Last year, un­signed band The Crimea made global head­lines (and beat Ra­dio­head to the punch) when they gave away their new album on­line. It was phe­nom­e­nal, says front­man Davey McManus, but it also would be nice to start mak­ing some money, he tells

Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

S FAR AS Davey McManus and the other mem­bers of The Crimea were con­cerned, it was a very sim­ple idea. They had parted ways with their record la­bel and were about to record a new album. Rather than spend months ne­go­ti­at­ing a new deal with some­one else, the Cam­den-based band de­cided to of­fer the album as a free down­load as soon as it was ready.

The re­sponse to giv­ing away Se­crets of the Witch­ing Hour in May 2007 over­whelmed the band. “The big­gest sur­prise was how global the news story be­came,” says McManus. “We were an un­signed band who spent seven months mak­ing the album on our own. It was hell on earth to make it. Ev­ery song was changed a mil­lion times. We did the whole thing on a shoe­string, so to get the bloody thing done in the first place seemed like a mir­a­cle to me.

“But for it to have such an in­stan­ta­neous ef­fect was just in­cred­i­ble. We spent four-and-ahalf years on Warner Bros and re­leased one album. We fin­ished this and re­leased it the week af­ter. It felt bizarre.”

Those who down­loaded Se­crets of the Witch­ing Hour – and nearly 100,000 peo­ple have done so to date – were treated to ama­jes­tic and dra­matic bunch of truly killer songs, all helmed by a hefty share of strik­ing hooks and cho­ruses.

McManus says they de­cided to give away the album af­ter look­ing at how some of their

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peers had fared af­ter big deals went sour. “We’d seen other bands who re­leased sec­ond or third al­bums with­out a big push from a la­bel and sold maybe 2,000 copies to their fan­base and just died. We just thought we’d do the free thing.”

The de­ci­sion af­fected McManus’s song­writ­ing for the album. “I wanted to make some­thing which any ran­dom per­son could fall in love with, be it a mum or a dad or a rocker or an indie kid, any­one who read about it and down­loaded the album. It made me think about the writ­ing more, the fact that it was go­ing to be for such wide con­sump­tion. Usu­ally, our mu­sic fits into quite a nar­row gap and the songs are kind of down­trod­den. We wanted to make this brighter and more alive.”

The Crimea hoped the re­lease and at­ten­dant pub­lic­ity would mean a step up for the band but, a cou­ple of months on from the re­lease, McManus ad­mits it hasn’t worked out like that.

“To be hon­est, it hasn’t been a ca­reer-defin­ing change for us. The buzz around the re­lease means more peo­ple know about us than be­fore, so that’s great. We did one full UK tour which was sold out, but the venues weren’t a step up in size for us. We’re play­ing gigs where the fee is £800 to £1,000. We’re not at the stage where we’d get £5,000 for a gig where you can make some money.

“We’ve sold 5,000 copies of the album at gigs and that money comes straight back to the band, but we haven’t made a mas­sive amount from other mer­chan­dise. We’re still fi­nanc­ing ev­ery­thing our­selves.”

There were also prob­lems when it came to pro­mot­ing the album. “We found cer­tain things very tough with­out the back­ing of a la­bel, like ra­dio and TV plug­ging for in­stance. If you want to get on the playlist at BBC Ra­dio One, they want to see proof of a re­ally se­ri­ous cam­paign. They want to know how much you’re spend­ing on ad­verts. They want to see it all backed out so they know they’re back­ing a win­ner. I found it re­ally hard to feel like a win­ner or to be con­sid­ered as one with­out the back­ing of a la­bel.”

Yet, for all those draw­backs, McManus says the ex­pe­ri­ence has been pos­i­tive, es­pe­cially when The Crimea play live.

“We put so much ef­fort into this album that to go out and play it live and have peo­ple singing the songs back at you is amaz­ing. Yes, it can be hard when you’re in the Leop­ard in Don­caster and re­alise you played there 10 years ago and you won­der has any­thing changed. You just have to take it on the chin and do the gig.”

The Crimea are now demo­ing their third album and hatch­ing plans for a re­lease. “We’ve had a lot of ap­proaches, so there are a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties,” McManus says. “We’ll ei­ther do it with a very friendly la­bel or it will be free again.”

Af­ter all, ev­ery­one else may be about to copy The Crimea. “I was de­lighted when Ra­dio­head did In Rain­bows be­cause it meant more at­ten­tion for us, as peo­ple kept men­tion­ing us and it felt like val­i­da­tion in a way. But I’m glad we did it first be­cause that was our unique sell­ing point.

“I get in­vited to speak at all th­ese mu­sic busi­ness con­fer­ences about our great idea and I find it very en­ter­tain­ing. There was no great se­cret to it, we just de­cided to give the album away.”

The Crimea: from left, Joe Ud­win, Davey MacManus, Andrew Stafford and Owen Hop­kin

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