I met up with three quarters of The Crookes at the Wick At Both Ends in Sheffield on St Patricks day, so a pint of the black stuff was in order before we adjourn to an upstairs room kindly provided by the hostelry. We’d all have preferred to be in the thick of it downstairs but the Irish jigs booming out of the sound system meant I couldn’t hear what vocal gems the guys relaying to me.
Alex is absent today, visiting his hometown in Norfolk for a family birthday, like all The Crookes he is an adopted Sheffielder after going to Uni here and then deciding to stay, but adopted or not they are much loved in the City.
Described variously as playing whimsical guitar pop and melodic tunes laced with nostalgic rhythms, they have been likened to the likes of Belle and Sebastien, The Smiths and The Housemartins, but The Crookes sound is now very much their own. Their star is most definitely on the rise so it’s with great interest I sit down and converse with them again.
I open by rewinding to July 2009 when I was among the first to formally interview the band. They had just played Tramlines Festival 09 main stage and were still coming down from the excitement when I asked where they would like to be in 12 months time.
Their answers, however improbable they seemed at the time turned out to be more than achievable, and were:
- Write even better songs – which, despite much positive reaction for their earlier material, they all agree this has accomplished, evidence of this is their wonderful new single Godless Girl.
- Be even tighter when performing – again despite a great start to their musical careers they are have improved their skills to produce a top stage show.
- Secure a record deal – with a debut album Chasing After Ghosts being released on the legendary Fierce Panda label they have definitely ticked that box.
- Do bigger show and play some festivals – they are headlining their own 20+ date UK tour before going to mainland Europe to play 9 countries, (which I’m advised by the guys will additionally include Slovenia when other gigs are announced), including several festivals.
Their most exciting news is the release of their debut album on 21st March 2011. After previously working with such notable names as Alan Smyth and Dave Sanderson at 2Fly, Tim Hampton from Bromheads and Glover at Axis, who did they settle on to record their album?
“I met Emma Watson in a (unisex) toilet at V Festival”, “Well, I shook her hand so I’ve actually touched Emma Watson –
and I touched Alexa Chung once too.”
George offers “we really enjoyed working with Alan and Dave, Tim and Glover but we picked this guy Matt Peel who we met by chance at a gig of ours in Leeds, his enthusiasm was overflowing. We’d demoed some tracks with people in London but in terms of budgets it was way out of our league and Matt put as much into it as we did and that’s why it came out sounding so good.”
Russ adds “We lived at his house for the entire two months and had all our meals there, it was very intense and he was very committed.” Dan explains that Matt, based in Leeds, had previously “done bits and pieces with the likes of Pulled Apart By Horses and Kaiser Chiefs, but this was his first major project and he worked as hard as we were. We wouldn’t get that from many people.”
We moved onto the amazing tour schedule and they all seem bemused and how it’s all worked out. Russ thinks back “when we started out our aim was to just to play one show at a proper venue, if you’d told us when we did that previous interview with you that this is what we’d be doing now we’d never have believed you.”
Alex continues “we keep having to reassess things, like in January we played a gig in Hamburg and there were 300 people there but only 200 at the next gig in Berlin, then I’d think back to the time when I just wanted to play a show live on stage. We have to take it in our stride but we have these moments where you think, shit I can believe we’re doing this” and they all laugh knowingly.
Georges turn “One of those nights was definitely when we played the Leadmill (legendary Sheffield music venue) for the first time when it was their 30th anniversary. As we played I looked up at the crowd and I couldn’t stop laughing, it was packed and they were singing songs back to us, it just seemed like the culmination of 3 years hard work and that was a massive deal” he says with more than a little pride.
The conversation moves to Slow Club, who headlined the gig in question, and how they turned down gigs to have a break to write new material, George takes it up “they had offers from lots of labels but rejected them all to become the best band they could be, they were an inspiration to us when starting out and after playing for 9 months, we supported them at Fuzz Club (famed Sheff Uni Union clubnight) and we thought that was the crowning glory and things couldn’t get any better than that.”
They have had many high profile fans including Steve Lamacq, who labelled them his favourite new band, ‘Reverend’ Jon McClure, who name checked them in a recent interview and Richard Hawley who has performed with the them.. This prompts Dan to smile and quickly blurt out “we went for a drink in London with Richard and Jarvis Cocker and we were running ideas past them and getting their feedback” then he pauses and says “wow, it’s ridiculous.” Russ adds with a big grin “it was one of them moments when you text your Dad and say ‘I’m in London having a drink with Jarvis and Richard Hawley.” Any more name drops? Dan says “I met Emma Watson in a (unisex) toilet at V Festival”, Russ betters it by saying “I shook her hand so I’ve actually touched Emma Watson,” then adds “and I touched Alexa Chung once too.”
They all burst into laughter again, showing they don’t take themselves or their newly found fame too seriously.
Their songs were initially all written by Dan and Alex before being arranged and added to by George and Russ, but now it’s a much more collaborative affair. Dan is still the lyric writer and usually George or Alex come up with a melody and then they bring it to the band and see if it passes ‘the test’. George smiles “if it passes our quality control, which is the most nerve racking bit, its great but if there’s silence or someone says have you got anything else, that’s the worst.”
Russ explains “if I add a drum beat and thinks its really technical and clever they might think it needs something more simple, that’s really important as you can get caught up in your own thing.” George agrees “that’s probably why we aren’t the most prolific of bands, we use everyone as a filter so it’s gone through 4 peoples heads.”
It can be lyrics or melody first though and there is much mirth at some of the temporary filler lyrics they use with new melodies like ‘ham and eggs’ and George splutters out “for one of our most melancholy songs More Blitz Than Ritz we wrote something like Baby I’m So Alone, Hanging On The Telephone, but the juxtaposition between what it starts out as and what it becomes is perhaps the most exciting process, how it changes when it travels between people.”
A wonderful last 18 months for The Crookes, the highlights, of which there must have been quite a few, consist of ;
George “it has to be that Leadmill gig I mentioned earlier.” Russ “Leeds / Reading festival was pretty good, its one of those anecdotal things, the year before we’d driven to Leeds without a ticket with the aim of jumping over the wall to see Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys. We ended up in the parked car with the Arctic Monkeys playing about 500m away. Then next year we are playing there, giving our friends weekend passes, so from trying to climb over the wall one year we got to walk in through the front door the next year.”
Finally where would they like to be in another 18 months time? George gets in first “a second album would hopefully be nearly ready”, then he pauses before saying “to be honest we have had so much on and now with this tour we are really busy for the next 3 months” then recalls “actually Richard Hawley told us ‘never stop writing songs because there will be a point where you will have no time to do it, you’ll be dog tired touring so its good to have a bank of ten songs that can go onto the next album’ so that’s what we are trying to do.”
Dan doesn’t hesitate “going to Japan that’s an ambition, we have a separate Japanese label to the European one and the album came out a week earlier there. There’s pictures of us up in stores and our faces on big screens and things.”
The band now proudly have their own fanzine Bright Young Things, which goes out quarterly every season and people who sign upto it get a 16 page hand made magazine which contains what the Crookes are upto, other bands they like etc. They really enjoy trying to connect and being accessible to their fanbase and quote a Scottish fan who sent a celebratory balloon and another Australian fan who sent a 10 page love letter to all the boys.
Signing to a label with the impressive history of Fierce Panda is something they are obviously very happy with and they don’t particularly see any negatives of not being with a ‘major’, which says a lot about the type of guys they are. They accept there is much more to being in a band than writing the songs and playing the gigs and have been doing lots for themselves including running the website and facebook, designing the album artwork, posters etc and through this have managed to keep a lot of control and also they kept in close touch with their fans, which is clearly important to them.
So far so good, nearly half a million hits on myspace, a headline tour and a debut album but back to one of the most important issues from the interview of 18 months ago, who is the football keepy up king?
Dan, feigning embarrassment admits “we’ve been so busy we haven’t had time for keepy uppies” then George says with tongue firmly in cheek “maybe our success of late can be attributed to the fact that we have concentrated a little bit more on the musical side of things” but Russ reassuringly adds “festivals are prime times for playing footie so we are going to challenge other bands to play” George says smiling “especially the ones we don’t particularly like so we can put in a few..(then pauses but his facial expression inserts the missing words ‘crunching tackles’) .. because there’s no ref and I’m not going to send myself off am I.”
The Crookes played over 150 gigs in 2010, without the money for PR they have had to do it the hard way, involving travelling thousands of miles to get the necessary exposure for their music, they proudly tell of fans who have seen them 20+ times. It has certainly paid dividends, without any of the bought and paid for media hype that lifts the publics expectation of some pretty ordinary bands and leaves them destined for failure, The Crookes have a big and fast growing following based on a sensational live set which is every bit as good as their recorded music.
If you haven’t already, give yourself a treat and check them out via www.thecrookes.co.uk but take care if they challenge you to game of footie.