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Andrew Strong: “Touring with the Rolling Stones was one of the highlights”

andrew strong

HE may be best known for being the singer in Ireland’s hardest-working semi-fictional soul band, but Andrew Strong has a voice that can belt out the blues with the best of them.

Thrust into the spotlight at the tender age of 16 when The Commitments movie made him an international star, Dubliner Strong has enjoyed a long and varied career in music. His upcoming headlining slot at Blues on Broadbeach on May 24 will see the 41 year-old return to his roots and the songs that made him famous, but with a healthy dollop of blues ladled on top.

“It’s predominantly a Commitments show,” he says. “Probably 70 percent Commitments. I do some Jimi Hendrix, some Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, some Spencer Davis songs. I went out to Australia about two years ago with this kind of show and it was very popular, so we’ll go out, put on the suits and sing all the Commitments stuff.”

After distancing himself from the Commitments’ music in the years following the 1991 release of the movie, Strong was reunited with the band for their 20-year reunion.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t done this kind of show in 20 years,” he says. “Prior to this I’d been doing my own stuff. Basically what happened was when [the Commitments] got together to do the reunion a couple of years back, there was a strong void there for me to go out and do this kind of show. I enjoyed it, but I thought it’s not the sort of thing I’m going to keep doing, but there are people out there who really wanted to see this kind of show and me sing these songs. So, this will be effectively my last of this kind of show in Australia. This will be my third tour in Australia; I’ve played probably 40 shows doing this ‘Andrew Strong – The Commitments’ show, so when I come back it’ll be more kind of Andrew Strong-themed.”

Strong’s powerful voice and electric live performances have earned him tour slots with Elton John and Lenny Kravitz, as well as an invitation to perform at the Princess of Norway’s wedding.

“There are a lot of things [in my career] I’m very proud of,” he says. “Touring with the Rolling Stones was one of the highlights. It was great to go out on the road for eight shows with them, then come back home and get a call a week later to go out and do a couple more shows; that was a great buzz and a great experience. After I did the movie, for some reason I got a lot of respect from singers across the board. I look at the movie; I did it when I was 16. To be a part of something that, 20 years later, is still kind of relevant is an achievement.”

Strong’s soul and blues credentials were cemented even further when he was asked to perform with the Blues Brothers Band in the nineties; something which came about in a less-than-direct fashion.

“I know Ringo Starr’s kids,” Strong says. “I met them through the guy who wrote the screenplay for The Commitments. Their mother was married to the guy who owned all the Hard Rock Cafes; he sold those and bought all these Houses of Blues. Basically, the Blues Brothers Band were opening all these venues and they asked me would I come over and sing at it, and I thought it would be great. I got the opportunity to sing with Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper and all those guys; we played in L.A. and Boston. It was great, man. It was great to play with those guys. I remember Steve Cropper came up to me in Boston and said ‘Hey man, I was so happy you recorded my songs, because I needed the money.’”

With two Commitments albums, four solo albums and a greatest hits collection under his belt, Strong is looking towards his next release.

“A lot has gone on in my life over the last year or so; I had a son and moved into a new home,” he says. “This year, I really want to focus on new material for a new album. Hopefully by the end of the year or the beginning of next year I’ll have a new record out. When I come back from Australia, I’ll been doing some shows around Europe; some festivals and stuff like that. I also have a side project band, The Bone Yard Boys; we’ve been working together for about eight years, and I’d like to put an album out. I’d be a happy camper if I could come back Down Under and do an Andrew Strong tour next year.”

ANDREW STRONG PLAYS BLUES ON BROADBEACH, MAY 24.

For Scenestr

James Vincent McMorrow: “It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible”

james vincent mcmorrow

JAMES Vincent McMorrow’s music is tailor-made to fill big spaces, metaphorically and literally. Luckily for him – and us – an upcoming show at QPAC and two nights at the Sydney Opera House will allow it to do just that.

“I want [the show] to be something that’s not just song, gap, song, gap,” he says. “I want it to be something that flows and gets bigger as the set goes along. We’ve got this really expansive lighting rig that we’re bringing; it’s kind of the fifth person on-stage. Hopefully we’ll bring a booming big set.”

The 31 year-old Irishman is no stranger to Australia, having been here as recently as five months ago, but he admits the sudden demand for tickets caught him off guard, in a good way.

“I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on in particular countries unless I’m there,” he says. “We were [in Australia] in January and the reaction was brilliant. When we talked about doing these shows, the idea was to do them way later, then all of a sudden I was told things are really good here. About a week after they put them on sale, I got a call saying that the Sydney Opera House was sold out and they were adding second dates. It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible. I mean, I’m pretty ambitious and I want to play places like that, but I didn’t expect it to happen this quickly in somewhere as far away as Australia. But then, you can’t predict everything; sometimes things just work. We just finished the US tour, and it was very much big venue to small venue to big venue, depending on which city we were in. I don’t feel any different if we go from 1600 people one night to 600 people the following; I still feel the same. Obviously Sydney Opera House is a special place; it’s like the Royal Albert Hall or Carnegie Hall or somewhere like that. There’s a resonance that goes beyond it being just another show, perhaps. I’ve looked at all the other Australian venues and they are all stunning and look amazing, so I won’t think about them any differently, and they’re all equally important.”

Released in January, Post Tropical is McMorrow’s second album, and sees his sound moving further away from his folk roots in a more soulful direction.

“This record was made for people to live with for a while,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to give itself away to people incredibly quickly. It’s been interesting going from territory to territory and seeing people’s reactions. The first record did very well in Europe, and when we played shows there we could see people starting to wrap their heads around the new sounds and new ideas. By the end of the shows we could really see people understanding it. When we went to the US, people were really into it intensely, and we could hear people singing every word. It was very soon for that for me; with the first record I spent two years working away before people really heard anything. The response to the new record was really quite compelling and drove me onwards to play the songs better and better every night. The response has been how I hoped. I never expect it; I just hope for it when I do these things.”

The first single is ‘Cavalier’, which McMorrow explains is the most accurate representation of what Post Tropical has to offer.

“I chose it because I thought it was the best song on the record, in the sense of letting people know what’s coming,” he says. “I wanted it to be a song that draws a line in the sand, or plants my flag in the ground or whatever you want to call it. It’s a definitive sound; there could have been songs that show where the last record was and where the next one is going, before we deliver something like ‘Cavalier’ further down the line, but I didn’t want to do that. I think people are smart, and I’m not in the business of trying to convince people; you either like it or you don’t, and that’s totally fine. With ‘Cavalier’, I thought people will hear it and either be in or be out. If they hear it and understand what I’m doing and what I’m going for, musically and stylistically, then they’ll like it. I don’t want to waste people’s time putting out songs that might be a little bit like something they might’ve heard before, then when they go to the record it’s different.”

JAMES VINCENT McMORROW PLAYS QPAC FRI 23 MAY. POST TROPICAL IS OUT NOW.

Interview: Jedward

JEDWARD

Irish pop twins Jedward are a seriously excitable pair of lads. They have so much energy that every one of these sentences should probably end with an exclamation mark, and their upbeat lust for life and desire to talk and talk and talk some more is simply infectious. I spoke to John (as Edward was “in the other room eating cereal”) about their upcoming Australian shows and the trick to fielding questions about their famous hairstyles. Warning: some of these answers have very little to do with the original questions.

You’ll be coming to Australia for three headline shows at the end of November. What can Australian fans expect from your shows?

It’s really exciting because these will be our very first shows ever in Australia. We’ve been to all the European countries doing concerts; I think we’ve done about four hundred concerts in total over the last three years or whatever, so we’re really excited. We’ll have over thirty songs; we’ll be doing pop songs, dance songs, pop-rock songs, we’ll play guitar on stage, we’ll do covers that people don’t even know, and some that people will know. Our songs are really really catchy anyway, so even by the end of the song people will be singing along and having a great time. We’re so excited about coming all the way from Ireland! It’s such a long trip; twenty-three hours to get Down Under to do concerts for our fans.

What covers will you be doing?

We haven’t decided yet. We’ve done ‘Little Things’ by Justin Timberlake, and some Ed Sheeran. We need to pick some slow songs, and then some kind of more ‘pop’. We only decide about a week before or whatever, so we haven’t really decided yet, but they’re going to be songs that everyone knows so we can get a proper vibe going. We kind of just bang through songs; we don’t drag the songs out for ages. You know when you go to a concert and they do, like, a six-minute version? We kind of just do it quickly, then it’s next song, next song, next song. We also have ten outfit changes, and that’s a lot of outfit changes. Most bands only have, like, three maximum, so it’s really really good. We just can’t wait to rock it when we come to Australia!

You’ll be playing some pretty big venues. Will your show be a big production with special effects and things like that?

Oh yeah, we’re going to have lots of stuff; lights, choreography, screens and crowd interaction. Nothing’s scripted or anything; I mean, we know our songs and what to do on-stage and everything, but talking to the crowd when everyone’s excited and we’re excited as well, is a really good vibe. We rock out to the max, so if anyone wants to have a good time, come to our show. Even in Ireland, when we’ve had thirty-seven shows over Christmas, doing two shows a day, we always have energy. We’re really fit, we’ve ran a marathon, and we’re ready to do the shows!

Did you actually run a marathon?

Yeah! We ran a marathon. We ran twenty-seven miles and we used to run five or six times a week, so we’re ready to go and do it. We ran it in three hours forty three minutes, but we were kind of just strolling it; we didn’t train for it. I play guitar on stage, and all our fans love when I play guitar on stage; they sing along with all their hands in the air. It’s a really really good vibe. I played guitar on the Internet, and I think it got a couple of million views on YouTube, so I decided to play guitar in all our shows. Our concerts aren’t all the same sound; we’ve got slow songs, dance, and pop stuff in there. It’s all different. We need to give people time to rest as we have loads of energy and we like to go crazy.

Where do you get all this energy? I feel like you could probably talk all day if I let you.

We’ve always been like that. We’ve always been runners and sports fans, and we always eat healthily. All this energy means we’re focussed and driven. You know sprinting when it’s like on your marks, set, BANG? We’re like that all the time; straight out there, but I think it’s the way we talk that makes people think that as well. We use a lot of actions words like ‘crazy’, ‘cool’ and ‘okay’; we use these words, like, a million times. That makes people think we have lots of energy, but we’re just like everyone else. For example, sometimes at airports, we’ll be talking to, like, a hundred girls all at once, when normally if you talk to girls it’ll be just you and the girl. Or if we do a C.D. signing and meet, like, a thousand people and have a thousand different conversations people might think we’re crazy.

Do you have any plans for new music?

We’ve done three albums. Our first album was just cover songs, our second album was more dance-y, and our last album was more of a live, pop-rock vibe. We wrote our next album all by ourselves, and we want it to have a more mainstream sound, not appealing to just one audience, and with a more solid, strong sound. We’re really excited about coming to Australia and doing TV shows and playing our new songs, and because we wrote them ourselves, we feel them one hundred percent. When we’re writing songs we really think outside the box; they’re all different and we never feel like “oh here we go again”. None of the songs have “I love you” or “love you” or anything like that in the titles; they’re really, like, solid and strong.

What else besides music would you like to get involved in?

I think the last four years have been such a learning experience, kind of like college. We want to do everything to a higher level and standard. We’re always going to have our hair and clothes and stay true to ourselves and stuff like that, but we just want to do everything on a bigger scale.

Don’t you ever get sick of people asking about your hair?

It’s okay; we don’t mind it. It’s like right in their face, it’s right there, so I think when people are lost for words ask “so how do you do your hair?” In twenty years time we still want to be performing concerts and doing ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Lipstick’, so I think we have to accept and be appreciative of our fans and whatever they ask. It’s like Britney Spears; she still sings ‘…Baby One More Time’, like, fifteen years later because it’s for the fans.

If you could record a song with any singer alive today, who would you choose?

I’d like to do a song with John Williams. He’s a composer and did the soundtrack to Jurassic Park and loads of other great soundtracks. I’d like to write a song with him; he writes such ‘massive’ songs. He’s, like, eighty-four, so maybe before he dies we can do a song or something like that. I’d also like to do a song with Pharrell, Justin Timberlake or Timbaland; you know their sort of really cool, simple, uncomplicated melodies? I’d love that.

Do you ever have to tone down your accents or slow down when speaking to people around the world?

Yes! We were just in Singapore and everyone spoke English, but we really had to slow down a bit so they could understand what we were saying. I feel like in the future we’ll be going to a lot of different countries where they don’t even speak English, so we’ll have to talk really slowly and precisely. In Germany we had one of those translator things in our ears, and we had to talk really slowly.

What are you most looking forward to about coming to Australia?

I’m looking forward to actually being in Australia, and I want to go to New Zealand as well. We’d like to go to the reef; you have the barrier reef there, yeah? We’d like to do some scuba diving and meet a koala bear and a kangaroo and do everyday Australian things like surfing. We’re really excited.

JEDWARD PLAY THE REGAL THEATRE PERTH NOVEMBER 23, PALAIS THEATRE MELBOURNE NOVEMBER 30, AND ENMORE THEATRE SYDNEY DECEMBER 1.