Asked to name the highlight of the last 12 months, The Maccabees answer without hesitation. It was 13 June, 2006 at London's Café De Paris, the last date of their first UK headline tour. It hadn't been easy. In some towns, they played to 10-15 people. Then an amazing gig, their first ever queue round the block and a killer party to finish (featuring a snake charmer, no less). The best concert of their career up to that point, it wasn't entirely without precedent - they sold out The Pavilion in their hometown of Brighton before they were signed - but it was a pivotal moment nonetheless. "It was the first time we felt the excitable energy that you get at a good gig," says guitarist Felix White. They never looked back. Now every gig has that same energy.
Nine months after that unforgettable night at Café De Paris, The Maccabees are poised to release their debut album, Colour It In. It's a stunning record crammed full of sparkling indie pop that bites deep and just won't let go. First Love, Latchmere and X-Ray are the antidote to two years of dour art rock, a brilliantly kooky marriage of razor sharp guitar melodies and a blistering rhythm section. Front man Orlando Weeks' lyrics are as unmissable as his brightly coloured cardigans and as charming as his junk shop jewellery, while his voice is a revelation - big, powerful and distinctive. The irresistible pop melodies of latest single About Your Dress and blistering stop-start energy Happy Faces are a working definition of 'electrifying'. Debuts don't come any better than this.
The Maccabees' story began four years ago. Orlando Weeks (vocals, 23), Hugo White (guitars, 20), Felix White (guitar, 22), Rupert Jarvis (bass, 20) and Robert Dylan Thomas (22) all grew up in South London, near Clapham Common. The area is better known for drum'n'bass and dubstep than guitar music. It was inevitable that their paths would cross.
While still at school, Orlando and Robert used to watch TV and write songs in Orlando's bedroom. By the summer of 2003, Rupert and Hugo had joined them. Felix was playing with a band called Jack's Basement, named after their front man Jack Peñate. When Jack broke up the band to concentrate on a solo career, Felix joined The Maccabees, and the line-up was complete.
They chose the name by flicking through books. The biggest in the house was The Bible. They came across the story of The Maccabees, Jewish rebels who fought against Greek rule and established Jewish independence in the second century BC. As soon as they saw they name, they knew that was it. But it's only a name. They're not a religious band.
They were ambitious from the start. Shortly after Felix joined, they entered a Battle Of The Bands competition. They lost to a girl group called Red, who played covers, had massive afros and wore miniskirts. The Maccabees had already planned how to spend the money when they won - new amps and a demo. When they didn't, they were so devastated they didn't even collect their second prize - tickets to a beer festival.
Their first single did a lot better. X-Ray was released on South London label Promise Records. It received airplay on XFM and earned them support slots with Arctic Monkeys, Maxïmo Park and The Subways. Respected indie label Fierce Panda were impressed and offered to release the follow-up, Latchmere, a song about the leisure centre where the boys learned to swim when they were growing up.
Despite living in Brighton, The Maccabees are just as much a London band. They're quick to point out that they've spent 18 years in the latter and only two in the former. As such, they count Londoners such as Good Shoes and Jamie T as their peers. It's not just a location thing. Like the aforementioned, The Maccabees' creativity extends beyond music. They don't just write the songs; they oversee the whole package - artwork, videos, the album tracklisting, everything. "I think that's why people like us," says Orlando. "Because there's a lot of passion and we genuinely care about what we do." Orlando went to art school and helps design their record covers, while friends he met at college directed their early videos - see the brilliant stop frame animation short accompanying Latchmere and the finger puppets in the band's video for About Your Dress. They're much happier with people they know rather than hired help that they don't.
The flip side to The Maccabees creativity is a boisterous gang mentality. There's something distinctly rowdy about them. "I think we're raucous without the laddishness," says Orlando. They talk about The Strokes and The Clash, bands whose magic derived from the unique chemistry between individuals - change one member and it would be a different band. Not unlike The Maccabees.
If they are a gang, they are a gang of romantics. Helpfully, Orlando, the starting point for most of the band's songs, fell in and out of love at the right time. Felix mentioned it to his dad, who advised him to let Orlando get on with it because the band would get some good songs out of it. They did, although the songs didn't help Orlando get her back. But it's more than just boy loses girl. There's something deliciously dreamy about Colour It In. It has a poppy edge, but there's nothing contrived about it. The band say they don't have any control over their music, that the songs just come out that way. "It's not like we've been playing our instruments for ten years," says Orlando. "Any naiveté is genuine."
What The Maccabees want most of all is to make people feel special. "We get kids at the front of our gigs and they look at us the way I used to look at bands," says Felix. "You can just see it in their eyes. It means something to them. And that means something to us."
Say hello to The Maccabees. They're coming to steal your heart away.