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Friday, 19 October 2012

Live Review - The Strypes + The Sorrows

Photo of The Strypes by Valentina Vaughan
229, London, Sat October 13 2012

So, is the future of music the past of music? If you are one of the many assembled here watching Ireland's new beat combo (no, I'm not an old person who talks like that, it's what they are) sensation this evening, you may well think so. And you might be right. If you disagree, and some have, it may well be because the Strypes- for 'tis they- play a set consisting entirely of rock n'roll and rhythm 'n' blues standards, thus leading doubters to label them as a mere covers band. Sure, the line of reasoning goes, most of the greatest bands we admire, from the Stones and the Who, through to the Floyd and Procol Harum, started their careers in this way. As did the mighty Dr Feelgood and Nine Below Zero- but haven't we subsequently moved on in the last few decades, largely because of the high benchmark of writing one's own material set by those very same bands? 

On the other hand, says the opposing camp, it's been 50 years since 'Love Me Do', and rock n roll has gone round the block several times only to retread old ground, so maybe the only honest thing to do is to go back to the start and do exactly that? We are, by way of comparison, at exactly the same crossroads that jazz fans found themselves at in 1945, 50 years or so after the genre's inception: some, in particular Lu Watters and the Yerba Buena gang, believed the only thing to do was to go back to the grass roots style of New Orleans and begin again, resurrecting the careers of surviving pioneers, most notably Bunk Johnson, in the process, while others, mainly those taking part in the late night jams at Mintons in New York (in particular Parker, Gillespie and Monk) believed genuinely that new pathways should be encouraged. Applying this criteria to rock, one must beg the question- what more can be done with it? And, more importantly, does anything need to be? I for one can see the thought process at work here- if we achieve, 50 years on, a second beat boom, then technically, there could be another freakbeat boom, followed by a garage or psych revival, which in turn will lead to an organic rebirth of progressive and heavy rock (as opposed to the awful prog-metal twiddly certain other magazines attempt to sell us) and so forth. Another 15 or 20 years of long-awaited, fecund, fertile creativity unseen since around 1978? London, Birmingham and Liverpool to 'swing like a pendulum do' all over again?

In theory, it would be nice, although personally I believe the social changes that occurred first time round would not happen now, and would thus render the music irrelevant on anything other than an entertainment-based level. One thing is certain- that encouraging teenagers to start becoming aware of the Stones, the Yardbirds, Downliners Sect, Alexis Korner and thus, eventually, the original black blues artists, and move away from the likes of Justin Bieber and Olly Murs, can only be a good thing. And the Strypes, being as cute as buttons all and having the ability to ensnare their target age group (as well as several menopausal Mod birds who openly expressed a desire to take them home and feed them chocolate. Careful, ladies, you'll end up in the papers) are without doubt the best men (ahem) for the job. And sure, as has been proven many times before, the age of an artist is only relative to their ability, and vice versa. Thankfully, however, the Strypes are musicians and performers of exceptional ability, and in that respect are more than worthy of the current furore surrounding them- the 'Strype hype', if you will. Not only are they electrifying to watch, but they do take songs we are all familiar with (far too familiar in some cases, after years of club attendance!!), such as 'Little Queenie', 'Got Love If You Want It' and current single 'You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover' and make them sound brand new, fresh and engaging. Normally, when a frontman (the ice cool Ross Ferrelly, in this case) announces "we're going to take things down a little now" before launching into a version of 'Stormy Monday Blues', it would prompt a mass exodus unto the bar, but they even manage to nail that, to the point where it debatably becomes the highpoint of the set.

Again, playing devil's avocado for a moment, one does wonder how much of their style, to say nothing of their extensive shared knowledge of R'n'B, is completely natural and not the result of a hidden parental hand (maybe a member of a long forgotten band himself?) at work, and the well-packaged quality of all their approved YouTube footage may also suggest that, but in the long run, does it matter? Sad though I am to reject the archetypically cynical stance of the music journalist, what I witnessed was not a covers band, a boy band, or as I even jokingly said myself a few months ago, "Blues Idol", but a genuine hot, sweaty, raw, arsekicking live act with a great potential future. As long as, that is, some record company executive doesn't f*ck it up for them and make them go all schmindie on us. Don't forget, we are also only 2 years away from a 20th anniversary Britpop revival, with all the beige Gallagher-ists of the world lined up for the big cash-in, and it could happen. Let's just pray it doesn't. Anyone capable of the sort of brash, cacophonous yet melodic guitar playing I saw from Josh McLorey (also a capable singer and an embryonic Wilko in training if ever I saw one) or the already fully accomplished Ox-like bass runs of Pete O Hanlon- by far and away the most outstanding of the four musicians - deserves to be allowed to develop naturally, the way their obvious idols the Stones and Van Morrison (sonically, they remind me more of Them than anyone else, with or without being Irish) did.

The question of what their original material, which they have apparently just begun writing, will sound like when released has been the cause of much lively debate, but right now, all we can do is judge them on their current merits. And by that token, they pass with flying colours. I won't harp on about their energy, because it's obvious that a band of their respective ages (15-16) would have it, but I will mention that as well as some exceptional harmonica dueting and instrument-swapping, displaying a dextrous versatility I have to admit I didn't expect, and two great lead vocalists, there are also several beatifully organic moments of looseness: I can't quite work out if they're on purpose or not, as I don't think they favour the free-form wigout approach yet, but it's there: the question is, will it be encouraged or will they be taken to task for it and told to practice an extra 8 hours a day on top of what I'm assuming is their usual 10? Hopefully the former. Combined together, I award the four of them the full Darius Drewe thumbs-up, but with a firmly attached "let's wait and see" caveat: the next five years could tell a whole different story, but at the moment, they're loud, fiery, genuine (it would seem) about their intent, and they wanna live M.O.D., and that's good enough for now.

The Sorrows started their career in 1963 playing probably exactly the same covers the Strypes did, and are obviously old hands by comparison: it would be pointless, therefore, to compare the performance of teenagers to men approaching 70, so I won't. Instead, I shall happily report that the Coventry freakbeat pioneers acquitted themselves perfectly (some commented that their performance wasn't a patch on earlier ones, but seeing as I wasn't there, I can't say) by the exact standards one would expect of a recently reformed band, and played with an attack that might be considered as 'belying their ages' but which to me seems perfectly natural for an outfit who helped to pioneer this very genre of music in the UK. 'Car-A-Lin', 'She's Got The Action' and 'Let The Live Live' were all powerful enough to reach the back of the hall: the impact was less on mellower numbers like 'We Should Get Along Fine' and 'Come With Me' but, on moving to the front, it still smashed me firmly in the face. Sure, there's the occasional out of tune vocal or bum note, but there probably was in 1965 as well, and in any case, this sort of music has always been about raw passion - which the band still have plenty of - than technical perfection. Also, find me a band that says they've never dropped one, and I'll find you a band of liars.

Don Fardon, who must be almost 7 feet tall, cuts as much of an imposing figure as you'd imagine, and remains the owner of a deep, smouldering bluesy yet quintessentially British voice. He doesn't move much, but again, he never did, and in any case, towering colossi don't really need to. Likewise, fellow founder member Phil Packham's basslines are still incredible. That chordal thrum permeates through everything from 'No Sad Songs For Me' through the previously unheard 'Gonna Find A Cave' to their best known number, 'Take A Heart' and forms the very core of the Sorrows sound, and even if he didn't play with them past their first album, it's as if he never left. Drummer Nige Lomas, who joined a little later on, so I'm told, before their second long player (we really are dredging up all the vintage terminology tonight, aren't we?) isn't quite as deafeningly loud as he once was, but again, those throbbing, marching tom-toms couldn't really belong to anyone else by now. Brian Wilkins, who joined much later despite being a veteran of the same Midland beat scene, fits in perfectly, his lead guitar soling genuinely inspired, his occasional lead vocals more than an adequate replacement for his predecessor 
Phil Whitcher and his contribution to the shouted harmonies and gang choruses throughout a decidedly important one.

And let's be honest, who apart from the most ardent fan or anorak wouldn't think he was an original member? Four sexagenarian blokes (and one youngster) in matching band t-shirts and trousers (neat idea, it works) create amply the impression that you're watching the genuine band, and in all honesty, they are. Sadly, they're playing at club level again rather than being accorded the hysteria heaped upon the similar Sonics, but the intimacy of the setting actually works in their favour, particularly for Fardon, who delights in noticing the participation of audience members both young and old. No, he doesn't do any solo material, which is a shame considering how easily 'Take A Heart' could have segued into 'Indian Reservation', but will be performing them the following weekend with DC Fontana somewhere in Shoreditch: to be honest, such inclusion would probably detract from the collective band feel, which is strong, and the final four or five numbers - 'You Got What I Want', 'Baby All The Time', 'Don't Wanna Be Free', 'Teenage Letter' and encore 'Lucille' are more than a treat enough, and are, in all honesty, quite mesmerising, the earlier gremlins having been long since ironed out. Anyone who drifted outside early on actually missed something a bit special.

The Sorrows have more than a little fire left in their hearts, and unlike the Poets, who they played with in this very building last year, are thankfully still here with us to make use of it. Let's hope they're around next year to celebrate their 50th anniversary, as I for one relish the chance to see them again. I wonder if the Strypes will be doing this in 2062? That is, if stadium rock doesn't get them first. We can but wait and see.


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