Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Grateful Dead…
The Stretch Report are rapidly becoming the go-to support act for rock giants when they visit the south west of England. After well-received performances opening for Uriah Heep and then Wishbone Ash the band are now scheduled to support the latest reincarnation of The Grateful Dead – Live Dead 69, who are performing with original keyboard player, Tom Constanten, in Exeter on 29th January. Not bad for four middle-aged guys from Plymouth who got together four years ago when they met up at a friend’s funeral.
The band are Rob Giles (aka Razor) guitar and vocals; Ian Cooke – guitar and vocals
Chris Moss – drums; and Gary Strong – bass. I catch up with three of them. Bass player, Gary, is currently in New Zealand but the rest of the band assure me he’ll be back in time for the Dead gig.
Rob works at Plymouth University in IT and research, Chris is in open-cast quarrying on Dartmoor and Gary lectures in paramedicine. Ian chips in that by contrast he is “the full-time rock-star of the band” but he also does a bit of painting and decorating on his days off from being a rock star. The four had known each other for years and had played in various bands over the years but met up at an old musician friend’s funeral in 2012.
Rob: “We talked about getting together for a jam and we met up and it gelled.”
Most part-time musicians getting together to form a new band at their age may be content simply playing the pubs and having some jam sessions together. But The Stretch Report set their sights higher and it’s clearly paying off. The band got a major boost being offered a slot supporting Uriah Heep at the Cheese and Grain in Frome back in 2013.
Ian: “Uriah Heep was our first really big gig. It was nerve-wracking before but we had a packed venue and the energy came out of the audience. It was very, very positive.”
Chris: “We learnt a lot from that gig that we didn’t know beforehand and I think we tap into some of the ethos of those late 60s/early 70s bands by not being over-rehearsed and having some spontaneity.”
More recently, the band supported Wishbone Ash when they played Tavistock in November.
Rob: “The Wishbone Ash gig went really well and the band were very generous and gave us a shout out when they came on. Then the Grateful Dead thing came off the back of that. We are really looking forward to playing Exeter. It’s a privilege to play alongside these big bands.”
The band’s musical influences are wide and varied but a little-known late 70s Stiff Records single “Police Car” by original Motörhead guitarist, Larry Wallis, came to provide a unifying template for the embryonic Stretch Report when they first got together.
Rob: “I wanted to do ‘Police Car’ even before the band got together. I’d heard it on a Mojo compilation of 70s tracks you should have heard of but haven’t.”
Ian: “That song gave us a sense of purpose. It gave us a thread we could follow musically.”
The band recorded a video of ‘Police Car’ back in 2012 and their version has won favour with the song’s original creator.
Rob: “Larry Wallis said he liked our version and gave us his blessing. He hopes he can finally earn some royalties out of it.”
Perhaps one of the reasons why the band has gone down so well with classic rock audiences is the wide variety of rock influences they bring to their music. Certainly, there’s a spiky, punky edge to some of their music but there is much more as well.
Chris: “Punk and new wave were big influences, especially The Clash and the Damned. But we all share a passion for rock in all it’s guises, from prog to punk.”
Ian: “Motown, soul and glam was the music I listened to growing up and then punk. I got my first electric guitar just as punk came out but thanks to one of the members of the band I was in at the time, I was also listening to Hendrix and Cream as well.”
Rob: “Music is a voyage of exploration. As a teenager I would go to second-hand record stores and buy old albums simply on the strength of the cover art. I would discover all kinds of different music like that. One of the albums I found was Mad Shadows by Mott The Hoople and Mott and Ian Hunter have been major influences ever since.”
Ian: “As for Gary. He saw the Clash in 1981 on the same tour as I first saw them. You know straight away then that he gets it and we were on the same page musically. Gary has a really nice retro warmth to his delivery on bass. A nice fat vintage Glen Matlock-type sound. Neil Finn is a big influence for him, too”
The Stretch Report’s live act includes covers of songs from the likes of Robin Trower, Mick Ronson and Roxy Music, as well as the aforementioned ‘Police Car’. But one of the band’s originals, ‘Six Degrees’ written by Rob, has proved to be a crowd favourite. “That’s gone down even better than the covers,” confirms Ian and a professionally-shot video of that song will be available online shortly.
So what of the future?
Rob: “I’d love us to do a festival. I think we’d be a fantastic festival band. But if you’re talking about the next major act we’d like to open for, I’d love us to support Ian Hunter and The Rant Band.”
Chris: “I’m keen we go into the studio and record an EP. We’ve got two or three original tracks we can work on.”
Ian: “Getting the video out is important so I’m looking forward to that. It’s shot by the same guy who did the ‘Police Car’ video for us. But I also always look forward to us playing together. The fact that we are very old friends, not just a random bunch of musicians that have got together, that helps – that we know each other well and we know each other’s quirks.”
A band with bags of experience, bags of enthusiasm and who are building a reputation as a reliable support act for some of the biggest rock icons of the 60s and 70s, The Stretch Report are well worth keeping an eye on.
The Stretch Report play the Exeter Phoenix on 29th January supporting Live Dead ‘69. Tickets here
Check out the band on Facebook here
photo credit: David Reese