Biggest Article Yet?

The IndependentSomeone run out and buy a copy and pleeease tell me this is in the actual paper, beacause UK newspaper The Independent’s online site has just about the biggest Crimea article I’ve ever read. Not only that, but it’s bloody good too. Unlike every other Crimea related article I’ve read over the past few weeks, there’s little mention of the new album and mainly concentrates on the band’s trip to China and ensuing food based madness; Davey really should pay more attention to those HSBC adverts. Unlike the Guardian article, this one does include a link to the band’s official website so hopefully there’ll be plenty of new fans heading that way soon. There’s also a quick mention of a pretty interesting development band wise, but you’ll have to read the article to find out ;) .

Back to
the album, but this time focusing on the amount of downloads and press interest in the thing, ICWales have another pretty big article on their website with a bit of history on the band too.

Bringing us all back to earth is the No Rock And Roll Fun blog who question the uniqueness of a free music offering. But they get my reward for best Crimea album article title so far.

And here’s another copy of the Guardian article, this time appearing in the Hindu Times, apparently the world’s biggest Hindu Language newspaper. Although on the site it’s in English, I think it may well have been in the actual newspaper a couple weeks ago.

The Crimea: A big noise in Beijing

Why are London indies The Crimea trying to conquer the East, when they haven’t yet conquered the West

In a rudimentary restaurant shack in a Beijing back street, the five members of The Crimea are huddled around uneven tables, methodically making their way through a variety of local delicacies that emerge, one by one, from a blackened, cupboard-sized kitchen. There’s chicken, pork and beef, bowls overflowing with fins and broth, and a plate of unidentifiable green things laced with red chilli, whose fire will rage through five sensitive stomachs during the live performance, an hour later, next door at the Mao Livehouse, in front of a small but enthusiastic audience. For over 90 minutes, the food just keeps on coming, a never-ending conga line of the boiled, grilled and roasted.

“We played a show on the other side of town the other day,” the band’s drummer Owen Hopkin begins, “for these government dignitaries. Not our usual crowd. Afterwards, they laid on a massive spread for us just like this. The more we ate, the more they brought out.”

“Apparently,” continues the singer Davey MacManus, “when you’ve had your fill, you’re supposed to leave a little on your plate to show you’ve had enough. If you keep on eating – like we were doing, largely to be polite – then the food keeps on coming. The host cannot be seen to underfeed the guest. We were,” he groans, “very full, but it’s one way to learn about the customs, I suppose.”

The Crimea are here, in China’s capital city, to play a week’s worth of concerts for the benefit of a new generation of Chinese youth now ripe and ready, at last, for a little Western art and culture. Hopkin, who also acts as the group’s tour manager and general fixer, has been planning the trip for six months, in close liaison with the Association of Independent Music in the UK, and the Chinese government itself. Letters have been written, forms filled, and music presented for diplomatic approval, before visas were finally issued, and passports stamped. Very few Western acts have preceded the group, among them Wham! back in the 1980s and, more recently, The Rolling Stones, Westlife and Maximo Park. Quite why a ragged bunch of London indie misfits have aspirations to conquer the East, when, let’s face it, they haven’t yet conquered the West, is a pertinent question, but then, The Crimea have always dreamt big.

“We were having a spate of good ideas last year, and China was one of them,” Hopkin explains. “Our logic was simple: if we could be big in China, then it would be big on a scope even The Beatles couldn’t have imagined, if only because China is potentially the biggest market in the world. In theory, we could reach a billion people here…”

In reality, The Crimea have reached approximately 35,000 people to date, if we are to judge by previous record sales. They’ve had an interesting, if frustrated, career to date: championed by the likes of Travis and Snow Patrol, signed to WEA with the chief aim of becoming Big In America, and much praised by the late John Peel. But after the UK sales of 2005′s Tragedy Rocks album was deemed insufficient by the label, the band were dropped. While four of the five band members went reluctantly back to their day jobs – temping, PR, journalism, guitar tuition – the frontman Davey MacManus kept the by now match-sized flame alive, retreating to his Camden flatshare to write what would become the band’s second album, Secrets of the Witching Hour, while signing on every second Tuesday. When the recording was completed, they decided not to seek another label deal but rather to go it alone. This represents the other good idea in Hopkin’s aforementioned “spate”.

“We decided to give the album away free online,” he says, proudly. “Why? Well, we could have signed to an indie label in the hope of selling a few thousand copies, I suppose, but we want to reach a larger audience, and the internet is the biggest distribution network in the world. By going down this more radical route, we had the possibility of reaching that larger audience.”

Free downloads, though, would hardly fill the band’s meagre coffers – they readily admit to being paupers, and MacManus, who has never been able to afford a car, still travels everywhere by skateboard, and he’s 30 – but, as Hopkin reasons, “the more people who get to hear about us, the bigger our tours will become and the more merchandise we’ll be able to shift. It’s the knock-on effects of our potential online popularity that we hope will make us solvent.” His follow-through grin turns into a grimace. “We could do with being solvent.”

They aren’t, of course, the first band to give away free music on the net. In the past couple of years, both Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen have kickstarted their careers by making demos and individual songs available on the web, but The Crimea are the first established act to give away an entire album’s worth of material. Right now, at 10pm and 8,000 miles away from home, they have little idea what, if any, impact this philanthropic enterprise will have. “Who knows?” says MacManus. “Fortunes can change overnight sometimes, can’t they?”

His words prove rather prescient, for just over 12 hours later, as they wake up to another bright Chinese morning, Hopkin’s mobile is bursting with text messages and voicemails. Back home in the UK, word of their free download offer has unexpectedly hit the headlines. Channel 4 News wants to interview them, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal are showing interest, and major record labels the world over are watching, with mounting disquiet, their trailblazing DIY approach.

Suddenly, The Crimea look like they are about to happen. And not for the first time, either. Formed from the ashes of MacManus and Hopkin’s former band, the folk-punk outfit The Crocketts, the five- piece – which also features Andy Norton (guitarist), Joseph Udwin (bassist) and Andrew Stafford (keyboardist) – were signed to Warner in America after an impressive showing at Texas’s South by Southwest Festival in 2002, and were promptly relocated to Oxford, Mississippi, for the recording of Tragedy Rocks. They toured the US several times, but quickly returned home when the 2005 single “Lottery Winners on Acid” gave them their first UK Top 40 hit. But within a year of being back in London, they were dropped, and MacManus – a man whose level of intensity towards his music has cost him several relationships – found himself stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s and wondering what went wrong.

The day job didn’t last because, with MacManus, they rarely do (he was once, briefly, a streetsweeper), and he threw himself into the writing of Secrets of the Witching Hour with something akin to obsession. For him, this was his last gasp at proving his worth, and so he created an album tackling big themes with a musical bravado – imagine Mercury Rev given Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound treatment – to match.

“I just felt that I had something to communicate here, you know?” he says, in his throaty Irish burr. It is late afternoon when we meet again, in the full heat of a Beijing afternoon, and the band is backstage at the Midi Festival. Midi is now in its seventh year, a smaller Glastonbury but without the drugs, and with a reliance, instead, upon heavy-metal appreciation. Its dream booking would be Iron Maiden. For now, it makes do with, among others, the underwhelming Danish punk act Rock Hard Power Spray, and local rockers The Tumbleweeds. Ten thousand people will attend over the festival’s four days, the vast majority opting to sleep in nearby hotels rather than camp in the manner of unkempt Westerners. There is little evidence of alcohol abuse, and the moshpits are awfully friendly.

MacManus, seated opposite some food stalls that unleash pungent smells, squints in the unforgiving sun, his bubble-gum lips framing a mouth’s-worth of crooked teeth, the upper-left central proudly missing. “I’m not trying to be Jesus with this record,” he grins, “but I am addressing the world with it, and railing against the world and its problems. The songs are about life – life and death and what comes after. These are universal themes, with universal appeal, hopefully.”

At 6pm, the band take to the stage, and the singer throws himself, literally, into his performance. Though he has been strongly advised by officials not to interact with the audience in his usual manner, MacManus promptly stagedives into the mêlée, and while he is immediately welcomed by a crowd that collectively holds him aloft, the festival’s security exact a swift punishment and manhandle him back on to the stage with a brute force that will leave bruises. The scuffle serves only to make him more wired still, and for the remainder of the 40-minute set, he vibrates like Ian Curtis by way of Michael Stipe, his eyes bright pink, his squishy lips mumbling frenzied private incantations.

It’s a riveting performance, and afterwards I ask one of the crowd, Xi Yan, a 22-year-old who has travelled from his small village in the north of the country to be here, how he rates the performance. “Yes,” he says, confidently, nodding. “I think they are good and that they make me feel relax and calm, but I am preferring your Iron Maiden, no?”

Backstage, the band themselves have mixed feelings about the performance, and a tender MacManus is still visibly shaken. After a quick interview with an online magazine, we cart their equipment through the festival site to the exit, where we flag down three taxis to ferry us to the next venue, an hour across town. In the careful packing of guitars and drum cymbals into car boots, someone neglects to pack the biggest instruments of all, a massive keyboard on loan from a local musician.

As we speed away, it is left behind on the pavement, its absence only noted upon our arrival, which prompts much strife, and sends the keyboardist Andrew Stafford stalking off in search of a soothing massage. He returns much later to the news that it has been found, safe and well. “Thank Christ,” he mutters.

It’s now long gone midnight at this venue called Get Lucky, which, tonight at least, is optimistically named. There is hardly anybody here to see The Crimea, perhaps 25 people in total, but the band are perfectly capable of creating their own atmosphere to fill any void. MacManus, making sticky work of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je t’aime moi non plus” halfway through the set, is as hypnotic here as he was at the festival, an intense man who comes kinetically alive when presented with a microphone.

The Crimea may not yet have converted great swaths of the Chinese population, but afterwards, Hopkin confirms that the band have taken one significant step towards that goal, and will soon sign to one of the country’s biggest emergent record labels. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, their small British fanbase is growing exponentially as a result of the free album offer. In the space of just five days, 15,000 people have downloaded it. Rarely moved to make public displays of euphoria, Hopkin permits himself a modest smile. “Maybe we’re on to something…” he says.

‘Secrets of the Witching Hour’ can be downloaded free of charge from

The Crimea’s UK tour begins tomorrow in Primrose Hill, London

Article by Nick Duerden for The Independent, 11/05/07.

Charge of the download brigade hits Crimea

WHEN Welsh band Crimea announced they would be giving their second album away for free they expected some interest, but even they have been overwhelmed.

In just two days 12,000 copies of their self-financed album Secrets of the Witching Hour have been downloaded.

It is no small feat for the band who believe they would have sold a couple of 1,000 copies if they had released the album to buy.

Since last week the story has been picked up by The Guardian, The Sun and Radio 2.

Drummer Owen Hopkin said, “We sort of knew things were kicking off when the Wall Street Journal and Radio 2 we ringing us out in China.

“The reaction to the news story has been phenomenal. We are really glad that people seem supportive of us.”

Welshman Hopkin and the rest of the band knew that they were doing something novel by being the first band to release a whole album for free, but they were interested in what it would do for them as a band.

Hopkin and singer Davey MacManus met at Aberystwyth university and with some others formed The Crockets. They got signed to V2, released two albums and then stuck together when the band got dropped. When the pair moved to London they started Crimea and were signed to Warner Brothers in the States.

They released their first album Tragedy Rocks and sold 35,000 copies. But they parted ways with Warner Brothers last September and decided to go it alone with their second album.

Hopkin said, “We had just two options, either go down the route of getting signed to an independent label to release the album and probably only sell a few 1,000 copies or do it this way and have the promotional reach of the internet to try and reach more people.

“The internet is the biggest distribution network in the world, so we thought we’d just see what happens.”

Co-produced by Greg Haver the band started to get back on their feet after being dropped and began recording in September.

“I think it is a natural progression,” says Hopkin of their second album.

“It is full of good, multi-layered pop songs with Davey’s take on love and life.”

The album wasn’t due to be released until May 13, but with the growing interest and publicity the band decided to make it available immediately.

Hopkin said, “We had 12,000 downloads in two days which has taken us all aback really. For the first couple of hours we were checking it every five minutes and it kept going up by 30-50 downloads.”

The band has just finished a seven-gig stint in China, including the country’s biggest rock festival, before they will head over to the UK for a short tour.

To download the album visit The band play Narberth Hall, Narberth on, May 26 and Central Station, Wrexham on May 31.

Article by Claire Hill for the Western Mail, 07/05/07.

Crimea giver

They’re trying to suggest it’s the dawn of a whole new model for the music industry, and so it may prove, but for now, Crimea’s plan to give away its next album for free sounds slightly less than dawn of a new era and more of a stunt.

The idea is to reach “as many people as possible”, says drummer Owen Hopkin, with those people, once enslaved, forming a hardcore of gig-going, t-shirt-buying, somehow-persuading-businesses-to-licence-music-ing fans:

“We want to harness the power of the internet. If it’s on there for free we’ll reach more people than the orthodox route of selling the record.”

Well, perhaps. Although it doesn’t automatically follow – after all, there are hundreds and hundreds of servers full of free music which remains untouched.

What’s different with Crimea, though, is they have made the Top 40 under their own steam (or rather, that of Warners). The new approach is a novel way to try and get round having been dropped; its success will depend to a large extent on how much money the band is hoping to make with its music. But before anyone has downloaded a single free track, they’ve managed to generate a shedload of free publicity.

Article by Simon H B for No Rock And Roll Fun, 30/04/07.

Added to the Mags / Papers, Releases, The Crimea category/s. Follow responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Biggest Article Yet?”

  1. Denyer says:

    “when you’ve had your fill, you’re supposed to leave a little on your plate to show you’ve had enough. If you keep on eating – like we were doing, largely to be polite – then the food keeps on coming.”

    Yup. Same in Japan, IIRC.

    “In the past couple of years, both Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen have kickstarted their careers by making demos and individual songs available on the web, but The Crimea are the first established act to give away an entire album’s worth of material.”

    Possibly in the UK. Harvey Danger did it a couple of years ago, and they’re established enough to make it onto movie soundtracks.

    Other than that, great read. Hope the international deal/distribution works out. :)

  2. Christopher says:

    >> Yup. Same in Japan, IIRC.

    oh i forgot to make a joke about the hsbc ad there :( must fix that :p

Leave a Reply