Go-faster Strypes: plugged-in Cavan boys go for the record
A frantic year for the teenage quartet culminates in the release of their amped-up, proudly retro first record
The Strypes (Evan Walsh, Josh McClorey, Ross Farrelly and Pete O’Hanlon) at Electric Picnic, where they left the crowd in a daze. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Some bands receive unhealthy levels of hype and acclaim too early in their careers. When impresario BP Fallon took to the stage at Electric Picnic to describe the act he was about to introduce as “the most important band in Ireland”, he was probably taking it to a whole new level.
If retro rockers The Strypes are not the most important band in Ireland – and they certainly wouldn’t claim that’s the case – the four teenagers from Cavan are certainly one of the most exciting. They proved that much with a blistering set at the Stradbally festival: an intense, energetic rhythm and blues romp that left the Electric Arena in a mid-afternoon daze.
With Josh McClorey offering guitar pyrotechnics, bassist Pete O’Hanlon and drummer Evan Walsh providing propulsive energy, and all topped by Ross Farrelly’s extraordinary, preternatural voice, they are now a formidable unit with a knack for electrifying a crowd. Their live shows no longer elicit amazement at how good these kids are for their age (15-17), but amazement at how good these kids are, full stop.
A busy year
The comparison to a year earlier, when they played three different stages across the same festival, is stark: the past 12 months has been a frantic schedule of writing, recording and gigging, signing to Elton John’s management company and inking a five-album deal with Mercury Records, now Virgin EMI, with appearances on Later with Jools Holland, sold-out gigs in Japan, a support slot with Blur, and a widely acclaimed set at Glastonbury that had the band described in the Telegraph as “pretenders to The Stones’ crown”.
Last month, they got to play with members of Dr Feelgood, a case of childhood dreams coming true before their childhood is even really over.
The culmination of all of this is the release of their debut album, Snapshot. It follows the template of their live shows: it is raucous, breathless and unapologetically retro. “The whole goal was to capture the atmosphere of a live set, get it down really quickly,” says drummer Evan Walsh. “We did it in about 15 recording days – that’s pretty tight – spread out over a couple of months because we had a lot of gigging on. All the debut albums we love, Down by the Jetty by Dr Feelgood or The Jam’s first album, or the Stones’ first one, it’s all about capturing the essence of the band playing in a room.”
To assist them in that task they called on producer Chris Thomas, who has worked with Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols, The Pretenders, U2 and The Beatles.
“We thought he’d land with a big ego and big idea of what he wanted,” says Pete O’Hanlon, in an animated Cavan accent. “But he sat us down and said: ‘You know, this is your album, I want to help you make an album that you’re happy with, not just me’.” It was very much a two-way conversation the whole time. To work with someone of that pedigree, and for them to have respect for you as a musician, was amazing.”
The resulting record is a rambunctious, amped-up slice of rhythm and blues, with a sprinkling of classics by the likes of Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters alongside eight original tracks that are in keeping with the rock’n’roll standards that have long filled out their live show. The fact that their own material sits comfortably alongside the classic songs in tone and style is seen by some critics as proof that, on record at least, The Strypes are most notable for their skilful retro-mimicry.
“What usually happens with a band when they’re our age is that they’re playing all the covers that they love, then they hit late teens, early 20s, and start writing their own stuff, and then they start getting noticed,” says O’Hanlon, answering the charge with the sort of self-assurance that typifies them. “But we got picked up that bit earlier on, so it’s been compressed.”
That precocity has earned them a lot of respect from elder statesmen of the music world. Earlier this month, Elton John showered them with praise: “They’ve just got so much energy. If you could plug them into the grid they could power London.”
Alex Turner is such a fan he invited the band to support the Arctic Monkeys on their forthcoming tour of the UK and Europe, as soon as they return from a sold-out tour of Japan.
The momentum of their meteoric rise will be difficult to sustain as they grow into their 20s, but so far the Strypes have remained remarkably grounded. Despite the acclaim at Glastonbury and the high-profile TV appearances, O’Hanlon and Walsh agree that one of the highlights of the year for them was on an altogether more modest stage, in a small marquee behind Blessings Bar in Cavan at the beginning of August.
It was an unadvertised homecoming gig, with Chris Difford of English New Wave luminaries Squeeze warming up the crowd, and hundreds of people crammed in to catch sight of the local heroes up close.
“That was probably gig of the year so far. It was friends and family, all those people who’ve known us since we were very young. It was just great,” says O’Hanlon. “Whenever we go back to Cavan, it’s very much normal life. Parents treat us the same, and because it’s such a small community, you’re still the same lad, you’ve just got a job now.”
“Normal life is sacred,” says Walsh. Their precocious maturity, it seems, isn’t just restricted to their stage performances.
Snapshot is out now