Here At Last: Lancashire boy band member James Thomas talks busking, gigs, and being the One Direction of the TikTok generation

When you hear the word ‘boy-band’, it’s easy to imagine a gaggle of extravagantly-quiffed young men plucked from obscurity by the claw crane of showbiz higher-ups and cast into the rhinestone-studded world of superstardom. But, while their hair may indeed be suitably quiffed, Here At Last did things a little differently.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Self-styled as ‘One Direction for the TikTok generation’, the band’s five young members wouldn’t know a silver spoon if it slapped them in the newly-emerged wisdom teeth, having grafted hard to eke out their spot in the maelstrom of entertainment. Accustomed to life with shoulders pressed against the grindstone, they’re getting into the habit of making waves.

And most of those waves have rippled across the surface waters of social media - during their short, three-year existence, the band has amassed a veritable army of over seven million fans online and last year were the fifth-most viewed musical artist on TikTok, where they went viral for creating the worldwide ‘guess who’s singing’ trend.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Together, Pedro Santos, Tommy Lyon, Zach Loizou, Ryan Burns, and Leyland-born James Thomas have become online sensations.

Here At LastHere At Last
Here At Last

Musical beginnings

“My passion for music started when I was very young,” says James. “I remember my mum picking me up from school when I was in Year 2 or something and saying ‘they’re offering guitar lessons if you want to learn’, so I was like ‘yeah, why not?’. I won’t lie to you, I hated it for the first three years! But my parents told me to stick with it and I started to enjoy it more.

“I built up a connection with it and it became more than a hobby - it became something personal,” he adds. “Then, one day, my dad encouraged me to learn to sing as well so I started to learn and I was horrendous at that to begin with as well! Genuinely awful. But, after doing a few pub gigs in Leyland and St. Annes, I fell in love with it.

“My parents aren’t musical themselves, but they’re both into music - my first gig was Status Quo because they’re my dad’s favourite band!” James continues. “But, personally, my main influence was Ed Sheeran, especially his earlier stuff where it’s just him and his acoustic guitar. He’s just so clever in how he turns his voice into the rhythm.

James ThomasJames Thomas
James Thomas
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I’d play guitar at family parties and whatnot, but the first time I played and sang for other people was on holiday in St Ives in Cornwall. We were in this bar with an open-mic night and my dad was like ‘go on,’ but I was adamant that I wasn’t going up. Then I thought ‘I might as well - no one knows me here so, if I mess up, what does it matter?’

“I sang a few songs and it went really well and that turned out to be a really important first step. Having that confidence to get up and perform, especially for the first time, is the most difficult thing ever but, once you get over it, it becomes the best thing ever. Even now, when I get nervous before playing, it’s an incredible feeling.”

A passion becomes a career

By 2019, James’ singing was a passion, but nothing more than a side hustle. Unsure of what he wanted to do in life - “to be honest, I didn’t think I was good enough to become a proper musician,” he admits - he was toying with pursuing a career in something like sound engineering whilst also quite fancying the idea of running a pub. Then he got a message.

Here At LastHere At Last
Here At Last

“Pedro and Tommy reached out saying they’d seen some of my videos on Instagram and that they were starting a boy band, so would I be interested?” says James. “I thought it sounded like a great idea and a bit of a laugh, so I managed to convince my parents and went down to London to meet them.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We had chemistry from the start, but it was a bit nerve-wracking to begin with,” he adds. “We recorded a few videos, then met up again, then a third time, and then lockdown hit. It was like ‘oh well, it was fun while it lasted,’ and we had like 20 videos, so we posted them and one got like 40 million views in two days. Waking up to that was absolutely mental.

“That gave us the motivation to continue and, as we started to meet up more often, we became like best mates,” James continues. “We moved in together in February 2021 and we’ve had each others’ backs since then. There have been some hard times when we thought this wasn’t going to work, but being best mates has really helped us.”

Adventures in the Skodiaq

James Thomas on stageJames Thomas on stage
James Thomas on stage

Over the next few years, Here At Last focused on the foundations: busking and sleeping on couches to save cash, they travelled the country in their second-hand Skoda Kodiaq (aka, the Skodiaq) visiting local schools to perform and talk about mental health and online safety. They were fuelled by improvisation, cost-cutting, and the odd shift at B&M and TK Maxx.

Before long, they were going viral on TikTok on a semi-regular basis, selling more and more merch off the back of their ever-expanding fame to cover a few more months’ rent for their shared place in Reading. Their 332,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, 4.75m views on YouTube, and 130,000 Instagram followers helped, too.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Appearances on the BBC’s Saturday Mash-Up, Blue Peter, and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch followed, before five sold-out shows last year smashed all expectations. For the five lads accustomed to experiencing their fandom via the medium on pixels, subscribers, and emojis, they were finally confronted with something far more tangible, human, and raw.

Meeting the fans for real

“We’ve tried to grow the fanbase as organically as possible,” says James. “We’ve not gone on any talent shows or signed with a major label, so it’s been a lot of hard work and there have been stressful moments and times when we’ve not had a day off for three months, but it’s been worth it. We’re here now off the back of our own hard work and we’re proud of that.

“Here At Last is the best thing any of us have ever done and the moments we’ve had together have been unlike anything else we’ve experienced,” he adds. “Playing live is incredible, but there are also times when we’re in hysterics over something daft just because of the connection we’ve built up together. It’s so much fun.

Here At Last at the BBCHere At Last at the BBC
Here At Last at the BBC

“Because we started during lockdown and didn’t have any gigs for a long period of time, we built this fanbase on social media, which was cool but, at the end of the day, it was just numbers ticking up,” he continues. “There was no human interaction. So, that first gig we did… we got there early for sound-check and there were already like 20 girls in the queue.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It suddenly hit home that those numbers were real people who actually supported us and wanted to come out and see us perform. Another amazing moment was when we were performing a song called Cast in Shadows live; there’s this moment when the music dies down and it’s just Ryan’s vocals.

“But we couldn’t hear him for the sound of the audience singing back at us,” James says. “Having our own lyrics sang to us by our fans like that was one of the most bizarre and bonkers things. It was amazing. That’s why we’re so excited for these gigs. This last year has been a build-up to this tour, so thanks to everyone for the support.

“There’s some massive stuff coming up in 2023, so it’s set to be a big year for us.”

Here At Last will be at Manchester Club Academy on 24 Feb