BEING in a band can be tough, with relentless touring and promotional schedules but add illness and disability into the mix and things complicate further. Mystery Jets suffered a setback at the end of 2018 after frontman Blaine Harrison had to go into hospital.
‘I have a disability called spina bifida that occasionally flares up and I have to take time out of the band to have surgery,’ he explains. ‘It’s something that has impacted touring and festivals several times over the years and more often than not it happens at the most inconvenient times,’ he adds.
To make it even more tricky, the Twickenham lads were promoting a song written about his health and the NHS, called Hospital Radio.
‘It’s about the importance of hospital radio as a British institution. It’s something that has somehow weathered the storms of austerity, funds haven’t been cut. I’ve always tuned in whenever I’ve been in hospital and sometimes I feel like I might be the only person listening,’ says Blaine.
Rather than take the single to the usual commercial stations, Mystery Jets decided to take it to hospital radio stations as an exclusive.
‘As fate would have it I got sick again shortly after, so everything was delayed. The response from our audience and the industry was really overwhelming and touching,’ he tells us. ‘Because we had addressed my health problems in our music, in a strange way it connected with people in a way it hadn’t done before.’
Music is a powerful force for good, in Blaine’s eyes. ‘Music has a very special ability to lift us out of our circumstances, whatever they may be. Nowhere is that more needed than in hospitals. It really can take you somewhere else, with hope. It’s an incredibly powerful environment for music to exist in, as an artist, especially.’
The band’s new album, A Billion Heartbeats, covers subjects from women’s rights and the NHS to the rise of the alt-right. One suspects it would be difficult to make such a varied record and keep it cohesive.
‘The album has the theme of protest as its backbone. To boil it down, it is a celebration of the spirit of protest, in the face of adversity.
‘Be it because of political tensions or cultural divides, the polarity of our society at the moment is something that’s a first for my generation.’ Blaine pauses.
‘Art has a power to do that in a way that perhaps the news can’t. Art taps into our empathy as humans; it’s about telling other people’s stories as much as our own.
‘Protests are somewhere to come and to shout and to make your voice heard but it is also important to listen.’
Gigs and festivals can be places of sharing and of joy and that’s something Mystery Jets try to foster, a sense of community. ‘Mystery Jets shows are celebratory,’ says Blaine. ‘We like people to leave with a sense of hope about coming together. Increasingly, we listen to music on headphones, in isolation.
‘We remind people that music is powerful when shared. Those songs are so personal to you, but hearing them in a room full of other people or in a field with thousands of others they take on a whole new power. That’s a feeling we try to capture.’
If that’s not enough to persuade you to catch Mystery Jets live, Blaine has one last assurance. ‘We’re living in weird, kaleidoscopic times; people are more polarised than ever and it’s very easy to have your flame dampened by that, to feel disheartened.
‘We’ll restore your hope in people; our audiences are amazing, people come together and bring so much love. We’re just a small part of it, the rest is all them. And you.’
■ Mystery Jets are playing a free gig at Camden’s DM’s Boot Room on March 11, in aid of Attitude Is Everything charity. They play O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on April 22, and touring, mysteryjets.com