words: Nick Boldock
pics: Phillip Rhodes
December 2004 - January 2005
I arrive at a tiny flat on the Avenues to find both members of CrackTown ensconced in front of the television, watching Harry Hill’s TV Burp. They seem reluctant to turn it off so we all watch the remainder of the programme, in near silence, save for the occasional eruption of laughter from one or the other of the boys.
CrackTown are King Rat (guitar/vocals) and Silver Fox (a.k.a. Foxy - harmonica/vocals). Both of them are distinctive figures - Silver Fox is rarely seen without his trademark top hat (or occasionally a Stetson) and King Rat seems only ever to wear German army shirts. Both of them are in possession of a razor-sharp wit, particularly the Silver Fox, who is lethally articulate and never short of an opinion on just about anything you care to talk about. Relatively speaking, King Rat is the quiet one, at least when he isn’t on stage. Together they make a formidable double-act with an obvious chemistry.
They met almost by chance, two years ago, at an open mic night in The George pub in Hull’s town centre.
“I was working with a guitarist, and the Rat used to have an adoring crowd of hangers-on,” explains Foxy.
King Rat’s having none of it. “I didn’t even know ‘em, man! You assumed I was a big shot but I wasn’t.”
“You looked like a bigger shot than you actually were,” says Foxy, “As did I, ‘cause I was working with a tiny hunchback, who swore a lot.”
As legend would have it, The George landlady Nicky (“with a bit of Cilla Black magic,” as King Rat puts it) suggested the two of them jam together.
“We practiced [folk standard] I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow together, at the bar, half-cut, and that was the very first song we had. Nicky sees herself as the mother of CrackTown. And look how her bastard has prospered!”
Indeed. Their debut, self-produced album “Songs In The Key Of Fuck Off” (on which Man Of Constant Sorrow appears) has now sold around 200 copies. Not that the band has seen any financial rewards. “We don’t really hope to make much money out of the records, and indeed we don’t - it more or less gets ploughed back into buying more CDs and cases, and into the printing costs.”
“In fact I’ve made fuck all,” King Rat says bluntly.
The album is a fine showcase of CrackTown’s talents - as musicians and songwriters, they are both superlatively proficient - yet the production, as the band are first to admit, is not what it could be.
“It was recorded under very primitive conditions,” says Foxy, “Upstairs in a pub, with the window slightly open. None of us noticed at the time! And yet funnily enough there are four people credited with the production, mixing and engineering.”
The first track on the album, “Charlton Heston”, a satirical sideswipe at the “gun-toting, bible-quoting, multi-millionaire” actor, was the first original song that King Rat and the Silver Fox wrote together. It sets the tone for their intriguing hybrid of folk/blues/country and also for their tongue-in-cheek approach - yes, they do provide some quality laughs, but to pigeonhole them as a comedy act would be to do them a grave disservice. The “comedy” tag is something that will inevitably stick to CrackTown like a superglued Elastoplast, and although they admit that it does sometimes irk them, they are on the whole, unconcerned.
“People who pay attention will realise there are points being made,” says Foxy. “We get as many people saying ‘you make some serious points’ as we get people just saying ‘you’re fucking funny’. I think it’s important to do both.”
“You’ve got to entertain, haven’t you?” adds King Rat, “Not just be protesting all the time.”
Foxy continues, “Some people will see us as a comedy act, some people won’t, and… we’re not really interested in what thick people think. If they wanna laugh their asses off and still give us six quid for the album they don’t understand, we’re not bothered.”
Not everyone is quite so amused by CrackTown’s sense of humour though - after recently supporting Attila The Stockbroker (subsequently dubbed “Attila The Cocksmoker” by Foxy) for the second time, the Brighton-based punk-poet gave them the cold shoulder after reportedly being unamused by a typically irreverent joke about John Peel which the Silver Fox had cracked onstage. The singer is unrepentant:
“We just wanted to cut through some of the cloying sentimental shit that was being spouted by people that never met him, just desperate to be part of some tragedy, like the Princess Diana cretins.”
For a band who, on the face of things, appear to nurture a healthy couldn’t-give-a-toss attitude, they are surprisingly ambitious. Already they’ve appeared on Radio Humberside’s Raw Talent, with which they were unimpressed (“We just gibbered like monkeys. They didn’t really ask us anything,”) and, most notably, performed with Kimya Dawson (of New York anti-folk nutters The Moldy Peaches). “She was wonderful, radiant, warm and taught us to love again,” Foxy enthuses. “I wonder what she’s going to teach us when she comes back next year? Possibly the power of flight.”
Another notable performance was when they played at a showcase gig organised by the Artists Against Success record label. “It was one of the best nights we’ve ever had I think,” says Foxy. “We were contiguous with the rest of the acts - we weren’t sticking out like a sore and rather tiresome novelty thumb. And also, they were as good as us… and that’s very rare! It’s one of the only times we haven’t thought we’ve pissed all over everything else on the bill.”
At the gig, Foxy and King Rat gave a copy of “Songs In The Key Of Fuck Off” to Artists Against Success. The label is currently “looking into it”. A niche label such as Artists Against Success would seem to be the perfect home for a band like CrackTown. They recognise that their music is of “to say the least, minority appeal” and they are realistic about it - they have their heads screwed on.
“We’re never gonna be on Top Of The Pops. But if the African drumming band pulls out one week on Later With Joolz Holland we might be in with a chance!”
This brings about a rather bizarre conversation about Joolz Holland’s “mad midget fingers” and “mad midget voice”. “Yet he’s not actually a midget!” says Foxy - “What’s that all about? Maybe one of his parents is a midget.”
At this point (actually shortly after, but it’s a minor detail) we are interrupted by the sudden arrival of “Monkey Boy”, Foxy’s flatmate and sometime CrackTown accomplice. He clatters into the living room, apparently oblivious to the fact that he has stumbled into the middle of an interview, and then opens a pair of cupboard doors which are built into the wall, before announcing that the cupboard is in fact his bedroom.
“Yeah,” Foxy confirms, “Monkey Boy lives in the… er… cupboard. We used to have fairy lights set up in there as well. It was like a little grotto.”
He’s not joking. Monkey Boy does indeed live in the cupboard. It seems fitting, as (it turns out) he is clearly two strings short of a banjo and probably couldn’t be trusted to sleep in a room with a window. Inviting himself into the interview - and stealing the show to boot - Monkey Boy proceeds to tell us an utterly obscene (and absolutely unprintable) anecdote about the questionable personal hygiene of an ex-girlfriend of his, and then follows it up with a tale about a local musician which is so massively slanderous that not a syllable of it can be repeated here. Trust me, you don’t want to know (well, you probably do, but it isn’t worth being sued into another solar system).
Monkey Boy isn’t just CrackTown’s court jester. He was also one of the writers and performers at last year’s “CrackTown Christmas Cracker” at The Lamp. “He played the three Christmas ghosts,” explains The Fox.
“And got absolutely arseholed,” adds Monkey Boy.
The Christmas Cracker was a loosely organised night of music, comedy, games and all manner of festive goings-on, complete with crackers and mince pies. It was a massive success, so much so that the boys have arranged another event this year. Taking place on December 22nd, the venue is once again The Lamp.
“It will be the same multimedia experience of film, games, prizes - all sorts of japes and merriment. It should, if last year’s is anything to go by, be a thing of beauty.”
This year’s line-up will include acoustic sets from The Favours, Bod from Fonda 500, Jenny Bromley (King Rat’s partner, an equally talented musician), and of course, CrackTown themselves. The quality of the line-up is perhaps an indicator of CrackTown’s pulling power these days.
I ask the boys what they make of the local music scene.
“To be honest we’re not really involved in it,” says Foxy.
“It’s like two scenes, isn’t it? The band scene and the acoustic scene,” offers King Rat.
Foxy agrees. “Everybody knows about The Bonnits and The Paddingtons, etcetera. Everybody apart from me, who clearly can’t stand any of them. Then there’s the likes of Fonda 500, the sort of mainstream, indie music scene. And then there’s people like us, and I guess Emma Rugg, although she’s more famous than us. She’s been on television. Why can’t we be on television?”
He pauses momentarily. “We don’t really hang round with many other musicians, do we?”
“Well we basically hate them, don’t we?” says King Rat.
“And they hate us.”
One local band (who, out of good grace, shall remain nameless) once made an unsuccessful bid to recruit King Rat into their ranks. The Silver Fox remains resentful.
“They tried to recruit the King Rat - a far superior songwriter to them - as their bass player, which is kind of comparable to getting a brain surgeon to spend the rest of his career docking dog’s tails.”
King Rat is touched by Foxy’s compliments. “Awww. Thanks mate!”
Monkey Boy is not quite so sentimental: “Shall we leave the room so you can suck his cock?”
“Funnily enough,” says Foxy, “That was something we had penciled in for the Christmas special!”
Once the Christmas special is out of the way, 2005 looks like being another busy year for CrackTown.
“We are planning to go to America next year. We’ve played with a lot of the New York anti-folk acts. They’ve said that we should go over there and we are keeping in contact with them through the medium of the electronic mail. And we do plan to go.”
A second album is underway, with one track already recorded. “Already we’ve got a much better sound than we have on the first album,” Foxy promises.
A website is also promised for the New Year, as the band are one of the few not to have an online presence. As well as the usual content of news, gig dates and music downloads, it will feature a regular comic strip (“Meanwhile In CrackTown”) starring the King Rat and Silver Fox cartoon characters, who appear on the “Songs…” CD packaging.
Strangest of all is their planned sitcom. King Rat explains:
“We do a little sitcom thing involving Vincent Price and Elvis Presley living in a mansion together. They fake their own deaths. Damn It, Presley, it’ll be called.”
They also express a desire to visit Japan. “Apparently there is a big acoustic scene in Japan. So we’d love to go there. You know how fanatical they are about a band they like. We can just see loads of little Japanese guys in German army shirts and top hats.”
“I’m gonna buy a hundred of these,” - King Rat points to his shirt - “for like, seventy-five pence each, sell ‘em for about ten quid over there. Simple.”