When a young Alex Turner called to book the Arctic Monkeys’ first gig at The Boardwalk, where he worked at the time, he modestly told the promoter Chris Wilson ‘we’re not very good’.
They’ve since proved that couldn’t be further from the truth, with a string of hit albums making them arguably the UK’s hottest band as they prepare to play four nights at Sheffield Arena, which they could have sold out many more times.
But for Chris, who now books acts at The Greystones pub, that humility was a key ingredient in their rise to global superstardom.
While many bands rocked up expecting instant success as the music world fell in admiration at their feet, these Sheffield lads recognised from the beginning they would have to put in the hard hours to achieve their dreams.
“Some of the other young bands thought they were already rock stars and had a swagger about them but Alex was never like that,” said Chris.
“He always struck me as very quiet and polite, and he and the others were a lovely bunch of lads.”
Paul Tuffs, a music promoter who worked at The Grapes when the band played their first gig there and who now owns Cafe Totem, agrees.
“A lot of bands lack the work ethic to back up their natural talent, but that wasn’t true of the Arctic Monkeys,” he said.
“The fact they were mature heads on young shoulders was part of the reason they did so well so quickly.
“They were very focussed, and spent a lot of time practising, asking questions and learning from other bands.”
Carl Maloney, whose band The Sound headlined the Arctic Monkeys’ first gig at The Grapes and who later founded the entertainment website Reyt Good Magazine, also admired their professionalism in those early days.
Recalling how they ordered everyone out of the room before doing their soundcheck at that first gig, he said: “It showed how professional and serious they were even at that stage, which was nice to see.”
Carl remembers Alex as a tiny spotty kid asking lots of questions’ about how to get gigs and where to record, which struck him as another sign of the singer’s dedication.
The Arctic Monkeys were part of a wave of exciting new Sheffield groups emerging at the same time, including Little Man Tate Harrisons and Milburn, who were more highly rated than the Arctics by many within the industry back then.
Alan Smyth, who recorded the Arctics’ Under the Boardwalk demo at his 2fly studio, believes that scene spurred them to success.
“There were lots of good bands at that time, which led to everyone raising their game,” he said.
He claimed that after a bit of a lull in the city’s music scene, there are once again some ‘really good things happening here’.
Those who were around at the time described the Arctic Monkeys’ success as a blessing and a curse when it came to that music scene.
For Chris, it gave bands a much-needed injection of self-belief by showing an ordinary group of lads from Sheffield could achieve that there was hope for them, even if it meant ‘plodding on’ rather than expecting to be on Top of the Pops within six months of forming.
But Alan recalls how it also spawned a lot of ‘pale imitators’, to whom his advice was: “Don’t try to be like the Arctic Monkeys. They’ve already done it for you.”
Their influence stretched beyond the music industry, raising Sheffield’s profile on the national and international stage.
Alan said: “A lot of people who came here to work or study did so because they loved the band. There was something in the songs, and especially the lyrics, that they wanted to be part of.”
Paul believes their meteoric ascent also changed people’s perceptions of a city which badly needed a boost.
“If you asked people during the 90s what they thought of Sheffield it would be shut-down steelworks or the Hillsborough disaster,” he said.
“Pulp helped changed that but it was the Arctic Monkeys who really made it a hip and desirable city to visit or come to live.”