The Cribs: Wakefield's finest soon-to-be-four-piece
The Cribs have refreshingly honest views on the music business and the cult of celebrity
Friday 11 January 2008
The first time I stumbled upon The Cribs was on a sun-drenched day in Kinross at the T in the Park festival. Having had a few too many drinks on the early bus up the road from Glasgow, I foolishly took the decision to sit down amid ketchup-saturated chip boxes, Chinese takeaway debris and mud-spattered vomit. Through my drunken haze, a pale, skeletal body emerged; with a beaming grin coated in blood and shredded clothes dangling from his torso, Ryan Jarman sprinted away from the nearby stage.
This was around the time of the release of the band's debut album, The Cribs, followed a year later by The New Fellas, an album that assaulted inane, commercialised indie music while celebrating rock'*'roll depravity with a front cover and artwork that painted a picture of sheer punk-rock wantonness. Everything from intoxicated on-stage handstands, crowd surfing, bountiful quaffs of alcohol and the tired and distressed eyes of men ruined by weeks on tour with little to do except burn out was depicted.
Since then there have been Jarman's drunken attempts at covering Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" while dancing with brother Gary in a pile of broken glass, claims of having invented Live 8, and Jarman's leap towards notoriety when at an NME awards show he launched himself on to a table of glasses, narrowly missing various vital organs. For a long time The Cribs were a band best known for this appetite for self-destruction. From the reckless shows, early comparisons to The Libertines, the skinny jeans and ludicrous shades to their lo-fi detuned squalor pop, The Cribs were the indie cocktail du jour that it took five years for most people to be able to handle.
Tonight, Wakefield's most famous brothers are in Glasgow supporting Bloc Party on a massive arena tour. The last few times The Cribs have been in Scotland there have been plenty of tales to tell afterwards. One show in Edinburgh ended with the stage collapsing, and their last show in Glasgow began with a flooded venue and ended with fans collapsing into an unconscious state. At one point the gig was halted because it was thought one fan had died, which led bassist Gary Jarman to break down in floods of tears. Enter saviour, all-round indie nice guy and recent Cribs producer Alex Kapranos, whose calls for calm resulted in the whole crowd sitting down for the rest of the concert.
"We've always had great memories of Glasgow and have had some of our best gigs outside of Leeds there. It's like home from home. That Admiral show was really scary, though. We have always had the ethos that nothing should ever change, but after that show we began to realise that that might not be possible."
Last year saw much change in the lives of The Cribs, with a Top-20 album in the form of third disc Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever, a Top-20 single, storming performances on Later... with Jools Holland and on Conan O'Brien, along with this year's headlining slot on the NME Awards Tour. Tonight's venue symbolises the giddy heights the band have reached as I meet them backstage at Glasgow's premier venue, the SECC, a colossal hall that rams as many people into its overbearing space for maximum profit with complete disregard for intimacy or attachment to any music played within its realms. A far cry from the social clubs and toilet venues The Cribs are used to playing.
"It's weird. We don't see ourselves as this kind of band. We are surprised every time we play venues like this, but just because you play the SECC one night it shouldn't affect you. I'm just as happy to play smaller shows. It's surreal to be at this level, not because we don't care or a lack of ambition but because of our background. We never knew what was going to happen. All we wanted was to have fun and play together."
The Cribs' DIY ethic is something unique within a system where it seems that any band can achieve overnight success. This DIY perspective is something that is not born out of stubbornness, but a desire for something unique and a yearning for the unpredictable.
"We've always wanted to be a band that could show up anywhere, play on anyone's gear and not have any airs and graces. We still drive our own van instead of getting a tour bus. Our Ryan says that tour buses are like status symbols among bands, it's like trying to keep up with the Joneses. We are not from that school of thought. We've never wanted any of the extra shit. You realise quickly what you need and what you don't. We have been fine for the past five years and we are fine now."
Speaking to Gary Jarman, there is a sense of dissatisfaction amid the band's success. Sitting in a bare room, four blaring white walls, on a chair that looks like it's about to collapse from underneath him, there is no trail of destruction, instead a far more intense sense of reflection at the year that was.
"We never wanted to be rock stars – that was always the anathema and it were never a virtue to be like that. The people that wanted to be rock stars were always the ones you laughed at. We have always believed in sincerity, humility and being honest."
For The Cribs, the British indie scene has always been a source of aggravation. With songs such as "Major's Titling Victory" and "Hey Scenesters!", which puts a boot into the balls of the indie cool crowd, The Cribs have always expressed an aggrieved-outsiders' voice amid the jolly backslapping of the UK indie music establishment. Indeed, the sense of being outsiders is something the band revels in.
"Everything changed around us and skewed the perception of the band. It felt like the aesthetic we had worked on was being debased and distorted. People say how good a time it is for music just now, but I find that hard to believe. Popularity doesn't mean quality and it's never healthy to judge music on that basis."
So much has been made of comments the band have made regarding bands such as The Kooks and Razorlight and their desire to achieve mainstream success at any cost. While always forthright, what they have said has always been made out to be something shocking, when it seems that they are pointing out the blatantly obvious.
"It feels like the last days of Britpop to me. Indie is so commoditised, whether it is a free download with a Coke or a Ramones T-shirt in Topshop. It's just a really downer. I don't want to sound like a complainer, but someone has to say that the king has no clothes."
A few weeks later, I speak to Ryan Jarman after the band returned to Leeds for three homecoming shows at the Brudenell Social Club where they played each of their three albums in order and according to their original track-listing alongside special support acts.
"It all went really well. It was an amazing atmosphere and it was great to do something for charity. We went into it not knowing what was going to happen because a lot of the songs we couldn't remember or we had never played."
The Jarmans even managed to entice the crème de la crème of indie royalty to pay their respects, with support performances from Franz Ferdinand, Kate Nash and the Kaiser Chiefs over the three nights.
"That was the most exciting part. Nobody knew about it. People were just like, 'What the fuck?' when the bands came on. They are all friends we have met along the way and they all lack an ego and just said yes when we asked them to play."
It seems surprises are something The Cribs pride themselves on and with a new year beginning the band have a few more up their sleeve, and one in particular that is likely to get their hardcore fans talking.
"We are all really excited about the New Year and can't wait to tour the UK again. We have decided to change the format of the band. We feel like we have become quite comfortable now and that isn't always a good thing. I think it's good to mess things up and change. So we have decided that we are going to bring someone new into the band. I think people will be really surprised when they hear who it is because the person is quite well known."
It was once said that The Velvet Underground never sold that many albums, but that everyone who did buy one of their records started a band. The Cribs are that sort of band. However, what is certain is that they probably will never be (and probably don't want to be) the biggest band in the world, but the Jarman brothers will always be remembered, whether it be for running through a field covered in blood or for adding integrity and spontaneity to a music scene that all too often gets lost up its own backside.
The Cribs headline the 'NME' Awards tour from 29 January to 28 February (www.thecribs .com); the single 'I Am a Realist' is out on 25 February on Wichita
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