THEY’RE JARMAN; WE THINK YOU’LL LIKE JARMAN TOO
11:20am, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Ross Jarman is lying on his back on the gravel floor of the backstage car park, legs pulled to his chest exposing knobbly knees through his absurdly torn jeans. A rather large member of his band’s road crew stoops down over him, affixing a strange rubber device to the drummer’s praying-mantis legs.
As I stand looking on, intrigued and slightly worried, an authoritative voice from behind advises: “Top tip, lads: don’t stand there.” Moments later, the water balloon that has hitherto been loaded into what turns out to be a rather lethal rubber slingshot is pinging its way skywards – and very nearly scribe-wards – on a trajectory bound for the front entrance of the venue, where a good-sized crowd has already gathered.
“Oooooh!” the cry goes up from those with a good vantage point of the target, suggesting a near miss, while the actual crowd – who had earlier been perceptively identified as “STUDENTS!” by a bellowing Yorkshireman in a passing van – remain unaware they are under attack. Three launches later, however, and at least one ‘student’ has learned an invaluable life lesson in that Cribs party balloons are not the sort you wanna be bouncing back. Welcome to the party…
Today’s private gig – put together with tourmates Kaiser Chiefs – marks the 25th birthday of twins Gary and Ryan Jarman, duel frontmen of the Cribs family outfit, who have returned to one of the venues where it all began.
The Brudenell Social Club is like every other working men’s club that ever existed – the architectural manifestation of a smoker’s lung with carpeting fashioned from the carcasses of squashed animals. A place more conducive to bingo than pogo, the Brudenell is nevertheless the unlikely setting to a showcase that sees The Cribs and the Chiefs (whose drummer Nick shares the twins’ birthday) injecting massive quantities of good-time party vibes into a ridiculously young crowd who really ought to be sat in front of a blackboard.
“Should anyone here be in school?” asks Ryan, eliciting a chorus of affirmation from the skiving majority. “And is anyone here drinking?” The kids: “Yyyeeeaahh!” The conspiratorial grin on Ryan’s face betrays his approval.
The following acoustic set, which features a range of bizarre instrumentation, is apparently the band’s first ever unplugged performance – a fact more apparent in their playing than their comical onstage banter. “In my mind, I’m Elliott Smith,” Gary admits, before concluding: “But in reality, I’m Mike Flowers Pops.” Ryan is being equally self-effacing: “That song no-one really likes – do you wanna hear an acoustic version?”
Being both brilliantly shambolic and inventive, The Cribs tease out nifty little perspectives and hone their sound to a sparse vulnerability, ringing out their set with a gong at the end of the accordion wig-out of It Was Only Love, to which an adjacent whipper-snapper and wannabe reviewer remarks: “Genius band!” He’s certainly on to something.
The show finishes around 2pm – following a fully plugged-in set from the Kaisers, which sees Gary and Ryan joining them onstage for a furious version of Modern Way. Soonafter, I find myself standing back outside in slingshot alley, before being crammed onto The Cribs’ minibus, where the mood is hesitantly buoyant.
“I were proper nervous out there,” Ryan declares, to our bewilderment. “I got more nervous there than I did playing the Town Hall last night (a venue they’re playing again tonight, and to where we’re heading), because we didn’t actually know what we were gonna do.”
Gary elucidates: “Well, what’s the point in doing a free gig in a strange little venue and then just getting up and going through the motions?”
As you will soon discover, The Cribs are not ones to follow the easy path or bow to expectations. Built on fastidiously punk foundations, the band are in possession of a healthy (or possibly fatal) sense of adventure and discovery, both musically and personally – an attribute that has no doubt fuelled their current dalliance with success, but one that also keeps them from settling into complacency.
“Even if not for t’crowd, then just for yourself, it’s good to have the chance to get out there and do something different,” Ryan says as the minibus pulls away from the Brudenell, where something very different has indeed taken place…
Leeds Town Hall, 2:30pm
Backstage at the Town Hall, and the slingshot is out again. Non-birthday boy Ross – three years his brothers’ junior – has quickly made the acquaintance of the fruit bowl on the band’s rider, and decided that things must fly.
His contribution to the interview pretty much limited to the atomising of vitamin C – namely the slingshot disintegration of satsuma and kiwi fruit against the adjacent wall – the affable Ross’s role seems a peripheral one. Indeed, the Yin-Yang dynamic of his brothers’ relationship almost demands it.
“I try to convert him and he tries to convert me,” Ryan states of he and his twin’s relationship, which seems to hinge upon some nebulous equilibrium. “But we meet somewhere in the middle. We just have totally different sides to our character.”
“People love to interview Ry,” Gary continues, “because he basically gives people what they want. They’ll get him drunk and portray him how they want him to be. And I happen to think we’re a bit smarter than how people portray us.”
For this writer’s part, much of the tabloid-esque sensationalist nonsense that’s been heaped upon The Cribs entirely misses the point of what the band are truly about. Certainly, their less-than-conservative on-the-road antics are the stuff of rock’n’roll cliché – with Ryan in particular promoting his hedonist credentials with bacchanalian gusto – but within the sphere of the group, a fascinating juxtaposition of personalities is at play. Their conversation will tend to run parallel, with one or the other finishing the other’s sentence. And though the contrast is stark between them – Ryan’s bluff hedonism to Gary’s pensive introspection – their differences seem to align themselves on some unspoken understanding.
“I’m the brash one,” Ryan (under)states in his laconic drawl, “so I’ll write the music, and he’ll write the lyrics, then we’ll both be happy.”
But what of sibling rivalry? Surely a group that consists ENTIRELY of brothers – two of which are twins – makes for an explosive cocktail of bitter recrimination and resentment.
“I love the fact that Ry gets all the attention,” Gary laughs, referring to his brother’s elevated status in the girl-getting stakes. “I don’t think we have a rivalry, really.” Ryan continues: “We’ve got this good gang mentality going – it feels like we’re best mates.”
Having spent some time in the Jarman sandwich of Ryan and Gary (with a side order of Ross and his exploding fruit), it seems increasingly apparent any struggle or conflict that exists within the parameters of The Cribs’ family circle is one that focuses it energies externally.
A tangible element to their latest album, The New Fellas, seems to be one of gentle recrimination, with songs like Hey Scenesters! jabbing a collective finger at the trend-following indie dullards whose cool credentials consist primarily of standing very still in clubs and pouting.
“You’d have all these people dancing at the gig, and then all these other people standing by the side of smirkin’ at ‘em,” Gary says, his expression betraying more than a measure of contempt. “I mean, it’s like being back in the schoolyard again.”
“It gave us a good excuse to write a song so I can at least feel like I’m shouting at ‘em onstage,” Ryan beams.
Though in no way isolationists, you get the impression that, when it comes to their creative sphere, The Cribs are a closed circle. In possession of a gang mentality that is fiercely determined but not belligerent, focused but not blinkered, the brothers Jarman produce brilliant punk-pop that is both insular and all-encompassing. On paper, they look like a recipe for disaster – polar opposite twins with a younger brother ensconced somewhere in between – but a shared sense of purpose seems to provide the adhesive that amalgamates the sum of their parts.
“Because we grew up together, it still feels like we’ve got that outsider mentality,” Ryan shrugs. “It’s just us as brothers. We don’t want to ally ourselves with anyone too closely…”
A notion made all the more apparent in the coat of arms that adorns the album’s inner sleeve – ostensibly the actual Jarman family crest, which bears the inscription: ‘ne ab oriente ab occidente’ – ‘not from the east nor the west’.
“I think that works really well – it sounds like we don’t align ourselves with anyone else,” Ryan says, smiling, after which his brother, with typical twin-like timing, appends the sentiment: “And we don’t.”
*The Cribs are on tour now. For more information on The Cribs, visit www.thecribs.com
**This article was originally published in The Fly magazine in November 2005.