COSMO GODFREE muses on the future of a poetic Northern band and their performance in a pub.
The Portland Arms, Monday 17th October, £7
The Crookes are obviously well trained in how to work a crowd, and so they should be – they groove about onstage like a band on the 13th night of a mammoth 35-date UK and European tour has no right to do! They’re certainly dressed for the occasion as well, what with their smart suits and shiny shoes.
Their stage presence may be polite and well-mannered, but it sure doesn’t lack energy. We get a little chuckle from lead singer and bassist George Waite after the line, “The English sky’s too Oxford grey,” as he remembers where he finds himself tonight. Don’t worry George, we forgive you.
So, top marks for effort, but what of the music itself?
The obvious reference point for this bunch of poetic popsters is The Smiths, or at least that’s what their press release would have us think. The band’s lyrics, with their references to a romantic vision of England that’s pretty hard to come by, feel much closer to Mr Pete “gin in teacups” Doherty. These are tales of young lovers and men about town, moonlight and glasses of wine. To paraphrase their own line from Godless Girl, it all sits a bit oddly with the times, but then that’s clearly the point – an escape from the monotony of everyday life into a world of Parisian backstreets and Penguin paperbacks. And to their credit, they make it sound appealing rather than contrived.
George Waite is particularly impressive
I was quite surprised to hear that the band hail from Sheffield, or at least they met at university there and haven’t left since. The music that they make seems quite at odds with most of the bands that have emerged from the Steel City in recent years (i.e. Arctic Monkeys and a whole bunch of useless pretenders to their throne). It’s far more light and jaunty, and much more in line with bands like The Maccabees or Frankie and the Heartstrings.
Some people seem convinced on selling them as part of some sort of New Pop revival, and there’s probably a bit more to this than just lazy journalists trying to create fictitious new movements (New Rave, anyone?). If they’d been around in the early 80s, The Crookes would definitely have been signed to Postcard Records along with Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. The songs are full of those bouncy basslines and jangly guitars, anchored by a really strong pop sensibility.
In fact, I can definitely hear strong traces of Edwyn Collins in Waite?s voice – less deep, but just as delicate and soulful. It suits the lyrics pretty damn well.
The main problem I found is that the band sometimes come across as a bit two-dimensional – their poetry is expressed better as a general overarching tone rather than in specific lyrics. Backstreet Lovers? is a clear standout, but some of the other songs are way too similar to hold the interest for long enough, and they tend to blur into one another. The Crookes are certainly likeable enough, and they have a great singer in George Waite, but a better collection of songs would stand them in good stead.
Tonight’s highlight takes place in the encore, when the band come out and stand in the middle of the crowd to play a final song just on acoustic guitar, and with lovely vocal harmonies. This completely dispels any lingering tensions, and it’s a treat to listen to. It’s difficult to estimate their staying power, but for the moment at least, these guys are firmly in their own world.
The Crookes – Backstreet Lovers