Yet the 22-20s remain remarkably humble.
In fact, it seems the Delta blues-driven foursome from Lincolnshire are in awe of their own success, not long ago only gigging to tiny crowds in pubs up north.
When I was asked by the PR chap whether I could ring back in two minutes because Glen Bartup was “at the bar” I thought ‘here we go, drinking in the morning, typical rock ‘n’ roll band’. But when I got hold of the 22-20s bassist the explanation was all too innocent: “Nah I just had to get a box of matches for a cigarette”. So you’re not on the gin ‘n’ tonics then. “No it’s a little early for that”, he responds abashedly.
It’s the start of a very revealing conversation about the band – unveiling a fundamental truth about these lads from Lincolnshire that undoubtedly a lot of bands can relate to: that music is their alter ego.
For on stage the 22-20s thrash out their sinister and gritty blues-influenced music (I daren’t call it blues rock – read on to find out why), with pomp and bravado. Gig reviews liken them to The Rolling Stones and abound with praise over their incendiary high-octane performances. But off stage? Well, that seems to be an entirely different story.
“Martin can’t believe anyone would want to listen to his voice for 40 minutes. We’re always grateful to everyone who comes and watches us.” – 22-20s bassist Glen Bartup reveals that both he and frontman Martin Trimble are remarkably humble fellows.
“We’re all fairly insular, not that comfortable going out,” says Glen quietly but matter-of-factly. Saying of frontman Martin Trimble: “He can’t believe anyone would want to listen to his voice for 40 minutes. We’re always grateful to everyone who comes and watches us.”
“When we go on stage we all get pretty nervous beforehand but once on stage we can hide behind a set that is hopefully loud as hell – it’s a pretty good defence mechanism. I shit myself before I go on but as soon as the first song comes on it’s fine. It’s nice having it blowing out the speakers – at maximum volume it takes the attention away from you.”
Hardly the words we expect from a band who stun crowds with their lacerating shows. Their on-stage personas seem to hide a deep-seated awe of how far they’ve come – it smacks of a band that can’t quite believe their luck.
“We never thought about getting signed”, remarks the 20-year-old, going on to explain how club owner James Baillie of the Heavenly Social in Nottingham by chance heard their demo and consequently offered to put them on stage. News of the band’s spirited gigs led to an A&R bidding war and eventually a deal with Heavenly Records, that runs the Social.
“We both worked in a furniture warehouse when we were 16/17, Martin lasted three weeks. Music is the only thing we’ve ever been good at.” – Glen Bartup and Martin Trimble are clearly not cut out for your average nine to five job.
It’s refreshing to come across a band who are rising stars and yet remain humble. Glen strikes me as a solid hard-working bloke trying to earn an honest keep in life. He divulges: “We didn’t know what we wanted to do, none of us wanted an office job, I know Martin certainly wouldn’t last in an office – we both worked in a furniture warehouse when we were 16/17, Martin lasted three weeks. Music is the only thing we’ve ever been good at.”
I ask him what it is about blues rock music in particular that really makes the band tick. After all, they are named after a song called 22-20 Blues by legendary pre-war Delta Blues singer Skip James. My question unexpectedly sparks off some petulant animosity.
Glen takes an audible drag on his cigarette and replies: “I don’t mean to be rude to you but we really hate that term”. Sensing a raw nerve I encourage him to explain why. He continues: “Me and Martin got into the blues when we were about 14, but we also listened to Deep Purple, AC/DC and Rory Gallagher. Blues rock to us says men clad in denim. We love people like Skip James but also Marc Bolan and Iggy Pop.”
The band are certainly as dedicated as their heroes, for the 22-20s appear to be constantly on the road. They have an extensive tour of the UK and Ireland coming up in October. Last year they toured with Jet and Kings Of Leon, they’re currently city-hopping to music stores promoting their new single 22 Days and their debut studio album, also called 22-20s. Plus they’re writing their second album for which they already have some songs in the can. I remark that his life sounds incredibly hectic, doesn’t he wish he could just go home and relax?
“It’s like being in the army, you wake up and get told where you’re going to go.” – If life is like a box of chocolates, Glen Bartup has the perfect simile for life on the road…
“It’s the lifestyle we’re used to”, he replies, “it’s like being in the army, you wake up and get told where you’re going to go, it keeps you in check. Whenever we’ve had weeks off at home it all goes wrong cos it gives you a chance to think and start asking yourself questions about what you’re doing. We prefer to go out and just do it.”
And ‘just doing it’ has led them out of playing quiet gigs in North Yorkshire to facing the crowds – something we now know makes Glen “shit” himself. So what about the huge festivals they’ve been playing of late such as Glastonbury and the Carling Weekend Reading and Leeds festivals, which have thousands upon thousands of people watching them?
“We quite like festivals because, you know, people don’t go there just to see you so we can be a bit stand-offish and just play our set.” No need for the alter-ego there then.
Determined to get Glen to say something that isn’t rational or practical I ask whether he has any amusing anecdotes from touring. “Emmm, I don’t really do amusing anecdotes”, he replies, my heart sinking, but he then suddenly pipes up: “I once sleep-walked in a New York hotel in my underwear, pissed out of my brain, I was just off my face. I found myself outside the door but I knew Martin had a cold so I didn’t want to wake him. I went in the lift to go downstairs, there was a porter in there and I just stood next to him half-naked!”
I have a sneaking suspicion that apart from his 22-20s persona, it’s the most rock ‘n’ roll thing he’s ever done.
Interview – 22-20s
22-20s @ London ULU