Andrew Cowen reports on a search for the ultimate support band and meets The Rumble Strips, who are tipped for big things this year.
One side-effect of the current resurgence in live music is the seemingly endless opportunities for new bands to make their name on the national stage.
Talent searches and battles of the bands are springing up in many places, often backed by some pretty big industry names and supported by some cool bands.
The latest and maybe the greatest of these is the 3 First Cut Awards. Mobile phone companies seem to have cornered the market in these type of events and the prize on offer this time is a chance to release a single and play a gig with the unstoppable Fratellis.
With 1,900 bands now whittled down to just three, it must be pretty exciting if you're a member of Buffalo 77, Mendicant or Finka.
These final three bands are now on tour with The Rumble Strips, playing at Birmingham Barfly on May 3.
In addition to sharing the stage with this band of the moment, the finalists will get advice from music industry and media experts, stylists and photographers so they have a chance to fine tune their performance ahead of the Final.
The competition culminates on May 17 at London’s ULU where the lucky three will share the stage with the Fratellis and the panel will decide the winner.
After being chosen on the night of the final, the winning band will then have their single released on Fallout Recordings. They will also have a video created by a top director and be given a slot at a prestigious music festival in 2007.
The prize includes ongoing support by experts from the label, plus help in promoting themselves to the media.
The Rumble Strips are one of those bands for whom success seems inevitable and effortless. A classic British guitar band with the songs to back up the swagger, they also happen to be pretty nice chaps.
The Rumble Strips story begins in Tavistock, near Exeter, on the border of Cornwall and Devon. It’s here that the four band members grew up, even if The Rumble Strips didn’t actually form here. But it was here that singer, guitarist and principle songwriter Charlie Waller first became enflamed by music and the idea of being in a band – largely because his uncle was in a band and looked good in a leather jacket.
"I thought I could look good in a leather jacket one day too," Charlie remembers with some justification. "In the back of my mind, I always wanted to make music.
"I wanted to do something really unusual. I wanted to make a kind of rock’n’roll but in the least rock’n’roll way."
So that’s what he did when he started playing with an old friend from Tavistock, Tom Gorbutt, with Tom on sax and bass, eventually adding two other refugees from Tavistock, Matthew Wheeler on drums and Henry Clark on keyboards and trumpet.
The Rumble Strips started gigging. Charlie’s dream of making soulful pop music with the purest, most honest sound had begun to take shape.
After a stint in young London rockers Vincent Vincent And The Villains, Charlie decided to throw in his all with the Rumble Strips.
Trangressive offered to put out a single, the desperately romantic Motorcycle – which came backed with an ingenious, single shot video of Charlie singing on his bicycle whilst the band offer support on foot and wheels.
This was followed by a support tour with The Young Knives ("that really bonded us as a band," says Henry) and another plaintive, richly melodic single in Hate Me. More, bigger supports followed with Dirty Pretty Things and The Zutons, all the while The Rumble Strips honing their philosophy and sound.
"I love acoustic instruments when everyone is playing hard," says Charlie, "really hard. So it hurts just to make a noise but you can hear the playing.
"You can play an electric guitar and have loads of effects and make a racket, but there’s no effort. They’re playing so softly. That can be cool, but it’s not honest.
"We blast it out to get that effect and I like that human aspect because it’s closer to getting it very wrong too. And it’s in the cracks that you really hear the truth."
The Rumble Strips recorded their debut album in Los Angeles at the end of last year, although it won't be out until summer, a frustrating but understandable delay for the band.
Henry explains: "The record company want to wind it up gradually which is a bit weird from our perspective but they know what they're doing."
In the interim, the band are still writing songs, although being constantly on the road has made it difficult to fully knuckle down.
"We get a chance to run through them in soundchecks but we're going to have some proper writing time next year," explains the keyboard player. Like most bands, the songs on the first album are an accumulation from a long period of time. Some of the songs date back to when the members were just 15.
The album was recorded with producer Tony Hoffa, an American with a track record of recording British bands, although it was his work with Beck that attracted the band's attention.
"Hoffa was great," says Henry. "He was in control of the whole schedule and we got things done really fast. We wanted it to sound like the gigs, that live feel and he got that straight away.
"It was easy from that point and the whole process was about getting lively takes. Having limited time meant we didn't get bogged down. We're really pleased with the result."