The Crookes – London – live review

The Crookes
London, Borderline
29 May 2012

The Crookes give songs from their second album a live airing ahead of its release in July. Martin Leay finds having to replace their lead guitarist hasn’t slowed this upcoming band down. 

The Crookes last played London in October, a few weeks after lead guitarist Alex Saunders unexpectedly left the band. For many, tonight is the first chance to see his replacement, Tom Dakin, in action. It’s also an opportunity to hear songs from The Crookes’ second album, “Hold Fast”, which is out in July on the cooler than cool Fierce Panda label.

The title and theme were inspired by Richard Hawley when he joined the band one night in their Sheffield local, and started talking about sailors at war who’d grit their teeth and row for dear life, spurred on by the Hold Fast mantra tattooed across their knuckles. As a metaphor for being in a band, it struck a chord. One of their crew may have jumped ship but The Crookes carried on rowing.

The Crookes’ rebirth is accompanied by their “NewPop” rebranding. They’ve always written pop songs but have adapted Steve Lamacq’s definition to mean more than just the music. NewPop is also about the attitude of bands that lack major label backing but work hard and keep the faith. This mentality runs through spoken-word track “Northern Soul For The 21st Century”, which they defiantly walk onstage to. It features the croaked tones of Howard Marks reading their rallying cry to the bands, like them, that refuse to give up.

Tonight The Crookes fire straight into “Chorus of Fools” followed by “Just Like Dreamers” from debut album, “Chasing After Ghosts”. George Waite’s voice delivers Daniel Hopewell’s lyrics beautifully. There is windmill guitar playing, shoe shuffling and even some moderate bass humping. The Crookes are not afraid to sweat and are soaked through by the first middle eight. They career into each other and bound around the stage as if their lives depend on it, which you get the feeling, they do.

When “Godless Girl” kicks in, infectious dancing breaks out; which isn’t bad for a song about a crazed killer. Their next single, “Maybe in the dark” sounds great, as Dakin’s fingers buzz frantically around his fretboard. With “Sal Paradise”, their literary references go Stateside with a deft nod to Kerouac. The Americana vibe continues with “American Girls”; a love story across international borders, which sounds even better than its title.

On “Afterglow”, harmonious backing vocals and fizzing guitar pedals combine to build a NewPop wall of sound. Older non-album tracks are played, too, including “A Collier’s Wife” and “Backstreet Lovers”. These kitchen-sink dramas of “razor tea-cups and tip top craic” jingle-jangle their way straight to the heart.

The “ba-ba-ba-oohs” on “Bloodshot days” are crooned Pete and Carl style into a shared microphone, while Hopewell picks up a drum stick to pound out a counter-rhythm to Russell Bates’ enthralling drum beat. The set ends with “Yes, Yes, We Are Magicians”, as a hushed vocal backed only by finger clicks soon gives way to an energetic groove in which band and audience go mad together. For the encore, they venture into the crowd to sing “The Cooler King”; a new song that’s not about Steve McQueen but a transvestite drug dealer they met in New York.

It’s heartening to see The Crookes still fighting the good fight. If they carried on at this level forever, there would be few complaints from their fiercely loyal fans. However, this is a band striving for more. The Crookes deserve the magazine covers, sell-out tours and platinum discs claimed by some of their more hyped but less talented peers. Fundamentally, The Crookes’ songs need to be heard by the masses and the masses need to hear The Crookes’ songs.

Of course, they’re not the first band that’s had to wait to hit the big time. It took Belle and Sebastian three albums to connect beyond their predominantly student following. Closer to home, Pulp had to walk the NewPop talk for years before they broke through. The Crookes have built a strong following that grows with each tour. If you see them at a festival this summer, you won’t be disappointed. It can only be a matter of time before The Crookes achieve the success they deserve. They’ve just got to hold fast.

All words by Martin Leay. You can read his pre-gig interview with The Crookes here.

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Martin Leay started writing for Louder Than War after a chance meeting on a boat with John Robb. They were docked alongside Millennium Pier at the time and had just witnessed a blistering set by the world's only Parliamentary Rock Band, MP4. Besides MP4, Martin cites The Smiths, Libertines, Stone Roses, Billy Bragg, Belle and Sebastian, Art Brut, The Cure, Jamie T and Bloc Party amongst his favourite musical artists. He lives in Camberwell, works in Parliament, supports Tranmere Rovers, loves Coronation Street and once ran a marathon.


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