two of us having had kids and it just felt like it was time to leave it.’
But after meeting up at Dan’s stag party in 2008, the band started to reconsider the split; a little rehearsal room experimentation later and they agreed that Toploader should go back into action – provided they worked on new material. ‘We couldn’t have got back together to be a heritage act.
Of course in these shows we’re going to deliver the stuff people want, but we’re going to deliver some new material as well, and it is without a shadow of a doubt the best music we’ve ever made. ‘We still love ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, of course: we’ll never get bored of that. But I’m really, hugely excited about our new stuff. It’s like the old days, when we’d play little pubs in the UK just to show off our new material. It’s been 15 years since I felt like that. We’re making the best music of our lives right now, and we want everyone to hear it.’
Get a loader this
There’s more to Toploader than that song; here’s a brief rundown of some of their other top-20 singles
We’re not entirely sure what’s going on in this rather odd video from the band’s first album. Something about grumpy folk in the British countryside and people turning into children and… nope, no idea. But the tune’s rather good, from its eerie strings to the undeniably catchy chorus.
‘Time of My Life’
A wee bit more upbeat, this is a decent classic rock homage in both appearance and sound. Love those ’70s-style riffs and tinkly jazz piano. We’re surprised this didn’t do better, actually, because it would make great summertime driving music.
‘Only for a While’
This one we’re a bit less enthused by. A Vaseline-smeared lens shoots the band looking a bit bored through four minutes of plodding, cod-emotional fluff. It might be called ‘Only for a While’, but it seems to last forever.