An Interview with Olly Alexander of Years & Years
UK pop superstars Years & Years are set to light up Scarborough Open Air Theatre this summer with their stunning live show. The chart-topping electro-pop group – fronted by Yorkshire-born singer Olly Alexander – will play the UK’s biggest open-air arena on Thursday, July 18.
We caught up with Olly ahead of the show, and after the band’s incredible performance at Glastonbury Festival. On the famed Pyramid Stage, Olly delivered a passionate speech about LGBTQ+ rights which quickly went viral and made headlines across the world.
Olly, how are you?
Very, very busy! I have been looking at my calendar, you know the app iCal, it automatically loads on your phone… It’s the bane of my life, but I’m so grateful for it keeping me on track with so much going on at the moment! It’s all good stuff though, with so many festivals and summer shows.
Do you enjoy the summer festival and events season?
I love being outside, at any time really, but especially in the summer – I like it to be warm, and there’s at least a bit more chance of that in the summer, although it’s not guaranteed in the UK… With any show, obviously we are there to work but everyone is there to party and it’s nice to feel you’re a part of this great big summer party. It does get a bit like Groundhog Day, when you’re on the road; every backstage area looks the same. But then you step out on stage, and especially at outdoor venues they’re all so different that it becomes that bit more special. It’s a different atmosphere to play outdoors too, the party vibe really comes through.
“It’s going to feel very glamorous and magical”
You were born in Yorkshire, in Harrogate, and spent your childhood in Blackpool. Are you looking forward to a bit of a homecoming show – do you still feel like a Northerner at heart?
One hundred per cent! I definitely have an affinity with the North, I love it so much – it’s the best. I know there’s the whole North-South divide, and it’s a bit silly, but there is a certain quality to the personality and the identities of Northerners which are so loving and warm in a very honest way. I have always loved that. I hope I have kept that up myself too. It’s important whoever you are, and wherever you’re from really, to stay grounded. It puts you on a good stead.
Scarborough is only the other side of the county to where you were born, have you ever visited?
I actually haven’t, we did move from Yorkshire when I was very young though. I’ve had a look at the Open Air Theatre though and it’s beautiful. It’s going to feel very glamorous and magical so I’m really excited to be coming to Scarborough.
On Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage you made an impassioned four-minute Queer Is Beautiful speech celebrating the progress of 50 years since the Stonewall riots, while also highlighting how much further LGBTQ+ rights have to go. Did you expect such a huge reaction to your words and what was your motivation in taking the stage in that way?
Glastonbury always falls in Pride month, and often coincides with London Pride, so it’s natural to mark that. The first time we did Glastonbury, it fell on London Pride, and I wanted to do something, and this time round I couldn’t not do it again – especially as it’s 50 years since Stonewall. I believe if you want the world to change you have to do something about it. I am very fortunate to have this huge platform and a voice, and like to be about to do something with that simply because I care. I did surprise myself a bit with how it was on the day, but to be on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury – I might never have that opportunity again and I wanted to make the most of it. When I wrote the speech, it was about five minutes long, so I did cut it back a bit. I have been quite overwhelmed by the reaction. I didn’t know what I was expecting. I didn’t really think too much about it, but the response was been overwhelmingly supportive, with people saying they care about this too, and people’s passion has come through in agreeing with what I said. It’s beautiful to see that reaction through social media.
“I’ll never be normal again”
Social media also throws up the opinions of those who don’t agree. How do you deal with that side of it?
You are always going to have people who don’t agree with you, and that’s fair enough; people are entitled to their opinions. I see so many trolls on the internet wanting to tear people down, but I just don’t respond. I understand it when people do defend themselves. I’m in a position of privilege at this point; I love my life, so I don’t find that those comments affect me as much as they might have in the past. It can be really toxic. There’s a certain amount of people who are going to feel that way, but I don’t have control over it, so it doesn’t trouble me. At the end of the day, I can just not look at my Twitter!
What’s it like getting back to normal shows after playing a massive set at Glastonbury?
I can’t go back – I’ll never be normal again after that! Not that I was exactly normal before! Festivals are very different to regular shows; the huge audiences aren’t necessarily there for you, they aren’t always fans, haven’t bought tickets to see your show, so you have to work hard to warm them up. But then, they can be incredible receptive and that’s rewarding too. They’re also so big! Sometimes, when there are lots of people like that, you stop being able to pick people out in the audience, and you lose something of the atmosphere in that way when you can’t see people’s eyes.
What can people expect from the show at Scarborough Open Air Theatre?
In our show, we always try to give everyone a party and take them on a magical journey, let them lose themselves for an hour or so. We want an audience to have the best time and to just dance the night away. It will be really colourful and as spectacular as we can make it. We have the best time on stage and hope you have the best time watching us – whether you’re a fan or someone coming to us to try something new.
Tickets for Years & Years at Scarborough Open Air Theatre are available via scarboroughopenairtheatre.com or in person from Scarborough Open Air Theatre Box Office (01723 818111) and the Discover Yorkshire Coast Tourism Bureau (01723 383636)