It’s telling that Luke Spiller began his musical life in church. Watching The Struts frontman (clad in head-to-toe sparkles and very shiny trousers) gesticulate and hold his arms aloft with more commitment than a Born Again Christian, it’s not hard to believe he grew up with a preacher father – an evangelical Christian who played guitar in services. These days Spiller believes in “faith, not religion”, but his charismatic sense of conviction and easy command of an audience somehow reflects his spiritual, churchy roots. We’re used to our Stateside Southern rockers coming from gospel-fuelled backgrounds, but it’s quite something seeing a UK band with the same chutzpah.
“Too many people, and too many bands, think it’s CHEESY to sing, and dance, and GROOVE!” he declares early in tonight’s show, prompting one over-excited gentleman in the audience to respond “I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABIES!”
This much eager crowd participation and mass jazz hands is not normal for a Tuesday rock gig in Camden. But then The Struts are not your regular British guitar band. The Derby quartet first attracted serious attention in 2014, when they opened for the Rolling Stones. Despite this, they fell foul of exasperating record label relations and their debut album, Everybody Wants, sunk without a trace.
Famously, the band’s fortunes changed, however, when they enlisted a new ‘team’, reissued the album on a new label and headed to America. Over there, things moved quickly. In the last few months The Struts have supported Mötley Crüe on their final shows, performed on major US television appearances (Jimmy Kimmel, USA Today…) and graduated from their beloved white transit van to a big shiny tour bus. Concurrently, their US fanbase has grown at an unprecedented rate. Still, they seem happy to be on home turf tonight, even if, pre-show at Dingwalls, a certain amount of nerves are on display, with bassist Jed Elliott admitting “I’m feeling more on edge tonight than I do anywhere in the States. We have a lot of friends coming.”
“I do get nervous,” Spiller also concedes. Makeup-free and softly spoken offstage, he says he goes into character “one hundred percent” for gigs. “I’m not going to sleep the night before a big gig, that’s what I’ve found.”
From the moment Spiller hits the stage tonight though with a cry of “It’s good to be back! The things we’ve missed, from the Antiques Roadshow to Ann Robinson… ” the sold-out Dingwalls crowd is in the palms of his hands. And hearing the ultra-catchy, effortlessly likeable, ‘hit’-stuffed record tonight (fresh-sounding, for all its references to Queen, Slade and the like), it seems weirder than ever that it took this long for their homeland to catch on. The venue is sweaty in an ungodly way by the time Roll Up has set a rocket-fuelled pace, and the likes of the bouncy Kiss This are sung back word for word. The overriding impression of the four performers is one of complete fearlessness, but as a brilliant Dirty Sexy Money spills forth yet more 70s style-meets-90s joie de vivre, it’s interesting to think of the perfectionism that goes into it.
Rewind seven years, and Spiller and guitarist Adam Slack were in separate bands with the same management. Slack played Green Day-esque pop punk, while Spiller peddled AC/DC-meets-T.Rex tunes with his group Flukestar (“awful name,” he grimaces). When said bands dissolved, the pair were teamed up, initially with a different drummer and bassist. Elliott and drummer Gethin Davies were recruited in 2012 and, to the distaste of their fans, label honchos told them to cut their hair, lose the flamboyant attire and wear Reeboks instead. When their album came out in the UK in 2014, “fuck all” happened, Slack admits with brutal honesty.
Fast-forward back to today, and the result of these struggles is evident in how incredibly grounded The Struts are. Having weathered so many setbacks (essentially by being true to themselves), the band agree they’re infinitely less diva-ish than they would be if success had come immediately.
“When me and Luke first got signed we thought we were the bee’s knees,” Slack nods. “We were complete dicks in retrospect.”
“That experience is very valuable,” agrees Spiller. “I think that’s probably where pop culture’s going wrong. There’s a lot of artists that are just getting spunked out into the spotlight with no real experience or substance, and they just think ‘This is it, we deserve this’. No one ‘deserves’ fucking anything. No one deserves to be a massive success. You work for it and then you hope for the best.”
For The Struts, that work is clearly paying off. Not so much a ‘gig’ as an all-singing, dancing, costume-changing (Spiller switches outfits four times) extravaganza, tonight is both riotously good fun and a showcase of fantastic songwriting. Put Your Money On Me feels timeless, acoustic ballad Black Swan is beautifully heartfelt, and as closer Where Did She Go plays out, dingy Dingwalls descends into a massive knees-up. After all the politically rooted despair and aggro of late, this is pure escapism, and it feels like the start of something special.
For more on The Struts, check out our archive.