The gritty underground scene of Northside Dublin in the 1980s, the social unrest of the time…The Commitments was a film which captured many a phenomena, though none more resounding than the talents of Andrew Strong.
In 1991, Strong was introduced to the world through his portrayal of Declan “Deco” Cuffe, lead vocalist of fictional Irish soul band The Commitments from the film of the same name. Now, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the award-winning film, Strong will be returning to Australia to perform the classic soundtrack in full.
After the film, Strong would go on to pursue his career as a singer songwriter, eventually returning to where it all began years later, performing the film’s hits Mustang Sally, Try A Little Tenderness, Chain of Fools, Take Me To The River, In the Midnight Hour plus more. Andrew Strong spoke to Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about this amazing legacy and the upcoming Australian tour.
Great news, exciting that you’re coming back to Australia to celebrate another milestone for The Commitments.
Yeah, looking forward, it’s always good to get down to Australia, looking forward to it. Adelaide’s good city, always nice to get there, got plenty of friends there and stuff so nice to catch up with friends and play a bit of music.
I was just trying to work out how many tours you’ve been down here now, must be a few?
Yeah, it’s been a fair few over the years yeah. I mean I’ve been touring there since 1992 I think was the first tour I did. It’s always good to get down there!
What is it about Australia that keeps you coming back?
Well I know the weathers good, as I said I’ve been touring there since 1992. I’ve got a lot of great friends who I’ve met there over the years, it’s a combination of those really. It’s just the Aussies love their music, I mean they’re great crowds to play to and it’s also nice to just met up with friends. Also, when I have some time off on the tour I like to go visit friends, go to their summer houses, do the things what Aussies love doing, have barbecues, drink a few beers, get on the jet skis, you know, all that sort of stuff. It’s a bit of a combination of a holiday and work I guess. That’s the reason why I like kind of getting down there.
I’ve read quite a few interviews that you’ve done where you’ve said that The Commitments was like an albatross around your neck. Do you still think like that? No, no, not so much nowadays. I mean that when The Commitments was released in 1991, it was a successful soundtrack, it sold over twelve million units. At that time I got a record deal and I was very into what most teenagers would have been into in the early 90’s, you know like the whole heavy kind of grunge, such as SoundGarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and all that kind of stuff. I was really into that sort of stuff and I wanted to go a bit heavier, kind of rock, more alternative route but then on the other hand you just make this movie, and you make a very big massive soundtrack and that was pulling me in another direction. So, it was more out of frustration. The Commitments was my introduction to soul music. I knew who James Brown was and all of that but you know when I was a young kid I was into Madness, Adam & The and so it was very mature music for a sixteen year old to be into.
I went on to make my solo records and I did the rock thing, even the show I’m doing in March, if you ask me to categorize it I would say it’s rock, soul. It’s much more bulgier the way we play these songs live, than the way they are on the soundtrack. That’s the reason why I felt that way.
It must be hard to show that your music career is far more than just The Commitments with all the solo albums you have made as well?
I’ve made solo records since I’ve done The Commitments, actually combined The Commitments and what I’ve done I’ve made thirteen albums. Between soundtracks, between working with other artists that really speaks for itself. If you look at most artists who make a record and really nothing else happens in their career, they don’t really have A, the longevity and B, where they can sit back and look at their portfolio and say well look I’ve got thirteen albums I’ve worked on here, numerous soundtracks.
Getting into the music business is not about being successful, to me it’s about doing what I do, the passion I have for music. I’m in the game nearly thirty years now and I’m still doing it and still touring. To me that’s what makes me happy, that’s what keeps me rolling. I couldn’t care less if I sold ten thousand albums or if I sold ten albums, I can maintain what I do and I’m passionate about it, and I think that speaks volumes for itself.
If you had your time over is there anything that you’d do differently? Would you have it more on your own terms and say no, I’m going this way and that’s what I want to do.
At the end of the day yeah, I mean you can look at artists who have done it their own way, who have gone out and they have made their own records and they’ve achieved success through their own identity. You can also look at artists who’ve done that, twenty years later people have forgotten about them. I’m dumbfounded that twenty-seven years later people are still talking about this movie, people are still they love the soundtrack. I mean if you come to my shows there’s three generations coming to my shows nowadays. I got together with the original cast about four years ago and we’re playing to like eighteen to twenty thousand arenas’. If you ask me would I prefer to have a career where I can look back on something twenty-seven years later and it’s still just as relevant as it was then or have a career where twenty years ago I was relevant and I’m not relevant anymore, I would pick the first thing and what I’ve done in my career.
Some people get into this game to be successful and they don’t reach what they want to reach and achieve in life. For myself I’ve toured with the Stones, to Lenny Kravitz to Prince. I’ve made records, I still tour, and that’s what makes me happy. As I’ve said to do something you did twenty-seven years ago and people still get off on it, some people even come up to me after a gig and they’re crying. To me that’s a great gratification and it’s great to be able to still go out and show your gratitude.
You must also be pretty proud of the generational shift that it’s just not the people who saw the film when it first come out but a younger group of fans coming to the shows?
Yeah absolutely, totally. I have people come to my shows and they bring their kids, and then their kids bring their kids, and it’s like it doesn’t make me feel any younger but at the end of the day it’s just great that people can have that connection with something you’ve done so long ago. There are many artists who have been successful, and they only really appeal to one generation at that particular time. I think that’s not the sort of thing that happens every day with an artist, I’m very thankful to have that.
Do you still have the memories from that particular period of time when the film and the album came out, are they still just as strong now and do you still look back on it quite fondly?
It was a long time ago, of course I have memories, I don’t really think too much about it. I mean I never watched the movie, the movie is probably shown maybe ten times a year in Ireland, and all over Europe. I’m sure it’s showed in Australia but no, it’s not something I go into, or listen to. To be honest if it comes on TV in my house I just walk out of the sitting room and go into another room and watch something else. I have fond memories of it, it was a great time. What sixteen-year-old kid wouldn’t enjoy that? I came from boarding school, I walked out of boarding school into a motion picture and worked with Alan Parker who’s an incredible director. He’s a cult director, and he’s directed a lot of great cult movies. I have a lot of fond memories, and very, very proud of my contribution to it.
Does it get frustrating when people start bringing up the idea of a Commitments two and some sort of sequel to follow? Or even getting the original cast back together?
That’s kind of happened a fair few times over the years. There have been many attempts to make a sequel, but I really have no interest in any of that. As far as I’m concerned originally, it all originated from Roddy Doyle’s little book he wrote and that’s what it is. Unless Roddy Doyle wrote another book or continuation of it I would have no interest in it. Last year the actual original cast wanted to go out and tour, and I had no interest in doing that. I did it once and I did it about five years ago and I just thought well, I’ll try anything once so I did it once and I was happy we did it. It made a lot of people happy, and there’s a Commitment two record that’s pretty much as far as my contribution would be. I think to sit here twenty-seven years later and be still talking about it, that has more relevance to me than making a Commitments two.
Will there be much in your set from other projects such as the Boneyard Boys?
The Boneyard Boys stuff I haven’t played, I wouldn’t really play that if I’m doing a Commitments kind of thing, because that’s a little bit more alien to do that because that’s more alternative and I just don’t think it would fit in with what I’m doing. This tour will be purely rock, soul. I did do a couple of other songs, which weren’t part of The Commitments, but I think they complement the show, they’re not too far removed from what I’m doing.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch Andrew Strong performing The Commitments in full with his seven-piece band on the following dates…