Interview: Orphan Boy

Abbas Ali chats to the lead singer of oft-misunderstood band Orphan Boy, who are hoping for that all-important breakthrough with the release of their second album Passion, Pain and Loyalty.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 15th Jul 2010

Abbas Ali chats to the lead singer of oft-misunderstood band Orphan Boy, who are hoping for that all-important breakthrough with the release of their second album Passion, Pain and Loyalty.

Rob Cross is holding on. The lead singer of the Cleethorpes band is currently in the unglamorous town of nearby Immingham, where he has returned to work in what one suspects is an unglamorous job, to be with his son, while holding onto the great dream of rock n roll. "Ideally you want to be 19 with no commitments"  says the singer. "But that’s life, isn’t it?"

His band Orphan Boy emerged from the small North East town of Cleethorpes in 2005, bringing their brand of working class rock and roll to Manchester a year later. "We came from a dead end seaside town, and I really wanted to get away from it, so when we were in Manchester, it was a fresh start for us, really exciting". 

The band built a steady following in the city’s vibrant scene, one which he is clearly fond of, as he watched it evolve. "A few years you had Twisted Wheel, and Courteeners, which is your laddish, bread and butter type rock n roll," he says of the scene around the time of their debut album, Shop Local.

Released in 2008 to an indifferent reception, Cross was affected by the failure of the record (which he considered a classic) to reach a wider audience beyond Manchester, and felt misunderstood at the way the band were put together with more laddish, vacuous bands of the local scene back then. "I got sick of bands who write about meeting girls in nightclubs", he says of other acts. Meanwhile, contemporary, talented bands like the Whiskey Cats, who he admired and respected as having prodigious talent, weren’t able to translate ability into sales. "I guess I became quite disillusioned after that", he explains,

Cross’s mistrust of the industry politics and scenester bullshit is apparent: it’s in the lyrics of songs like ‘Pop Song’, the lead track from forthcoming sophomore record, Passion, Pain, and Loyalty, out on August 2nd.  Two years later, and forced to move back to his home region, Cross is more circumspect this time, a little wiser to the workings of pluggers, press, airplay, and other aspects of promotion. He says their label, Concrete Records, and its loyal founder Mike, are also better connected.

"The quality of the music doesn’t count for anything, often it's other things," Cross says of the learning curve. "Five percent of a record is actually writing the songs, another twenty percent is driving up and down motorways, and another lot is sending emails", he says of the hard work around the record, which appears to be getting stronger press than its predecessor.

Today’s content-obsessed internet culture may be on a permanent hunt for new bands, but I tell Cross how his story reminds me of Doves, a band backed over many years by Rob Gretton, who bankrolled and nurtured them for a long time before they actually broke through. "I always think it’s better when a band’s got a real story and history to them, and you can see they’ve worked, and chipped away at it."

With promotions for the second record now getting into full swing, a slot playing the BBC Introducing night at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge at the end of this month is certainly a handsome reward for their efforts so far. "I suppose it is a really good gig", says Cross, unsure what to make of the breakthrough. "It’s good to have people like the BBC on your side, and people say we’re better live than on record", he muses. While it’s unclear whether or not the long-awaited success for the three-piece will come, one hopes this time around Orphan Boy finally are adopted by a wider audience they’ve dreamed of.

Words: Abbas Ali 

Watch the video for Orphan Boy's latest single, 'Pop Song', below: