Features > On the Horizon > 22-20s


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   Perhaps you’ve heard it before, but it’s a story that bears repeating. It’s about early promise being fulfilled. About capturing the moment, and great songs. It’s about not knowing the destination, but wanting to get started on the journey anyway. It is, of course, the story of the great debut album – and it’s one that’s currently being told about U.K.’s 22-20s.

   Recorded with Brendan Lynch (Paul Weller, Primal Scream), at Sawmills in Cornwall and in Wembley, North London, 22-20s is a debut album that captures a young trio approaching the raw materials of classic rock ‘n’ roll – to name a choice few: love; lust and frustration – and making them their own. Their first release, last year’s live EP 05/03 showed a group in love with the spirit of the blues. The full-length 22-20s, meanwhile, sees that spirit loving them right back.

   “We wanted to make a rock’n’roll record that wasn’t about wearing Converse and becoming junkies,” says the band’s 21-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist, Martin Trimble. “And I think we did that. There’s a lot of bands coming out today who look like they’re made to be on a Gap advert, which is all quite unnecessary to us. I think what we do is pretty pure, really.”

   This brand new self-titled album is on fire with that purity of purpose: to make a record that would do justice to Martin’s songs, and best convey the rawness of the interplay between himself and Glen Bartup (21, bass), James Irving (20, drums) and new member Charly Coombes (keyboards) who joined as a full-time member during recording. Although there is plenty here to evidence the influence of some of the band’s favorite records – namely Buddy Guy’s stripped-down Live At The Checkerboard Lounge – and to bear favorable comparison with other classy debuts, like the first album by The Rolling Stones, the group are not hell-bent on the pursuit of some luddite dream of authenticity.

   “If the Stones had been recording now, I think they’d have gone for the best possible sound,” says Martin. “And like the Stones, I hope we go away and find a style that’s totally our own, and go and write an album as good as Exile On Main Street.”

   It’s not a far-fetched an idea. 22-20s formed three years ago and named themselves after the Delta bluesman Skip James’s piano-led 22-20 Blues, this was a group that from the start was reading from its own fairly eccentric map. Having grown up in admiration of the blues records brought round by his Uncle at Christmas, Martin and Glen had played for several years on the UK and European blues scene as a duo, backed by session drummers. When one departed for a more profitable soul gig elsewhere, a position was left vacant for newcomer James to fill.

   It was a fortuitous moment in a promising time. Though still with little in the way of a musical peer group around, there were still inklings that the times were beginning to change.

   “We weren’t bluesy enough for the blues scene,” says Martin. “We did these festivals in Germany where we played songs we’d written like ‘Devil In Me’ and ‘22 Days.’ One time a bloke came up to us, and said ‘I Like what you do, but it’s rock ‘n’ roll not blues, so I can’t listen to it.’ That kind of attitude.

   “But on that tour we played our old drummer this tape we had of the White Stripes doing a Peel session. He said, ‘Christ, it’s a fucking racket!’ But for a guitar band, you can’t underestimate the impact that had. They’re an important band.” Since then the group have retreated from the publicity that surrounded their deal, to concentrate on their songwriting, and, developing at their own pace, on making 22-20s the most representative album possible.

   It’s been worth the wait. Mixed in the US by Rich Costey, songs like “Devil In Me,” “Hold On,” “Such A Fool,” “Why Don’t You Do It For Me” and dark, thunderous “Shoot Your Gun” show a group confident in their abilities, but also anxious to move things on, to show what else they can do.

   “We wanted it to sound intense and quite dark” smiles Martin. “Most of the songs are about insecurity, but I think there’s a fine line between that and self-pity. ‘Shoot Your Gun’ is the kind of place we’re headed next. It’s got those psychedelic, run-down chords, and it’s not quite so bluesy.

   “We wouldn’t like to be tagged as just being a blues band,” he continues. “In blues, everything after a certain point became fixated on the guitar, when before it had been about the voice, the heart and the soul of it. When you listen to ‘Dirt’ by Iggy Pop you can really relate to that primal thing. What we do is personal, and it has that same thread running through it – it’s just more honest that way.”

   Heart. Soul. Honesty. These are all key issues when you’re thinking about 22-20s and the band that made it. As such, while Martin’s keen to stress he thinks 22-20s is pretty good, as something of a restless spirit, he says it’s the idea of staying on the road and playing the music live that he remains happiest with.

   “I’ve not got people I have to stay at home for,” he says, smiling.

   “But it’s not all doom and gloom…”

   It certainly isn’t. The blues might still get a seat at Martin’s table – but here it’s the 22-20s who run the game.