The Feeling look back at a GAY homecoming: ‘We did Spice Up Your Life. It blew the roof off’


Dan Gillespie Sells, Richard Jones, Paul Stewart and brothers Kevin and Ciaran Jeremiah are teen friends turned commercial rock and pop band the Feeling. Former Brit school students, they cut their teeth as successful covers group Superfly and as session musicians, and were propelled from the pub circuit to the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury thanks to the success of their debut Twelve Stops and Home. The group went on to win an Ivor Novello, and Sells composed the music for the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Their sixth album, Loss. Hope. Love., is out now.

Richard (black dress)
This is backstage at the Astoria after performing at [clubnight] GAY. We changed into our Spice Girls’ outfits and came back on to do a cover of Spice Up Your Life. It blew the roof off. I’m in a dress and pair of heels that belonged to Sophie [Ellis-Bextor, Jones’s wife]. Sophie had a chart battle with Victoria Beckham [in 2000], so I had to be Posh Spice, really.

The Feeling were the most-played band on UK radio in 2006, and while that was great, it was a different story abroad. We’d be somewhere like Charlotte in North Carolina, playing in a bookshop while people looked at us, like: Please, will you be quiet? Afterwards, we’d sit at a table in front of a huge banner with our name on and one person would come and get an autograph, out of sympathy. It was bleak but kept our feet on the ground.

At the start of our career, we were all living like students in a crappy broken-down house. Kev and Ciaran’s parents had a shed where we recorded a lot of our first album. Our song Rosé was written during a night in the shed spent serenading an empty bottle of wine after buying it in bulk from a supermarket doing a two-for-one deal. Ciaran’s party trick used to be topping himself head first into dustbins. These days, we’re more whisky, pipes and slippers kind of guys.

Ciaran (leopard-print dress)
I’m Scary Spice. I’m not sure why, but out of the five of us, I do look the best in a leopard-print dress.

Life was a whirlwind at the time, but we’d been working hard for years. Before we got signed we were in a covers group. In 2000, we did a season in the French Alps – two gigs every day, seven days a week. All the free Amstel you could drink. It was a great experience and cemented us as a band. Our Hamburg years! After that there were labels interested, so we did a load of showcases; it was awkward – all these discerning people in a rehearsal space watching us. They all passed, so we thought: “Is that it then?” Me and Kev considered going travelling. But we got new management and the ball started rolling.

I wish I’d been less self-conscious back then, leaned into the silliness of it all

We were never part of a scene: we loved music from the 70s like Elvis Costello and Supertramp, which weren’t the type of artists people referenced much. It reinforced a feeling of us against the world and we knew what we were doing was good. The same can’t be said for my chin strap. That’s gone. My wife was very happy when that phase passed.

Dan (red boots
The glamour! Geri is the most iconic member of the Spice Girls, so that’s why I chose her. I remember feeling a combination of disbelief and slight amusement at what we were doing. But, for me, playing GAY was like a homecoming. I spent my youth hanging out there and exploring my sexuality at Astoria.

Fans weren’t really aware that I was gay. There was never any pressure to keep my sexuality secret – I just never had an opportunity to make a big splash about it. Elton [John] once interviewed me and asked: “Do you want to be out when you do this? You know it does have an effect …” And he’s right – back in those days it would affect your sales and the way you were seen. But I said: “No, I’m going to be out.” I come from an LGBTQ+ family and there was never any doubt that I’d be transparent about my sexuality.

I wish I’d been less self-conscious back then, leaned into the silliness of it all. Especially as there were whole areas of the music industry who didn’t take us seriously. We were supposedly a “pop band” but not enough for Smash Hits. We were also a “rock band” but the NME didn’t love us. We were a bit prettier-sounding than the rest of the indie groups. The Feeling was always its own weird little thing.

Sometimes that caused issues, and as the frontman, I was often in the firing line. Such as when we performed after Aerosmith at a show in Dublin. For some reason the audience that night were all heavy metal fans and didn’t take too kindly to us singing, “Fill my little world right up!” It’s me who gets hit by bottles of piss, but the band is always there for me. For that I’m very grateful.

Kevin (tracksuit pants)
This was very frantic and very silly. There are a few other pictures from this performance where my wig was halfway down the back of my head. I was living the dream – not that I’d dreamed of being Sporty Spice, but being on top of the world, being in a band professionally.

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The music industry is fickle, and while you can’t help but let your ego go bonkers with all the attention when things are good, there are plenty of times we’ve had to come back down to earth again. A massive part of my identity is being in the Feeling, so when we do have periods where we’re not on the road or recording, I struggle. There was a time when we weren’t signed to a label [in 2016], which was tough for everyone – we all needed to pay the bills. But we kept going and those fallow moments brought us closer together; we realised how lucky we were. That’s probably the biggest difference from then and now: how much we appreciate it.

Paul (white dress)
This was a lot of fun and very silly – we only had 30 seconds to get into our costumes, which isn’t long when you’re Baby Spice trying to wrestle your way into a pair of stockings and a minidress.

Being in a band, you have these huge, spectacle-like moments but it’s the day-to-day stuff that matters. Like a joke argument in the studio about what height the chair at the mixing desk should be set. Kev likes it really low, Dan likes it high. They faux-row about it constantly and the absurdity of it makes me laugh. We’ve never had any major falling out and enjoying each other’s company so much is why we are still doing it.

When our first album came out, we had lots of nice reviews and the odd negative one; which I could more or less handle. But when people accused us of being a “manufactured band”, that was much harder. We’d been together 10 years before we got signed!

We’ve been lucky generally, though. We managed to transcend trends and industry pressures. At the start of our career we had a manager tell us: “Just get this music on the radio and it will work. You don’t need to worry about how you look, if you fit in. Get it to the people.” And he was right.