“THE BLUES had a baby and they called it rock’n’roll,” Muddy Waters declared on his 1977 album Hard Again, and from Van Morrison to Rory Gallagher to Thin Lizzy, the Irish have always had time for the blues.
Keeping on this tradition is Dublin’s The Riptide Movement - Mal Tuohy (vocals/guitar ), Gar Byrne (drums ), Jay Dalton (guitar ), and Ger McCarry (bass ) - who play the Róisín Dubh this Saturday at 9pm.
From the blues
All four band members grew up in Lucan and have been friends since schooldays. They have also been steeped in blues, roots, rock, and Americana since that time.
“At family get-togethers there would always be a sing-along and someone would get the guitar out, so there was always music,” Mal tells me during our Tuesday morning interview. “We all grew up listening to that kind of music. At home there would always be Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and The Faces playing. It was the same with Jay, and Rory Gallagher was on in his house all the time; with Gar, his dad is a big Led Zeppelin fan.
“This is what we would have heard growing up. You might start off listening to Oasis and then start looking for more and more music and that would lead you further back to bluesmen like Sun House and Furry Lewis.”
One of the most striking aspects of The Riptide Movement’s sound (and that of fellow Dubliners Kid Karate, albeit in a different way ) is the strong blues element running through it. At one time, such roots would have been the norm, but while playing an incalculable part in the development of rock music, the blues influence drastically diminished from rock in the 1990s to a point of near invisibility.
That has started to change over the last few years, largely thanks to Jack White who gave blues a much needed reinvigoration, making it relevant again to indie/alternative and younger audiences. The Riptides have been both aware of this, but also unconcerned by it, given that when it came to the blues they were already convinced.
“It’s always been there in our music, we’ve always had that blues element,” says Mal. “There is a lot of Rory Gallagher and Creedence Clearwater Revival in our music. The blues is starting to come back and it is more fashionable, thanks to bands like The Kings of Leon and The Black Keys.”
With foot stomping blues rock like ‘Hot Tramp’, ‘Cocaine Cowboys’, and ‘Shake Shake’, it is easy to imagine The Riptides cooking up a serious storm on a 1970s edition of The Old Grey Whistle Test, followed by a hushed “Hmmm...nice,” from Bob Harris.
Yet to see The Riptide Movement as simply ‘retro-revivalists’ would be wrong. There is a passion for blues and roots that is deeply genuine and an energy in their playing which goes beyond mimicry. It also has to do with the crowds at the band’s shows, many of whom are coming to blues based rock for the first time. It points to the elemental appeal blues and roots music possess.
It also highlights something old fashioned in the band’s approach. While they regard social media as an important promotional tool, it has never become their key way of spreading the word. Despite all the enormous advantages the internet offers, The Riptide Movement have come through the old fashioned way - gig anywhere and often and word of mouth will flow from there.
“Gigging is vital,” declares Mal. “Social media helps but you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Recording is one part, social media is another, and live gigs is another part. We’re picking up fans the whole time. Each time we have toured Ireland the numbers coming to the shows have been bigger. We’re just about getting out there and playing.”
The Riptides have enjoyed some prestigious support slots, most notably Bob Dylan in London’s Finsbury Park in 2011. “We met him briefly after the show,” Mal recalls. “We gave him a copy of our single ‘Hot Tramp’. He’s sound, really nice fellah, and we’re all big fans.”
The band’s next major support slot is with the Rolling Stones, again in London, in Hyde Park, next summer. Mal admits the band are excited about perhaps getting to talk guitar with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.
“I can’t wait,” says Mal. “That will be a highlight of the summer. That was a great one to get. We’re looking forward to meeting them and seeing them play.”
Paying the cost to be the boss
With the band’s rising profile in Britain and their popularity at new heights in Ireland - their most recent album 2012’s Keep On Keepin’ On went Top 10 - it is fascinating to note that this has happened despite not receiving airplay on any of the State’s major radio stations and, in contravention of a major rule of rock music, ie, get a manager and leave the business side of things to him/her - The Riptide Movement also manage themselves.
“In terms of the industry we didn’t get much recognition,” says Mal. “The media and radio only came after Keep On Keepin’ On, but before that we had been busking on Grafton Street for two hours on a Saturday and could sell 100 copies of our debut album What About The Tip Jars? We would then play Holland and Germany and get people there who had seen us on the street in Dublin!
“We’ve a lot of things coming up - playing the Róisín Dubh on Saturday, two shows at The Olympia this month, we did The Late Late Show and we’re doing Other Voices in June and we have plans to go to the US in 2014. It’s where we need to be - and yet we still can’t get radio play!
“Regarding managing ourselves, we have learned so much and it has given us so much insight into how the whole thing works. It has put us in a good position for the next album. We plan to licence it to labels and we’re talking to a couple of labels about it. We are now in a position where we know what we are talking about.”
Mal admits that trying to look after both the business and artistic side of things is starting to take a toll as the band move up the ladder.
“It’s been fine up to this point,” he says. “We’ve played all over Ireland, we’ve been to India, played Russia several times, but it is coming to a point where we are now talking to a number of people, looking to get a manager. We need someone to take over the business side of things as we are busy with gigs and songwriting and the music is evolving.”
Last Friday The Riptide Movement completed the recording of their third album, which was produced by Ted Hutt, who has also worked with The Gaslight Anthem. Mal says there is no title as yet, but that it will be released before the end of the year.
“We will have 11 tracks on the album,” he says. “We’ve recorded more than that so it will be difficult to choose just what 11 we want to have on. The music is more evolved. There is still blues and folk, but it is more crafted and there is a bit of indie as well, so it’s country-blues-indie.”
Tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net, from the Ticket Desk at OMG, Shop Street (formerly Zhivago ), and The Róisín Dubh.