In the early 2000s, a group of Sheffield scallywags were causing a stir in the UK indie scene. Frontman and songwriter, Alex Turner, had a shot at becoming successful as a musician before his parents, who were budding music fanatics themselves, expected him to otherwise pursue a more realistic path by attending university. By the time Turner was 18, he had formed the Arctic Monkeys with his long term school friends Matt Helders and Andy Nicholson. The group played gigs around their home county of Yorkshire rapidly gaining attention and respect as a band with true potential.
With the bit between their teeth and stardom glinting in their eyes, the group appeared unstoppable with Turner’s fearless and nonchalant stage presence. It wasn’t long before the band had a rotation of songs spreading over the north of England thanks to the recent advent of internet download sites. Their first widely accessible recordings were from their early 2005 EP entitled Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys which included the hit tracks: ‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’ and ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’. This EP was released on the band’s own label called “Bang Bang”.
Only a couple of months later, in June 2005, they signed to the label Domino. In the first few months with the label, they released their first single ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ to seismic acclaim as it shot straight to number one on the UK charts. To this day I can recall the first time heard the single, my older brother ran up to me on the school field and told me about this new song that had been playing on the radio in his classroom. So that evening in my parents’ car I turned over the radio and, of course, I was instantly hooked by this new sound. I began to see more and more classmates around the school singing the song and strumming away on their air guitars. As a youngster at school, it was nice to have a new band to talk about after a few years of hearing of nothing but Busted.
Their second single, ‘When the Sun Goes Down’, also skyrocketed to the top spot on the charts leaving the population hungry for the group’s imminent debut album. The release of the full album, entitled Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, followed just a week later on January 23rd, 2006, making it 16 years old today. The album was an unmitigated success with awards coming in at all angles, with many to this day listing it as one of the greatest debut albums of all time.
The success of the album can be traced back to the songwriting genius of Turner that depicts a very real image of British youth culture, the perfect album to spearhead the resurgence of indie music since the Britpop era of the mid-1990s. All the while we had a strange man smoking a cigarette looking us straight in the eye with a look of mischief on his face which seemed to symbolise the demeanour of this spunky group of youths. But who was this strange man and what’s his story?
The man in the photograph is Chris McClure who was the lead singer of The Violet May, a budding Sheffield band the Arctic Monkeys had become close with during their rise to fame. The photo was taken towards the end of a heavy night in the Korova bar in Liverpool. Turner and Co. had wanted to use an image of “your average bloke” on the cover of their album. Having chosen McClure, they arranged for some photographers to go to the bar at two o’clock in the morning. In the meantime, the Arctic Monkeys were on tour but instructed McClure to have a heavy night out with a couple of his friends and subbed them a few hundred pounds in cash for their trouble on the condition that they met with the photographers at 2am.
Sure enough, McClure and his pals got a skin-full as they hit the tiles of Liverpool that night and returned to the Korova to attend the photoshoot in the small hours. After a few more whiskeys and a small amount of vomiting, the photos were taken and sure enough, the band were impressed with the results. By the time the album was released, McClure finally realised the scale of impact this evening of inebriation would have on him. He later recalled in an interview with the Guardian: “It was only on the day the album was released, in January 2006, I thought: ‘Shit, what have I let myself in for?’”.