We Spoke to Brosettes About the Bros Documentary
Super-fans reveal their frustrations and revelations from the documentary ‘Bros: After the Screaming Stops'.
Image via BBC.
Luke Goss of Bros walks into arrivals at Heathrow Airport to an ecstatic crowd of middle-aged women, who pour themselves into his arms. "You can feel it, his aura," says one blonde woman, fanning her hands, as if to waft some spirit towards her.
Welsh fan, Amanda, was one of these women. Before Luke touched down, the 44-year-old went to Cardiff to join another fan she'd never met before, who drove them both to the airport. Amanda has a disability so was on crutches near the back of the crowd. "I honestly thought I'd miss out," she tells me, "but Luke did come across to me and made time for every single person there. He makes you feel so worthwhile." As we watch Luke greet these fans in Bros: After The Screaming Stops, his voiceover states: "Every person on this planet deserves their band. If you don’t play anymore you’re denying fans a slice of their nostalgia, their memories, their childhood."
Many people who watched the BBC documentary found it funny for the lack of self-awareness and the Goss brothers' earnest delivery of mockumentary-style lines ("The letters H.O.M.E. are so important because they personify the word home"). And for the average viewer in their twenties or thirties, the name Bros doesn't mean a lot; their biggest hit, "When Will I Be Famous", is not exactly as ubiquitous now as other hits from the same era. With no prior knowledge of them, this could feasibly have been a comedy film about an imaginary band.
One of the many jokes made online at the band's expense was that fans "just happened" to be at the airport when they arrived – but Brosmania does continue for a ride-or-die (albeit moderately-sized) middle-aged fanbase in the UK. The fact Luke was arriving at that airport at that specific time was information passed on to the fans, who were encouraged to come along.
One of those longtime fans is Helen, a 44-year-old HR Director from Gloucestershire. "I call myself a Gossy Girl now because it makes me seem a bit older," she tells me. "I use that everywhere I go. When people think of Brosettes they imagine screaming girls. Alright, we’re still screaming, but we're 40."
Since the band broke up in 1992, Bros activity was negligible; periods of silence might be "punctuated by little glimpses of the boys", but then they'd be gone again. "You'd see one article and then nothing for a year," says Amanda. "Up until a few years ago it was quiet, nothing, a black period, really. Imagine a good 20 years of that."
Patient fans have been critical of what they perceive to be mostly mocking commentary about the brothers since the film's release. "Bros are like Marmite," says Amanda. "As a fanbase, we’re so used to being treated negatively, having to defend ourselves, us, and Matt and Luke."
Some select comments from my interviews with the Bros fans: "Twitter is an echo chamber," "People will be nasty," "You can't say they're twats and pretentious until you’ve met them like us." A certain sub-sect of fans suspect the editing of the documentary was geared to portray the brothers as it did. It's normal for fans to feel they have the most informed view of their favourite artist, and that the press are twisting their image and words. "We don’t know Matt, but we know Matt, if you see what I mean," explains 44-year-old secretary, Melanie, from Essex. In other words: you’ve got to know "the little Mattisms" or you'll think he comes across like David Brent.
For all their following of Bros, fans did still learn new information from the documentary. Amanda was one of many who found herself pleasantly surprised by that. "It wasn't just facts like you’d learn in Smash Hits magazine: what size shoe they wore and what their favourite colour is," she says. "There was some reality of what they are, their internal discoveries."
These revelations weren't always pleasant; some were jarring. For instance, much of the film shows Matt and Luke embroiled in passive-aggressive exchanges and fighting – and the reality that the boys bicker came as a shock. Their choice of language was also a surprise: "I've watched it about six times now, and when Matt says the 'C U Next Tuesday' word... that's shocking, because you never hear them swear," says Helen, sounding genuinely perturbed.
It was also news to the fans that Luke had ever felt inferior to his brother. In one scene, Luke tells the documentary makers of Matt: "He was perceived as the gifted one. He was the favourite. I would retreat to a place of solitude... or recovery" – and insecurity provides context for Luke's sensitive reactions. At the premiere and earliest showings of the film, fans were openly sobbing at this moment. "Everyone was asking me for tissues," says Helen. "We wanted to hug him and say, 'Luke, we didn’t realise you felt like that. You were part of the team.'"
Fans thought they had contributed in some way to Luke feeling this way, and are guilty about it. Interviewees tell me: "Did I take part in making him feel bad?" "Did we make him think that Matt was more important than him – sensibly, I know not, but it makes you wonder," "It's awful when we love them both equally and individually.'" Amanda says she has changed how she talks about the pair to address this. "Usually we say 'Matt and Luke', but now I’ll consciously say 'Luke and Matt', because I don’t want to reinforce him feeling like he's not as loved."
After so much silence, the film added some context to the fans' own experiences. The boys' mum, Carol, was a staple in the lives of many fans living in the south of England, who were in London – or close enough – to be part of the core fanbase who camped around their house. "I'd known Carol since I was 13, 14. We’d sit out there all weekend and chat to her and get to know her. She'd take out cups of tea and sandwiches," says one fan. Another tells me: "To be honest, when I think back to that time, I remember Carol and hanging about there as much as I do the boys themselves." The information provided in the film about Carol's death and the brothers' handling of it was welcome.
Similarly, many know Luke's long-time girlfriend, Shirley. Helen has met her quite a few times, on almost as many occasions as she has the boys. "It was heartbreaking hearing that Shirley had to give her engagement ring back, because she's so lovely and I can imagine her saying it," she tells me. "You've missed these people [Bros and their loved ones] and [the film] was a chance to see them again."
Since filming for the BBC documentary began in 2016, there has been increased media coverage of Bros, as well as new tours, which in turn means fans "constantly waiting, like teenagers". Refreshing internet pages, reading, looking for more new information on Bros: the ideal situation for a British fanbase who have spent their twenties and thirties far away from their idols (both Matt and Luke moved to America) knowing new information would only come in scraps, if at all. It's nice, Amanda tells me, because fans suffer terribly from "the Gossy Blues" – a feeling during the period after going to a gig, or getting to meet them, when there's no sign of the next fix.
If this documentary and its success has done anything for fans, it's given them the promise of more, funding Bros' reunion shows in the near future. Helen took up a second job at Waitrose to fund her fan lifestyle ("I knew I wanted to pay to see them whenever").
As a teenage Bros fan, Helen left home at 15 after a big fall-out with her family. She tore all her Bros merchandise down as she was leaving, from her bedroom walls, floor and ceiling. She wishes she hadn't, considering how long the collection has taken to build back up. "Bros was the only thing I had in my life that was stable," she says. "Because I didn’t speak to my family, I’d listen to their records. I told Matt my story and said, 'You’ve been with me through my family not speaking to me for five-and-a-half years.' We’ve all changed – the boys and the fans – but we still all follow each other, and always will."