In the last ten years The Cribs have come a long way from their roots in the Merrie City. They developed as musicians and as people in the north of England, finding their feet in an old abandoned mill – an unofficial venue where they would also put on a whole camaraderie of chancers with a dream. A decade on and the brothers Grimm (famed as Jarman) return to the smaller stages again for the first time since the departure of The Smiths‘ guitarist Johnny Marr. Bassist and singer Gary Jarman takes time before the first show in almost a year to talk about the band’s humble beginnings.
There aren’t many bands left in the prestigious bracket of independent music, and whilst other bands have pinched the label and used it to billow their massive corporately funded bank accounts, The Cribs have somehow maintained their original status and have never gotten caught up in the act of ‘selling out’. The only difference now is that the audiences have grown bigger – as has the demand for a trio who’s tour once meant playing a couple of gigs between hometown Wakefield and nearest big city Leeds, making sure their funds were set to at least cover the petrol costs.
“When we first started out we never played the established venues in Leeds, a lot of them were pay to play and we avoided all that stuff and just played venues where some kid would just put us on,” Jarman says. “Even after we were signed we would do that, people would book us and we’d just pay for gas money fuel money. That was important to us.”
And there’s surely no better way to stay humble than to play the first gig in nine months at Coventry venue the Kasbah so to warm-up for the onslaught of festivals starting in June; and it seems that no time whatsoever has been wasted on ‘warming up’ over a single song. Straight in with ‘Cheat On Me‘, it took all of three songs before Ryan had fallen off the stage, and remained helplessly crumpled at the mercy of the bouncers – guitar centre of the heap.
It was a sell-out gig. And with the kind of crowd proficient at being Cribs fans, in no time at all the barrier was shifting forward on a river of sweat and booze, and countless amounts of innocuous miscreants sailed over the front row and were marched off to the side. It was pandemonium – but in the best possible way. The greatest thing about it was it looked like the start again; a band so obviously passionate about music, performing, fans, rock n’ roll – each other.
When you think that the Cribs are now a decade old, it seems as though they’ve hardly been around for long, especially when taking into account a vivacious appetite for live shows and how remarkably in tact their ethic has stayed altogether.
They’re far from ignorant upon looking back and pinpointing the various fundamentals that have confirmed the band’s identity up until the present. It’s that organic thing that all legendary artists have – just look at Joy Division, Sonic Youth, The Libertines – they have all set themselves up in a way that has meant longevity in the long run.
“DIY is something you should really value highly, and the ability to do that and have that control and have that ethic that you can do whatever you want is something that was really important to us at the start. We had a studio and we recorded bands and put bands on in the studio. The worst thing you can do as an artist or any sort of creative person is to sit around and complain that ‘there’s nothing going on’ or ‘no one’s interested in what I do or where I’m from.’ I really think it’s an excuse to somehow justify yourself in being apathetic, really it shouldn’t matter if there’s nothing there to start with or that you’ve started from a blank canvas.”
It undeniably helped the band’s case that they went about the process with a natural, long-haul manner and were saved from being thrust in to the limelight from an early stage. Instead they’ve had to adapt to getting the best out of their music, and to learn the ways in which the industry is run – which paved the way to Wichita Recordings who have only ever shaped around the mould of The Cribs.
“We never got big over night, it was a gradual thing, so I never had those moments of shock. I was such an uncomfortable person and I wasn’t someone who celebrated like that. We’ve had a different transition to a lot of bands by the way it’s been done in that organic way – we’re about to make our fifth record and that’s way more important than becoming the biggest band in the world and then vanishing.”
During this recent set, The Cribs thundered through works from all four albums including guaranteed favourites such as ‘Another Number‘, ‘Bovine Public‘, and ‘Hey Scenesters!‘ All of which were met with nostalgic gratitude and a shower of empty plastic cups, out of nothing but love and generosity of course. The crowd were at their wildest when guitarist Ryan came to stand on the front of the stage and tease the front row by playing riffs at the end of several dozen fingertips.
Gary graciously points out that he’s aware that the band are no longer the new kids on the block (not that this appears to affect sales much). And although many questioned the decision to get Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr in for the fourth studio album, it did in fact alter the sound just enough to prevent the band from becoming such as a broken record. Johnny’s departure will contribute much to the same effect, and sure enough the Cribs will be reborn again.
“The kids who have now taken the place of the kids who mobilised when the Cribs first started probably wouldn’t have anything to do with us because we’ve been on the radio or been in the charts, and it’s very difficult to retain that cache because as soon as you move out of the underground, the underground doesn’t want you back.”
The decision to get Johnny in in the first place was like any other decision that means changing things from the winning formula – it uncompromising backlash, and disgruntling critics and fans alike.
“People like to make out that because he’s older than us it’s weird to have him in the band. You’d really have to be in the band to understand it because it would be impossible for someone to fit into the band if we didn’t get on with them, and the reality of it is trying to fit into a band of brothers for 18 months and to tour and live with them on a bus – no matter how beneficial it is to your creativity or your output it really wouldn’t be possible to maintain.”
It’s down to that all important chemistry just like with any band member working closely with another member of the group, and for Gary, he misses hanging out with Johnny almost as though one of the brothers has departed the band.
“It’s been difficult because we were very close friends and I only realised today that it’s the first show we’ve done without him. I miss his company, that’s the primary thing. I just liked having him around he’s a really nice guy, and I did like working with him but I also just like working with my brothers and the freedom and liberation of that.”
After releasing the first two records, the band had secured their status as underground and their genre was sealed as a lo-fi garage rabble post-punk rough and ready indie rock. By the time the third album ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever‘ came out – produced by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and mixed by Nirvana engineer Andy Wallace – The Cribs had firmly reached a commercial high point; guilty only of superseding accusations of ‘selling out’ on the grounds of creating quite frankly a fucking good record.
“I guess we did make a pop record, but it didn’t come from a cynical place, it still came from a similar progression that the first couple of records came from anyway.”
And it reached the highest chart position than previously for the band of brothers, landing in at number thirteen and to be beaten only by their following record ‘Ignore the Ignorant‘; which secured its final place at number eight in the UK charts. But chart success is not something particularly important to the band, and Gary admits personally that:
“For me it’s just flattering if anyone cares about us and because I’m in a band with my brothers, that if anyone likes what my brothers do then I automatically feel some degree of affection for them anyway. Purely on a human level that makes me feel like a friend because they care about my brothers so it doesn’t feel weird to me on that level.” He continues to say “Some of the best satisfaction I’ve had is being able to turn our fans on to people like Jeff Lewis and Comet Gain and bands that no one’s heard of before.”
And indeed Sonic Youth! They noticeably gained added cool after Lee Ranaldo contributed guest vocals on the track ‘Be Safe‘ on ‘Men’s Needs…’, and The Cribs could only be as high as a Kaiser Chief to be working alongside one of their ultimate influences.
“They’re just so very creative, much more like artists in the legitimate sense than in the musical sense. Lee had all these ideas of cutting up newspapers and making a collage to then recite the lyrics from, then he had three or four different poems we put together – all these really brilliant ways of working.”
Now the Wakefield lads return back to being a band of brothers again. This time round they’ve had to come from the various States of America that they’ve divided themselves across since maturing somewhat and marrying ladies of cool; retaining everything Jarman-esque which grants them rock star status, with one wise statement that sums up what the next generation of mover-shakers should be aware of.
“I think the most exciting stuff comes from the fringes or the misfits – the people who upset the old guard a little bit. There’s quite a degree of snobbery and elitism in indie music in particular, I’m aware of it.”
The Cribs tied up their first set in almost a year after about an hour and a half. Ryan Jarman disappeared into the crowd for umpteen minutes, and the band left despite demand for an encore. But if the Wakefield trio have taught you anything at all – it is certainly to defy convention at all costs. People can be downright bovine at times.
(Words and photos: Joanne Ostrowski)