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Toploader guys prepare for donut intake.. (L-R Rob, Joe and Matt)

Toploader - dancing in the moonlight with Roofdog

It's been a long and hectic year for Toploader, but now the smiley boys from Easbourne are riding the crest of a wave, and waving to crowds of several thousand supporting the likes of Bon Jovi and Paul Weller. Toploader stopped off to chat with Roofdog on their latest tour and dispel all those spurious washing-machine myths about their name...

Words: Shelley Gale pics: john addison

For a band who's career seems to have exploded into a frenzy of activity, ranging from debut album Onka'a big Moka hitting the top ten, to supporting Paul Weller on his tour and following Noel Gallagher onstage to live crowds. You'd be forgiven for expecting Toploder to be at least slightly cocky. At least that's what you'd have thought. But you'd be very wrong; sitting in a room with three of the band members is comparable to a good night in with a few friends, a few drinks and a box of jam doughnuts.

Originally spotted by Paul Weller at a small gig in Camden, Toploader obviously struck the right chord with him somewhere along the way. "I don't actually know why he took to us", admits singer and ketboardist Joseph (right); "We were pretty bad back then!" Obviously not that bad though. But perhaps a little too much of a coincidence you have to wonder. "Well, I don't think it was coincidence that he spotted us, no", he agrees; "I think someone invited him..." But still, considering the copious amount of water that passed under Toploader's bridge that fateful day, we're not really going to quibble.

Considering their roots in the not-so-happening Eastbourne, this band certainly know how to enjoy themselves, with their happy-go-lucky melodies and cheerful tunes. But is this the secret of their success? "I don't think the reason we've done so well is because our songs are feel-good", Joseph decides. "If you look at other bands who've done well like Radiohead, they're not exactly cheerful, so I don't think it's that." Perhaps it's their attitude? After all, one of the harshest criticisms dredged-up to date is that Toploader enjoy themselves too much on stage. "That's not a bad criticism really is it?", laughs Joseph. And if that's the worst critics can fire, I don't think he need start worrying just yet.

However, although Toploader seem to manage to come up with incredibly singable, whistleable and generally make-any-noise-that-fits-to-songs-able, their album title seems to have taken everyone by surprise. "Onka's Big Moka", sighs Joseph. "I think we're gonna call the next album Album Two so everyone can say it."
"Or else something completely unpronouncable", chips in bassist Matt, "like ddjjoonnkkkklllxxzzjsbndj". "Well, basically," begins Joseph for what must be the millionth time, "Onka was a guy from a tribe in Papua New Guinea, and you were seen as a big man there if you gave all of your possessions away. It's just a totally different way of looking at things." So it's a symbolic metaphor for the way in which we're all so obsessed by possessions..? "Yeah, really symbolic", smirks Joseph in a cheekily cynical fashion.

So, maybe the title holds no inner message for the audience, but what about the band name? "Well," pipes up(apology in advance for pun - ed) Joe, "it refers to spliffs, and a toploader is someone who puts all the weed in one end, so when they pass it on, one person gets all the good stuff, and everyone else misses out." So much for the old washing machine theory then.

Originally starting life as a keyboardist, Joseph seems to have made a smooth shift into the singer mould, carefully balancing finger co-ordination with soaring, soulful vocals. Something that intrigues people is the combination of a lead singer sat at a keyboard. "Well, I think I ended up being the singer 'cos I had a kind of soulful bluesy voice, and it fitted in quite well", explains Joseph. But surely this is a little restrictive to the antics expected from a lively frontman? "Well, I hope people don't see it as a barrier" he frowns, "as I don't feel it's one. And it certainly doesn't hold me back."

Looking around this small but cosy dressing room, there seems to be something missing from that well-documented rock-n'-roll lifestyle that we hear so much about; alcohol. Where are the crates of beer to wash away after-show nerves or to celebrate a good performance when it's all over? "Oh, we don't really drink when we're on tour.." Joseph begins; "We've got some drinks in the fridge, but not for before a gig. I don't understand how people can do a gig when they've had a few; it's all about the audience, and if you're drunk, you don't have a clue about what's going on."

The gentlemen of pop, it seems. Even a little dutch courage is uneccessary.

"It's funny though..." comments guitarist Julian; "I was more nervous on the first night of this tour than I was in front of thirty thousand people supporting Bon Jovi. I suppose it's because we know we're headlining, and we can't afford to mess up."

Not something you would think had crossed their minds. But there lies the secret. This band know that they have what it takes, and they don't want to throw their chance at fame and fortune away. And if the reviews are anything to go by, they seem to have served up what everyone wants; pure plain and simpel good music. So, all we need to know now is the big question; which one of you guys is the Toploader?

"It's me!" laughs Joseph.

Just don't say you haven't been warned.

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