'I knew my life was going to change': Lancashire rock 'n' roll star Patrick Ralphson talks Little Mix, Since September, and playing live gigs again
Patrick Ralphson stares into the crowd. Music blasting, he tears at the strings on his guitar, his face contorting, hair whipping around his head like a halo. Riding the crescendo with increasing fervour, he finally plucks the final note as the applause rises. Patrick is seven. The music is UFO or the Stone Roses or Oasis. He's in his bedroom. The crowd is a mirror.
"When I was younger, I'd blast my music in front of the mirror and air guitar all the time," says Patrick via Zoom from his home in London. "I was obsessed with guitarists - Slash, Angus Young, Chuck Berry. It was the shamelessness that grabbed me. Led Zeppelin with the tight clothes and big hair playing 40-minute songs live because they could. Outrageous.
"Everything my favourite guitarists did was just so huge and rock 'n' roll and I loved that energy," adds Patrick, 21. "The expression. I dreamed of being a rock-star - if I hadn't, I wouldn't have picked up a guitar. The whole reason for air guitaring in front of the mirror was that, for me, it wasn't a mirror, it was a million people. And that passion's with me to this day.
"It's what music's about."
Patrick was born in East Lancashire and was raised on a steady diet of rock 'n' roll courtesy of his father Dean, who plays bass. He fell for music early, first picking up a guitar at seven, performing at his sister Sally's birthday parties, and eventually joining his father in cover bands. As a teenager, he joined a band called Critical Reaction and played local festivals.
Harbouring academic ambitions of studying medicine and becoming a medic in the Army, Patrick's plans were waylaid when he got a B in biology. "I was so annoyed and disappointed," he says. "It was a real downer." He went on to study chemistry at the University of Manchester instead but disliked the course, switching to German and politics for his second year.
"I just wanted to be in Manchester," explains Patrick. "I could still be in my band at home but it was a new city. I arrived as 'that indie kid' - I wanted to be Van McCann from Catfish and the Bottlemen so badly, all skinny jeans, denim jackets, and short hair pushed back. And a week before uni, I'd supported Noel Gallagher at a festival, so I thought I was the dog's b******s!"
Before long, Patrick was the lead singer in a reggae indie band called Martini Police and the bassist in Rainy Days, a jazz-hop group - both roles he had never undertaken musically before. But he embraced the challenge. "My music came on so much," he says. "That's why I don't have any regrets about going to uni.
"The most important thing in my life is creating music and uni set me up for that."
In his second year, Patrick got a call which would change his life. Spotted by a TV producer whilst busking at The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival as a 16-year-old, Patrick had gone on ITV's The Voice, but his appearance was never broadcast. He forgot about it and moved on, until the same producer rang him some three years later with another proposal.
Little Mix were taking part in a new TV show called The Search. Would he be interested?
"It sounds weird, but I didn't really give it too much thought," says Patrick with a smile. "I just saw it as another opportunity. But we just kept getting through each stage and, all of a sudden, I realised how big it was. But the annoying thing was I couldn't tell anyone! Everyone was like 'where are you?' and I was thinking 'little do you know, I'm on TV!'"
Along with three other lads - Harry Holles, Jacob Fowler, and Matthew Nolan - Patrick was now part of the indie band Since September. Immersing himself in the music and seizing the opportunity, Patrick says the experience was 'one of the best' of his life - never had he felt so confident and free as a musician.
"I clicked with the lads immediately," he says of his bandmates. "Harry had a similar musical upbringing to me, Matt has that deep passion for song-writing which I resonate with, and I'm in awe of how great a singer Jacob is. We took the time to bond: in the first week in the house, we watched horror films every night, all sat on this one little sofa. It was so, so funny.
"We became real friends but, don't get me wrong, it was hard graft," he adds. "You don't go far in these things unless you work hard and the fact that three of the six bands that were on that show have already split up is testament to the fact that we're genuinely good mates."
The semi-final was unforgettable.
"I'd said to myself that, if we got to the final, I was going to sack off uni and go for it with the band," says Patrick. "Us and this other band were tied with two votes each from the Little Mix girls and they were given 30 seconds to make a decision. About 25 minutes later, we were still on stage. I was watching them decide my future, everything was hanging on this moment.
"It was awful, I think I aged about 15 years!" he adds. "Then they put us through and it was like 'oh, my God.' I kept it together for interviews but, as soon as everyone left, I went backstage and cried. I let it all out. I knew my life was going to change. It was overwhelming. Actually winning the final was just a blur - I was ecstatic, just buzzing.
"Letting out that emotion after the semi allowed me to be as happy as possible when we won. The release was so much better for it."
The prize for winning the competition was the chance to tour with Little Mix. All of a sudden, Since September and the young lad who shredded guitar solos in front of the mirror were about to go on tour with the world's biggest girl band. But, what should’ve been a dream-come-true soon turned sour as Covid saw the tour postponed for a year. Since September were in stasis.
"It was a big anti-climax," admits Patrick. "We couldn't even go to the pub at the end of the street, let alone a studio. It was like the pandemic took away our opportunity to strike whilst the iron was hot. But, in a positive sense, it allowed our fanbase to grow. They stuck with us even when we couldn't put any music out."
Writing songs via Zoom and working with manager Roy Stride of Scouting for Girls fame, the band also took part in a three-part BBC web series called 'Since September: The Empty Seats Tour', which saw them play at some of the UK's most iconic venues, only without a crowd. By Autumn of this year, however, restrictions had eased and talk turned to a proper tour.
"The best thing about Since September is how good we are live," says Patrick, with the band going on to play gigs in Nottingham, London, and Manchester. "We played a Christmas light switch-on in Preston to a crowd of 10,000 and people were blown away. We know we're sick, but we just haven't been able to play.
"We're going to knock heads off every night on that tour with Little Mix and I can't wait," adds Patrick, with Since September's first two singles 'Let It Go' and '11:11' having garnered over 300,000 streams between them already. "Having the tour to look forward to has kept us together alongside us believing in the band and in each other.
"We've also had the chance to form an identity and really become Since September as opposed to that band associated with Little Mix," he adds. "Playing live gave us a taste and we want more. All of a sudden, I was playing guitar solos live. It was all six-year-old me has ever wanted to do.
"Difference is, it wasn't a mirror anymore."