Thursday, November 13, 2014

A rave up with The Strypes

The Strypes are an Irish four-piece rock band from Cavan, Ireland, formed in 2011 consisting of Ross Farrelly (lead vocals/harmonica), Josh McClorey (lead guitar/vocals), Peter O'Hanlon (bass guitar/harmonica) and Evan Walsh (drums). The band members' current ages are 16 to 18 years.

They draw inspiration from 60's blues boom (The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds) and 70's pub rock bands such as Dr. Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Lew Lewis and Rockpile as well as the original bluesmen and rock 'n' roll artists such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter, among others.  (from WikiPedia)

Young, snotty and loud was a description of punk  in the late Seventies  On the front cover of their debut album Snapshot (2013) and in various YouTube clips, the members of The Strypes look impossibly young. They look four 15-year olds dressed up in best Saturday night finery for a night out at the Church disco or something. Yet, in fact, these four young guys are in a contemporary British R & B band with apparent deep roots in mid-Seventies pub rock. The lads give new meaning to the phrase “fresh faced” and it is hardly believable that they are of a drinking age for the pubs in which they would seem to be at home performing.  They are, however, quite loud when they play their modern/retro brand of high energy update R & B.

For me The Strypes are one of the most exciting discoveries of 2014.  I adore this kind of rough and tumble R & B and blues-rock and if their roots are in pub rock they also have a lot of Dr Feelgood in the mix. Dr Feelgood was my personal big musical discovery when I was in high school, my secret passion when my mates were into Bowie, Led Zeppelin or Uriah Heep, and any band that honours that heritage must be all right.

I stumbled across The Strypes early in 2014, when I was trawling through YouTube, probably checking out videos featuring the Rolling Stones, the Pretty Things and the best of the British blues boom of the mid to late Sixties.  My first thought was that The Strypes were a hitherto unknown Sixties band; there was no way that four boys who looked this young could be playing music that sounded this old-fashioned.  Amidst all the modern rock available on the Internet this brand new take on a venerable genre took me by glorious surprise. I liked it a lot.

I checked out the band biography on WikiPedia and found their debut album and an EP on iTunes, which I did not buy at the time.

Some months later, when I’d finally decided that I should buy the debut album, I had completely forgotten the band’s name. The only thing that stuck in my mind was that the name had a funny Sixties style strange spelling. It took two evenings of frantic trawling through YouTube before the band name popped into my head again, while I was watching a video of the type of plagiarism practiced by Led Zeppelin on their debut album from 1969, of all things, when the name of The Strypes came back to me.  Then I did buy the album from iTunes. Not much chance of it ever popping up in my local Musica store.

Back in the mid-Seventies I was electrified when I heard Dr Feelgood for the first time. Something similar has happened, about 40 years later, when I heard The Strypes for the first time. Maybe I’m just a sucker for tough R & B played with flair enthusiasm and a patent love for the genre.

The songs on Snapshot are a mixture of standards and original tunes, all of them played with the same vigour as one might imagine the Rolling Stones had at their early gigs on Eel Pie Island or Dr Feelgood in Canvey Island pubs.  How on earth these kids decided to play this retro music is a mystery. I would guess they were influenced by the record collections of their parents, probably of the generation of British pub rockers led by Dr Feelgood; a genre that still has its adherents to this day in clubs and pubs all across Europe and North America. Not quite blues and not quite straightforward rock either. My belief, though, was that the practitioners were older, in their forties or fifties, rather than as young as The Strypes.

The Strypes fall somewhere between Dr Feelgood and Eddie & The Hotrods, in terms of style and attitude; a mix of old heads on young bodies.

From opening track “Mystery Man” (that sounds suspiciously like a cop of “Route 66”) to the final live version of “I Can Tell” on the Deluxe Version of the album I bought on iTunes, there is a visceral excitement and it is one of those records where I have a delighted smile on my face from the first to last notes, because this is so the kind of music that first awakened my interest in rock beyond the glam pop sounds of the early Seventies.

“Blue Collar Jane” is an excellent example of the amalgam of styles and influences that inform The Strypes. The title character could be a mid-Sixties Rolling Stones creation, the riffing underpinning the chorus is derived from the Pretty Things and the lead break is straight from the Yardbirds. The guitarist plays fat chords, with a thick fuzz tone and the shrill harp channels Sonny Boy Williamson II as filtered through Keith Relf’s take on the blues. Essentially The Strypes is a throwback to the dozens of British R & B bands who played church halls and the backrooms of pubs in the period 1962 to 1967, when they got psychedelic and airy fairy pop. If I had simply heard the music without any knowledge of who it was, I would absolutely have thought this band was a previously undiscovered group from the British provinces.

It is a tad disconcerting to hear two versions of “I Can Tell” on this album. The opening chords of this song, as played by Dr Feelgood from their second album Malpractice, is one of my top favourite album openers and still sends a thrill up and down my spine when I hear it. The Strypes, to their credit, do not imitate the Feelgoods. I would like to believe that the Canvey boys’ version is the inspiration for The Strypes who do as a tough version as the Feelgoods ever did. I can certainly hear an echo of the patented Wilko Johnson guitar style.  “I’m A Hog For You, Baby” is another song I associate with the Feelgoods, off their live album Stupidity.  This must mean that The Strypes have the same affection for the early Dr Feelgood as I have. The other band that comes to mind is Nine Below Zero, a modern R & B and blues group whose second album Don’t Point Your Finger (1981) shares the same fat, bottom heavy guitar sound with The Strypes although earlier band’s leader, Mark Feltham, is a virtuoso harp player.

A great many bands must have covered “Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover” over the years and the version here is pretty much your standard British R & B template. Great riff, shouty vocals, big groove. One can just see the sweaty bodies jumping up and down in s smoky club. Something similar can be said for the version of “Rolling & Tumbling,” which mixes up the Cream riff with something slightly heavier, as if the band drew inspiration form Blue Cheer on this one.  That goes for live cut “C C Rider” too. It is meant to be a proper blues but The Strypes take it at breakneck speed and put the boot in good and proper.

The Strypes might not be the hippest thing right now but they are the best new discovery I’ve made in a while. It seems to me that proto-garage rock is making a new comeback, with the likes of the Palma Violets from the UK and Rival Sons from the USA. The latter actually played the Oppikoppi festival in August 2014 and from all reports delivered a killer set. I would rather see The Strypes in a pub, though.

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