Despite occasional evidence to the contrary, British pop music has had a long tradition of being carefree, joyful and sparklingly effervescent. It's a tradition that stretches all the way back to The Beatles and on through Slade in the Seventies and Madness in the Eighties to, more recently, early Blur and Kaiser Chiefs. Now here to carry that torch on to tomorrow is Scouting for Girls, three young men from the north-west London suburb of Harrow, whose music is as uncomplicated as it gets in 2007 (a compliment, incidentally).
Their current single, "She's So Lovely", is a trampolining melody about a childhood obsession with a schoolteacher, while "The Airplane Song", a track from their debut album, out now, begins with the line "She's a strawberry milkshake", and later rhymes "she's so extraordinary" with "she left last January". Not since Supergrass has a grown-up pop trio sounded so thoroughly teenage.
"I can't help it," says singer Roy Stride over a mid-afternoon beer in his Harrow local, his mischievous eyes peeking out from beneath an overgrown fringe. "I just love pop music and, for me, pop music should thrive on simple melodies and a bit of bounce, you know? I have tried to write from a deeper and darker perspective – we did go through a heavy rock period once – but it just didn't feel right. I think I'm probably too happy for all that."
There is something quaintly endearing about Scouting for Girls, both in music and in person, an oddly English trait that brings to mind the hapless helplessness of, say, Norman Wisdom. Ask them to recount their one and only trip to Glastonbury last year, and they will regale you with tales of literally stumbling into the festival's boss, Michael Eavis, and later dropping something on his foot. Ask why, 18 months ago, Stride decided to stop playing the guitar in favour of the piano, and he will tell you about on-stage mishaps with his amp and screeching feedback: "You'd never get that with a piano, would you?"
The fact that they are happy to send up these traits in songs that almost exclusively err on the side of deadpan suggests that, just perhaps, they're rather more astute than they at first let on. But no. Bespectacled bassist Greg Churchouse laughs loudly at the suggestion, while drummer Peter Ellard shakes his head morosely. "No," he says, "we really are pretty thick." "It's true," confirms Stride. "Too true."
Scouting for Girls are not as young as they look. The singer and bassist are both 28, the drummer two years their junior, and all three have been trying to make something of their collective self for the past decade now. Firm friends since secondary school, they came of musical age during an emergent Britpop.
"We were probably a bit young for grunge," Stride says, "but Britpop was ours, and it was everywhere: Oasis, Blur and Suede, especially Suede. First concert I ever saw was Suede, 1995, the Watford Junction. I remember it vividly, me being just so incredibly naive about it, turning up at the venue and desperately trying to find my seat in among all these kids on their feet and going wild. I had genuinely expected to sit down during the performance, as if it were theatre, or something." He laughs self-consciously. "I discovered, of course, that it was much more upbeat than your average theatrical event. But even if I did have to stand up, it was amazing. I came out of the venue wired and excited. It marked me."
Stride subsequently became motivated in a manner he hadn't experienced since he'd manned the coconut shells at a school nativity play a decade earlier. "Everybody wanted to be either Jesus or Mary or the Three Wise Men," he recalls, "but I just wanted to smack the coconuts together and make the sound of a donkey's clip-clops. To me, it was sort of musical, and I felt instinctively drawn towards that."
Teaching himself songs on an old folk guitar that had belonged to his Australian-born mother, Stride slowly coaxed Churchouse into buying a bass (which he eventually did, from Argos) so that they could form their first band. Initially, they were an acoustic outfit called Power Cut, "because we couldn't afford electric instruments – geddit?", and by the time they reached sixth form, they were regulars on the local pub circuit, where they routinely "murdered" songs by Oasis, Nirvana and Simon and Garfunkel: "It was bizarre that we were popular because, really, we were so bad as a covers act. In the end, we practically had no choice but to write our own songs," says Stride. "Well," Ellard says, "Roy did most of the writing. We just played along."
But then Stride always was good with words, and at 18 he would go on to attend Queen Mary, University of London, to study English, graduating three years later with a first: "I only chose it because the lessons amounted to eight hours a week," he suggests now, "not because I thought I ever had a particular aptitude for it. The aptitude came as a bit of a surprise, to be honest."
Ultimately, though, he was never going to do much with his degree, remaining foolishly loyal to the band by night while working in Carphone Warehouse by day. But the day job did keep him focused: "It made me realise that if I didn't make the band work, then this could go on to be my future indefinitely, and I emphatically didn't want a mobile-phone shop to have anything to do with my future. It was soul-destroying in much the manner you'd expect."
For several years, the newly christened Scouting for Girls made no progression whatsoever, the demo tapes they sent out continually ignored. It was only when the singer decided to replace the guitar for the piano, and heavy rock songs for Britpop-influenced gaiety, that things finally clicked into place.
"The piano has an uplifting quality to it," Stride says decisively, "and I think that represented us better than my botched guitar-playing ever did."
Within months of this reinvention, Stride had written a clutch of new songs that quickly found their way to Epic Records, who signed them on St Valentine's Day this year. A week later they were in the studio with Andy Green, the producer behind Keane's Hopes and Fears, and the album took shape almost overnight: "By this stage," Stride says, "I'd built up quite a back catalogue. The album was done in no time."
Even before that, when they only had a limited edition EP to their name – It's Not About You was released in June 2006 just after they played Glastonbury – the trio had secured a dedicated fanbase, having made the most of MySpace and built a local following when they took on a residency in Harrow. Hence, when their first proper single "She's So Lovely" was released last month it peaked at No 7 in the singles chart, while their self-titled debut album went straight in at No 12.
Given that they'd spent the better part of a decade chasing any kind of recognition, it's little wonder that Scouting for Girls sounds so very pleased with itself (but, crucially, never smug). The majority of the songs here – "Elvis Ain't Dead", "The Mountains of Navaho", "She's So Lovely" – concern the awkward transition from childhood to adulthood, which, coming from men now closer to 30 than they are to 20, rather suggests a case of arrested development. Few 28-year-olds, for example, would ever write a song such as "James Bond", in which Stride wishes he were 007, with lines such as: "Since I was a boy I've wanted to be like Roger Moore/ A girl in every port, gadgets up my sleeve... Martini in your hand and that eyebrow that you move." He sings it as if he were no older than 12.
"Well," he says, blushing, "I've always been young at heart."
The album closes with a track entitled "Michaela Strachan", which details the singer's lifelong unrequited love for the children's television presenter. Essentially a nursery rhyme comprising largely of tongue-in-cheek couplets – he at one point sings, "I fancied you heaps, and so did my dad" before concluding in an aching lament, "It ain't going to happen with me and the Strachan" – Stride nevertheless considers it his finest moment.
"I just think it sounds so profound," he says, with uncommon solemnity. "It has a really beautiful atmosphere to it, and it's heartfelt, really heartfelt."
It goes without saying, then, that this is a songwriter who has absolutely nothing in common with the Nick Drakes and Elliott Smiths of this world. Even Chris Martin resembles Leonard Cohen in comparison.
"I can't help it," he shrugs. "I'm just having such a laugh, all the time. I can't quite believe I'm allowed to do this [write songs] every day for my job. It's brilliant. Honestly, I get out of bed each morning with a huge smile on my face."
He demonstrates it now, and he's right: it really is a huge smile.
'Scouting for Girls' is out now on Sony BMG; Scouting for Girls tour the UK until 10 December (http://scoutingforgirls.co.uk)Reuse content