Despite sounding like The Addams Family’s solicitors, Strange And Partners are, in fact, Sheffield’s newest and most intriguing proposition, musically speaking. Read on…
Words: Polly Perkins
Pics: Timm Cleasby Photography and Marek Payne
When Richy Westley wandered from a gig venue into the derelict custard factory next door, he found, amongst the dilapidation, skate ramps and squatters’ requisites, ‘A funny little wooden plaque, “Strange and Partners”’. The plaque lived in his band’s practise rooms for the next few years and ultimately inspired the name of his latest musical endeavour. Toast met up with Richy and Chris Ryan (bass) in Fagan’s for a chat about their new EP.
Richy isn’t new to the northern music scene, he teaches drumming in Sheffield and is a runner for some of the city’s biggest venues and, having toured internationally as the drummer in both Hoggboy and Reverend and the Makers, his new role as front man and guitarist in Strange And Partners has given him an opportunity to explore his own voice, his writing and his take on the psych garage/rock n roll genre. Since 2009 the band has had several different line ups and due to drop outs and recruitment problems, the EP has been three years in the making.
Strange and Partners now comprises lead and rhythm guitars, drums, organ and vocals. As drumming tutor by day, Richy could have chosen to provide both the lyrical melodies and rhythms himself but didn’t like the idea of emulating Phil Collins ‘I’m just not doing that. I struggled to find a drummer, they’re always the hardest to find, aren’t they? And we had a great one, Nicki, but he got tendonitis in his wrist and then had to have some pins removed from his knee, later Adam from The Hosts helped out, but he’s already in two other bands so it was just impossible for him to make it to all the practises and gigs we wanted to do. Then we had Hugh Smith, our original guitarist, on lead and it worked really well but then he moved to Edinburgh. So I texted a mate, Andy Martin, who was the singer in Dead World Leaders, that I was looking for a guitarist and did he know anyone, his response came back straight away: ‘Me..?’ I didn’t know if he’d be able to do it, the guitar parts are really intricate, but before Hugh left he tabbed them all out and Andy took them away and just nailed the lot. I take my hat off to him, he’s a very, very good guitarist! Then we got Tom Burgoyne in on drums and Evvo [formerly of Tiny Dancers] on keys, he brought the organ back into the music and it was like the missing piece of the puzzle, it just fit right in…so we’ve only had this line up for the last two or three months and we’ve had to graft hard to get ready for the EP release… we’re still cutting our teeth on the writing process and have only recently got to a place where we know what we want to do with our music, what vibe we’re going for, but we’re there now…’
Their EP, recorded with Dave Sanderson at 2fly Studio, is released this month and has a definite 1960s, Kinks/Doors- esque feel. The band’s style is strongly referential, but has a contemporary edge, with poetically poignant lyrics and subject matter varying from addiction and obsession to love, death and sex.
‘We’ve had so many different comparisons made, some people say we sound like Coral, others like Supergrass, The Kinks etc…but we’re definitely aiming for the psych garage/rock n roll vibe, That 50s/60s thing. Why not? We can’t re-invent the wheel now and there’s so much good stuff before us which has influenced music today. In our case, it’s outfits like The Sonics, The Beatles and Thee Midniters. More recently, I’ve been listening to a bit of Metronomy’s new gear and Django Django, as well as old blues stuff. Sonny Boy Williamson is incredible. It’s all in there…’
Since touring with Reverend and the Makers, inspired by front man Jon McClure, Richy has carried pen and paper religiously and constantly jots down ideas for songs, lyrics and poems.
‘The general idea of a song is 90% finished, then I take it to the band and the others add their parts and tweak it all with me. But, they all bring their ideas and we want to write together more in the future. One of the songs on the EP, ‘Raging Days’ , the Kinks-y bass riff came to Hugh in a dream and he brought it to me and we just scatted and jammed it until we had a complete song. It’s taken a while to get there but we’re all coming from the same place now, singing from the same sheet, which is great…but the way I write is pretty random, the songs aren’t always self explanatory…’Beautiful Woman Beautiful Trouble’ is about addiction and how, though you might love something or someone, it’s not always the best thing for you. Not just a woman, it could be a drug or anything else, we’ve all done it, “this is good, but it’s trouble” [at this point he is gesticular-ly snorting a line and downing a pint, smoking and whatnot] we’ve all had good times, beautiful trouble, and then woken up and thought “Oh god, what have I done?”’
Richy loved touring with previous bands and has high hopes to continue this lifestyle with this new musical gambit , but it clearly is all about the music, the creativity and a love of performance, rather than some abstract, grandiose preconception of success.
‘All I want to be is someone who’s gonna write and play good music. I want to make people feel something, like the old blues players do. I’ve been drumming and playing blues harmonica and guitar for a long time. Now I want to sing my own songs, not force anything, but try to say what I wanna say about what’s happened in my life. I loved touring, I’m not expecting to make loads of money as a recording artist — you can’t do that these days — but getting to travel with the band is payment in itself. It scares the shit out of me, being a front man – but it’s a great buzz, too. Just getting out there to play, that’s what it’s about, or that’s what it should be about anyway.’