It's a chart record for the punk trio with no label

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The Independent Culture

They were formed five years ago and have played nigh on 500 gigs to thousands of loyal fans, turning down record deals for fear of becoming too commercial. Now punk pop trio Koopa are tipped to be the first unsigned band to make the UK top 40 under new chart rules which allow downloads.

With only a few hundred more downloads of "Blag, Steal and Borrow", the Essex-based group could make chart history on Sunday - and then finally sign a deal to take them into the big time. At least one major label already wants to fly them to the States for talks next week.

But just when brothers Ollie and Stuart Cooper and their mate Joe Murphy might have been preparing to celebrate, they have been struck a bitter blow. Martin Cooper, the brothers' father who had invested £20,000 of his earnings from the printing industry in their dreams, died of a suspected heart attack last Sunday.

Gary Raymond, their manager, discovered the news just after picking up the early chart figures on Monday, showing that pre-orders had sent their single - unofficially - to number 17. "It's the greatest week of our lives and the worst week of our lives," he said yesterday. "The boys' dad was one of the driving forces of the band."

As Ollie, 19, and Stuart, 25, try to come to terms with the sudden loss, it has been left to Joe Murphy, 26, to handle the abrupt onslaught of fame - Jeremy Paxman is due to interview him today."It's been a shocking week, it's all a bit mental," he saidfrom his home in Colchester. "I feel ill in parts and confused and nervous. With all this pressure, we've now got to make sure we get into the top 40. It means the world, that's why we've ploughed on for so long."

Ever since Ollie first started writing and performing songs as a 12-year-old in 2000, the brothers, who live near Braintree, and their friend have been working for this moment. They rejected several early offers of record deals because "we didn't want to be manufactured," Murphy said.

"When we turned down one record label, they said, 'Now you're going to have to tour around the country and build a fan base,' but that's what we wanted to do." Since then, they have performed up to four gigs in a day in a style compared to Busted - though Murphy cites Nirvana as a bigger influence. They have played audiences of 800 in London and even 1,000 in Grimsby, and 35,000 have clocked them on

But now, the band feel ready for the big-time. "If a major company wants us now and can push us further, we're going to talk to them," Murphy said.

Yet for all the clamour over downloads opening up the charts to bands without big labels, Koopa needed business sense to make it happen. Their manager made sure their music was available on the web. And, as many fans do not have credit cards, the single is also obtainable by texting from a mobile phone.

Murphy said it had been "bloody hard work" so far. "I'm never at home and don't have any money. You've got to want it, like all the footballers say.

"And if we can get into the top 40 now, we've got a decent career happening for us. We just want to get as many sales on the board to honour [Martin's] memory, so in future we'll be celebrating this week."