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3 Oct 2014
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The Next Big Thing?
by Mark Coles
You probably haven't ever heard of them. The White Stripes from Detroit in America are one of the hottest bands on the American underground. They're currently on a low profile tour of the UK - so low-profile, in fact, that their concert in London tonight will be a secret gig in a pub in front of around 300 people. No publicity - no interviews to plug the gig - and unlikely to pacify the several thousand people who've been trying to get to see them on their short tour of Britain over the past week or so.

The White Stripes are actually a brother and sister duo. Jack White is the singer and guitarist - his sister Meg plays what one reviewer called "prehistoric drums". The music is a modern take on the blues - sort of blues meets punk rock. Their heroes are the old bluesmen of the early 20th century - Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Blind Willie McTell and Son House along with rock'n'rollers like Gene Vincent,Eddie Cochrane and Lonnie Donnegan. Not exactly the sort of music you'd expect to get Britain's rock music loving teenagers queuing round the block to see. You'd be wrong, however. Such is the demand to see The White Stripes, the owner of London's 100 Club where they played last week said he could have sold the venue out ten times over.

He'd not seen anything like it he said since early gigs by Oasis back in 1994. The broadcaster John Peel went one further - he booked the band for one of his Radio One sessions and declared them probably the most exciting live act he'd seen since punk rock or even the legendary Jimi Hendrix back in the 1960s. Tomorrow, The White Stripes, will be featured on the cover of the influential New Musical Express - the magazine's concert reviewer last week announcing the band were here "to save rock'n'roll.....lets cut straight to the bone - tonight we have seen rock'n'roll reborn again".

You'd be forgiven for thinking that there's a major music industry hype going on here. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, they're afraid of being hyped. Trying to get an interview with them on their current UK tour proved difficult - it took the best part of a week to get to talk to 24 year old front man Jack White. "They don't really want to do any interviews" said Simon Keeler of Cargo, the company which distributes their records in Britain, "they're very cautious - they just don't want it to all get out of hand". Simon acted as go-between trying to persuade Jack and Meg to talk to me. Interviews with most radio stations were being politely turned down I was told. Messages were left - "it might happen at the sound check... it might happen tomorrow.....they'll think about it in a couple of days" - everyday brought a different answer. When I finally got a few minutes with Jack on a payphone in a club in Leeds he was philosophical about the excited reviews they were attracting - keen to play everything down. "In America we heard that in England you can suddenly become big for a couple of months - then everybody forgets about you after that. We're trying not to take it too seriously."

So is there an element of hype or is there something really going on here? The music is raw and exciting - a blend of blues, rockabilly and 60s British heavy rock bands like the Yardbirds and the Animals. Its simple back to basics stuff with a heavy nod to authentic blues music. "The blues are closer to honesty than the sort of music that's been going on for the past 20 or 30 years", says Jack White, "Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Bukka White were doing honest truthful music 80 years ago - its the most beautiful music ever made - its the 20th century art form that will never be surpassed".

Before they recorded a session for John Peel's Radio One programme, Peel had dinner with the duo. "They wanted to know all about Lonnie Donnegan and acts from way back" said Peel, "We talked about Eddie Cochrane,Gene Vincent and I mentioned that the blues guitarist Son House had once done a session for the programme, half an hour later when we recorded them live, they changed their set to include a Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane number. It was very impressive stuff. You cant imagine Travis doing that". Maybe that's the real appeal of bands like The White Stripes. In a music scene that's gone a bit stale - they're a breath of fresh air.

Compared to Travis, Coldplay, Hearsay and countless other bands that dominate the charts, The White Stripes sound positively dangerous and rebellious. They're not alone - there are scores more bands in Detroit playing a similar style of music. The success of the Strokes - a new band from New York playing stripped down garage and punk influenced music who recently had a top twenty hit in the UK , shows there's a huge demand out there for something new.

2001 almost feels like the mid- 1970s again when punk rock first happened. Just as it was a quarter of a century ago, pop and rock in Britain is in a rut. It needs a kick up the backside. At the moment this new wave of underground bands from America playing their loud fusion of blues, punk and garage rock look like the only ones possible of carrying that out.


Listen - Mark Coles' report
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