Lyrically observant, sonically harmonized and quintessentially British; Orphan Boy are back and have adopted an approach to music that now rightly deserves worldwide acclaim. Following a hiatus of four years, and the brilliant single ‘Beats Like Distant Tides’, the band are set to release their third album on May 25th.
Coastal Tones can only be described as a triumphantly soaring return, and finds Orphan Boy well placed within a musical family of The Smiths, The Jam and John Cooper Clarke. The album is a picturesque rain drenched journey through the band’s coastal hometown of Cleethorpes, which, according to lead singer-guitarist Rob Cross, is “not as nostalgic and exciting as it sounds in our lyrics.”
Here’s what else he had to say, while restoring my faith in bands making music for all the right reasons…
So, tell us about the new album Coastal Tones.
Well, Coastal Tones is the name of the album because the songs were all written after we all moved back to our hometown of Cleethorpes. There is a coastal flavour to the album. In 2010 we moved back to our hometown after living in Manchester – We made two albums whilst living there and the band then went on a hiatus for a couple of years. After moving back to Cleethorpes we started rehearsing again and came up with new songs and that is where the Coastal Tones as an album came from.
How does the new album differ from the first two albums that Orphan Boy put out?
Well the first album was like a lot of first albums really. It was quite derivative and it sounded like all our favourite bands – which were The Clash, The Pixies and the Gang of Four. On hearing the first album you can hear the influence behind each song. These days I am not as obsessed with bands as I used to be, I am more into making music, so there’s not a strong an influence, it’s more like our own organic sound and it’s what comes out of us in a rehearsal room. I am really happy about the fact that the new album doesn’t sound like any particular band, it just sounds like us – that’s a bit of a cliché but I really mean that.
For me personally, the first thing that drew me to Orphan Boy was your lyrics. I was instantly reminded of Morrissey and John Cooper Clarke’s view and influence of Manchester in their lyrics. How do you think your hometown shaped you personally and were you happy there?
Originally, no I wasn’t happy there. As everyone usually wants to get away from the place they grew up because they get sick of it and that was the case with us. Now I am a different person, I’ve got kids and other things going on and I have completely mellowed out as a person and I can appreciate it in a way I never could before. I think people from Grimsby…There’s not a lot of ambition here, which sounds like a sad thing to say, people don’t have the same attitude to music. In Manchester people have the attitude of I wanna form the best band in the world and there’s a self-confidence – I don’t think people have that in Grimsby. When we formed a band, we just wanted to kind of get out of Grimsby and get into the margins of the music industry and see what it was all about. I think people in Grimsby are quite humble and are not afraid to take the piss out of themselves in a modest way which is what I like about the place.
So, tell us about your live gigs and for anyone that has not seen the band live, what can they expect?
(Laughs) The gigs are crazy…People always go mental. Whether there’s ten people or 250 the crowd always get very lively. And I also think, that as we have been around a very long time there’s so many videos and singles out there that lots of people know the songs, which when you normally watch an unsigned band people may not know the songs. So, the crowd tend to stand there drinking a pint. Whereas with our gigs people have got to know the songs over the years and I think there’s something in our music that just flicks a switch in people. There’s always things like mic’s breaking and people jumping about on stage despite me liking to be as professional as possible (laughs).
On the subject of gigs. I have to ask you about your old tour bus, which I believe was an old Ford Fiesta. How did you manage the travelling in such a small car?
Yeah, we never had any money and I’d look at these other bands that had big white vans full of Marshall cabinets and I’m thinking, how do you manage to do that. We’ve always just had 9-5 jobs and we’d travel to Scotland in the Fiesta with a drum kit wedged in and things like that. When we were a three piece it was a lot to do that but when we became a four piece with more instruments we travel in more than one car or we hire a van. It’s not quite as romantic as it issued to be.
So, you haven’t upgraded to a stretch Fiesta then?
(Laughs) No not yet. Not even a Ford Escort yet. I’m sat in a Citroen Saxo, so we are still at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to automobiles.
What current bands are you listening to?
I really like King Cruel, Future Islands, I like Jaws, A new band called Clay, who we are gigging with in Scunthorpe in a couple of weeks. I like a lot of unsigned music as well, stuff that I hear when touring and browsing online.
Do you think the internet has helped Orphan Boy in terms of getting heard?
I think it’s loads easier for bands these days. The “Digital Revolution” means that bands can make music in their bedrooms and put it out there. The past you had to get a record deal to be heard. The only downside is there is so much more music around that you have to wade through so much more to find something good. The internet makes it easier to be a band but harder to be fan.
Lets go back. What was the first record you ever bought?
I was probably about 11 or 12 and something like 2-Unlimted. (We both laugh at this admission).
The first proper record was ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis. Which in a way is a bit of a cliché. I think Oasis were a great band for a lot of people at the time as they got a lot of people into playing guitars again.
Yeah, I have to agree. I think Oasis and Britpop in general got a lot of people forming guitar bands again.
I agree. Oasis songs were all about chords and the chords are simple. So they were a great band to play along with and learn. They had a really good influence on a lot of people.
Oasis were a great gateway for a lot of young music fans. You’d hear Oasis and then you’d check out The Stone Roses and The Beatles and The Who and then you kind of work your way through that network of bands with Oasis as a starter point
Do you miss buying vinyl as I was having a conversation last week lamenting the loss album covers and the anticipation it built up reading all the lyrics etc?
Yeah, it was much more of an experience buying a physical album. Now it’s just a load of ones and zeros floating around in cyberspace. Our new album is probably our best album as a whole. I think on previous albums the singles were the strong points but this actual body of work is our best so far – It’s one that we want people to sit down and listen to. It seems it’s harder these days to get people to commit to listening to a full album, I think if they do this with our new album it would be a good use of their time.
How was the first single ‘Beats Like Distant Tides’ received?
I think it has been received really well. I can’t remember a single bad review, where as we’ve had lots of bad reviews in the past (Laughs). It also got a decent bit of radio play across the country from XFM, Radio and local radio, so it’s not been bad at all. I think people have been impressed with the change in sound. There’s more of a dance influence in the sound and the music has a bit more of a mood to it, it’s a lot more atmospheric. The current single ‘From The Provinces’ is doing well too, Steve Lamacq played it – we need someone to pick up on it and play it in the daytime really, as that’s when you get most listeners.
The third song ‘Tranpennine’ on the new album is in all honesty is my favourite track of 2015 so far. It really stood out for me. As soon as it started I thought it would be a nice chilled out song and all of a sudden you are off on a journey and it puts you in a place and time that you are portraying with the track. What was the influence on for the track?
Well, I spent a lot of time getting trains to and from Cleethorpes and Manchester. It’s that feeling of arriving back in your hometown around Christmas time. When you come back into Cleethorpes on the last train it takes you past all the factories, the sea wall and the arcades; it’s a desolate kind of view. It’s that feeling of arriving somewhere deserted and then the journey through the town centre and the taxi back to your family home. I think trains are interesting because, you don’t really have much to do on a train except sit and think and look out the window – Trains work well for reflective songs.
Train windows are almost cinematic in what you can see and it’s only short snippets as it moves along.
I used to listen to a lot of my music on trains. It works perfectly. I kind of miss train journeys for that reason. Actually, check out a band called The Loving Memory they have just made a video where they sat on a train and filmed out of the window from a train journey from Cleethorpes to the next station. It must be the cheapest video made but it works so well with the song.
So if you were not making music, what would you be doing?
Well, I’m a school teacher now (laughs). So that’s what I am doing. When the second didn’t take off, I had to come back and join the real world and get a proper job as I have two kids as well. So I suppose I am typical of your average struggling musician and working full-time. Hopefully I can combine music and teaching one day by helping people in Grimsby to form bands and making music because there is no infrastructure there for that. There’s more opportunities in inner cities but not in Grimsby, there’s hardly any rehearsal rooms or anything like that. So, I’d like to try and change that later in life.
Actually, didn’t your local football club ask you to record a song for them?
Yeah. Grimsby Town asked us to do it out of the blue and they gave us a tight deadline but we couldn’t turn down our team, it was too good an opportunity. The songs actually gone down really well. It all rests on tomorrows play off final tomorrow really. If they get promoted with our song as the anthem then hopefully everything will come together but we’ve got the better song. (Editor’s note: Despite a very brave performance Grimsby Town lost 5-3 on penalties to Bristol rovers…)
Finally, tell us what is on the horizon for the band?
Well, the album Coastal Tones comes out on 25th May. There will be two more singles. We’ll also be gigging to promote the album and making some videos. We used to gig, whenever and wherever we got the chance but it’s a bit more difficult these days with having work and a family, but we still do as much as we can. Hopefully there will also be some festival appearances next year and who knows? A fourth album would be possible but I think there needs to be success from Coastal Tones to make that happen really. Making an album is a big commitment, along with the process of writing and recording it takes a lot of time and energy, but after the hiatus after the first two albums we felt we had much more music in us that needed to get out there and that we had unfinished business and so that’s what we’ve done with the third album.
Orphan Boy are completed by Paul Smith (bass), Chris Day (drums) and Sam Carlton (keyboards).
Coastal Tones is out on May 25th via Concrete Recordings.
Words: Nick Vivid