Arctic Monkeys - by Chris Boyd
Much has been written about the rise of the new wave of British music, but the top of the national charts has proved elusive. Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’ had the ‘keeper beaten but hit the post. Razorlight had a good effort with ‘Golden Touch’ but it was cleared off the line. With the seconds ticking away, and in true Roy of The Rovers tradition, enter the rookie substitute. Showing no hint of nerves, the Arctic Monkeys beat one, beat two and then sent the infectious stomp of ‘I Bet You look Good On The Dancefloor’ whistling into the top corner. And, to nobody’s great surprise, there’s a pitch invasion to celebrate the winner.
Apologies for the footie imagery. It’s just a little surprising finding Andy Nicholson, bassist with the Arctic Monkeys, engrossed in FIFA on his very messy tourbus’s on-board PS2, rather than, say, the more accepted rock star behaviour of being blitzed on crack and JD. Maybe even doing a bong in the middle of a pentagram, trying to commune with Satan. But with nothing more sinister than an “All right, mate?” we’re off and running.
Straight out of Sheffield and into the nation’s pop consciousness, there’s a very unusual story as to how the Monkeys got their name, involving chance meetings with forlorn tramps and spontaneous gigs on the High Street. Yeah, that’s what their website biography said at the time. This story, it would appear, is believed by only one person on God’s green earth.
“So, Andy, that’s quite the tale about how you guys were all walking down the road with your instruments when you passed a tramp sitting in a doorway and sang him a song, whereby he christened you The Arctic Monkeys.”
“Er, no, that isn’t true, mate.”
Nice start, Chris.
“No, but it’s a good one though, isn’t it?” he says, perhaps trying to console the crestfallen dumbass sitting opposite. “Jamie were just messing about in class, you know, when you’re writing fantasy football teams and band names in the back of your book. He came up with the name. We were about 15 and it all fell into place. We learned to play our instruments and now we’re here!”
So having NOT met said tramp and having NOT been christened the Arctic Monkeys as a reward for bringing some musical joy into the poor fellow’s life, they were ready to plan their first gig at The Grapes in Sheffield. They rehearsed for this one show for a year and there might not have been any other shows if this hadn’t proved a success. “We wanted to do it 100% and weren’t too bothered if it failed after the first gig. But it didn’t, luckily. It just got better and better and we got tighter and wrote new songs. The show went really well, but the Grapes is much bigger than us, to be honest!”
Having spent £250 at a local studio to put a demo together, the band were noticed by another musician (now their manager) and found that by simply giving away copies of their demo rather than flogging them, their exposure to new listeners increased at a meteoric rate. “I think we got more out of that £250 than anyone’s got out of £250 before.” But it was by making their songs available to their fans to download that the word really started to spread. Along with a number of captivating live shows, the Monkeys had found their audience. Even they were surprised by the results, particularly noticeable at a gig at Sheffield’s Boardwalk, where the crowd sang along to ‘When The Sun Goes Down’. “Yeah, it was weird. At that point, we’d only released ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’ and ‘Ritz To The Rubble’, but people were singing along more to other songs than they were to them. We were playing ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ and we had to stop cos it was just weird.”
With their growing reputation came increased media exposure, causing a certain music publication to dub them “the Libertines of the North.” “We don’t really mind. I don’t think you can say that we’re the same either lyrically or musically. With the passion of our fans, I think they see in us what they saw in them, which is good but we think that there are better comparisons to make than that. I don’t know what I’d say, but then again it’s not my job to make comparisons!”
Nicholson already seems a veteran of media situations. He’s pleasant, courteous and appears completely indifferent to any negative press which the band have received. Mind you, when he’s encountered with interviewers who say things like this, he doesn’t have much to worry about.
“Now that you’ve signed to Domino, can you see yourselves following in the footsteps of a certain band from Glasgow who signed for the same label?”
“Oh, who’s that then?”
“Yeah, I know who they are, mate!”
His chuckle didn’t quite subdue my red face but, hey, you can’t have everything.
Their gigs are known to be boisterous affairs – sweaty, packed and exciting with elements of danger thrown into the mix. With crushed conditions and sometimes errant crowd-surfing, it can sometimes be worrying. “It don’t get scary but you do get concerned sometimes. We once did a gig in Wakefield and a guy was crowd-surfing and he fell right onto his eye. By the time he got up, he had a black eye but he didn’t even care! He did it again five minutes later!” But it’s these chaotic scenes that have in no small part endeared them to thousands. The band, if anything, prefer to enjoy that closeness with their audience. “The way we see it, we try not to have a barrier if we can because we don’t want to separate the band and the crowd. We want us all to be one, really, like we’ve all gone on a journey somewhere. I mean, the only thing that stops Alex singing sometimes is when the crowd-surfing ends up hitting the mike in his teeth. He’s already lost a couple of teeth doing that.”
Jesus H, Chris, smarter than the average bear and all that…
“We try hard to give you the best time, you can have, a good time and a break. We don’t want to make you think too much. You just want to go out and have a drink and have a laugh.”
Well, I’ve embarrassed myself enough with my extreme gullibility so I get ready to leave him to his FIFA. When asked whether he puts much stock in the comments of their detractors, he replies, “If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. If it’s not your cup of tea, don’t drink it. I’m not gonna go and buy a pink dress cos I don’t want a pink dress.”
“What, even if it’s a Vivienne Westwood and it’s really well cut?”
“Well, unless it’s PERFECTLY cut…”
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