The Kids Are All Right

Get ready for The Strypes, four Irish teens on a retro-rock mission

O'Hanlon, Walsh, Farrelly and McClorey (from left)
Pari Dukovic
By David Fricke
May 07, 2014

THE FOUR YOUNG IRISHMEN on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York look like they have walked right out of 1965 – specifically, the London blues explosion of The Who, The Small Faces and the early, cherub-faced Rolling Stones. The Strypes – guitarist Josh McClorey and bassist Pete O’Hanlon, both 18; drummer Evan Walsh, 17; and singer Ross Farrelly, 16 – are soundchecking for an appearance on Late Show With David Letterman and are already dressed to kill: tight jackets and sweaters, stovepipe trousers and, except for Walsh, pageboy hair with curtainlike bangs. The drummer, a baby-faced dynamo with a halo of sandy curls, suggests Keith Moon joining the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The Strypes run through “What a Shame,” from their debut album, Snapshot, like a sword. The song is a two-
minute ruckus packed with retrospective passions: slashing-treble licks inspired by late-Fifties Chess 45s and the freakout parts from Yardbirds hits, executed at the martial velocity of the Ramones. (Farrelly accurately calls the music “speed blues.”)

Guitarist Sid McGinnis of the Late Show band mouths the words “Oh, my god!” with an astonished smile, then goes over to O’Hanlon after the rehearsal to ask about his bass attack. Later, when The Strypes perform for the live audience, Letterman comes out from behind his desk, raving all the way: “How about that? Yeah! Fantastic! Way to go!” Behind him, The Strypes barely crack a grin. They’re used to that reaction.

Formed in Cavan, a small town in north-central Ireland, The Strypes have racked up a glittering host of famous fans – including Jeff Beck, Roger Daltrey, Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher – since 2012, when their first release, a homemade EP of Bo Diddley, Slim Harpo and Motown covers, became a surprise hit on iTunes. Beck hung out with The Strypes during their first trip to London, in 2012. Studio legend Chris Thomas, who engineered albums by The Beatles and produced the Sex Pistols, came out of retirement to work on Snapshot. Elton John was so smitten by a video of The Strypes busting through Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” that he signed them to his management firm, Rocket Music. “I freaked out – I couldn’t believe they were so young,” John says. “It seemed like they were from another planet.”

The Strypes’ precocious grip on British-R&B history and its black American roots has made an impact on their own demographic too. Snapshot – mostly original songs written by McClorey and the rest of the band – was a Top Five U.K. hit last year, and The Strypes’ shows in Ireland and Britain set off a mania usually reserved for the kind of boy bands that don’t play instruments. “The front row is getting younger and younger,” says Chris Difford of the British band Squeeze, who works with The Strypes as a producer and adviser. “It’s like the audience is discovering that music for the first time, which they probably are.”

An early version of the group, founded by Walsh, O’Hanlon and McClorey, played its first gig in 2007 at the three friends’ primary school in Cavan (Walsh was 11). After Farrelly joined in 2011, The Strypes played 200 shows in a year, enough to convince their parents it was time for the boys to quit formal education. “They were hanging out with Jeff Beck in London, then back in class Monday morning, trying to concentrate on math,” says Walsh’s father, Niall, 53, who was The Strypes’ first manager and still tours with them as a guardian, roadie and jack-of-all-problems, including laundry. “We felt if we were going to let them do this, we’d give them every shot.”

At this point, The Strypes respond to questions about their age and historical drive with polite confrontation, in accents as thick as chowder. “People say we’re aping these older bands – no, we’re not,” O’Hanlon says after the Late Show taping, sitting with a can of Coke at the band’s hotel. “I don’t have the same bass settings as John Entwistle. Josh doesn’t have the same guitar tones as Jimmy Page. When we play this music, it’s our style.” He likens The Strypes, with absolute seriousness, to “a bag of carrots. That combination of carrots has never been seen before. It’s not brand-new. But it’s different.”

“The Black Keys’ first three albums are straight-up blues,” Farrelly points out, looking a lot closer to his age minus the mod sunglasses he wears at gigs and in photos. “No one asked them, ‘Why are you playing this music that predates your birth?’ All the bands we like – The Small Faces, The Jam – were 16, 17 when they started. Once you’re creating good, proper music, it shouldn’t matter about your age.”

Walsh is blunt about his interest in contemporary pop and hip-hop – he has none. “I can’t relate to it at all,” he says. “It means nothing to me.” Instead, he talks avidly of his first exposure to The Kinks and Chuck Berry, via Niall’s record collection and the car stereo on family trips. Walsh’s subsequent discovery of The Animals, blues-era Fleetwood Mac and Seventies pub-rock band Dr. Feelgood was “a portal,” he says, to “the sheer raw emotion” of American blues and R&B pioneers such as Johnny Otis, Elmore James and the Coasters.

In at least one way, The Strypes are exactly like the rest of their generation. They did a lot of their research online, looking at clips on YouTube and reading Wikipedia bios. “We’d watch Beatles and Stones videos,” McClorey explains, “then look at the suggestion box and see The Yardbirds. We’d get into that, look at the back of their album and see Howlin’ Wolf’s name. It was a constant thing.”

Walsh accepts that “people are obsessed with years” but says The Strypes just did “the most obvious thing in the world” with their obsession. “Teenage boys form bands.”

This is an extract. To read the full story, pick up a copy of Rolling Stone Middle East

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