While the other sixteen-year-old Irish lads of Omagh, Ireland were busy trying to get dates and driver’s licences, Andrew Strong was being catapulted to fame by a cult film by the name of The Commitments and a little song called Mustang Sally. Now 41 and with about fifteen Australian visits under his belt, Andrew Strong returns to our shores, this time to play Blues on Broadbeach. From his home in a quiet little town about 20km outside of Dublin, he braved the time difference and chatted with Natalie O’Driscoll about his incredible career to date.
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A low, gravelly speaking voice combined with an Irish accent is a potent combination. I want to listen to Andrew speak all day, which is fortunate for both of us, as he seems to enjoy giving fifteen minute responses to even the simplest of questions. Given that he’s practically a local now, I ask him about any Australian musicians that he likes.
“Oh there’s tons of artists I like from Australia,” he said. Then rattled off a list that includes the Baby Animals, AC/DC, Midnight Oil, INXS, Jimmy Barnes, Cold Chisel, Angels. “I got to hang out with Ian Moss last year and he’s a pretty interesting bloke,” Andrew added.
Given his appreciation for our home grown musicians, I am curious as to whether or not he uses Australian bands for his tours here.
“Absolutely. I’ve been using the same Aussie musicians since 1996, they’re just a bunch of awesome guys. I wish I could bring them to Europe. I’m blessed when it comes to this, I just hop over on a plane by myself … we just do a day’s rehearsal and then we just go on the tour together. Over the years about 60% of the musicians I’ve toured with have been a major pain in the arse but the Aussies and I always just have great fun. I’m not someone who minces their words so I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”
Blues on Broadbeach hosts a range of music from rock, funk, soul and of course, blues. I ask Andrew where he fits into the mix.
“The show I play in Australia is very Commitments based and I would put the rock before the soul. My take on these songs are just a lot heavier and the guitars are heavier and it just makes it a bit more interesting for me… In order for me to do it and make it interesting I play guitar and turn it up to 11 and we just kind of put some steroids in those songs. The live version is a lot more hardcore.”
Andrew has collaborated and toured with some legendary talent over the last 25 years. But he says the Rolling Stones were one of the biggest highlights.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around really great artists, you meet The Stones and Elton John they’ve been in the business so long… they’re not pretentious. Maybe they went through that cycle in their careers, I did myself. I’m at the point – people say ‘god your first album was the big inspiration for me and the movie and without that I wouldn’t be in the music business.’ I just try to give people encouragement in the business. The tendency of most artists I meet is to be like that.”
Blunt and genuine, Andrew seems an unlikely contender for a judging position on The X Factor. Yet he was indeed approached by the Irish producers, not once but twice.
“I was asked to be one of the judges on it and as things worked out I was actually touring and it’s quite a long series and I couldn’t commit to it. Then I watched that show and it’s just horrendous. I look at kids who’ve been on it, and the ones who win it, they do nothing with their career. I know the sort of budget they get and it really is an absolute joke. Then they came back and asked me to be involved again and I point blank said no. I didn’t want to be a part of something that destroys some kid’s dreams. And they make a shitty album for ten grand, they do a little tour and that’s it. They’re about the shows, not about the artists. They only care about the ratings and that people are tuning in every Sunday evening to watch.”
The Boneyard Boys, Andrew’s current musical project, is set to have an album for release in 2016, and he plans to tour once it is out, with his home away from home Australia of course being a stop along the way. It’s taken several years and quite a few songs in the bin for him to be happy with the amount of product he has to choose from for the new album, but he is philosophical about the process.
“These things take time. Three years ago when we started we wouldn’t have had the body of work that we do now. I think that applies to anything in life, if you stand back in anything and give yourself a bit of space, a relationship or a song or whatever, a clearer picture appears.”
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You can catch Andrew and band rocking the stage on Sunday 24 May at Blues on Broadbeach.