The Dirty Strangers were born in the mid ’80s – led by singer, prime motivator and chief songwriter Alan Clayton. Based in Shepherd’s Bush – one of West London’s most cosmopolitan boroughs: a bit rough around the edges though once home to the BBC, forever the land of HMP Wormwood Scrubs and Queens Park Rangers FC… The band were on a mission: carrying a torch for rootsy rock’n’roll as invented by Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry but laced with a little bit of Otis Redding soul and a side order of punk attitude.
Clayton has remained the band’s heart and soul ever since, being one of those rare stars whose profile is somehow inversely proportional to the respect granted him by others. The list of famous names who have worked alongside him is long and impressive.
In the early days of The Dirty Strangers he recruited both sometime Chuck Berry sideman ‘Scotty’ Mulvey to play keyboards (the Irishman is still in the band to this day) and guitarist Paul Fox (the man who made all that noise in the seminal punk outfit The Ruts, and who sadly passed away in 2007). When the self-titled Dirty Strangers debut album was released in 1987 it featured guest appearances from Rolling Stones Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, as well as contributions by Mickey Gallagher of Ian Dury And The Blockheads. Also featured were stunningly soulful vocals by Angie Brown – who would tour with the band and later see top 10 action as a member of dance legends Bizarre Inc and Motiv8.
When The Dirty Strangers released West 12 To Wittering (Another West Side Story) – album number three in 2009 – Clayton’s appeal hadn’t dimmed at all as Richards and Wood again chipped in on tracks alongside a third legendary guitar player, former Damned man Brian James plus English rock’n’roll legend Joe Brown on banjo.
Away from the Dirties, in 2012, Clayton wrote and played alongside with 1960s and ’70s counter-culture icon John Sinclair – manager of Detroit’s legendary band the MC5 and founder member of the White Panthers party – when he came to the UK to make his Beatnik Youth album, produced by Killing Joke bassist Youth. He also assembled an all-star cast as The D’Martinis to make Learnin’ The Blues – the debut album by his then 82-year-old father Johnny Clayton. Among their number were Keith Richards once again, Keith’s legendary saxophone buddy Bobby Keys, Tyla (Dogs D’Amour), Jim Jones (Jim Jones Revue), Gary Stonadge and Mallett (The Rotten Hill Gang), Dave Tregunna (Lords Of The New Church), Cliff Wright (Eat This), Barrie Cadogan (Little Barrie), the chanteuse Amy Nelson and his own son Paul Clayton. If not quite a cast of thousands, Alan Clayton’s circle of talented friends is certainly a wide and varied set…
Now, in 2016, Clayton mixes such projects with an ongoing role in The Brian James Gang and – of course – The Dirty Strangers who return with a new album Crime And A Woman. On it Clayton – having taken on all the band’s guitar duties – is backed by Mulvey and the no-nonsense rhythm section of John Proctor (bass) drummer George Butler. (George’s place in the touring band, due to injury, is currently taken by Danny Fury, ex-Lords Of The New Church and Vain.)
Says Clayton: “This is the first album I’ve made where me and Scotty are the lead players and it’s all about us rather than who we could get in to help us or do a star turn. Okay, Jack Henderson helped us out on Cold Night and One Good Reason, but from the outset the sound of the band was down to myself and Scotty. He’s an excellent piano player and he and I are both big Otis Redding fans, so we love that big soulful sound that he gets out of the Hammond organ.”
And the title of the new album?
“My son said to me. ‘Dad, how come all your songs are about either crime or a woman?’ And I liked that so much I made it the title.
“The songs are all linked, there’s a bit of a story here, a bit of a film noir thing going on. I’m not sure I like the word, but I guess you could view it as a concept album – in the sense that Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra made concept albums – or it’s just a collection of songs. Whatever you want…
“But also, I’ve arranged the running order so you can follow the central character through a short period in his life. The opener, Danger First, is like his attitude to life. He’s not a safety first kind of bloke, more or a rogue, a bit of a villain… Running Slow is how he begins his day… Short & Sweet and Dream Come True are a couple of “woman” songs… In & Out is about him learning of what he plans to be his last big job, South Of The River is about the gang who’ll do it…
“I’m really proud of the lyrics to Stuff! (a wickedly funny take of the eternal battles of the sexes) and also to the last song, Setting Son, which is about the son Barrie I lost, but will probably touch a nerve with anyone who has lost someone they love. It’s the saddest song I’ve ever written – I’m not sure I could ever sing it live – but it’s a good way to end the album, a bit of reflection.”
So what inspires Clayton to write songs?
“Love and hate. Well, maybe not hate – that’s too strong a word – but annoyance, complaints. I write songs pretty much all the time. I have books full of lyrics to songs that I’ve not always finished but when an idea comes to me I don’t feel the need to reach for a notebook. I’m a firm believer in that if an idea is good enough you’ll remember it the next morning, or when the time comes.”
After three decades of gigging, the band continue to attract adoring crowds and high-profile admirers alike (at London’s Borderline in 2013 they were joined on stage by Bobby Keys – making one final UK appearance before his death – and Brian James) and deliver high-energy everyman rock’n’roll no audience ever fails to relate to.
Get a taste of their high-energy slices of life on the new album Crime And A Woman. Arresting and seductive. By the greatest little rock’n’roll band in the world.