Orphan Boy are the great outsiders of British rock.
Long seen by those in the know as rightful heirs to pop's most regal bloodline (The Jam-The Smiths- Oasis-Arctic Monkeys) their decision to split up in 2011 came with a heavy heart for band and fans alike. "The final gig was absolute chaos," recalls singer-guitarist Rob Cross of their emotional farewell to 500 diehard fans at The Beachcomber, Cleethorpes. "The stage was invaded after every single song. It was really shambolic, and it meant we never had proper closure. There was this sense of the band having... unfinished business."
Ever since Dick Rowe passed on The Beatles, the British music industry has had a grand tradition of neglecting the talent under its nose. Nonetheless, Orphan Boy's premature demise - the result of bad luck, bad timing and plain regional bias- when was the last time you saw an A&R man in Cleethorpes?- suggested the trio (Rob Cross: guitar/vocals, Paul 'Smithy' Smith; bass; Chris Day; drums) had been dealt a particularly cruel hand.
It's one which makes their third album 'Coastal Tones' all the more remarkable. A beautifully crafted portrait of Britain in austerity-torn 2015, it comes with the melodic clout and renewed focus of a band starting over. "We tried to live normal lives for a year and failed," says Rob with typical candour. "I became a father and it felt like time to join the real world. But around the middle of 2012 Tom from the Enemy tweeted that he'd discovered a great band called Orphan Boy. He offered us a support in Manchester and that gave us a reason to start playing again. The songs flowed from there."
For fans, this return to the rock'n'roll frontline is simply the latest offensive in a tour of duty stretching back to the mid-noughties. Snapped up by maverick indie Concrete, 2008 debut Shop Local showcased an incendiary street-level sound the band accurately christened 'council pop'. Having upped sticks to Manchester, 2010's more experimental Passion, Pain & Loyalty saw the trio go into gig overdrive, with rousing single 'Some Frontier' as their battle cry and a battered Ford Fiesta doubling as a tour bus. "The three of us would get in the car and drive to Glasgow to do a gig," grins Rob of a play-anywhere approach which saw them notch upwards of a 100 gigs a year between 2006-9. "We would play in places most bands don't go to and built up a following the old fashioned way. We never even had a booking agent. We were completely overlooked by the industry."
If it was this sense of frustration that led to their implosion, it's also been a blessing in disguise. Because Coastal Tones - recorded, as Rob puts it "anywhere we could get some peace and quiet" - is the sound of Orphan Boy claiming what should rightfully be theirs. From the strident 'From The Provinces' - featuring shout-outs to Doncaster, Basingstoke and Scunthorpe among others - to woozy, sax-laden epic 'On A Nelson Skyline'- inspired by the view from a Grimsby tower bock - it's an unflinching view of life on the fringes delivered with the poetic flair of John Cooper Clarke. "I've always liked the idea of seeing the beauty in the mundane," says Rob, who cites Jarvis Cocker Irvine Welsh and Charles Bukowski as lyrical touchstones. "People don't give small towns credit, but places like Morecombe and Kirkcaldy have a real sense of community spirit. Us singing about Grimsby and Cleethorpes is all part of that. It's an undocumented part of the country which is as valid as anywhere else."
Listen close to Coastal Tones and you'll discover a world where 'chemical plants hang like ghosts', lonely spinsters find their 'spirit wanes in the twilight hours' and dole-drum reality builds a simmering resentment where entire days are spent: 'watching Zulu and just burning matches by the window'. Lyrically, it's the sort of record Alex Turner might have written if he hadn't left his heart in San Francisco, but musically, it's equally impressive. The title track suggests Roxy Music, 'Young Americans' Bowie, and Death In Vegas jamming an elegy beside the Humber estuary. "Smithy and Chris have always been into dance music, and they've given the record a real groove." says Rob, while acknowledging the contribution of new keyboardist Sam Carlton. "We don't ever think about what we do or how it might fit in, we just make the music that comes out of us. We've never been savvy enough to think about how to market ourselves and that's probably been our downfall."
No longer. Not only have they made the best record of 2015 to date, but on the evidence of Coastal Tones, Orphan Boy's ship is finally about to come in.