- 19 Jun 17
Just hearing about the Strypes work schedule is enough to tire you out. On the day Hot Press was in their orbit, they had travelled back into the country over night in order to make a lunchtime in-store and signing at Tower Records on Dublin’s Dawson Street, to be followed by interviews, and then not one, but two shows in The Thomas House. The reason for all this activity is the release of their very fine third album Spitting Image, a serious step up from 2015’s Little Victories. The new single, ‘Great Expectations’, is their finest five minutes to date, a potent mix of Graham Parker & The Rumour and Thin Lizzy’s quieter moments, complete with a Scott Gorham style guitar break, a John Earle-esque sax solo, and lyrics that will have more mature songwriters chewing their fists with envy.
Hot Press only managed to catch about ten minutes of the Tower appearance as the band were delayed and the real world had to be returned to for a meeting, so it was with a sense of genuine excitement that I arrived at the Thomas House later that evening. My first encounter with The Strypes was back at their introductory Electric Picnic appearance, some five years ago. Hot Press had just parked the car when a van pulled up alongside and four balls of energy spilled out, literally jumping up and down as they shook my hand. Their performances that weekend were revelatory, lads younger than my jacket playing rhythm and blues classics like a wild cross between Dr. Feelgood and a young Rolling Stones, and they’ve only gotten better since, the early covers left behind as, much like the bands I’ve just mentioned, they came into their own.
At the Thomas House, those attending the earlier 7 o’clock show were just spilling out into the warm night air as I arrived. The sweaty, gasping grins boded well. First up is supporting act David Keenan, who has been getting plenty of notice lately from all the right people. I’ve heard interesting singles and radio sessions, but this is the first time I’ve managed to catch him live. He looks the part for a start, resplendent in braces and an Errol Flynn ‘tache, bearing a striking resemblance to the young Charlie Chaplin, not the tramp but the man himself. He opens with recent single ‘Cobwebs’ and the voice is indeed something special, a kind of cross between Jeff Buckley and Luke Kelly, with a bit of Van Morrison’s stream of consciousness hollering thrown in. The piano led ‘Tin Pan Alley’ that he closes his six song set with, which also included ‘Good Old Days’ and ‘Nazareth House’, is just lovely. He’s got the songs and the talent to back it all up. The hype may well be justified.
If The Strypes are knackered, as they later claim, they don’t show it. Their opening five-song blast, all from the new album, shows a warranted confidence in the material. ‘Behind Closed Doors’, ‘(I Need A Break From) Holidays’, and ‘Grin And Bear It’ all point to the late seventies/early eighties records that band have been listening to lately, a lot of which probably have the words “Stiff Records” printed on them. ‘Black Shades Over Red Eyes’ would have fitted comfortably on Graham Parker’s Howlin’ Wind, and if you’re a fan of Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!!! you’ll find a lot to love in ‘Easy Riding’. The aforementioned ‘Great Expectations’ is introduced with the riff from Lizzy’s ‘Cowboy Song’, proving my earlier point; it really is a great song. ‘Oh Cruel World’ is built around harmonica, wah-wah guitar and that Bo Diddley beat, the band nonchalantly slipping into Diddley’s ‘Pretty Thing’ just because they can. They were going to leave it there but keep going - ‘Mystery Man’, ‘What A Shame’, ‘Still Gonna Take You Home’ (with a few bars of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ thrown in) all follow. ‘Scumbag City Blues’ showcases Josh McClorey’s snaky guitar playing, it’s easy to see why Paul Weller gives him a shout whenever he’s making a record. That’s not to take away from the rest of the band either – bass player Pete O’Hanlon either smoked a big bag of crack before he came on stage or someone shoved a battery up his arse as he doesn’t stop jumping around for the duration, all the time effortlessly holding down the bottom end, drummer Evan Walsh could be Keith Moon’s stunt double, and singer Ross Farrelly is a confident world away from the young lad who seemed slightly nervous a few years back.
Silly string is handed out to the crowd during a ferocious ‘Heart Of The City’ which gives the staff a few palpitations as the smoke alarm comes close to exploding, before they finish with a stomping ‘Blue Collar Jane’ that transports us all back to the Marquee Club in 1964. The night is a genuine triumph. The Strypes have grown into a proper rockin’ band who can drive their crowd into a frenzy, while leaving the slightly more mature contingent, myself included, misty eyed and smiling. They’ve already announced Whelan’s dates for later in the year. See you down (near) the front.