Rob Strong Feature (1965-present)
Bands: Polka Dots
• Plattermen • Rockets • Las Vegas • Rob Strong
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Where Are They Now?
In the early 1970's nobody in Ireland personified the raw
energy of rock and blues music like Rob Strong, one of the most unique voices of
the era. Rob and the overdrive brass section of the Plattermen laid down some of
the funkiest sounds ever heard in an Associated Ballroom. But it wasn't always
that way. A rather tame looking Rob first entered the showband scene as the bass
player with The Polka Dots, a far cry from his latter days with the Plattermen.
Rob started his showband career around 1965 when he
joined the Polka Dots showband after playing with a few local bands
around Derry. Around that time, the Polka
Our best guess is that Rob started his career
in the early 60's.
He’s perhaps destined to be remembered as father
of Andrew of Commitments fame, but Rob Strong is a force to be
reckoned with in his own right....
Tim Brannigan found out more DERRY man Rob Strong has known many ups
and down in his musical career. The sad thing is that he may be
known as the father of his son rather than for anything he has done
in his own right.
“Well, to be honest Andrew’s success and the film
(Andrew was the precocious singing star of The Commitments) were
good for me too. I got a lot of work out of the fact that my son was
a big star,” said the Dublin-based singer.
“I always get asked about my children and their careers but I mean
what can you do when you’re asked? You can’t be ignorant to people.”
Rob, who plays at the Empire tomorrow night, has been round a few
corners as they say, and his career as a blues-tinged rocker has not
always been an effortless journey. It started off well enough.
In the 1960s he was a key member of well-known showband The
Plattermen who quickly gained a reputation as one of the best
showbands in the whole of Ireland.
This was no mean feat because show bands were the
second most popular career option in Ireland at the time. The first
was emigration. “Those were great days and they will always be
important to me. The showband scene was fantastic and we really took
it seriously, practising three and four days a week. "It’s not like
the bands now who don’t bother practising half the time. Today the
music industry is split in two between the people at the top and
those at the bottom.
“In the past there was also a middle layer which
was where I was but it’s all much more tough now.”
Rob has a theory about why this is and he points
the finger at one of the most disturbing trends in music today: the
the ‘tribute’ band. “Everywhere you look now it’s
counterfeit bands. There must be three Bob Marley bands on the go
and then there are Eagles bands, Pink Floyd bands, Abbaesque and
loads of others. “It would be fine if these bands were any good but
most of them aren’t. To be a tribute band you have to be really good
and not just OK if you plan to pay a tribute.”
He lost out on the possibility of joining rock
legends Deep Purple because of poor decisions by his management.
Rob’s career began in the sixties and has
continued ever since, although when things got tight he wasn’t above
turning to a day job to make ends meet.
“Well, this is the real world and you’ve got to
pay your bills. There are plenty of artists whose pride won’t let
them work a nine-to-five if needs be. But I’m not like that. If I
have to work on a building site I will.”
For almost 10 years Rob’s day job was not the
normal nine to five, and his dedication to it led him into Mountjoy
prison as a teacher. “Yeah, it was funny but I got asked to go in
and teach the lads in there how to play the guitar. It was a very
interesting experience but by the end of my time there I just wanted
to get out of there and get back to music full-time.”
The pull of live performing still has a hold on Rob but he feels
that constant travelling rejuvenates his zest: “I am going to
Sweden for five days and soon after that I go to Germany for a
fortnight. “I still have a good fan-base in Europe and that’s great.
A lot of Irish and British acts are very insular and seem to
overlook Europe but I’ve always enjoyed it. I also go to America a
fair bit too which helps keep me sane.”
Rob’s father was a musician and his son Andrew currently has a
number-one hit in Denmark and still plays regularly across Europe.
Now his daughter Niamh (18) has started to make waves musically, and
is currently receiving a lot of attention from a major music
He doesn’t seek to discourage her: “No, she’s got a great voice and
I just think that if that’s what she wants to do then great.” So
long as he is doing what he likes best touring then he seems
happy to let his off-spring go wherever the road may take them. Rob
Strong is at The Empire in Belfast tomorrow night. Tickets are
available at the door. Priced £5.
In November, 1975, Ray Doherty, who had recently left the Big
Eight, announced the formation of a new band, Las Vegas. An article
in Spotlight reported that the idea came to Ray when the band
had been playing in Vegas (where they spent six months a year). The
band's lineup included: Rob Strong (vocals and bass), Ray Doherty
(multi), Jon Murphy (vocals), Kevin O'Brien (trumpet/sax), James
Delaney (keyboards), Brendan Bannigan (brass) and Niall Power
May 1978- Rockets
December, 1974-Rob Strong Band
1976 Las Vegas with Kelley
More to come.....
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