Slurp, Attawalpa and Gladboy – The Shacklewell Arms – September 30th 2019

I realise that a mistake has been made. I’m standing here at a venue (which shall remain nameless) watching the second band of the evening. Two songs in and it’s clear that they’re slightly better than the first act but only marginally so. The first band were a sub-standard Biffy Clyro specialising in that dull, tuneless and turgid, exasperating Rock thing that tends to take itself far too seriously. I might be a glutton for punishment but this is simply foolish. 

A quick check on my phone reveals that there’s a free gig of interest on up at the Shacklewell Arms. It’s a taxi ride away at the best of times but tonight with the rain bucketing down that Uber is a necessity. On arrival, I immediately know that I’ve made a wise choice to abort on the first gig. 

Gladboy are playing. I only find out that they’re Gladboy after the event and only catch three of their songs but it’s enough to realise that this young bunch from Norwich are worthy of further attention. Mixing a punkish energy with a psychedelic and woozy doo-wop, they’ve got tunes and guile. The guitarist-vocalist takes drumming duty for the final tune whilst the fab backing singer stands centre stage, deliberately nonchalant in a red leather skirt. The crowd appreciate Gladboy’s efforts and you can see why. 

Attawalpa are up next. They take an age to get ready with front man, Luis (Attawalpa) hiding himself away in the toilet when the all-clear is given from the sound desk. I guess nervousness is a funny thing. Luis is engaging to watch, over-the-top black mascara highlighting the frustration and creativity at the sets core. Things start with a skewed nod to Pink Floyd before moving into a Brit Pop space. Luis’ lyrics excite and are conveyed with a mix of Cocker and Walker. He jumps out into the crowd loosely acknowledging friends and family who are looking on. Tall women, in all likelihood models, take to the floor to dance energetically. There’s a lot to take in and Attawalpa deserves further attention.

There’s some confusion over the name of tonight’s headliner. Advertised on the poster as Dragon’s Daughter, it would appear that this all-girl trio from France have now renamed themselves Slurp. CDs at the merch stall have the original name crossed out and the new name scrawled over in black marker. Slurp confess that they don’t speak much English but then proceed to introduce each song with fine diction. Jangly, bubblegum punk-pop is a genre of choice for Sonic Breakfast so this was always going to appeal but the lively delivery just adds to the pleasure. The songs might sound like three-minute throwaways but lyrically they’re taking on bigger issues; these women are hard, independent and not to be messed with.  I want to see more – and it appears that Slurp have more to play – but we pass 11 and I guess that Monday evening licence regulations mean that an abrupt halt ensues. 

September will shortly be over for another year. The rain still pours down. Shops begin to fill with Christmas stock; lights shimmer in the residue of drizzle. One constant remains – every night in this town, some fine bands will be playing (and some shit ones as well). 

Tne Pinheads, Fat Earthers & Bad/Dreems – Shacklewell Arms – June 10th 2019

Search around a bit, keep your ear to the ground and London will reward you with free gigs that should probably be charged events. That’s why I’m here at the Shacklewell Arms for a sandwich of Aussie garage-psych rock with an Isle of Wight based cheesy middle.

 

It might be June but I’ve not seen rain like this so far in my London stay. The puddles are almost river-like as they cascade down the streets. A driver in a jeep clearly swerves into a stream to drench my already soggy frame. I curse the fucker as he speeds off, no doubt chuckling at his prank. The lovely barman at the Shacklewell offers me a roll of industrial-strength paper towel with which to dry off. It’s needed.

Bad/Dreems are currently on tour with Midnight Oil and are thus playing some pretty big UK shows. But they have a night off and so are late additions to this bill. The wise have spotted this and the Shacklewell back room is pretty full when I enter. 

Archetypal Aussies from Adelaide, this five-piece all have facial hair. Some have shaggy curls and a couple wear linen-shirts with the top few buttons undone to show off the hairs on their chest. No band member removes any shirt during their set. This is important given what occurs later. 

Bad/Dreems do a garage punk, indie-rock thing. They sing about big muscles pumping in sweatshirts though I suspect this is an ironic swipe at machismo rather than a song in praise of such lifestyle. Lead singer, Ben Marwe, is thoroughly engaging to watch; at one point he rapidly blinks as if on the edge of a fit; at another, he bashes a tambourine against his thigh standing proud like a toy soldier in a  regiment. He’s a bit Roger Daltrey and the band a bit Who-like. I curse myself for not seeing the full set. 

 

Fat Earthers make quite a noise for a two piece. We’re only two songs in and already lead singer, Puke, has his top off and torso bare. Typically such rock ‘n’ roll excess would have me heading for the door but there’s s gnarly cheekiness about this Isle Of Wight based duo that keeps me onside. It doesn’t matter a jot that each tune sounds largely identical. They rant about Theresa May selling off the NHS, still paying tax on your tampax, boredom and suicide bombers. By the time the set finishes, Henry the drummer has also got his top off; naked upper-halves becomes a theme for the night.

 

The Pinheads, tonight’s Aussie headliner, are a riot. They have a very tall, lanky lead singer who you fear is going to bang his head on the ceiling every time he jumps. He contorts with his microphone stand and palms dust from the Shacklewell’s glitterball – you suspect it’s not had a good clean for some time. 

He’s out of it. At one point he temporarily leaves the stage, probably to ablute in some way; he heads down into the crowd and orders a pint from the bar at the back of the venue. He cares about his audience enough though to advise moderation when a raucous and fighty mosh breaks out amongst agitated youths. 

The rest of the Pinheads tightly play an urgent and shimmering garage-psych whilst their singer cavorts. It’s fun and certainly without pretence. As damp condensation drips from the ceiling, three of the band members also strip down to bare their chests. It’s just that sort of night. 

Satisfied and yet fully shirted, I get an Uber home. I can’t bear to be bare in the continuing downpour. 

Tetine, Fake Turins and Voodoo Rays – The Shacklewell Arms – March 7th 2019

My working week in London is nearly done. After a training day tomorrow, I head out to the countryside (well, Peterborough and Leicester) for a weekend break from the constant go. I can’t help myself. This is a city that never sleeps and so I oblige by rarely nodding off. It helps that the bed in this Airbnb is basically an instrument of torture.

 

But I won’t grumble. Instead I’ll just make myself scarce and head off to another free gig. Anywhere else they wouldn’t be free but there’s just too much choice in this town. It’s back to the Shacklewell Arms tonight. I enjoyed my first trip there (reviewed here) and this is a chance to see three more bands. 

I arrive just as Voodoo Rays begin. I don’t want to be ageist – indeed, I’m no spring chicken myself – but it’s fair to say that Voodoo Rays have age on their side. It’s something of a surprise then that life experience doesn’t seem to have given any of these losers insight into gig etiquette. They’re not astonishingly awful though I do find myself hoping that somebody will tell them they’ve over-run when they casually enquire ‘how much time have we got left’. They play ‘new ones’ which seems to be code for ones we’ve not fully rehearsed.

 

What really gets my goat – and swings my mind towards slamming Voodoo Rays – (regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will realise this is a rare occurrence) is their attitude post gig. There mightn’t be space to leave kit anywhere at the Shacklewell but it’s just bloody rude to spread yourself out alongside the wall with a shelf – the only place where punters can rest their beer glasses. The drummer excessively and possessively fiddles with kit like nobody else here matters. He’s oblivious to anybody else around him and by the time that he pretty much knocks my beer out of my hand, swinging the bass drum on his back like a snail on speed, Voodoo Rays music has long since ceased to matter.

Fortunately, things quickly take a turn for the better. There’s six, no make that seven, members of the Fake Turins crammed onto the Shacklewell stage but despite the tight fit they’re all more than aware of their personal space and role in the band. There’s no getting away from the Talking Heads comparisons here. Their lead vocalist takes the mantle of band leader in a manner reminiscent of David Byrne as he conducts the rest of the troupes through their funked-up art jams. Intuitively, they know when to build and when to fade. He takes a David Toop novel out of a jacket pocket and proceeds to read from it; the spoken word of the prose creating an effect not unlike that you’ll get from Bristolian stalwarts, The Blue Aeroplanes. Fake Turins are good and they know it; despite unnecessary interjections from recorder and cowbell, there’s more than enough bass, bongo and backing vocal to stop this from being a dud.

 

Tonight’s headliner, Tetine, are from Sao Paolo though I’m led to believe that they spend a fair bit of time in London these days. The duo of Bruno and Eliete originally present as a pretty traditional synth act with added bass. Full of beat and disco excess, they’re never anything but entertaining. Eliete leaves the keyboard to fend for itself and takes centre stage during Mata Hari voodoo, an early set-highlight that begins in contained control but ends with Eliete as a person possessed, speaking in tongues in squat position.

 

I don’t get to hear what the song title is but over the chorus of a disco-pop banger, the words ‘I was falling in love’ entices a couple in front of me, who are clearly in the first throes, to start dancing energetically. My smile is enduring.

Bruno’s bass is discarded with and Eliete again leaves the Roland running for Tetine’s very own ‘Beastie Boys’ moment. Lick my Favela is a Brazilian reworking of ‘Fight For Your Right’. It’s seedy and performed seductively. It’s only later that this correspondent realises that the Favela is not a body part but a slum area in Brazil. One suspects that there’s a political angle to this art and it’s not just a hedonistic party.

 

London’s given me another top night despite the slow start. I splash through the puddles on the way back to the Airbnb without a care in the world. 

Honey Lung, Haze, Desire and Heavy Heart – Shacklewell Arms – Monday February 18th 2019

Another week begins and with that another few days of living out of a suitcase. Goodness knows how sustainable this all is but for now I’m embracing the Airbnb variety and enjoying the nomadic lifestyle. This week I’m in a newly refurbished place above a fine bar in New Cross. Apparently, these rooms were once where the punters of the pub went for a bit of ‘how’s your father’. Now it’s so fresh that I suspect I’m one of the first guests of the new regime; you can still smell the new coat of paint and see the cuttings from the recently laid carpet. It’s gentrification gents and probably no bad thing.

Tonight, rather than stay around this neck of the woods, I hop on the overground and head up to Dalston again – but, unlike two weeks ago when I tested the Victoria (here) I spin off in another direction towards the Shacklewell Arms. It’s a venue I’ve been keen to visit for a while. Many of the bands I grow to love cite it as a pub you must play and I can see why. Stylishly run-down but oozing cool, it’s a space to cherish. On busier nights than this you imagine sticking to the floor. The signs on the door as you enter asking you to leave quietly are a visible reminder that too many great places such as this have fallen foul of spiteful resident power-groups.

I keep one eye on the football but mostly I’m here for the gig. I reserved myself a ticket when this was advertised as having a secret SXSW headliner. But there was no need for such sensible planning. It’s another free London show, lovingly curated by Black Cat White Cat and it’s busy but never rammed. Nobody bothers with my ticket that I diligently downloaded to my phone. 

There are four acts on tonight. I watch them all with varying degrees of interest. 

Heavy Heart are up first. But the duo on stage are at pains to tell us that this is a stripped-down version of their standard quintet. They ask that we forgive them for being mildly under-rehearsed and most in the crowd seem able to. Despite the best intentions of a pretty awful sounding drum machine, the male/female dynamic works and gets better as the set progresses. There’s a psychedelic shoegazey gothicness quality and when it works (in particular on set stand out, Teenage Witch) it proves to be a decent opening to this night of live music. 

 

Desire are up next. I only know this is their name for that is what’s daubed in red, angular font across a white sheet that initially obscures their drummer. The bedsheet drops as the drummer pounds. Cans of Kronenburg are  cracked open and an almighty racket ensues..It’s part mod, part punk. None of them give a flying fuck about being here and that essence of anti-performance carries them through. As much as this might just be another practice, Desire’s drummer still manages to channel the ghost of Keith Moon as he crazily bangs. There’s some Marr-esque guitar riffage from a floppy fringed guitarist whilst the bass player who also takes on singing duties offers up some atonal oi-oi-ness. There’s definitely something here. 

 

 

For me though, the night belongs to Haze. I’m willing to bet a house on the fact that this is not the semi-legendary prog band of that name but rather something new. They start with an urgent combination of rock n’roll played through a Beefheart lens before jazz gives way to a country rhythm – and that’s just in the first two minute long song. A four piece, the exceptional lead guitarist and vocalist emits words like a juggernaut hurtling towards you at speed whilst the bass player captivates centre stage with the craziest of dancing mixed up with the most outlandish posing. Three songs in and said bass player’s shirt comes off, an affliction you’d likely detest within lesser bands. But he’s working and sweating so hard that you don’t mind it here. Tunes are played at breakneck, exhilarating speed. You really must go and see Haze in a venue such as this whilst the chance still presents. 

 

Honey Lung are the secret SXSW headliner. It’s barely a secret now though because they advertised this gig on their social media last week. There are less gimmicks here than what has gone before in the night; it’s the quality of the songwriting that’s allowed to do the talking. It’s indie-rock with occasional west-coast jangle; inoffensive and well-played but somehow not hitting the heights of Haze for me. A safe, solid bet for a SXSW showcase no doubt and I’ll watch them again given the chance.

 

Tuesday night gig options are checked through on the tube back to the hostel. Tonight’s been a great way to blow away the early-week cobwebs but I might plump for something more sedate tomorrow.