We’re all looking at the menu and thinking the same thing: Do I order a Belly Buster breakfast or a normal breakfast? Will I look like a greedy bastard if I get one and no-one else does? Do I even need three sausages? This mild existential drama is taking place in the company of TRUDY AND THE ROMANCE, in a not-so-greasy greasy spoon café tucked away down a city-centre side street. They – Olly Taylor, Lewis Rollinson and Brad Mullins – have chosen this as the perfect place to induct me into their world, a realm of cheeky, boyish charm, mutant 50s pop and, alas, no Belly Buster breakfasts. This is a realm that they previously inhabited simply as Trudy; however, due to the name clashing with an act who formed in the late-70s (no, us neither), the trio shall henceforth be known with the addition of And The Romance. It’s an addition that fits these three likely lads well, though you wouldn’t think it to look at them. But then, hopeless romantics can take many forms.
The nomadic existence of the three friends drew them to the bosom of Liverpool music 12 months ago when softly-spoken drummer Brad came to study at LIPA – he and chirpy guitarist/vocalist Olly moved here from their native Chesterfield, whilst laid-back, drawling bass player Lewis is from Bolton. What they’ve found in Liverpool is a synergy with some likeminded souls that makes them feel at home here, and a supportive audience for their retro guitar pop manner.
There’s a little of the early music hall stylings of Pete ‘n’ Carl about Trudy And The Romance, which harks back to a time when the Libs were full-of-face and not ravaged by drugs, and kind of charming in a classic British way. There will always be a place in the hearts of British music lovers for a little bit of whimsy and unabashed romance, and it’s the twin charms of Olly Taylor’s winsome vocals and stunning guitar playing that gets you hooked. At times it looks as if Taylor learned to play his guitar in a broom closet: he juggles it about, sometimes pointing it straight at the sky and occasionally strumming from just below his chin as he fires out some frantic riffage in his thrilling, seat-of-the-pants style. “I suppose it’s a bit like Jonathan Richman, in the way he holds his guitar. I get told it’s a bit like other people, like Wilko Johnson or The Beatles, but I don’t have any conscious thing I’m going for,” Olly intones.
There’s a certain delicacy needed when navigating a retro aesthetic, and Trudy And The Romance do this with great flair through their vintage-feeling home-video films and artwork – all coordinated with cartoonish panache by their friend Amber McCall, an illustrator who goes under the name Hello Thunderpuss. “Amber’s really good; I suppose she’s influenced the image quite a lot,” agrees Olly. “It’s just a representation of whatever we like, though.” The Trudy And The Romance jukebox of “whatever they like” is fairly extensive: as well as the easy-to-hear sonic influences of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, The Beach Boys and classy 50s doo wop band The Flamingos in the band’s freaky tunings, there are some interesting reference points brought up – Gene Vincent, Foxygen, Benjamin Clementine, Devandra Banhart, King Krule, and Christopher Owens’ original band Girls. “They’ve got that kind of thing as well, a sort of 50s old school vibe,” says Brad about the affinity they feel with Girls. “Richard as well,” murmurs Brad, one of many times the group refer to venerable Sheffield bard Richard Hawley by his first name, as though he’s part of the fabric of the band. Olly is quick to ascertain, however, that they’re still finding out what they are, and are far from the complete article: “We don’t really wanna listen to these bands too much in case we end up sounding like them! I think that’s what is gonna get the next sound, trying to achieve something like [our influences]. We’re not gonna sound great, but it’s sort of the point. Just three scruffy lads…”
“There’s something quite cool about three indie lads trying to sound like a pristine doo wop band,” muses Brad, to which Olly replies: “Yeh – there aren’t many cool takes on doo wop.”
We first encountered Trudy And The Romance at a show they played for one of our Bido Social events at Aloft Hotel. First on but with the biggest – and liveliest – crowd of the night, they were a swirl of summery brightness and smiles. There was something about their silly, sun-kissed, cheeky songs about girls and getting drunk even then – an irreverence matched with a dedication to delivering enough of a polished performance to make you see that they meant every bit of it. They’ve fallen in with other gangs too, bands of a similar ilk who share an affinity of togetherness as mates. Talking of that Bido Social gig, when their mates came out to support them en masse, Brad reckons it was an important realisation for them. “There was a sense that we kind of had our own little scene, with Pink Kink and Her’s and stuff like that, even though the music isn’t super similar. It was the first time we saw there was a foundation.” This mutual support is vital. They all go to each other’s gigs and share a sense of having fun with what they do, not taking everything overly seriously. It also makes it easier for them to fit in, and gives them that protective shield to allow them to be themselves while doing so.
However, one negative aspect of having a tight group around you comes in trying to remain objective about what you’re doing. It’s very easy to come across as too flippant if you and everyone around you are goofing about and egging each other on, but it is something the band are aware of. “It’s a weird line,” muses Brad. “We want to have this image of being, kind of, hopeless romantics – but then you also want people to take you seriously as well.”
The next stage of development for Trudy And The Romance is in the studio, where they see themselves building on their initial suite of songs, Baby, I’m Blue, Behave and All My Love, which they recorded with Spring King’s Tarek Musa. “We kept adding little bits of stuff on all the time. It was quite DIY,” explains Olly of this approach, which I suggest is something that suits their style perfectly. “Hmm, it’s a weird one…,” comes Olly’s noncommittal response. “I think it does suit us: but at the same time, you do wanna develop the sound.” “You can’t just limit yourself to that style,” agrees Lewis.
In June 2015 they went into Parr Street Studios with Bill Ryder-Jones to work on this new approach. The result is two new tunes which are set to be released towards the end of May on an exciting tastemaker label. These new tracks feel like the band have filled out somewhat, and there’s definitely more space for each part to be discerned, like bringing out the warm tones in Olly’s voice. This approach is definitely more to the band’s tastes. “We wanna do more stuff with Bill,” says Brad, which Olly agrees with. “He’s cool; you can just trust him. I think he has good vision as well – further than what we can see with the band.”
They followed this up by supporting Ryder-Jones on his UK tour in the spring, which saw them playing to decent-sized crowds of likeminded people. The band were then asked to support former Beautiful South pair Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott on their UK and Ireland tour, which was an altogether different proposition. Playing to packed-out auditoriums of 2000-plus Beautiful South devotees was a great experience for the three lads, but it had its own challenges. “It’s a different demographic totally, 50-plus,” Olly explains, followed by Lewis’ rather more blunt assessment. “Some people were sat watching us with their fingers in their ears!” And it doesn’t stop there: after two weeks off at the end of April, the band are back out on the road again for the summer, playing Gold Sounds Festival in Leeds, an NME Awards Tour date, The Great Escape in Brighton, and Liverpool Sound City.
As for where they see themselves going musically in the future, all three are in agreement that they’re far from at their complete, final style. “We can’t keep doing what we’re doing forever, as in we can’t always be scrappy,” explains Olly of their vison for what Trudy And The Romance could become. “We wanna spend more time in the studio, writing, trying to create a new thing. I like the idea of changing it up. We’re not stubborn.” Lewis agrees: “I think you’re dead in the water if you’re too set in your ways about how you sound, because everything moves on and you’re left behind.”
“We like the idea of being quite cinematic, too,” continues Olly, perhaps referencing back to their one constant guide, Richard Hawley. “We’re trying to bring some of that to the live thing, seeing how much we can push ourselves,” adds Lewis. “I think it’s quite interesting to see how we could expand that cinematic side – it could be quite impressive.”
Trudy And The Romance ambitious? You betcha. “One day we want big orchestras and shit on stage, the whole shebang,” says Brad, with half a smile on his face, but I realise they’re serious about this as Olly looks me dead in the eye: “I don’t know how we’re gonna do it, but we’re gonna try.”
Trudy And The Romance play Liverpool Sound City on Sunday 29th May.