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INTERVIEW: Andrew Strong – May 2015

| 28 May 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW: Andrew Strong – May 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

Andrew Strong 02

SHANE PINNEGAR touched base with Andrew Strong ahead of his appearance at The Astor Theatre this Friday, 29 May, to play all your favourites from the much-loved 1991 movie The Commitments.

You can’t blame the man with the mighty voice for revisiting work he did twenty-plus years ago: if nothing else it is supply and demand, and he still possesses one of the best living soul voices. To his credit, Strong isn’t content to carbon copy The Commitments tracks, preferring to put his own spin on Mr Pitiful, Mustang Sally and Try A Little Tenderness.

“The show I’m doing right now is basically me doing what I did in The Commitments, but I’m doing my own spin on it,” Strong explains in his soft Irish accent. “It’s more edgier, there’s a lot more guitars. I play guitar a lot in the show. People are kind of seeing another side to me and that was very important, as opposed to people just knowing me as the singer in the movie.

“At least now when they come to the gig they see that, okay, I play guitar and it’s a lot, kind of heavier. When I do songs like Mustang [Sally] and Take Me To The River, they’re very different in terms of what’s on The Commitments’ records. They’re just harder. That was something I was very conscious of wanting to do before I took this whole thing onboard.

“I think people are seeing that other side to me,” he muses. “They’re like, ‘okay, yeah. Well, he does that. You can listen to The Commitments stuff – it’s cool, but you’ve got to go see him live.’ It’s just a totally different ballgame. It’s more engaging. It’s just more full-on. I think that side of me people are being introduced to more so than what people remember 20 years ago. That’s important for me. It just makes it interesting for me. That’s really my spin on it.”

Into harder rocking music himself nowadays, it seems the perfect way to stamp his personality onto the music and to keep it a bit more fresh for both himself and for the audience.

“Totally, man,” he agrees, “absolutely. You’ve just nailed it in the coffin there. Basically for me to go out and to do these shows, I just was like, well, I can’t do it like this, but I can bring my guitar out and I can bring a couple of fuzz pedals with me. Instead of it being a soul, it can be rock-soul. Then I thought, ‘yeah, that could be cool.’ That’s the main reason why I took it onboard to go out and to do this type of show.

“After this tour we’ve probably done over 40 shows in Australia. The people are really digging it here. I’m digging it. I’m having fun every night because it’s a fresh approach to it. The heart of the songs are there and my performance as a singer – I think I’m probably a better singer now than I was when I was 16. I’m a lot more experienced, I’ve made albums, I’ve toured a lot, I’ve learned a lot about my voice.

“I think now when people come to the show they’re getting a whole different ballgame as opposed to what they heard 20-odd years ago on a CD [from] a film. That’s some of what was very important for me to bring to the show and to bring to Australia.”

Andrew Strong Committments tour Australia 2015

Having kicked the tour off in Adelaide on 7 May, Strong says the response so far has been nothing but positive.

“Yeah, it’s been going great. We’re up here in Queensland, so it’s nice. New territory. I haven’t been to some of these places up here before, so it’s always nice to see new places.”

Unlike his character Deco in The Commitments, Strong doesn’t overdo things, so says the tour, comprising thirteen shows in 24 days, isn’t too gruelling on the ole’ vocal chords.

“Well, the most important thing is that I don’t abuse myself or anything like that,” he explains. “I make sure I get a good night’s sleep. I don’t drink or smoke or anything like that. They all help and I’m relatively fit and healthy, so I mean, once I target all those things. It’s all good, man.”

After the Australian tour is done and dusted, Strong has plans to record a new solo album, and possibly even a documentary of some sort.

“We’ve been kind of recording a lot of video footage over, I’d say probably the last year or two years, here in Australia,” he says, “I don’t really know right now what we’re going to do with it, but it’s there in the can. There’s probably hours and hours of footage. Again, I don’t really know what we’re going to do with it because a lot of the theme of this show has been very heavily kind of Commitments-based. We just have to kind of go through it and just see what we’ve got going on there, you know?

“Basically as soon as I finish this tour I’m heading back home. I’ve just upgraded my studio and just basically [I’m] going to hibernate, man, between now and the rest of the year. Just sit down, write some tunes, work with different writers and possibly some different producers and stuff like that.

“This show I’m doing at the moment,” he continues, “it’s kind of my tribute to The Commitments. Well, it’s not really my tribute. I was IN The Commitments, I suppose. I’d like to do, kind of like, a rock-soul album. That’s kind of where I’m at, but who knows. I’m just going to let the music take me on that journey.”

Andrew Strong 02
When Strong returns to Australia after releasing the album he’s referring to, he says he’ll be playing more of his own tunes on tour.

“It won’t be as heavily concentrated. Some of these songs I haven’t sang in years, so, no. I’ll always throw in Mustang or whatever, but no – the suit will be coming off. I’m [going to be] there for a reason and that reason will be to promote my new product. Yeah, that’s really it. This is what it is and when I get a new album together and come out that’s what I’m going to do.”

Strongly (groan) identified with Mustang Sally, Strong is humble about the effect his version of the song has had on people for over two decades.

“Mustang Sally… it’s so funny. I was speaking to people about that song, who come to the gigs, they’re like, ‘that’s your song, man’. I never saw it that way. As far as I’m concerned it’s Wilson Pickett’s.

“I suppose, not being egotistical or anything, but if you look at that on a universal level, a lot of people do identify with the version I created, that I did with The Commitments. I can understand that to a certain degree. It’s just part of who I am. It’s not a lot to ask for, to sing [it for people] for 3 or 4 minutes and make people really happy.”

Not many of us could imagine doing the same thing at work for over twenty years, but Strong insists singing these songs isn’t an infuriating chore to him.

“No, because when I tour Europe it’s a different ballgame. I’ve made five albums. When I play my show, I play my records. I’m going out, I’m doing what I do. At one stage I wouldn’t even play Commitments songs. I was just like, ‘hold on a minute, this is your public. This is the people who let you continue to do what you do and you’re passionate about’. You can’t hide from that.

“I’m sure if you checked in with Mick Jagger and said to him, ‘hey, what about Satisfaction?’ That guy’s been in the business before I was even born and he’s singing that song – believe me, I’ve played with the Stones, and they sing that song every single night.

“It’s just part of who I am as an artist,” he declares. “Yeah, if I had to go out and play this kind of show I’m doing right now for the next 20 years, yeah, I’d have a problem with that, but I don’t because, a) I’ve never done this type of show, and b) when I go out on the road it’s really what I want to do as Andrew Strong. It’s not about facilitating my public. It’s about me being an artist, going out and playing what I want to play.

“Normally in my own set it’ll be 90% stuff from my records. Then I might throw in some Jimi Hendrix, I might throw in some Spencer Davis and then I’ll throw in one or two Commitments songs. It’s not a lot to ask for, man. I have no problem with that.”

Andrew Strong - Committments tour 2015

That Commitments connection just won’t go away – testament to how loved the movie was by so many. Strong even admits that there has been talk over the years of a sequel.

“Yeah, there’s been talk about it over the years,” he says, dismissively, “but nothing’s ever really come of it to be honest with you. I think I might have met maybe one or two writers over the years… but no. I don’t think so.

“At the end of the day, it was a book written by a guy who was a schoolteacher, [and] I think if anybody was going to do anything to recreate that as a sequel, for me, it would be important that that person would be involved in it because it’s his baby, he gave birth to that. That’s obviously Roddy Doyle. It’s very rare that sequels [are as good]… I have seen some movies, for instance Mad Max. I always loved Mad Max 2. Everyone goes, ‘oh, Mad Max 1 is the best and Mad Max 3 is crap’. I always loved Mad Max 2.”

We couldn’t agree more.

“I just thought, even today if I watch Mad Max and I see that guy with the mohawk, it still freaks me out a bit. But, no, there was talk [about a Commitments sequel] but nothing really came of it.”

Knowing how passionate Strong is about his own music, we imagine it would have to be a pretty bloody good and relevant storyline for him to agree to be involved in any sequel.

“Yeah, absolutely, man!” he enthuses. “Even to this day, like with movies and stuff like that, I’ve been asked over the years to get involved more in movies and stuff, but it was never my passion. I fell into The Commitments. I was a singer, I was a kid. If you turned around to me at 16 and said, ‘you’re going to make a movie’, I would have looked at you like you had ten heads. I would have been like, ‘no. I don’t know how to act’.

“Look, sometimes things are just better off left the way they are. I think that’s definitely one of those movies which should be. I have never been presented any material or anything that remotely came even close to me, to even consider doing something like that. Not at all.

“Even for me to do the reunion tour [with the original Commitments cast, in 2011], it was a big decision for me because it doesn’t feel very natural this whole thing because we were just all a bunch of kids. When you’re in a band, it’s a marriage. It’s like being in marriage for 20 years. Then when you do a reunion, it’s organic, where that wasn’t. That was the big problem I had with it. I thought, ‘well, we were never a band. We just made a movie with a soundtrack and it did well.’ [But] I am happy I did it and it made a lot of people happy.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I’m doing this tour right now – because I met so many people when we got together for those anniversary shows. People were practically crying, saying to me, ‘we waited 20-odd years to see you do this and see you guys’. I just thought, ‘you know what, man? I’m just going to go out and I’m going to do my own spin on this. I’m going to show my appreciation to all those thousands of people.’ I want to show my appreciation and that’s what I’ve done.”

Andrew Strong 03

Strong says he’s an ardent music fan still.

“Yeah, I love all different types of music. I love reggae, I love rock, I’d even listen to some of that nuero-metal or whatever you call it,” he chuckles. “I can appreciate it. Totally. I love country music, I love blues. I’m very, very open. I have a very mixed bag of music in my music collection at home. Well, on my mp3 player, I should say. Yeah. No, man, I appreciate it and even music that I don’t like I’ll still appreciate the art and the form of it. I’m sure there are many people out there who don’t get what I do, but that’s just music, you know?”

Having found some pretty embarrassing things in my own record collection that date back thirty-plus years, I ask Andrew if he has any shockers himself.

“Absolutely, man! Absolutely. I’ve got some old Adam Ant records… funnily enough, I just moved to a new home and I’ve still a lot of that stuff in storage. I have to take it out. To be honest with you, I can’t even remember – it must be 4 or 5 years ago – since I actually listened to a vinyl record. That’s kind of the way things are going nowadays. I remember years ago when I was a kid, every Saturday I’d get on a bus and I’d go into Dublin and I’d go buy an album or a couple of records. I’d come home and I’d be just fixated by the record. I’d listen to it for, like, a whole day. The romanticism is gone out of it now. Nowadays kids just buy songs. They don’t buy records. Well, maybe me and you will, but even as a kid you really respected and supported the bands who you loved.”

That’s entirely true – though I tell Andrew that it’s hard to appreciate finding your wife’s Black Lace – Agadoo 7” single hidden away.

“At least it wasn’t KajaGooGoo!” he laughs.

This interview was first published in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 27 May, 2015 issue

Category: Interviews

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