One of the problems with running the Shuffle is that you don’t get to experience the event in it’s ideal form, wandering between the venues and cherry picking the acts that you want to see. The unexpected upside of having to stay in one venue all night is that you find yourself working with bands that you might no have checked out if you had free reign to pick your own itinerary.
My Friday night was looking after The Castle, a great back street pub just off Victoria Hill, better known for acoustic folk and cover bands but eager to be part of The Shuffle and embrace the original music scene. Last year we put in a last minute affair which did okay in terms of numbers, this year we managed to take it to a whole new level.
There are two traditions that are talked about every year. Firstly who has played the most gigs that year, through legitimate bookings, guest spots and even last minute sessions to replace acts who have dropped out. The second is who has played every year, something which over the years has dwindled down to fewer and fear people. This year there were only two musicians who had featured one way or another every year. Sadly one of those, Marky Thatcher was due to play tonights Castle session but had pulled out due to illness leaving Jim Adkin as the solo surviving Shuffle completist.
Due to the late pull out by Marky, there was a lot of last minute rushing about to find a replacement which I couldn’t be part of as I was conducting a radio interview with a South African author on a community radio show that I co-host, so I just had to wait and see who stepped into the breach. And this is what i was alluding to in my opening paragraph about working with bands that you might not have gone to see if I was a mere punter. So would I have gone to see a two piece hip-hop outfit if I hadn’t been working with them? Probably not. Did I enjoy their set? Totally. Young Wilson are an MC and a DJ who use modern technology to mix the beats and music live whilst rapping confidently and eloquently over the top. look out for them.
Next up was someone who I had checked out through writing my local gig guide, who had even played The Shuffle before but who was new to me as a live act, Ben McDanielson. A wonderful blend of dexterous guitar work and a great voice enhanced by a harmonising peddle which took the vocals almost into a haunting, Clannad type ethereality.
The big surprise of the nigh came from Blindman’s Bastion a two piece guitar and drum set up fronted by Harry Sayers who I had last seen many years before as a fresh faced young chap playing bass for The Street Orphans. Not only had he returned looking like a bearded rock god, but he now created a sound that played wonderfully with dynamic, ran a great line between underground and commerciality and who could be seen as a successor to The White Stripes or The Black Keys. Great Stuff.
Faye Rogers and her slowly evolving band is always a treat and again through Secret Chord Records I get to work with her a lot. Take a delicate yet clear voice, an acoustic core to the music, put sweeping cello lines below it and shimmering electric guitar above it and then tie it all down with minimal drum beats and you have a great sound all projected with a charm and innocence which is refreshing.
Headlining the night were Familiars a band I have booked a number of times. Theirs is a tale of persistence and hassling your local promoters. Obviously I get loads of e-mails about bookings and reviews everyday and Familiars were just one of those out of town bands who kept appear in the in-box. The difference was Jim, their basis works in Swindon and suggested that we meet for a beer. Once you make that personal connection a band is much more likely to move from the “must listen to” list to the “future bookings” pile. I have since booked them for shows at Songs of Praise and set up live radio sessions for them. Young bands take note. As a headline band they were perfect. Sweeping, keyboard fronted, commercial music but with an ear for a great song which just happens to have commercial appeal rather than a band forcing themselves down a commercial route. A great way to finish off.
By the end the pub was busier than I had ever seen it, a situation improved on the following night as fans of Colour The Atlas over filled the pub, the courtyard and the street outside, though sadly I was running The Rolleston stage but more of that later.
As we had to finish on time to keep the pub on good terms with the neighbours, well, one neighbour who apparently rings to complain at 10 seconds past 11 o’clock, I managed to run over to a very busy Victoria and catch the last act, the very brilliant British Harlem. What a great way to round off a great night.