x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The phone hasn't stopped ringing for Dubai rockers The Boxtones since they moved from covers to penning original tunes. We chat with the band that headlines Gulf Bike Week.

The Boxtones. Photo by Sarah Dea / The National
The Boxtones. Photo by Sarah Dea / The National

Congrats on winning last month’s Rolling Stone Middle East Street to Stage Competition. Has life changed since the victory?

Absolutely. It has raised our profile in the Middle East and the phone has not really stopped ringing. Since we have started performing our own music, we have been getting a lot of different offers, the biggest of which are the Gulf Bike Week shows as well as supporting Europe next month in Dubai. That is going to be awesome. We also want to start a European and Canadian tour next year once the Dubai music season dies down.

How did the group begin?

My sister Gill (Tierney) and I had a group and we would tour the UK in a three-piece band and did a lot of punk-rock stuff. We had a small record deal and we didn’t have enough money. It was a tough life and we lived off McDonald’s and service-station food for three years. Jill said one day: “You know what? There are a lot of opportunities abroad, let’s take what we learnt and play other people’s music and live a good life.” We moved to the Gulf in 2004 and we picked up band members along the way. We came to settle in Dubai two years ago.

And now the group continues to be a family affair?

That’s right. My sister is the drummer and my fiancée Louise (Peel) is the singer. Also our keyboardist Will (Janssen) is going out with Jill so everything is very intertwined in our band. As for our bassist Patrick (Thibault), well, he’s got a new cat. It’s a good tight unit, we are friends and family as well.

You were making a decent living as a cover band, was it tough to take the plunge and write your own material?

I have been a songwriter since I was 16, so I have hundreds of songs that are only now coming to the surface. Two weeks before the Rolling Stone competition we already decided we were going to do an album and were chatting to many people about getting it made in terms of distribution. When the competition came along, we thought this was the platform that we needed to let people know what we are doing. We entered not knowing whether we could go anywhere with it because of all the crazy number of talented people in the Middle East. We were a cover band and we didn’t know if we would get accepted by people who do original stuff. To get through on the merit that we wrote our own good songs is great.

With the album out next month, how would you describe the new sounds coming our way?

We are a rock band and that’s the best way to describe it. We work hard on our songs in that we rewrote a lot, we all have our own musical influences and the biggest job for us was to find our sound. Because we have a lot of history together and we fit so well musically, it wasn’t that hard.

Other acts you must catch

After a few years of international acts headlining the event, Gulf Bike Week has gone all regional, with up to 10 bands performing on the main stage over three days. Here are a few acts to look out for

Jay Wud

The Dubai-based Lebanese rocker has already had a tremendous year having supported Guns N’ Roses in March and headlined his own regional tour before performing in front of Quincy Jones as part of last month’s Dubai Music Week. He returns to Dubai with tracks from his second album, False Utopia.

Juliana Down

One of the UAE’s biggest rock groups, Juliana Down became the first locally based act to sign with a major record label. They return to the festival stage to play tracks from their two albums, including the critically acclaimed 2011 release Empires.


Not all the acts are catered to petrol heads. The Omani soul chanteuse Salha and her Million Dollar Band have been putting on regal performances across the Gulf, Europe and Africa. Expect a chilled vibe despite all the rocking on stage.

• Gulf Bike Week runs from tomorrow to Saturday at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Festival day passes cost Dh60 for adults and Dh20 children under 12. For details, go to www.gulfbikeweek.com