Originally published in Uncut’s June 2014 issue (Take 205)
Five excellent albums. An inflammatory speech on the future of rock’n’roll. America for the taking. And now, this month in London, their biggest ever gigs… Has the time come for the ARCTIC MONKEYS to take their place in the rock pantheon? “It feels like a quest, it doesn’t feel like there’s a beginning or end to this thing,” says Alex Turner, as Uncut interviews the band, their collaborators and their heroes to discover the secrets of their success. “I’d put them in the same line as Ray Davies,” says John Cooper Clarke. “It’s their world, but they make it magical.” Story: John Robinson.
Rather than the many songs he had written, for a few days earlier this year Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner was more notorious for 127 words he improvised on the winners’ rostrum at an awards ceremony. His tone – swaggering, cocky – wasn’t to everyone’s taste. But having stormed the citadel, it would be churlish not to have permitted the Arctic Monkeys the moment to raise their flag.
The fine details of his words (“Rock’n’roll… is always waiting round the corner… ready to smash the glass ceiling”) became a news item, were deconstructed, frowned on, seized upon as a call to arms, but largely ignored for what they were: a personal statement of belief. The guitar music favoured by Arctic Monkeys isn’t a genre decision, but a challenging, empowering force, a form whose rules they’ve mastered out of respect: the better to break them and advance the medium’s ineffable spirit. It can change, and mutate, but as Alex Turner put it that night, rock’n’roll “will never die…”
“It’s the feeling that anyone can do it,” says Nick O’Malley, the group’s bassist. “It’s not controlled and polished. It excites me that four friends can grow up in the same village, making some noise in a mate’s garage, and go on to win two Brit Awards.”
That, in essence, has been the Arctic Monkeys’ journey: from the Sheffield suburb of High Green to the centre of the music business establishment. If that journey has been an unexpected one, it has also been one the band have mirrored in their music. Rather than following a predictable route, Arctic Monkeys have for over a decade instead pursued the eccentric and passionate lines of enquiry that have been the lifeblood of rock’n’roll from the very beginning.
The poet John Cooper Clarke has long been an inspiration to Alex Turner, and a version of his composition “I Wanna Be Yours” is the final track on the band’s current album, AM. Like most of us, he watched the Brits ceremony at home.
“I thought his acceptance speech was terrific. I think it was the most lucid thing I’ve ever heard a drunken person say,” says Clarke a few days afterward. “He paraphrased Danny And The Juniors there, didn’t he? ‘Rock’n’roll is here to stay…’
“It was right in 1957,” Clarke adds, “and it’s right now.”