The Tragedy of Viola Beach, 5 Years On

As the burgeoning indie music scene strengthened its grip on the UK, an up-and-coming Viola Beach and their summery blend of Brit-pop streaked indie had them poised to follow in the footsteps of The Kooks and Blossoms. But tragedy struck, and a horrific accident saw the young stars taken too soon. Five years on, Gemma Cockrell reflects on the band’s vibrant legacy.

Five years on from the tragic deaths of the members of Viola Beach and their manager, Craig Tarry, their music still lives on. The band lost their lives in a car accident in Södertälje, just outside of Stockholm, in the early hours of February 13th, 2016, when driving back to their hotel after playing Where's the Music? festival in Norrköping– their first international gig.

It’s easy to see that Viola Beach were on the brink of stardom when tragedy struck. Their debut single, Swings and Waterslides, was released amidst the summer sun of August 2015. In the same month, they lit up the ‘BBC Introducing’ stage at Reading and Leeds festival and were coined as one of Annie Mac’s ‘New Names for 2016’ after playing at the famous Maida Vale studios in November of 2015. The following month, they supported Courteeners on three of their UK tour dates, including a star-studded show at Manchester Apollo, alongside fellow indie band Blossoms.

‘If they were still with us today, there is no doubt that they would have been headlining festivals themselves.’

By the time early 2016 came, Viola Beach released Boys That Sing and Like A Fool, as they prepared for another tour with Blossoms. The Warrington band were also booked for a string of festival appearances, including SXSW and T in the Park. Unfortunately, the crash took place just a month after the release of these singles. Following their deaths, they were honored at Glastonbury in 2016 by Coldplay, who covered Boys That Sing during their headline set – a glimpse into Viola Beach’s alternate future for fans. If they were still with us today, there is little doubt that they would have been headlining festivals themselves. The following month, Viola Beach’s self-titled debut album reached number one posthumously on the UK charts.

Their loss was felt heavily back at their hometown, where tributes poured in. Pictures of the band adorned buses, a cocktail was named after them by a local mixologist, and a book of condolence was opened at the town hall, where the flag was flown at half-mast. Furthermore, school awards were named after them, memorial benches were installed, and their music became a playlist mainstay at the Lounge Bar, where three members of the band used to work. A fundraising page set up after the crash went on to raise more than £30,000, which has been used to fund a memorial to be unveiled later this year near Parr Hall in the Cheshire town.

In 2021, exactly half a decade after the accident, a new charity campaign has also been launched by the River Reeves foundation; the charity established in memory of Viola Beach’s guitarist. The campaign, titled ‘V for Viola’, will provide support for artists aged between fourteen and twenty-five. The project’s ‘V’ stands not only for the band’s name but also the Roman numeral for the number five; representing the five years that have passed since the accident, as well as the five fundraising projects that the charity has scheduled for 2021.

The shock and media buzz surrounding their deaths may have faded, but the sadness is everlasting. The band and their beloved manager are still being remembered and honored, with the latest effort being a charity cover of the iconic debut single Swings and Waterslides. The cover was recorded by a community of musicians from Warrington, and was released on streaming services on Friday 12th February, under the name of ‘Warrington Music’. The line-up was brought together by Lee Harman, Editor of the Warrington Music Publication Magazine, with support from the band’s former sound engineer Cal Bate. The track features members of several bands, including The A.V Club, Sienne, Uno Mas, Crawlers, Aligners, Filthy Tricks, and The Zangwills, and all proceeds will go to charities chosen by the late bands’ family members.

‘Music fans continue to pay tribute to the band’s legacy by keeping their music in rotation.’

“Viola Beach left their own legacy, despite their short time together,” said Lee Harman. “They were the first of a new wave of bands who were proud to be from Warrington. We should have seen [them] headlining the biggest festivals five years on. They put Warrington on the map.” Lisa Leonard, mother of Viola Beach’s twenty-year-old frontman Kris Leonard, takes comfort in knowing that the band were the happiest that they had been in their lives as things were finally coming together for them. “They were living their dream,” Joanne, the mother of nineteen-year-old drummer Jack Dakin, confirms.

Music fans continue to pay tribute to the band’s legacy by keeping their music in rotation. Viola Beach lives on through their debut self-titled album, as well as the new charity version of Swings and Waterslides. As long as their music continues to be played, they will never be forgotten.

Featured image courtesy of Viola Beach via Facebook. Article image courtesy of Propaganda Leeds via Facebook.