Lil’ Chris, big talent
EMMA LEE A year ago Chris Hardman was an ordinary Lowestoft teenager studying for his GCSEs but since graduating from Channel 4’s Rock School he’s taken the charts by storm and plays a homecoming gig in Norwich on Monday. Emma Lee spoke to him.
“I was invited to the premiere of Tenacious D - The Pick of Destiny and I met [the film's star] Jack Black and Justin Hawkins from the Darkness who is just my hero. And I was sat near Konnie Huq from Blue Peter, but I'd met her before, and Ricky from the Kaiser Chiefs was there and Fightstar… It was brilliant.”
Chris Hardman, the Lowestoft teenager better known as the town's latest chart sensation Lil' Chris, is talking so fast that it's difficult for my shorthand to keep up with him. But then the 16-year-old has got every right to be excited.
A year ago he was just a regular kid, studying for his GCSEs and planning to go to college.
Then one day flamboyant rocker Gene Simmons from the band Kiss and a TV production crew rolled up at his school, Kirkley High, with the aim of turning some of the students into the next Darkness.
Chris was chosen to be Simmons' band's lead singer and emerged as Rock School's star.
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Upon his graduation, which was marked by a performance in front of thousands of Judas Priest fans in LA, he was snapped up by a major record label.
He's got his own stylist, an army of fans (many of whom are lovestruck girls - he has become something of a heart-throb), has played at Wembley Arena and his champions include Radio 1 DJs Jo Whiley and Scott Mills.
In October his debut single Checkin' It Out (a bit like Blur's Song 2 meets Bart Simpson) charged to the upper reaches of the charts and he's just released his self-titled album.
I tell him I can't imagine what it feels like.
“I can't imagine what it feels like,” he laughs. “It's like it's happening to someone else, not me.”
The lightning rise to fame could have quite easily gone to his head. But he is charmingly unstarry, incredibly polite and obviously in awe of everything that's happening to him. There's no hint of teenage stroppiness whatsoever.
“I hate to imagine what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing this. Probably something really rubbish. Boring maths, probably,” he says.
Inspired by his dad Ian's (very cool it must be said) record collection - which included Squeeze, the Buzzcocks, the Undertones and Blondie - and the Darkness, he first picked up a guitar when he was 14 which, as he points out, was only two years ago.
What have his highlights been so far? Listening to him, everything it seems.
“Recording the album was amazing. It took a long time - there were lots of early mornings and late nights. We sort of took our own time. I'm really chuffed with it,” he says.
“We went to LA to film the video in this community hall, it was really brilliant but I was so tired. We spent 12 hours on a plane, 20 hours shooting and then had to fly back. It was still amazing. The video's set in the '80s - it's a bit cheesy and a bit suggestive,” he laughs.
“I made a lot of cool friends.”
When I spoke to him he was also looking forward to his album's launch party where Peaches Geldof - rebel daughter of Sir Bob - was due to be playing a DJ set.
And then of course there's the touring.
“I played a tour earlier this year and it was amazing that people were paying to see me.
“It will be great to play in Norwich. I played the radio Broadland roadshow there at the fireworks display, but I've never done a proper gig there before. I'll be able to see if I'm popular in Norwich.
“I'm really appreciative of the fans. Without them I'd be nothing,” he says.
On the tour he's going to be paying tribute to fellow former Kirkley High pupils Justin Hawkins and co.
“The Darkness were a real inspiration for me. I was proud that they were from Lowestoft. They really put it on the map. I was gutted when they split up, but it was for the right reason. I'd rather they split up while they were ahead. I'm going to cover one of their songs on my tour, although I'm not telling you which one.”
And after that he's going to be taking a well-earned break.
“I've got two weeks off in December and January and I'm going to chill out and spend time with my family. Technically I'm still living in Lowestoft and it will always be home,” he says.
t Lil' Chris plays the Waterfront, Norwich, on Monday December 11. Doors 7.30pm. Tickets at £8.50 in advance are available in Norwich from UEA Union, The Waterfront and Soundclash, or call the box office, 01603 508050, www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk. The show is for over-14s only. Support comes from Ross Copperman, who will playing songs from his debut album Welcome to My Reality which is due out in the new year.
t His album, called Lil' Chris, is out now.