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Still on the wild ride

G4, the vocal harmony group that were runners up in the first series of The X Factor, told David Hennessy about their 20th anniversary, being mentored by Louis Walsh and getting to sing with people like Westlife and the late Stephen Gately.

The vocal harmony group G4 first came to prominence on the very first series of The X Factor.

Mentored by Louis Walsh, they reached the final and eventually lost out to Steve Brookstein.

Now the group are marking their 20th anniversary with a tour that takes them all over the UK and to Ireland which is a place that has special memories for them.

Although they thought it was over for them after they failed to take the reality TV show’s prize, G4 would go to number one with their debut album. Their G4 and Friends album would then get to number six.

But after their third album, the band would disband before reuniting for their tenth anniversary in 2014 and continued on ever since to now be marking another important milestone.

Of the line- up that took Simon Cowell’s reality show by storm, only Jonathan Ansell and Mike Christie remain.

New addition Jai McDowall has had his own reality TV experience and success winning Britain’s Got Talent in 2011.

The line-up is completed by Duncan Sandilands who joined the band in 2019.

The milestone year also sees the band release their 20th anniversary studio album.

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It is 20 years since your time on the X Factor. Can you believe it?

Jonathan Ansell: “It definitely seems strange, it is hard to believe.

“But then you look in a mirror and you realise it’s all true.”

Take us back 20 years. I understand far from aspirations of making it to a live final, you had more modest expectations…

Mike Christie: “We went in for a laugh actually.

“We thought, ‘Well, let’s go for a laugh. We’re not gonna get anywhere but why not celebrate what we’ve done’, and we just kept going through so it was a big surprise to all of us really, an unexpected journey.”

Jonathan Ansell: “We had zero expectations.

“It was just, ‘Ah, this will be fun. Let’s see what happens’.

“And we just didn’t expect any of the amazing ride that then followed and to get to the final was the most amazing thing.

“It was devastating that we didn’t win.

“We thought that was it but then we were delighted the next day to be offered a recording deal.

“It’s an amazing ride that we went on.”

What was it like to be mentored by Louis Walsh?

Mike: “It was fantastic.

“There are very few people in the world that know as much as him about the music industry.”

The relationship went further than just your time on the show as well, didn’t it?

Jonathan: “Yeah, he was co-managing us.

“Louis was invaluable and gave us some wonderful song choices but also opportunities to grace the stage with Westlife.

“It was just insane to firstly meet them and then it happened that we got to drink with them.

“I remember when we were in Dublin, we had many a night at Lillie’s Bordello.

“That was wonderful and that was due to Louis and his incredible connections.”

It was Louis’ connections that surely saw you working with the late Stephen Gately of Boyzone.

Jonathan: “It was a real incredible opportunity to work with Stephen.
“He didn’t just record No Matter What with us but we also got to share that live at the Royal Albert Hall stage and to introduce somebody like Stephen to come join you on stage was incredible.

“He’s sorely missed and gone far too soon but to have captured that song and still have that gorgeous memory of working with him is going to live with us forever.”

You also sang with big names like Cliff Richard, Lesley Garrett and Robin Gibb.

What sticks out as a particular highlight of the ‘wild ride’ you have had?

Mike: “I think the first album going to number one just totally blew our minds.

“You’re singing with Robin Gibb and you’re thinking, ‘This is one of the Bee Gees’, and you totally pinch yourself. You can’t believe that they know who you are.”

Jonathan: “Meeting Brian May.

“He just sat next to me and went, ‘Hey John’, like we had known each other forever.

“I was like, ‘This is so surreal. That is Brian May, what on earth is going on?’

“One thing that came to mind when you were asking about those special memories and moments, it was on our trip to Louis Walsh’s apartment in Dublin for The X Factor where we found out that we were in the final.

“There was this really surreal night where we didn’t know if we were in the final but we’d done all we could do.

“We just had to wait till the next day for them to tell us and all of us as contestants went out for this lovely dinner. And yeah, there was a few drinks consumed as well.

“We just realised, ‘From tomorrow our lives could change’.

“And it was a really lovely camaraderie and we just had an absolute whale of a time because there was no competition anymore.

“It was super, super special and then amazing the next day to be told we were in the final.”

Duncan you are a newer addition but what have been your highlights of your time in the band so far?

Duncan: “I think probably a highlight for me was the first time I performed at Exeter Cathedral.

“I live in South Devon and my in-laws were there, my parents were there and my wife was carrying our first child at the time. That was a really special show.

“Exeter will always hold a special place in my heart.

“That first tour in 2019 was very special.”

Is it sad that The X Factor is no more?

Jonathan: “I think the show ran its course.

“I think it became far too formatted.

“The early years were incredible at showcasing raw talent in its natural form and then the producers got too heavily involved started to manipulate the casting and make it fulfil characteristics and criteria that they believed an audience would enjoy.

“I think the public are cleverer than that, saw past it and the audience numbers dwindled.

“There’s still an organic nature to BGT because of the diversity of acts. I think that they’re still retaining that more authentic presentation of talent but X Factor sadly over produced itself and I think that’s the reason for its demise.”

Were there some signs of that in your time?

Jonathan: “I wouldn’t say it was being overly produced at all but we quite quickly realised we were in a talent contest that’s on television.

“That didn’t mean that it was manipulated or pantomime but it did mean that you had to play the game of TV.

“There was one moment I remember vividly on the show where we performed and Simon Cowell said he wasn’t quite sure what the public would make of that performance: Some people would love, some people would hate it. And that was all he said.

“And I said, ‘Well, that’s fair enough but what do you think of our performance?’ And he wouldn’t tell us and he just said, ‘I think the public will love and hate it’.

“And I said, ‘But you’re the judge, what do you think?’ And he wouldn’t answer.

“It was this really awkward face off and it was a memorable moment from the show because it made me look more confident than I really was.

“Inside I was petrified at what I was saying but I felt like it was an important thing to point out that it should be a talent show, not just him deciding on the behalf of the public what their beliefs would be.

“In the ad break, he came on the stage and he jibbed me in the ribs and went, ‘Good bit of telly there, John’.

“And I went, ‘Ah, okay, that’s what we’re doing. Cool. Let’s do this’.”

Duncan obviously you weren’t in the band at that time but did you happen to be watching on TV?

Duncan Sandilands: “I remember seeing these chaps on that first X Factor and they walked out in those ghastly suits.

“And I thought, ‘Who on earth are these four?’

“And 20 years later, I’m singing with them and I’m wearing a ghastly suit.”

Jonathan: “It’s a happy accident though because Duncan actually did vote for the opposition.”

Duncan: “I did. I did.

“I remember when Steve was on the X Factor and I just loved the timbre of his voice.

“I just thought his voice was super and I did vote for Steve. I’m sorry to say I voted for Steve.”

And you guys still let him in the band knowing that?

Mike: “We didn’t know.”

Jonathan: “The paperwork was all signed and there was no turning back so we’re stuck with him now.

“We would have still let him in because Duncan’s incredible and genuinely the best bass we’ve ever had.

“It’s a real asset to have him in the fold so whether he voted for Steve or not, he’s in.”

So what happened after the X Factor and after the hit records that you decided to call it a day in 2017?

Mike: “Halfway through the live shows Simon Cowell said, ‘I’m only going to sign the winner’.

“So when we came runners up, we were totally deflated and we thought, ‘That’s the end now, we’ve had a fun ride but that really is the end’.

“But then we were signed.

“We ended up having this incredible career we weren’t expecting and I think for three years after the X Factor we were doing it 24/7.

“We never had a break, we never got a chance to go on holiday. We missed friends’ parties, weddings, all sorts of things, family occasions, because we were on that ride.

“And after three years we thought, ‘You know what? Let’s go out while we’re on the top.

“We just burnt ourselves out because it was so busy.”

So when you came together again ten years ago, it felt more natural and you could enjoy it again?

Jonathan: “Exactly, and it’s thanks to Mike encouraging us to get back together, ‘Come on, it’s 10 years, let’s mark this 10 year anniversary’.

“It’s insane to still be doing it.

“What’s been great is that although we are a group, we’re still individuals as well and we’re getting the chance to showcase that in between the G4 opportunities and that’s the great thing now: That it’s a healthier balance.

“We never thought that (10 year reunion) was gonna get the reaction it did.

“It was an incredible reaction and to have all those people just screaming when we first walked on the stage was just overwhelming and it was a very, very special moment to realise there was such an appetite still for the band.

“We never thought that was ever going to happen and night after night people just seem to have a really wonderful evening and it’s an incredible thing to still be doing it all these years on.”

Is it special when you do some of those songs that people remember you for on the X Factor like Bohemian Rhapsody and Creep?

Jonthan: “They’re amazing. Nessun Dorma and Bohemian Rhapsody kind of top and tail our show.

“You sing them and you see the connection the audience has but there’s one song now which has got even more power because it was the winning song for Jai on Britain’s Got Talent: To Where You Are, a Josh Groban classic.

“We recorded that early doors and performed it on X Factor and then to be able to share that now with Jai’s gorgeous vocals and the provenance of that being his winning song, it’s got an extra connection.

“We get so many people saying that they’ve played that as they’ve lost a loved one at the funeral and you see them breaking down and having the deep emotional connections to that music.

“It’s important to try and disconnect yourself from that raw emotion you’re seeing in the front row and remember that you’re performing it for them and try and hold those personal emotions back because otherwise it’s just going to be a blubbering mess.

“I’ll start crying again and we don’t need that.

“I’ve done enough of that over the years.

“It’s wonderful to have that raw connection with an audience.”

With both The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, it must be a whirlwind to become so well known so suddenly…

Mike: “Yes, absolutely. You go through every emotion from just absolute despair and horror to joy and just the most incredible feeling in the world.

“It’s so much pressure, you’ve got millions of people watching every week.

“And you just suddenly become someone that people recognise.

“So it really is an absolute rollercoaster.

“It’s just the most surreal experience but I think it sets you up well for the music industry because the music industry is tough.”

Jai McDowall: “It took me a long time to actually let it sink in because it’s a whirlwind and you go from being Joe Bloggs to being somebody that people know and that’s strange.

“I remember going back home for the first time and walking down my local high street and it was quite funny, ‘That’s Jai McDowell’. ‘That’s Jai McDowall’.

“I was like, ‘It’s just Jai. You don’t need to full name me, you don’t’.

“It was just weird.

“It just freaked me out because people I didn’t know knew who I was.

“I actually had to go home and lie down. That was a strange day.”

Jonathan: “It was insanely brilliant as well.

“It was epic and it transformed our lives in such a cool way.”

You’ve never done a TV show Duncan, would you be opposed to it or would you have thought of doing a show like the lads have?

Duncan: “Do you know what? I actually really enjoy being the nobody in the group.

“I love hearing their stories and it sounds wild and exciting and so sort of undulating as well, you know, these sort of terrific highs and then sort of Stygian lows.

“But it’s something I never really considered.”

Jonathan: “I think it’s something Duncan needs to get used to: Not being the nobody. He is the one all the ladies are coming for.

“He’s got the moves. He’s got that sultry voice and that’s the reason they’re there. Let’s be honest.”

Jai has Irish roots that he would like to dig into when the tour goes to Ireland.

Jai: “My great granny was Irish so I’ve definitely got some Irish family somewhere.

“If I get time when I’m over, I’ll maybe try and figure it out because I’ve got family trees to a certain point.”

Mike: “Whenever we go to Ireland, we feel like we’re being embraced.

“Everyone’s just the friendliest people and just so welcoming, so embracing.”

Jonathan: “I remember doing a show in Killarney and it was just epic: The scenery, the people, the fishing. Heaven.

“I was literally in heaven, and I can’t wait to explore.

“We are very excited not just about the shows but to take in as much of the culture, the gorgeous scenery, and we’re certainly up for having some fun around it too.

“It’s going to be a great trip, like a mini holiday just with a few shows thrown in.”

Finally will you still be doing it in 20 more years?

Mike: “Yes, definitely. See you at G4 40.”

G4 tour are touring the UK and Ireland for their 20th anniversary now, they play Ireland in October.

G4’s 20th anniversary album is out now.

For more information, click here.

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