Oh we do like The Strypes beside the seaside
A snifter of self-belief, a pinch of attitude, a long stretch of influences, a shedload of musical chops and a will to win. Tony Clayton-Lea on the magical musical alchemy of The Strypes
“The most thrilling live band in the UK” - Q. “Feverishly intense, raw and compelling” - UK Independent. “Too good to be ignored” - NME. A bowel- shaking rhythm’n’blues explosion.” - The Observer.
Do we detect a theme here?
Yes, we certainly do, and we’re not saying such hyperbole isn’t justified. We’re just pointing out that all the praise directed towards Cavan teenagers The Strypes might not only be too much, too soon, but also that such adulation may be laced with wide-eyed wonder at how such young lads have managed to master the tricky art of making what they do seem so effortless.
Formed in Cavan a few years ago, the band initially had a revolving door-policy for membership, but it eventually settled with the nucleus of school friends Josh McClorey, Ross Farrelly, Pete O’Hanlon and Evan Walsh – a musically gifted bunch (the parents of all four had previously been involved, in one form or another, in various bands) who had gravitating towards music even before their primary schooling was completed.
What puzzled most, if not all, observers from the beginning is how such a young band could be so well acquainted with their chosen music. Cue the weighty decades-spanning record collection of Evan’s dad Niall – Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Yardbirds, Them, Rolling Stones, Animals, Pretty Things, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Dave Edmunds, Dr Feelgood, Lew Lewis, Eddie and the Hotrods, The Jam.
Alongside the puzzlement of the choice of music, however, was a level of bewilderment at how brilliantly, and how authentically, the lads could play the music. What at first seemed like something of a novelty (oh, look – fresh-faced teenagers dressing up as The Yardbirds!) was quickly replaced with the realisation that The Strypes were the real deal, and not pretty-boy glove puppets going through the motions.
And let it be said with clarity and sincerity: each of the members is an incredible musician, and each of them looks like they belong nowhere else except in a rock band. Lead guitarist McClorey throws out shapes like a spiv and guitar lines with precision, poise and impressive technique; lead vocalist Farrelly has perfected a cleaner-cut version of Dr Feelgood singer, Lee Brilleaux; drummer Walsh has clearly studied Rolling Stones skin-basher Charlie Watts; and if mine eyes and ears do not deceive me (and with humility, readers, they do not) O’Hanlon is the most deft R&B bass player I’ve witnessed since The Who’s John Entwistle.
So it’s all quite the package, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. It’s a resounding deliriously-bugeyed-happy-puppy-at-the-back-of-the-car nod in a live context – it is rare indeed that you leave a venue with a smile as wide as the bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark. Yet it’s an equally firm, but negative, nod of the head when you listen to Snapshot, the band’s debut album of last year.
Just when you thought that the band might blend its obvious respect for taut R&B with some kind of lyrical contemporary nous you’re left wondering why it all sounds so ordinary and average. Just when you reckoned that being chosen specifically by Arctic Monkeys as support band on a summer European tour last year might see some of Alex Turner’s linguistic skills rub off on them, you’re left with nagging doubts that The Strypes might just be little more than shape shifters and smart students.
And yet, it’s very early days. Time is their friend, and it’ll be quite a few years before any of them need to buy 30-inch-waist jeans. Before that depressing eventuality, however, they might want to take a crucial leaf out of the Arctic Monkeys’ manual: look to words to make the songs mean something more. For a band as potentially brilliant as The Strypes, anything less would be – cue a ripple of blues guitar lines – a dirty, cryin’, rotten, no-good shame.
The Strypes play the Sea Sessions Surf & Music Festival on Saturday, June 28th
Believe the Strype: Ross Farrelly and Josh McClorey