A redemption of sorts to start off a hectic Autumn gigging dance card, with a trip up the hill to catch Tim’s band The Shudders. They’d been off my schedule since January, when a sloppy, drink-fuelled performance in front of a minimal crowd slightly tarnished a burgeoning reputation. Still, I’m prepared to give them a lot of rope (Tim’s my best friend – of course I’m going to give them a lot of rope!), and Tim’s recent promises that after a bumpy 2014 to date, things are coming together as they focus on the final stages of recording their second album, reassured me somewhat. I’d actually tried to catch them on the last night of the Swindon Shuffle, but couldn’t get into the 18+ only Beehive with a visiting Evan. So this was the next opportunity!
A drive up the hill with Dean, recovering from his knee op, saw us park up at 8 then socialise with Tim, Tracey, the rest of the band and the usual Vic crew for a while before the late-running “Songs Of Praise”-promoted evening finally got under way at 9, and we decamped into the venue to catch opener Tamsin Quin. A strikingly attractive young girl with a tumbling mass of brown curls and a self-deprecating smile at the end of each number, she poured her heart into some dark and soulful Delta blues and occasionally Celtic-tinged numbers, embellishing her emotive balladry with a smoky dark, world-weary voice which sounded old and wise way beyond her years. Charming too; “I’m going to sing a song about alcohol – because I like alcohol a lot, and sometimes it doesn’t like you back!” Some playful banter with Jim from Case Hardin over final number “Been So Long” was an entertaining end to a fine set.
The Shudders were next up and were keen to crack on, all guitarred up and onstage before schedule! It was clear from the outset that they were “on it”, with the soaring, Posies-like opener “Sorry” a melodic powerpop delight and a great way to open the set. Indeed, this set showcased a growing maturity and wider variety and breadth of songwriting prowess, taking in powerpop, indie rock, Americana and rootsy, dusty folk, highlighting their new album material perfectly. In fact, Danny plugged their first album then announced most of the songs tonight weren’t on it, prompting Tim to sardonically retort, “we’re great at this [self-promotion], aren’t we?”
The Shudders were actually great tonight, certainly the best I’ve seen them; “Sunrise” featured ringing guitar interplay interwoven with delicate harmonies, recalling Buffalo Tom’s rare quieter moments, then contrasting with the subsequent brash 70’s “Grease”/ rock stomp of “Angels”, which featured a surprisingly strident vocal performance from a confident Danny. Some comical Ardal O’Hanlon moments from Liam whilst tuning up (“My van ran out of diesel on the M4 today! Brilliant!”) preceded a toughened up “Words Of A Fool”, the only first album number on display tonight, and sounding way better thanks to an excellent drum performance from their (I still think of him as…) new drummer Jim, possibly tonight’s MVP. The superbly swaggering Replacements-like bar-room bluesy romp of “Thought I Saw You” segued into the sprawling set closer “Mary’s Grace”, now deserving of the epithet of “epic”, and capping a superb performance. Well done boys!
After that, headliners Case Hardin had a hard job of it, and for me fell short. They delivered a set of countrified folk and rock, mainly falling more into pedal steel/ Nashville swing trad country territory for me, rather than parched alt-Americana, with an energetic Captain Beefheart lookalike vocalist. Very accomplished both from a musical and songwriting perspective, and vaguely reminiscent of Jimmy LaFave’s red dirt music, and occasionally ”Rattlesnakes”-era Lloyd Cole minus his gauche charm, they went down well with this respectful audience (apart from a couple of out-of-place noisy slappers!) but didn’t press too many buttons for me. I liked the fun acoustic interlude on the floor, the bassist producing a huge double-bass to pluck in the process, but overall I admired rather than enjoyed their set.
Nevertheless, The Shudders came through tonight, so congrats were in order afterwards before the lateness of the hour (now bumping up to midnight! On a school night!) saw me drag myself off after another splendid “Songs Of Praise” evening, As I said, a redemption tonight for The Shudders!