th-1The Shuffle has a number of what we refer to as fringe events, smaller stages that either lead  into the bigger events of the weekend or smaller gigs that take place in shops and bars alongside big band line ups to act as a breather for the punters and to promote what is going on elsewhere.

This year the first fringe event was the opening party at The Queens Tap on Wednesday. Effectively what we did for this session was hijack…I mean, re-brand Matt Chipperfield’s existing open mic. session, program the acts rather than have the the random and less controllable scenario of an open session and throw open the doors. And what a great start it was. The Queens Tap is a lovely late Victorian building, all high ceilings, ironwork and wood panelling. It serves as a commuter pub, being directly opposite the railway station but is a great and spacious room for live music.

Considering it was only a Wednesday we had a great turnout to kick things off. One of the thinks that I like about being part of the Shuffle programming is you get to chose running orders and it was great to see the first chords of this years event being struck by my good friend and band mate Richard Skidmore, channeling his best “man in black” vibe as he ran through various solo versions of songs that are normally rocked up by Black Sheep Apprentice. (The corresponding bookend to the event came with The Shudders playing the final slot of the wrap party and bowing out with Rocking in The Free World at The Beehive, but more of that later.) This was followed by an act new to me, Andrew Burke, who played a set of atmospheric and luscious songs that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Damien Rice album.

Next up was a act that via my involvement in Secret Chord Records and regular promotional duties, I have worked with many times, Tamsin Quin, a bluesy pop troubadour with a natural charisma and infectiousness that warms the soul of the most unengaged punter. Or to put it another way, I think she is quite mad, in an endearing way.

The ubiquitous Nick Felix rounded off the last of the solo slots, a mix of delicate and intricate playing, world weary vocals but a positive attitude running through his songs. Always a pleasure to catch Nick’s set.

As we moved into the headline slots, our gracious host, Matt Chipperfield, broke out the electric guitar and aided and abetted by a competent rhythm section and an occasional keyboard player rocked out a set of popular covers.

The headliners were also new to me, or so I thought as Tom Stark and The Avengers seemed to be made up of players I normally associated with other bands. What was great about the band was that although at this stage they are pretty much a cover band, it is the way that they approach the covers that makes them stand out from the regular cover circuit bands. Hearing the White Stripes Seven Nation Army played as a lounge jazz swing number really made the point that cover bands can be interesting if you inject some of the bands own personality and ingeniousness into the proceedings. I’m sure that we are all cringe when a cover band launches into a note for note, clinical rendition of Sex Is On fire, or worse, Mustang Sally, and look like they have just invented the wheel.

There was event time at the end for a bit of a drunken jam session, which may or may not have seen yours truly trying to remember the bass lines to Taillights Fade by Buffalo Tom.

We didn’t know it then but this opening show really set the pace of The Shuffle that was to follow.