This year, we spent our Easter weekend at the 7th Le Beat Bespoke festival, organised by 60s fetishists, The New Untouchables. Le Beat Bespoke is a weekend celebration of “modernist culture:” an unashamed throwback to an era only imagined by the majority of those attending. It’s a rag-tag assembly of imitation Mary Quant prints, bowl cuts, clipped side burns, kipper ties and over-sized collars set to a soundtrack of 60’s freakbeat, psychedelia and rock and roll. If you believe that time stopped when Keith Moon died, you’ll have a blast. We got a little bored and nihilistic.
This doesn’t apply to The Diddlers, however, a band that features members of both The Horrors(Rhys Webb and Joe Spurgeon) and S.C.U.M(Huw Webb). Unlike the majority of the acts who played over the weekend, The Diddlers are innovative and idiosyncratic in their approach to interpreting the sounds of yesteryear. As their name suggests, the band concentrate on reworking the songs of Bo Diddley: the man credited with bridging the gap between blues and rock and roll.
There’s no certainty in where it began, the Blues. You can’t even say for certain what it is. It’s slow and frantic, repetitive and profound, formulaic and spontaneous: it’s a thousand contradictory elements. For some, it’s a Charley Patton platter of a bottlenecked vaudeville tune, for others it’s a wailing Paul Butterfield harmonica solo; for some it’s twee and rural, for others it’s straight out of the gutter RnB. The blues is open-ended and interpretive: in that sense it is folk music. But then again, for a time the Blues was commercial music, and by it’s very nature folk music is a non-commercial art form. If you think about it too much, the Blues is a headache. Maybe it’s best not to think about it at all; just wait for the feeling. To be honest, I stopped debating it a long time ago. But tonight, I’m stood in The Venue on Great Portland Street and I’ve just felt it: the Blues.
On paper, The Diddlers are a tribute band playing songs from Bo Diddley’s repertoire; in reality, they are much more. Rhys Webb fronts the band with the menacing charisma you’d expect from a member of The Horrors: his excited stare darts through the crowd as the vocals grate through a clenched jaw. In the mean time, his delivery alternates between the sadistic and the flippant, a contradiction that taps into the sinister puzzle inherent in the Blues.
The rest of the band remains collected. This is especially true of Rhys’ brother, Huw, who gives the sound its backbone, speeding up the Diddley rhythm to an agitated intensity while remaining fixed to his corner of the stage. It’s this willingness to test the formula that takes The Diddlers from a tribute band and turns them into a bona fide act. Rhys discusses this point with us after the show, saying “there’s no point in copying something exactly, you may as well listen to the record.” It’s an ethic that Diddley himself endorsed, as his experiments in psychedelia and funk will testify.
The Diddlers repertoire spans beyond Bo Diddley, however. Tonight’s set includes a Howlin’ Wolf number and a Linda Van Dyck song performed by bassist, Joanna Curwood. Yet, it seems The Diddlers are fated to remain a covers band: “This is definitely a side-project” says Rhys, confirming that with their upcoming album, The Horrors are still his main focus. “We don’t have much of an online presence and I’d sort of like to keep it that way.” But don’t take this to mean that The Diddlers are unimportant: the concept behind the band is a brilliant one and there’s a lot of life left in it yet. These are early days for The Diddlers; be sure to catch them over the coming months.