The 2018 Swindon Shuffle... now with extra added Top Table Posse reunion action!
OK, so let’s clarify here... following a 20-odd year absence, I’d re-connected with old friend Roger Herman a couple of years ago, at a London 100 Club June Brides gig (gig no. 977). Our promising to keep in touch was happily made easier by his recent addition to Facebook; so when Rog announced on his page that he’d be visiting the ‘don to partake of Saturday’s itinerary for the Swindon Shuffle, our annual showcase of the finest original music Swindon has to offer, I also saw this as a rare opportunity to get as many of our old 80’s/90’s drinking/music/footy gang, The Top Table Posse, together. So the call went out... now who would answer?
Having made family arrangements for the second music-related Saturday out in a row (this one albeit slightly different to the Cure Hyde Park gig last week!), I headed up the hill and hit afternoon venue The Tuppenny just before 2, where Si Hall and his boys were just arriving to set up for their acoustic show. Yup, you read that right...! I grabbed the front-centre table, then Rog arrived and so did Dave and Ady, and we caught up awhile before Si called his boys to arms, to open Shuffle Saturday!
So, as I mentioned, “acoustic”...! RAZE*REBUILD were truly living up to their name with this performance, having razed their usual titanic, earth-shaking rock to the ground and rebuilt it into a “low key” “acoustic” line-up, powered instead by Si’s irrepressible ebullience and Jamie’s sore palms pounding manfully away on his percussive beatbox (which at least meant, as he’d remarked beforehand, that his kit set-up was a lot quicker!). I’ve put those words in quotation marks because of course, even with this set-up, R*R were as powerful and intense as most bands (local or otherwise) manage to be, fully amped-up! “Back To The Fall” fairly rattled along with its usual righteous Husker Du-lite pace and potency, an early “Kat I'm Sorry” was stark and emotive, benefitting from this arrangement, and despite Si commenting, “I feel naked - mercifully I’m not!”, and occasionally quipping “how is that an acoustic song? That’s normally much louder!” before the likes of “All The Gear” and “New Leaf”, this was an utter triumph, even impressing both cynical Bevan boys! The bottom line is that in a stripped-back show, you stand or fall on the strength of the songwriting, pure and simple, and in this regard Raze*Rebuild succeed spectacularly.
A final thank-you from Si (“you're much kinder - and there’s many more of you! - than I expected!”) and a stark, emotive “Sand In The Petrol” brought an excellently judged set to a close. Congrats to all before a quick turnaround; SUMITA, next up, was a young keyboard soloist with some whimsical tunes featuring stories of ghosts and mountaintops, and songs called “Monster” (no, not that one) and “Jody’s Spaceship”. Bright, quirky and vaguely dream-like pop delivered in Sumita’s clipped and perfectly-enunciated voice, this wasn’t my usual thing but I admired her drive to do something different and off-the-wall, although it was a shame that she seemed to be losing her battle against the hubbub from the pub.
“Tough crowd,” I warned my friend Rich May as he set up for his solo THE KING IN MIRRORS set. Knowing that even with his usual band, Rich’s atonal and slightly nasal vocals can tend to be understated and low-key, I was worried that they might be submerged in the noise of the pub. No worries there, as Rich actually gave his vocals some extra oomph, in a valiant and largely successful attempt to win over the room. “Deepest Blue” set the tone, being more in-your-face than anticipated, “Rolling In The Sun” was replete with charming Teenage Fanclub/BMX Bandits-infused melody, and Rich even delved back for a Babytrain number, “Bodysnatchers”, which was unsurprisingly darker and more gothy than his usual TKIM oeuvre. A more upbeat “By Tomorrow” closed a nice acoustic vignette, Rich having projected his vocals very effectively, and rightly being happy with the outcome. Nice one, mate!
Front and centre then for Roger’s landlord for this evening; STEVE COX, apparently mainman for local veterans Mr. Love And Justice, impressed with a highly accomplished set veering between 70’s folky acoustica, baroque and pastoral countrified pop and rootsy Americana, switching seamlessly between these styles. He reminded me of this year’s Arthur Buck CD which I’m enjoying immensely, and subsequently also the stripped-back elements of REM’s breakthrough “Out Of Time” album. Steve was also sufficiently relaxed to try a new number, “Me And Jeremiah”, despite said number allegedly not being complete – “we could workshop this!” Good stuff from a clearly talented veteran.
This actually took us up to 5.30, and with a relative lull in proceedings, we decided to take the opportunity for some food! One Mela curry later, we were therefore ready for this evening’s mainly Victoria-based Shuffle shenanigans, although by now we’d lost Dave and gained both Phil and non-Posse member (but 90’s Level 3 veteran, so there!) Rich May along for the ride.
Said ride started with openers PALM ROSE, on at 8.20. Facebook friend and former Well Dressed Thief Adam had given me the heads-up on this, his new band, inviting me along to their inaugural gig (which was on my birthday, so I couldn’t make it), and reporting they were going for a dreampop/ post-punk sound. Two of my favourite musical things right there, then, so I was hoping for good things from this set. From the outset, I wasn’t to be disappointed; opener “Daydream” was a widescreen anthem with enticing keyboard flourishes, building to an almost orchestral crescendo, full of epic, slightly faded yet quintessentially English pomp and grandeur. I was suddenly very glad I’d worn my Wild Swans t-shirt, as Adam’s charges seemed their spiritual heirs; the big fella himself took vocals, revealing a hitherto unsuspected commanding and multi-octave voice, propelling the soaring and building rock. “Seattle”, next up, was a growling slow-burner which suddenly burst into life, with Edge-like intricate guitar licks, and the stately “Humid” featured some nice 3-part acapella harmonies. Already sounding well-practised too, this was a superb set from a highly promising young band.
Young bucks RAINY DAY FUND, formerly known as Shore, were always going to struggle to follow that for me, but they manfully applied themselves to the task, delivering a spritely set of bright, sturdy sounding indie pop. I’d come across them in their former Shore incarnation, covering a Smiths number at “12 Bands Of Christmas”, which seemed apt as their sound wasn’t a million miles removed from that classic clean indie Rickenbacker jangle. “Slipping Away” had some nice choral harmonies augmenting its angular backbeat, and the almost-eponymous “Rainy Day” was punkier and more insistent. Nice work overall!
They rounded off at 9.45, and we weren’t up for the subsequent Fabien Darcy - no offence, but rap’s just not my thing - so took a wander down the hill to The Beehive, with the intention of checking out the musical fayre there. That kind of didn't really work out, the pub being stiflingly hot and busy, so our time was spent outside socialising with various folks! We eventually wandered back to the Vic for headliners WASUREMONO, due on at 10.50 but taking time getting their banks of keyboards and impressive amounts of spaghetti plugged into the right holes (and apparently this is a more streamlined stage set-up these says!). Since my one previous sighting, 2 years ago with the much-missed White Lilac, they’d gained considerable national exposure, to the point of having 2 upcoming support slots for The Flaming Lips, no less! No surprise that Shuffle mainman Ed, on introducing them, remarked, “this will be the last time I’ll be able to afford to put them on in Swindon!”
Opener “Checking Out” came down firmly on the “dream” side of dreampop, an eerie, sleepy vibe, whilst “England's Slave”’s layered dynamics sounded much fuller “live” than on their fine if slightly understated CD. “Alligator”’s taut groove even recalled The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, and thereafter the set relied more on mood and atmospherics and oddball lyricism, delivered in William Southward’s occasionally high-pitched and eerie vocals. A fine accomplished set from a band with no obvious antecedents (the bleak minimalism of 70’s post-punkers Young Marble Giants was the best I could come up with!), who bring together a number of disparate elements and styles into their music, folding them into an intriguing blend of dreamy melodies and stark electronica, and clearly going places in the process. Props to them - and for getting Ed up onstage wearing a bear head during “For All The Bears”!
A fine way to close out the day’s music; bade farewells to the Posse, plus various Shuffle luminaries, before dropping Rich off and heading home for a bleary-eyed 12.30. So, “one and done” - that was my Shuffle this year, family stuff precluding any further attendance on my part. However, in my experience (and by other social media accounts) the Shuffle was once again a most successful and enjoyable event, and I’m glad I got to catch up with old friends in the process! Same again next year, boys?