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Fairytale of New Yorkshire
By Kirsty Walker
Christmas and rock music go together like turkey and avian flu. When rock musicians try to encroach on the dusty glamour of the festive season it always ends badly, like an office party where the boss leaves at 9, or an attempted family reunion with that uncle who’s out on bail. Put Christmas and rock together and you get The Darkness poncing around a fireplace wearing tinsel. You get David Bowie trying not to trip over Bing’s colostomy bag.You get Bob Fucking Geldof.
Unperturbed by all of this misery, some artists are still trying to the glitz and the guitar solo together, more recently with the idea of Christmas shows. Now these have been rolled out in the past by everyone from Rick Wakeman to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin who even broadcast theirs on the internet, but last December saw the likes of The Wombats, CSS and Jarvis Cocker all set up special festive performances. The king of all these however, was the cutely-named ‘Cribsmas’ – featuring Wakefield punk trio The Cribs and an assortment of their celebrity friends.
Originally designed as a fundraising exercise for Cystic Fibrosis, the three night residency at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds turned into a rampaging behemoth as it became apparent that The Cribs’ ‘special guests’ may well include their old pals The Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand, and guitarist Ryan Jarman’s current squeeze Kate Nash. By the time the extended indie-glitterati had realised that this might be a good prospect, the tickets were long gone, snapped up hungrily by superfans and ebay touters alike. At one point the £30 three day passes were being sold at internet auction for over 20 times their value, and The Cribs’ online fan base were desperately scrabbling for spares whilst all the time the lucky few checked their email confirmations over and over, for fear some small print loophole meant they had to recite the reg number of the band’s tour van before being allowed in.
The Brudenell was described by the NME’s Gavin Haynes as “a functioning working men’s club”, as opposed to the hundreds preserved by the National Trust presumably. He gushes about the “tacky seventies furniture” and “weathered carpet” like a cut price Michael Palin describing a kibbutz. In normal people’s terms, it’s a social club, with the only visible concessions to the event being an endearingly half-arsed banner and a t-shirt stand. The regulars are used to the influx of indie kids, as the Brudenell has a tradition of staging seminal gigs and getting the best and brightest from the UK music scene before the NME gets their grubby hands on them.
With the event being staged over three days there’s a kind of festival atmosphere at the Brudenell. There is much hugging amongst people you suspect have never met outside of Facebook or the previously mentioned Cribs forum. People are excited. Really excited. The prospect is this : The Cribs will play everything they have ever recorded. That means demos, b-sides, album tracks, everything. The first night will be occupied by their earliest demos, first album and b-sides from that period, and so the nights will continue. The band are in effect supporting themselves as they will take to the stage first to begin their chronological march across the discography, before making way for the aforementioned ‘support acts’.
Something quite strange is happening front of stage. People are talking to each other, they’re milling and laughing and messing about. A couple of likely lads are dressed as Father Christmas and Kate Nash is pulling a fan around by the arm looking to introduce her to Ryan. It’s a bit like an office party, when your boss is also your mate and doesn’t mind you telling him how much you love him. There’s no room for cynicism here. Between sets the promoter of Wire Club’s Strangeways night launches into some Jarman-called bingo. “27, my age but don’t tell anyone!” winks Ryan as he thoroughly enters into the spirit of the occasion. Later there’ll be another round of the pint-pulling contest between band members and bar staff, interspersed with such merriment as a Cribs pub quiz and even musical statues. Cool is out the window, and it was never welcome here anyway.
In a bizarrely heart-warming turn of events the band seem to be dressing in their old ‘costumes’ to harken back to the good old days. Ryan Jarman bloodies his own lip during the ‘New Fellas’ set when this was a regular occurrence. His vintage Gitanes tshirt has already been shredded by the crowd, after surviving a Libertines tour. Drummer Ross has on the glittery waistcoat which was mocked in one of their early live reviews by Leeds Music Scene. They are self-referential, even ‘doing’ lines from their documentary film ‘Leave Too Neat’, but it’s not self-aggrandising, it’s more like a group of (200 plus) old friends reminiscing and telling in-jokes.
When all the festivities are over and everyone has made a hundred new mates, sweated a few gallons and had their turn at slurring ‘”I love you guys canihaveaphotoplease?” it’s off to Wire, probably Leeds’ premier indie hotspot, to hear a DJ set by, you’ve guessed it, The Cribs! The entire Brudenell crowd seem to have decamped here, along with the band and their mates. It’s 5am before the place looks like calming down and even then there’s a glint in the eye of every Cribs fan leaving the place. They look like they’ve been whacked with sweat-soaked cricket bats but you can bet they’d do the same thing again tomorrow, and the next day, and that if the Cribs had 400 albums to get through it wouldn’t be a problem.
Christmas gigs may be de riguer, but this is more than that, it’s a bonding experience between a band who has tasted success and come back to nudge their fans and say “this is alright isn’t it?”. As we leave Wire some fans are hugging the band’s tour manager. When was the last time you saw a gig so good you did that?
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