Maintaining a strong work ethic and holding fast against a tide of 80s comparisons, The Crookes return more determined than ever.
I have fallen in love. Not with someone of the opposite sex but with a new (well, new to the streets of Oslo) indie band hailing from Sheffield. The band at the centre of this love affair is The Crookes.
Without wishing to sound derogatory in any shape or form in relation to the title adorning this article, quite the opposite in fact, these four men from Sheffield have evoked memories of a magical time in the annals of indie music with their jangling melodic indie pop reminiscent of the Postcard label era coming straight out of Scotland during the early 80s. Despite The Crookes vehemently denying any such association, let alone knowledge of any bands during their inception, it would seem that any such comparisons is purely coincidental, despite Aztec Camera being a firm favourite for one member at least now.
“When we released the first EP, everyone kept saying Postcard Records or Sarah Records and they could’ve been talking in a different language to us as we had no idea,” bemoans lead vocalist and genuinely nice fella George Waite regarding the comparisons levelled at the band. “It’s purely by chance that we value the same kind of things in our songs that those bands did at the time. That might sound like an elaborate excuse, and that we knew all of that and just mined it for everything it’s worth, but that really wasn’t the case as it was just chance.”
What bands, for example, have you been compared with in terms of the UK music press?
“Not so much now, but when we first started out we were compared to Aztec Camera, the House Martins and even The Smiths. I didn’t listen to any of those bands at all during this period,” states guitarist, and chief lyricist, Daniel Hopewell casually leaning into his chair.
That’s interesting to hear.
“Yeah, it is, but also kind of frustrating as well,” continues Hopewell. “I’m not sure what’s worse – someone commenting that it sounds like you’re ripping something off or being accused of being a range of these bands when you’re not. It’s a bit strange of them [music press] really.”
Comparisons are always inevitable when a new band is starting out because it seems natural to have a focal point when trying to explain to your nearest neighbour what all the commotion is about when you’re barely able to contain a level of excitement close to bordering on hysteria. But rip it up and start again is merely complimentary in the sense that The Crookes are in a position to rubberstamp their own identity on a sound many younger audiences will have never heard before, let alone the bands associated with such a musically defining era in indie pop music; something of which The Crookes clearly acknowledge:
“I had never even heard of Orange Juice until we got our reviews saying these guys are ripping-off Orange Juice,” comments George Waite. “Aztec Camera as well, I had never listened to them before our first album was released, and I subsequently ended up really getting into Aztec Camera and I really, really like them now, but I hadn’t ever listened to them when we first started writing that set of songs.”
“A lot of the eighties bands we get compared to were influenced by Motown and sixties things. We’re playing on our acoustic guitars with a jangly sound, I think we got the original source point, but the bands we get compared to, I don’t listen to any of them, and I never have done,” weighs in Hopewell. “We get [compared to] The Smiths loads, but I gather that Morrissey is quite into sixties girls groups, and kitchen sink literature, and by complete serendipity that’s kind of the influences we have.”
‘Hold Fast’ is the second long player from The Crookes, which seems to have taken on board the endless comparisons regarding certain trends from the eighties as the songs are slightly beefed-up compared to its predecessor. Whether a more robust sound was a conscious decision by the band to distance themselves from any further comparisons is of no interest, because ‘Hold Fast’ is an album full of melodic songs where guitars still jangle (of course) taking on a variety of themes with a dash of eccentricity thrown in for good measure. The title itself is no doubt a nod to the choppy waters the initial recording process ‘Hold Fast’ experienced, due to a departing band member and the usual baggage which seems to accompany any sophomore album.
“It’s only been out three months, but we did it really quickly which was the good and bad thing about it,” explains George Waite. “Our hand was kind of forced with our original guitarist leaving, and we had a really big decision to make – which took about two seconds – to say that we’re forging on to do the second album. It took about three months from that point to write the album and record it. In the process, we stole Tom Dakin [guitarist] away from his other band, and persuaded him to write and record with us and come on tour to Europe and Japan. So, as an experience, it was a bit of a whirlwind but also nice, in a way, because you didn’t have time to second-guess anything but the risk in that is that you come six months down the line and think, f***! But three months down the line we’re still really happy with it, and thankfully people enjoy listening to it or at least no one has openly said that they aren’t!”
FLW can openly testify that after witnessing the band perform a selection of tracks from ‘Hold Fast’ this evening in Oslo, where it appears that one man and his dog are in attendance, the band remain steadfastly undeterred in their enthusiasm, as song after song draws more and more plaudits. When Tom Dakin accompanies George Waite on vocal duties, songs simply soar to even greater heights with Waite pirouetting, bass guitar heading skywards like a man possessed; Daniel Hopewell is the epitome of cool hanging nonchalantly on the far street corner all white socks and brogue slip-ons, while Russell Bates drills out the rhythmic backing making this a real gang of four. Such a compelling performance has stemmed from the band’s strong work ethics whereby ‘Hold Fast’ was constructed on a DIY foundation.
“We were listening to some stuff from Stiff Records when we recorded this album, and thematically it has an almost punk element to it, which definitely wasn’t present on the first album,” says Daniel Hopewell. “A lot of the new songs are quite defiant in all of its themes by sticking to what you want to do. I think that’s quite liberating as it works in venues like this [Café Mono] where you can make all the noise you want and it makes it more fun. I think I enjoy that attitude more because when you do everything yourself, and you get on with it and embrace it, then you can be proud of that rather than trying to compete with bands that have a lot of backing. However, trying to make pop music without any pop budget is quite a challenge.”
“Coming back from touring, with summons in your letterbox because you haven’t paid your Council Tax or your rent, the easy option – which our other guitarist took – would be to get a real job and say, ‘There you go mum and dad, there is a pay check. Put that in the bank’. It’s a bit of a copout,” adds George Waite passionately about the difficulties, financially, bands such as The Crookes is currently experiencing.
“It’s about working hard, and doing it the hard way however much success you hopefully go on to achieve,” continues Daniel. “The fact that we’ve come from those roots where we had to do a hundred shows a year because nobody took any notice of us, and then went back and had to do it ourselves [make the album], that will always be the case as we will always put in the hard work.”
“When Russell [Bates] eventually gets his backstage Jacuzzi, he will have earned it!” laughs George referring to their drummer’s ultimate desire.
“I will remember these days!” retorts Russell clearly dreaming about his number one material goal.
The Crookes possess several key ingredients singling them out from a lot of the also-rans cluttering up the current indie scene. One of those ingredients is humour, evident from their video to the single ‘Afterglow’ as band members occasionally transmit a disinterested demeanour with teeth gnarling on guitars and playing out of sync; something of which was clearly lost on some people!
“If you take yourself too seriously in Sheffield, no one will pay you any attention and you’ll just get called rude names,” explains George. “We were under no illusions about what kind of song it is [‘Afterglow’], as it was our attempt at writing a ‘Hit’ single. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t really understand what we were trying to do in the video, because we received comments about Russell not playing the drums properly or why is Tom taking away Dan’s amp? So I thought, ‘Come on guys!’” he finishes with a look of absolute disbelief.
“People don’t get our humour as we are very self-deprecating and we often take the p*** but we’re quite dry about it as well. So people think we’re being deadly serious a lot of the time. We’re not, as we’re often taking the p*** and people don’t realise. So it is often that fine edge where…” comments Daniel before being interrupted.
“Yeah, in Europe where it backfired!” exclaims Russell.
“In England, it sometimes goes over people’s heads, but in Europe we’ve had a few occasions where we probably came across as extremely rude,” elaborates George regarding Russell’s interjection.
“It’s the language barrier though, as the other day George and I were talking to these two girls and George had a t-shirt with bones on it,” cuts in Daniel. “I don’t know why, but we started to pretend that the bones were of his blind, dead three-legged dog and this just went on for ages and they were looking really heartbroken about this story. I was taking the p*** but [at the same time] thinking I’ve gone too far now and have to stick with this,” he finishes grimacing at the memory of this anecdote.
“But then one of the girls started swapping stories about how her dog had died when she was young. It was awkward because we could’ve killed the mood. I think they would have bought a t-shirt but it wasn’t even dog bones as it was chicken bones on there!” adds George shaking his head in further disbelief.
“It works for Tom, as Tom is the driest person I know,” laughs Daniel.
“I come across as rude all the time!” deadpans a so-far-quiet Tom Dakin.
With humorous banter flying back and forth between the band members throughout the interview this afternoon, the mood suddenly drops at the mention of album closer, ‘The I Love You Bridge’. As Daniel passes the baton of spokesperson to George, due to being “one of his songs”, immediate thoughts swing from reluctance to willing, as The Crookes’ frontman reflects on a more serious, and tender note, compellingly delivered with merely the bare bones of guitar and vocal bravely fighting the encroaching icy chill threatening to bring this song to its knees.
“’I Love You Bridge’ is a place in Sheffield with a complex of flats called Park Hill built in the 60s after all the tenants slums were knocked down in the centre of Sheffield. Basically, people were moved wholesale from those streets into these homes in the sky,” says George providing a brief history of this landmark in Sheffield. “There are loads of these footbridges that are extremely high in the air, and some guy dangled himself off the top of one of these footbridges and spray painted, ‘Clare Middleton I love you, will you marry me?’ whilst upside down and hundred feet in the air. Even though I don’t write the lyrics, it was one of those moments when I saw a story in the newspaper that I had to rip out and stick to the fridge to see if Daniel would pick up on it, and he did.”
“It’s the second time that this has happened with George pinning an article to the fridge, as he found the story for the song ‘Patrolling Murder’ from the first album,” adds Daniel commenting on an idea brought to life lyrically with his deft touch. “I think it’s such a fantastic story, and a lot more to it, which we won’t bore you with, but it’s about drug addiction and that kind of thing. So there is probably a theme of trying to get a historical lesson from Sheffield into each song, which is quite a good thing to do. The fact which illuminated the phrase ‘I love you, will you marry me?’ is that they left the name just as it is and that in itself sounds like a ‘Crookes song – that kind of idea with a name framed for obscurity that runs through a lot of our songs. I think we often get labelled as romantics, which is fair to a certain extent, but a lot of the time that conjures up a slightly wide-eyed image as the reality of a lot of romance is really dark and associated with things like death and suicide. Apparently, twenty-six people killed themselves by jumping from this landmark, and that idea that people kill themselves from the thing called ‘I Love You Bridge’ was incredible and very inspiring.”
With current tour well and truly underway, The Crookes has definitely set their stall out in terms of their aspirations, which they hope to achieve through sheer hard work and, of course, that much needed ingredient of genuine talent. Comparisons with other bands will no doubt continue to plague them, but considering the band’s philosophy of ‘hold fast’, there is no doubting their resilience no matter what the future has in stall for them. In the meantime, FLW’s love affair with The Crookes will continue in similar fashion, judging by tonight’s mesmerising live performance and the fantastic songs making up latest album ‘Hold Fast’, but more notably for providing a sense of nostalgia for a time in pop music lost, which is meant as nothing but a compliment, as The Crookes has definitely ripped up a piece of history and started it again.
It’s about working hard, and doing it the hard way however much success you hopefully go on to achieve,”
FLW - From the Tapes
The Crookes decided to call on the services of Howard Marks – author and former drugs smuggler – to provide a spoken word dialogue prepared by the band for current album ‘Hold Fast’.
“We had Howard Marks in the studio to record something I prewrote to go on the album. It was almost like a manifesto or something along those lines, and we needed someone to read it out with a very distinct, powerful voice. So we decided to get Howard in, and he did a good a job, but it was quite an intoxicated recording!” says Daniel.
Had Mr Marks heard of The Crookes before?
“No, he didn’t know what day of the week it was!” adds Russell.
“We just promised him spliffs, and then he was straight up the motorway [after the recording],” concludes George.