McBusted’s Harry Judd has seen a decade of chart success with boy band McFly, but it’s come with a lot of responsibility and hard work
Words: Gemma Hill Images: Conor McDonnell
Harry Judd is famous for being one quarter of McFly, for winning Strictly Come Dancing, and now for being a part of the pop supergroup that is McBusted. But does anyone actually ask him about his day job of drumming to stadiums full of fans and managing to forge a career at the top of pop for a decade? We did.
People often view pop musicians with a degree of suspicion and disdain, imagining that music gurus have plucked models or actors from obscurity and placed instruments in their hands. That was certainly the case for Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. Were you a drummer before you joined McFly?
I started drumming when I was 16, so relatively late. I’d had music lessons and I grew up playing trumpet – in big bands and things – but I got bored with that. I started getting into the idea of being in bands and rock music. At school I tried playing guitar because me and my friends wanted to be in a band. Two guys in my year had a three-piece punk band who used to jam just as guitar and bass. I went to watch them one day and I decided to learn drums. I asked someone in my year to teach me a drum beat that day, and I got completely hooked on it and played every day. I persuaded my parents to get me drum lessons after about a year of being self-taught. I just played at any opportunity.
The guitarist in that band – who funnily is now a songwriter and producer in London, and we’ve been working with him on the new McBusted album – went to an audition for a band in London when he was 17 and he met Busted’s managers. They said they were looking for a guitarist but they asked if any of his friends played drums. He called me and I went to audition for the new band with Busted’s management, even though I’d only been playing for about a year. I’d never thought about auditioning on the scene – I was just doing my AS levels and playing drums in a band with some friends. I got down to the last two drummers and they told me I’d got the place. I finished school, moved to London and signed a record deal.
You were quite young when it all took off…
I was 17 when I joined the band and I turned 18 before we released anything. Dougie [Poynter, McFly’s bass player] was only 15 when he joined the band.
That must have been a high level to be touring at when you were so young. Playing that many gigs, you’d need to have good technique and so on. Did you have any help?
I was very inexperienced, but I guess at that age there’s that naivety and from somewhere you have that confidence that you seem to lose when you get older. When I look back, I certainly was not qualified to be in the position I was in, but the management were impressed by how good I’d got from having only been playing drums for a year and a half. Word had got to them from a friend about how much I practised and how committed I was. They took a punt on me; the other drummer at the final audition was better than me but I got on really well with Tom and Danny. I think they saw something in me.
I did have help. Dougie and I were just locked in a studio for months at the beginning, just playing over and over again. We had an MD with us to go over the songs and that was from July/August time. We went on tour in February the next year, so we were ready and it had a vibe that worked. We supported Busted and made quite a good impact; we released our first single off the back of that tour and it went to number one. It was pretty intense but I’ve been getting better as I’ve gone along and that’s been good for me. I’ve been in very high pressure situations and have had to practise hard. One of our first live shows was following James Brown and we went out and did our first single and a Beatles cover in front of 70,000 people. We covered ‘She Loves You’ and I think I played it double the speed because of the adrenaline and nerves. It was a harsh learning curve, but because we were so young we gelled well. Danny and Tom are brilliant singers and guitarists; they’ve been playing since they were about four. I’d never played with such talented guys. Me and Doug were playing catch up, but I guess our influences were what McFly needed as a live band.
Some people look down upon McFly, but we crafted ourselves into a good live band and that’s what we’ve prided ourselves on. I had a couple of drummers who came into the studio to help me. Busted had a session drummer called Damon Wilson and I used to hang out with him, watch him on the Busted tour and try to pick a few things up. He gave me some lessons. If I hadn’t got into the band I probably would have gone to uni, never had the chance to practise and maybe would have got a job and not carried on playing, so I feel really grateful that it happened.
You said about people looking down on the band. Do you feel that there’s a pressure or a stigma against playing pop? Have you felt you had to prove yourself?
Yes, especially when you’re younger, you stress about that. Dougie and I had come from a background of listening to bands and playing gigs in our schools and thinking we were cool 17-year-old musicians. I love McFly. I love the fact that at 17 I was in a band that wrote accomplished pop songs without the help of any outside writers. This was quite a feat and I was so wrapped up in that. With success you get a lot of negativity and we reacted to that. We were 18 or 19 and we wanted to be taken seriously; we said we wouldn’t do things unless we were playing live and we wanted our next record to sound more like a band and the label gave us that respect. We write all our songs and we play them all, so it wasn’t like the label were getting writers in to write songs for us and then getting session musicians in to play. We did the whole process of writing an album and demoing it, because Danny is also a producer and was learning that when he was 16.
Looking back, obviously our music didn’t appeal to the average rock band listener, and I think credibility comes through respect anyway, and that’s just something you learn. Being 18 or 19, you’re a lot more reactive and sensitive. Island Records gave us the creativity we craved, and if we’d been forced to do something we didn’t like, we wouldn’t have lasted because we wouldn’t have been happy. We’ve managed to have a long career because we’ve had that creative fulfilment. We meet other pop bands on the scene and they don’t write their songs; they might have co-writers, but live they’re just standing there singing. We construct the whole live show and the whole album so we have that satisfaction.
You’re heavily into fitness and have trained for several marathons. Do you feel that your fitness helps your drumming, and vice versa?
It massively helps, especially if you look at the last McBusted tour, which was a set of an hour and 45 minutes, with a lot of up-tempo stuff and full on, high-energy performance. Being quite fit helps because I don’t find it too hard in terms of being out of breath. After every single gig, someone always comes up to me and says ‘You must be knackered’, and I’m always fine. If you do marathon training and circuit training, that’s when you know what it’s like to be exhausted, to the point where you can’t breathe and you need to lie down. Drumming is hard if you’re not relaxed, technique-wise. I only get that if I don’t warm up properly. I try and avoid doing any weight training before a recording session or a gig because my forearms can get quite tight.