It is difficult to think back to the Irish film “The Commitments” without remembering the stunning vocals by Andrew Strong playing the character Deco Cuff, the lead singer in the film’s eccentric Dublin band. At the ripe age of sixteen, Strong began filming the drama based on a novel by Roddy Doyle. His distinct voice quickly became associated with the most memorable scenes of the film, including his famous rendition of “Mustang Sally.”
Over 15 years later, Andrew Strong, now in his 30s with four platinum-selling albums under his belt along with several European chart-topping singles and a new band on his horizon, has proved himself already to be far more than the man behind Deco Cuff, though the label of the film was no simple task to shake.
“It sold 16 million copies, that ‘Commitments’ record, so it was a huge albatross around my neck,” said Strong in a phone conversation recently. “I was heavily influenced by the grunge scene at the time, it was the early ’90s so I wanted to do stuff that was in tune with that, but management said no, you’re known for singing this soul music, this is what they expect of you.”
Strong made special appearances on television and in concert with the Commitments, but as his co-stars went on to tour full time as The Stars from the Commitments, Strong waited for the hype behind the film to die down as he worked out material before releasing his solo record in 1993, which reached platinum sales. His albums, which he described as having elements of R&B and rock, found a great deal of success in Europe. Throughout the ’90s, Strong toured with some of music’s most recognizable names. He accompanied legends like the Rolling Stones, Elton John and Ray Charles on tour, which proved a more than intimidating task for a young performer.
“[When I opened for] the Stones on the Voodoo Lounge tour, I think the smallest show we played was to 90,000 people,” Strong recalled. “And when you play with the Stones you’re not playing at three o’clock in the daytime, you go on an hour before them… I was very fortunate with all those superstars – they all treated me very kindly.”
This August, Strong returned to the U.S. to play this side of the Atlantic for the first time in almost ten years. Supported by Boston pop rock band Tucker Jameson and the Hot Mugs, Strong played throughout the eastern U.S. promoting his “Greatest Hits” album. The album, released in 2006, chronicles Strong’s progression as an artist beginning with his early vocal work on the “Commitments” album, his solo work and some new material.
In addition to working on future albums, Strong is spending a great deal of time on a side project called the Bone Yard Boys. The rock duo composed of Strong and Bent Larsen Peterson delves into a harder, more rock oriented sound than Strong’s previous work.
“There’s very much of me in this music, a hundred percent of me,” Strong said of his side project. “I’ve really expressed myself here, and don’t get me wrong, I love soul music and I’m thankful for the success I had with it. But this new work, it’s contemporary… With this new record I want to get out and set the record straight… It’s much more contemporary rock. Not that it’s so contemporary. I mean I’ve played it for people in their 50s and they dig it, but it’s very different from my other work.”
The Bone Yard Boys, whose debut record can be expected early next year, has provided a place for Strong to release music which turns away from the soul sound fans have come to expect from him into the arms of a heavy alternative sound. Having fought the fight for creative freedom within the industry since he was a teenager, Strong seems most excited to release this new work which reflects where he is musically now. The new direction proves a challenge for Strong but one he is more than willing to accept. “There’s always that uphill corporate battle so many bands have to go through, and I have survived the music business for 20 years,” Strong said.
A great deal of Strong’s talent and influences can be traced back to his family. His father Rob Strong was a soul singer whose career led the family to make homesteads in Kansas City and Las Vegas before settling more recently in a country setting outside of Dublin. “Most kids only go to two or three schools in the course of their whole education whereas I went to twelve or so different schools, so really to be honest even though I was born in Dublin I lived less of my life there. Also the last fifteen years my family have been based about twenty miles outside of Dublin so it’s more country oriented. So [musically] I was more oriented in that way than what Dublin influenced.”
Strong’s mother owned a chain of hairdressing shops before she entered the music business as his manager for a time. Strong’s fans are also likely familiar with his sister Maeve who lent vocals to a duet on Strong’s third album which was extraordinarily successful on the European airwaves.
Now fresh off his American tour, Strong is focusing on the Bone Yard Boys and his new solo material and splits his time between Ireland and Copenhagen.