Ricky Wilson is the man of the moment thanks to his role as a mentor on TV talent show The Voice, which comes to a nail biting close in the live final tonight.
But 18 months ago it was very nearly game over for his band Kaiser Chiefs, who shot to prominence with their debut LP, Employment – and singles Everyday I Love You Less and Less, I Predict a Riot and Oh My God – in 2005.
“Who, at the start of 2014, was sitting around saying: ‘I can’t wait for a new album by Kaiser Chiefs, I wonder what those guys are up to’ – who? Not many people, I can tell you,” says the singer and frontman from Yorkshire who now lives in Falmouth.
“We’re realists,” he adds. “We knew no one cared.”
It was announced late last year that Ricky would be a judge on the BBC One singing competition, joining Kylie Minogue as a new face on the show, alongside Black Eyed Pea will.i.am and veteran Tom Jones.
“I was asked to do it three weeks before filming was meant to start, and two weeks before we were going to Atlanta to record the new album,” he continues. “I started getting really panicky about it and hadn’t told the others I was even thinking it over.”
He says he was initially unsure, not wanting his own profile to detract from the band, or undermine the new songs they’d written.
“I didn’t want to go on TV and make it look like I was trying to sell the band, but when I told them I’d been offered the job, they were all for it. We all agreed that if you’re in an alternative band and you’re asked on Saturday night TV, you do it. If we’d been asked to perform, we’d have bitten their hands off, so why would I say no to going on 12 weeks in a row, where I can get my personality across and remind everyone that there’s a band called Kaiser Chiefs? How can that not be a good thing?”
Time will tell how it has turned around the band’s fortunes, although Education, Education, Education and War is tipped to top the charts tomorrow. It’s a far cry from the way things seemed after their third album, Off With Their Heads, in 2008. The sort of guitar music they made was, by then, unfashionable – even their way with a hook and chorus.
2011’s The Future Is Medieval, had something of the gimmick about it too, inviting fans to choose a final tracklist from a pool of 20 songs.
In 2012, when promoting Souvenir, their Best Of compilation, they already knew main songwriter and drummer Nick Hodgson was going to leave. When eventually did in 2012, the instant reaction outside the band was that they were finished without his writing talent.
There was a fair amount of doubt within the group too, but after initial panics that they wouldn’t be able to write any songs on their own, the remaining members decided they still really wanted to be in the band.
“There was a time when I thought it was over,” says Ricky. “The four of us were in a dressing room and I said, ‘Well, I want to carry on, do you?’ And then it was like, ‘Oh you do? Well I do. And what about you?’, and it turned out we all did but just hadn’t said it out loud. If one of us had not wanted to, then we’d have called it a day and done something else, but it was a group decision.”
They quickly had to step up to writing songs, and wrote lots and lots before finding any they were happy with. They’ve also learned the full extent of Nick Hodgson’s responsibility as chief Chief, and have expanded to fill those gaps.
The resulting album, its title a nod to former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s manifesto pledge and actual legacy, is their most confident-sounding since Employment nine years ago.
“I don’t want it to sound like we’re doing him down, or what he did for the band, but him [Hodgson] leaving is the best thing that could’ve happened to us,” says Ricky. “We were put in the position where we had to fight for the band again. It wasn’t until things were shaken up that we realised how important it was to us.”