Interview / Richard Barratt / Parrot / Crooked Man – Part 2

This isn’t really a “Part 2”, more something brand new, since this conversation took place not a decade ago, but just last week. Having covered events leading up to Crooked Man’s birth in Part 1, here we find out what the fine fellow`s been up to for the last 10 years, and what he’s up to next. There’s up to date information on Parrot`s hugely successful Roisin Murphy collaboration, his work with Amy Douglas, and the recent team-up with Lady Blackbird, as Athletes Of God. 

Crooked Man Logo

Parrot, firstly, I`d like to send my sincere condolences. I know that you were close to Richard H. Kirk, and how supportive The Cabs were when you were starting out in the studio. You made some fantastic, and ground-breaking, dance records together. Richard`s passing was a huge loss for electronic music. 

Thanks Rob. Kirky’s left a very big hole. I can say with absolute certainty that I would’ve never have got the chance to make records without help and guidance from Richard and Mal. I can also say with similar certainty that Cabaret Voltaire are the most important band to come out of Sheffield bar none.

The last time we spoke, the first Crooked Man 12, Preset, had just been released. In fact I contacted you primarily because of how much I loved – and still love – that record, and you very kindly said yes to what ended up a pretty long interview. That was in 2012, and the Crooked Man project is still going from strength to strength. Would you say that, out of your many aliases, Crooked Man is a pretty long-lived moniker? 

The longest by far.

Why do you think that you’ve been happy to stick with this project for so long? 

Nowt else happening! Well… That and the fact that time slips by very quickly when you’re an old fart. You go to sleep one night, then wake up and it’s 5 years later!

Is Crooked Man just you? Are you still working with Dean Honer, or at The Bowling Green Studios? Or with Michael “Mzylkypop” Ward? What happened to Dave The Engineer? 

Crooked Man’s just me yes – but as I’d struggle to find middle c on a keyboard never mind play a decent tune, I work in close cahoots with Fat Dave (Lewin) The Engineer. Actually, inferring that Dave is “just” an engineer is doing him a large disservice. (Roisin) Murphy calls him “A Musical God”, and you know what? She’s not far wrong. Fat Dave’s very adept at converting half-arsed tuneless flights of fancy into something that resembles actual music. Which, as you can imagine, is well handy.

The elegant and very accomplished Mr. Somerset Ward still comes down to the studio on occasion to ramp up the poetic content. In fact, the Athletes Of God follow up to Don’t Wanna Be Normal has a fantastic Wardy lyric that’s dedicated to the trials and tribulations of the late, great Fontella Bass. That quite categorically is not something that my own semi-rural oik brain would’ve thought up.

Me and Dean still get up to mischief now and again. The lovely folks at Because Music are about to repackage and re-release the All Seeing I LP, which is most unexpected and rather flattering. It means all the people who didn’t buy it the first time around will now get another chance not to buy it.

What happened to Pipes? Does he still do your artwork? 

Pipes is still very much around and still offering artwork and much moral support.

How did Crooked Man hook up with DFA Records?

Kind of by accident. The first Crooked Man LP was supposed to be coming out on a large UK indie but they lost interest when Preset and the other singles didn’t exactly set the hit parade on fire. To tell you the truth, when they binned me off, I feared the game was finally up and that I might have to get a proper job. Can you imagine the horror?

So there I was, perched on the shelf, staring into a dark pit of misery and wondering where the fuck I’d ever find anybody idiotic enough to give out money in return for my labour, when I gets a call from Jonathan (Galkin) and Kris  (Petersen) at DFA. Toddla T’s kindly manager, James, had told them that the record wasn’t getting released and it turned out they were keen on picking it up. You could say that they rode in on a white stallion. Even if in truth it was more like a rickety old mule. But by God, I loved that mule.

Are you still signed to the label? 

No. Both Jonathan and Kris are no longer there, and my old mate Damian Harris (of Skint Records fame) has been setting up a new label over here. So I thought it might be nice to have a bit of a change and do the next Crooked Man record with a UK based setup. Still fucking love DFA though, properly.

Weren’t you working with Luke Solomon at one point? 

Luke was a massive early supporter when I started making Disco Music again, and I’ll be eternally grateful to him for all his encouragement. Me, Mark Brydon and Carmen Squire did a release with him as the Tooth Faeries, “Dust And Ashes”, and there was Pipes’ record “Crooked Love”.

Possibly it was a slightly uncomfortable fit. Us lot up here are spiritually closer to The Cabs and The Human League than we are to that big-room House sound that Defected have always done so well. You can try covering us in glitter, but we’ll still just look like miserable Northern twats.

Were you surprised by the success of your remixes of Amy Douglas` Never Saw It Coming?

This might sound big headed, but no. It was such a strong song to begin with… It’d have been really hard to make a bollocks of. Amy is a bloody good writer and a bloody good musician, that tune was a gift to remix.

Are there any plans for you to work with Amy directly? 

Amy did some vocals on the first two Crooked Man LPs, that’s how I know her. Jonathan at DFA put us in touch when I was struggling to find a UK based singer who was interested in singing the songs. We hit it off, and since then she’s provided the fabulous tune, Something More, for Roisin Machine and also been doing a bit of over-the-water collaboration with me and Dean. Amy is a true songsmith.

How did the collaboration with Róisín Murphy come about? Wasn’t there something called Spook, decades ago? 

We’ve known each other, since she first moved to Sheffield 30 years ago and joined the little dysfunctional musical family here. I can’t remember much about how the Spook thing happened. In that period, we were all quite close knit. It kind of felt that people could melt in and out of each other’s bands at will.

How did the recent collaboration work?

Murphy got in touch 10 or so years ago wanting to make an album that was all about dancing. House music basically. I was a bit tentative at first, as I wasn’t really sure how I fitted into that world. But Ro’s very good at nagging, and eventually she chewed through my defenses.  .

The first thing finished was a track called Simulation, which we were both really made up with. But could we get anybody interested in putting it out..? Could we fuck. “Too slow, can you speed it up 10bpm?” “Too much singing, can you lose the verses?”…and that was when labels could be bothered to respond. Mainly it was just deathly silence. After about a year or something, Permanent Vacation in Germany picked it up. But by then, the initial splurge of enthusiasm had ebbed, Murf had got herself babbed up and the project flatlined.

A couple of years after that, Crosstown Rebels put out Jealousy, a song from the same initial sessions. Then after yet another couple of years, Narcissus was released on a charity fundraising cassette… and finally I revisited the last remaining song, Incapable, and sneaked it out on a little label called Bitter End.

Coincidently, Damian Harris was just about to take up a role back at Skint, now part of BMG, and he was really keen to pick that tune up. To be honest, I wasn’t right sure if Roisin would be interested in going anywhere near a major label, but I knew that she and her manager, Rhianna, would get on well with Damian so I did a sneaky bit of introducing and then scarpered…

Why were the remixes, The First Narcissus and Jealous Groove, released on Bitter End? 

Damian thought it’d be nice to finish off the Machine age back where it’d started, on a shonky little 12″.

Is there more from the collaboration planned or in the pipeline?

It’s quite hard to imagine that we won’t fiddle about with each other again at some point. She may even pay a quick visit to the next Crooked Man LP.

You also teamed up with your old “associate” Jarvis Cocker, to remix Baxter Dury, and Fat White Family. Again, how did that happen, how did it work, and are there plans to do anything more?

We bumped into one another when Jarvis had just been offered the Baxter remix, and decided it’d be fun to do it in Fat Dave’s. Then the Fat White remix came along, and that felt like it’d nicely follow Baxter’s tune as a Parrot And Cocker Too experiment.

Working together involves Jarvis dragging several obsolete synthesizers to the studio, with which he makes lots of farting and whooshing noises. Then we sit on the settee and bicker whilst Fat Dave slowly loses the will to live.

Coincidentally, Cocker’s coming into Dave’s Lair next week to record some droney prayers and dreams. Don’t know what that project’s going to be called yet. Maybe “Droney Prayers And Dreams”.

Can you tell me anything about Athletes Of God?

A&R reprobate Ross Allen instigated Athletes Of God. Many moons ago he told me about a tune, Don’t Wanna Be Normal by Randy Crawford. He’d heard Pete Tong play it back in the Radio Invicta days, and it’d stuck in his head ever since. We both thought it would be a great song to cover, and I got a little backing track together. But then, familiar story, we couldn’t find a singer. Ross sent it out to loads of people, most of whom just weren’t interested… and the ones that were didn’t sound quite right. Running adjacent to this, Ross was putting an album together with a fantastic LA-based vocalist called Lady Blackbird (Marley Munroe), and after quite a while of getting nowhere with UK singers, he suggested that we should send the song to Marley and see what she thought. Et voila.

Do you have any other projects on the go? When we spoke before you seemed to have multiple things moving in differing musical directions.

There’s another thing with Ross, Earth Angel, investigating old songs and stripping them down to a dark bumping pulse. I like doing that… and there’s the project with Cocker that I mentioned, plus the first Crooked Man single – via Damian’s Vicious Charm label – is ready to go.

Did Winston ever bully you into DJing again? Are you still officially in DJ  retirement?

I think last time you interviewed me Winni had got my arm up behind my back to do a Red Bull event celebrating classic UK nightclubs, each night taking a pod on the London Eye. He did eventually persuade me, and I managed to get through the evening with rictus teeth and copious medication. Strangely, it’s not whetted my appetite to do owt else.

Have Crooked Man ever performed live? With Róisín? Would it be a possibility with Lady Blackbird? 

Fucking hell! That’d be worse than DJing!

Athletes Of God`s fantastic Don’t Wanna Be Normal is out now, on Foundation Music. 

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