"Old Skool" by Crokodile Tears
Tell me: are you "Old Skool"?
Crokodile Tears have been releasing albums now for some 33 years since their eponymous debut when they were known as the more conventionally spelt "Crocodile Tears" (a release which was praised by Jerry Dammers). The constant has of course been singer/songwriter Chris Sidwell (the lineup changes in fact sparked the name tweak when Chris began working with different musicians: the rest of the original lineup being essentially the cult band "Pink Umbrellas").
Nevertheless, the latest album, "Old Skool" which officially opens its term on September 3rd features among Chris' many collaborators former Reluctant Stereotype, Pink Umbrella and long time Primitives producer Paul Sampson who has played with him from that very first album & produced & mixed this one too.
Although principally Chris' baby, Crokodile Tears is also a highly collaborative ensemble. Few tracks feature precisely the same lineup & the different musicians bring a variety of instruments, approaches and sensibilities creating a most eclectic sonic collection as well as you'll hear, superb playing.
Chief current Croks (though this doesn't mean that even they play on every track) are Alf Hardy and Jerry Richards. Both were/are also in Earthlab, Alf is well known for his work at Cabin Studios and Jerry is of course a Hawklord and former member of Hawkwind. Joining them , Chris & Paul, are local musician, producer & broadcaster Keith Fabrique, local legend Sam McNulty (Squad/Giraffes), harmonica player Bryan Lea Bradford, sitarist Chris Cook, violinist Nigel Ward and others too numerous to mention. Tracks are mainly written by Chris, some with Jerry and/or Alf plus a jam co-written by the band with Chris Cook, a cover of the Lennon/McCartney "Norwegian Wood" and Jerry's wonderful ‘Coventry & Western' (as Alf dubbed the style) jig dedicated to renowned Elizabethan necromancer "Dr Dee": a great live favourite.
If the music is eclectic (and it most certainly is: this band defies genre categorisation), the subject matter is even more so. Apart from an instrumental celebrating a long deceased alchemist, the album covers a bewildering array of lyrical targets from the haircut of a national sporting treasure to ecology, astrology, photography and gender stereotyping.
However, if there is a theme (and many Croks albums do possess one), it is about love, the human condition and the passage & perspectives of time. The whole philosophy of the band is to create songs from childhood perspectives or those of adults behaving or thinking in a childish way. This at one level produces a great deal of (gentle & good) humour, but peeling at the layers of the onion in most songs reveals and rewards the listener with deeper messages. Crokodile Tears can never have produced such a beautiful set of album bookends (we are informed that "there are no secret tracks") as "Kids" and the closing "title song" called "Mermaids". Both, in their own way look back to the childhood of their narrator & can make you cry in a way "Bobbie" or "Shirley's In Birmingham" will make you laugh unless you have a heart of stone.
The Croks aim to make each new album their best yet and there can be no doubt that despite the excellence of their previous work, this one is a masterpiece. In a fair world, this album would get the airplay and critical attention its inherent qualities merit. However in the current musical media climate where lyrical sophistication, subtle performances and above all maturity fail to excite those in control of such decisions, one can only hope for someone with wit & discernment in the mainstream to open their ears & listen to it objectively to judge it on its merits. At any event, the local aficionados will appreciate it, buy it & continue to attend their gigs & the local broadcasters & writers with that discernment will carry on appreciating true & enduring quality: you know who they are. If you meet someone who likes Crokodile Tears, you know you've met someone you can respect.
Despite the release date being some weeks away yet, copies of "Old Skool" can already be bought at Temperance in Leamington.
If my review of the forthcoming album has whet your appetite for Crokodile Tears or if you read Paul Englefield's great review of their Magic Lantern gig in the magazine, you can catch them live on the eve of the album release at the Godiva Festival on 2nd September, at the Zephyr Lounge on 29th September for the "Alternative Sounds"/APE Promotions night (with Roddy "Radiation" Byers, Satsangi, Grassroutes, Jackdaw with Crowbar & Mr Binx) and again at the Zephyr Lounge on October 20th for the "Hot Music Live Introducing" night with Clemency, Izzie Derry, Violet & Luna Kiss.
Crokodile tears - Hippies in plain clothes
In the classic rock arena, it's the epic themes that matter, burning casinos, the desperate camaraderie of the battlefield and the countdown to Armageddon. However, in the intimate theatre setting of the Magic Lantern, Crokodile Tears chose to reflect on the small, personal experiences that quietly bring meaning to life. A set rich in vivid imagery and crafted language offered songs exploring topics ranging from saturday girls to egg and chips via 60's guitars, hippies and Dr. John Dee. (Who's he anyway? Look him up, he's probably the most interesting of the Elizabethans.) It was wry, gentle, and sharply observed but always fun and the trio presented their set with a self-deprecating charm that masked a keen musical intelligence.
Although very much about the songs and stories, the 'Crocs' (to their friends enhanced this lyrically detailed material with guitar arrangements rich in texture and rhythmic interest. I was intrigued by the subtle interplay between three guitarists with distinct styles but a clear focus on creating a unified sound with a detailed groove.
The venue, The Magic Lantern, is a cosy cellar theatre in a warren of art-filled rooms below the Temperance coffee shop. It's a magical atmosphere for adventurous gigs with a layout that encourages rapport and banter between performers and music lovers. There's more at http://www.temperance.bar.
You can catch Crokodile Tears at the Alternative Sounds gig on 29th September at the Zephyr Lounge and again at Hot Music Live Introducing on 20th October also at the Zephyr.
"Alternative Sounds" at Coventry Pride 2018 at the CET Popup
In its relatively short lifetime, the former "Coventry Evening Telegraph" building has become a superb & iconic venue with a tremendous momentum over the past months as the local community grew to recognise its power & potential. It has provided space for artwork for a wide range of artists who might not have their work displayed in more mainstream spaces: students, amateurs, the experimental, the transgressive and even world renowned figures such as John Yeadon whose work raises questions that the mainstream struggles to respond to.
In terms of music, the many weird & wonderful spaces have seen performances & gatherings from people like Synthcurious & the Leamington Home Made Music Society, creating incredible blends of sound & vision within the decaying post industrial environment. ATTRITION have been spotted several times in recent weeks shooting stills & video while access is still possible.
As part of the inclusive & imagination vision of the team, on Saturday the 9th June, the building hosted not only elements of Coventry Pride 2018, but as part of that, an event by the "Alternative Sounds" project. Project artists Crokodile Tears, Keith Fabrique & Huffy plus project supporter Dave Kafka (of the Smashed Vinyls) played sets, the writer of this piece introduced them and spoke about the project and tracks from the "Alternative Sounds" records (plus a few unreleased treats) were played.
Among the many great songs played were several from the "Alternative Sounds" records: Crokodile Tears played "Trains" and "Chinese Whispers", Keith played "Inside Looking Out" and Huffy played "Don't Speak Out". Among old favourites and a few covers, Keith showcased his new album (launched next Saturday at the Humber) "Talk on the Radio", Huffy debuted a brand new song "Airwaves" and Crokodile Tears treated us to several tracks from their upcoming (September) release 'Old Skool'
It was good also to see several other "Alternative Sounds" artists giving their support: Ashley Spindler of Prole Position, Nigel Meffen of Skeet and Martin & Kerri Bowes of ATTRITION.
Videos of some of the performances are at:
Many thanks to Alan Denyer, Clare Allington-Dixon & Christopher Sidwell as well as everyone else at the CET Popup, who played & who came along for making this work so well
Hopefully the setup at the CET Building will be able to set up again on a more long term basis at the "Elephant" former sports centre which would be great: the potential for providing a centre for grassroots, creative, experimental and downright alternative arts & music is enormous and can really help foster local talent.
Crokodile Tears News
It is a very busy time for cult local band Crokodile Tears. They are excited to be playing Leamington's newest venue, the Magic Lantern on Friday 10th August as well as the same town's the Zephyr Lounge for the inaugural APE Promotions/Alternative Sounds gig on September 29th. They are working hard on their latest album, "Old Skool" (to be released on Monday 3rd September)and have just advised me of two upcoming gigs.
On 9th June they are playing a 3 pm matinee at the CET popup venue. This will be in conjunction with Coventry Pride but will also have an "Alternative Sounds" feel as they will be joined by fellow AS acts Keith Fabrique & Martin Bowes (of ATTRITION) who will play a solo set. There will be an "Alternative Sounds" flavoured DJ set too.
On 16th June, the band will launch the "Positive Images" Festival at 2pm outside Coventry's Central Library (formerly the Locarno/Tiffany's) and later that evening, the Crokodiles' own Chris Sidwell will be playing at the launch of Keith Fabrique's new album, "Talk on the Radio" at the Humber pub.
Chris Sidwell speaks out & sings too
It will not surprise you, i imagine, to learn that a talk by one of our area's most individual & quirky musical talents would be both highly fascinating & greatly entertaining.
Chris Sidwell, talking as part of the Big Lottery funded "Sounding Off" series to Pete Chambers BEM at Coventry Music Museum, covered the length & breadth of his distinguished career.
From childhood influences such as The Beatles, Syd era Pink Floyd & the theme to "The Big Country", the precocious talent of Chris led him at the ages of 10 to start creating (and taping) musical experiments, mainly of a percussive style rather than his later highly melodic approach, using household cooking utensils & cheese wire (a high risk strategy). With a diversion to learn the "Ode to Joy" on the piano (not an instrument he has played since), he settled on the guitar, which instrument he played in the proto-Indie band The Digital Dinosaurs while teacher training in Birmingham. This group, reviewed in the legendary Coventry fanzine "Alternative Sounds", drew also on a pool of five guitar playing brothers, which a maximum of two at a time appearing with the band at any one time.
On returning to Coventry, Chris put together the iconic Crocodile Tears (both his bands did overlap for a short period), working with the cream of local musicians most of who were Pink Umbrellas, such as Steve Edgson, Paul Sampson, Barry Jones & Robin Hill. Their debut album, if you have it, is worth a bomb on Ebay, especially in the USA.
Growing family commitments & Paul Sampson's many other commitments ate away at this band and Chris continued teaching: a whole range of subjects including Geography & French where he confesses his own knowledge was stretched considerably. He also was convinced by his publisher, the legendary Jon Lord, so stand as a candidate for the Monster Raving Loony Party. (technically he stood as candidate for "Captain Rainbow's Crocodile Tears Monster Raving Alliance" His ingenuous reply to a reporter that his main aim was to promote Crocodile Tears records led ultimately to the cost of candidates' deposits being heavily increased: leaving his mark on British democratic history.
Eventually, Chris (re)formed his band, renaming it (slightly) as Crokodile Tears to reflect that it was a new lineup, with Chris & famed multi-instrumentalist Alf Hardy as the core. His philosophy for this band was to write songs either about children or about adults acting like children.
Pete then took him through the albums they have recorded such as "Dodo-ism" "Go for the Jugular" Gullible's Travels" (a retrospective) "If Hippies Ruled the World" (cited by Pete as "probably their best album" in the ‘Coventry Telegraph') and "Maid in Meriden", all of which Chris outlined in terms of the process of creation & the songs within them. Most are available for sale at the Museum.
I haven't even mentioned yet other fascinating excursions such as the Tears backing Screaming Lord Sutch (his party leader) nor his on-going friendship/song writing partnership with Graham Fellows ("Jilted John" & "John Shuttleworth") whom he brought into the Museum recently and his work with famed Coventry bassplayer/singer Cary Lord (daughter of Jon and formerly with cult band L'Homme de Terre) for Blush.
Chris was kind enough to play two songs: the cult fan favourite "Trains" and the brand new "Kids". The former is being rerecorded with additional harmonies by Chris' grandchildren (which they devised themselves) as part of the upcoming Martin Bowes produced album for Coventry Music Museum: "Alternative Sounds" (which kind of brings the story full circle if you return your eyes to the top of this article). Chris talked us through the genesis of each song: the former about declaring his love to a former girlfriend only to have it drowned out by a passing train at the bottom of her garden, the latter about his "first love".
Photos & film of the session can be found on the Coventry Music Museum's Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/Covmusic/