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  • Steve Lamacq
  • 11 Mar 09, 04:00 PM

Sheffield, Sunday night, and the sky over the Peaks resembles the dark skies over the Dales in Channel 4's version of David Peace's Red Riding trilogy. Standing in the dimly lit street which houses The Leadmill - the city's most famous indie venue - it actually feels like you could be back in the '70s. I scan the road up to the traffic lights looking for Ford Cortinas and Triumph Heralds to emerge through the drizzle.

Inside The Stock Room, which lurks next door to The Leadmill, it's a different story. Twenty years ago, when it was a down at heel pub, we used to come here on Sunday mornings to drink away our hangovers en route to the train station and the return trip to London. It was a desperate place. Swapping stories of the gig the night before - legendary Leadmill shows we'd be reviewing for NME - we looked like death and drank cheap cider.

Tonight though, this IS the gig! Since it's reinvention as the Stock Room, the once nicotine-stained bars have been transformed into one cosy room which tonight plays host to The Crookes - who are the reason we're here.

The Crookes are thoroughly Sheffield (they are even named after the part of Sheffield where they live). Drawn here by university, they have found a spiritual home (it has a kitchen sink at one end and a view of the hills at the other). Crookes are young, faintly dashing and fresh of face. Judging by tonight's initially nervous set, they also have no fear.

At one point they even unplug their instruments and step forward into the no-man's land between the 'stage' and the audience and perform an acoustic song capable of melting steel.

They suggest, at various points, images of The Smiths and Larrikin Love, early Orange Juice and historically, as I attempt to explain to them later, long-lost Sheffield popsters Treebound Story. (Another memory: the first time I came to Sheffield in the '80s I saw TS, Richard Hawley's first band, at a place called The Limit wrapped up in quiffs and Johnny Marr guitar lines).

The Crookes are more fragile though. So much so that you'd like to cosset them away for six months in a rehearsal room before laying them before the critics. But they have ambition and flare and a singer with a beautiful voice; one of those special, poetic voices which dips and soars above their jangling guitars.

They experiment with harmonicas and banjos and toy guitars and smile the smile of an unsullied group still finding their niche with thrillingly romantic songs like Backstreet Lovers and Two Drifters.

You wouldn't want to have to follow them, which is precisely what Little Glitches point out when they start their set. Me, I didn't even know LG were on the bill till I arrived, but they present a great foil to Crookes' winsome pop jamboree.

I don't think I've seen four blokes - which is what they are - so relaxed and engaging for ages. There is no image, no agenda and no pigeonhole (even trying to squeeze them into a box with Elbow or The Bees would be fruitless). But there are some gorgeous guitar-lines and great harmonies; some shuffly drums and roving bass movements. And halfway through their set, it strikes me that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else on my week off but here in a Sheffield bar - at a FREE gig - on a Sunday evening in the company of people enjoying their music THIS much.

In the end though, we have to leave during Muscle Club's efficiently post-nu-rave indie rock onslaught and head back into the wind and the drizzle. Inspired by vodka and pop music. It feels really good.


THE CROOKES - Backstreet Lovers (demo)
DEPECHE MODE - Sounds Of the Universe LP (Mute)
THE NEAT - Counteract (demo)
NEW MODEL ARMY - Vengeance (snapped up in a second hand shop in Sheffield)
IT'S A BUFFALO - Seaslide (Akoustic Anarchy single)


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