By Rowan Gavin
Scions of the much-lauded South London guitar band scene Shame made their Norwich gig debut on Monday, captivating a packed-out Waterfront with their riotous stage presence and uniquely mesmerising sound. At times unsettling, at times brutalist, always evocative – if you’re into your post-punk, past or present, you’ll have heard something like Shame, but nothing quite like the orchestrated noise of their live show.
Speaking to 40% of the band, Sean Coyle-Smith (guitar) and Charlie Forbes (drums), ahead of the gig, it’s clear that this singular output draws on a diverse range of influences. Coyle-Smith cites ‘70s rockers like Television and Talking Heads alongside post-punkers The Sound and The Fall and, intriguingly, “A bit of U2. I like a bit of U2.” Forbes’ musical inspiration, meanwhile, is “a lot more ‘90s” – Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Smashing Pumpkins. The differences in taste continue across the other three band members. As Forbes puts it, “we all have our own shit that no-one else likes, it’s a big melting pot”. That said, he does announce with some certainty that “Eddy Current Suppression Ring is our favourite band collectively”, only to be met with instant rebuttal from Coyle-Smith: “Can you stop saying that.” Forbes challenges him to suggest another candidate. “Ought?” “No.” “Parquet Courts?” “No.” They lapse into silent disagreement; I get the impression this discussion takes place pretty regularly.
January saw the launch of Songs of Praise, Shame’s stormer of a debut album, on the Dead Oceans label. I ask how much of an impact that milestone had for the band. Forbes makes no bones: “Before that people were asking ‘What was the big thing that changed everything?’ and we didn’t really have anything, and then the album came out and that’s what really changed everything – for the better”. They were on tour around the release date, and returned home to discover “it had done all this growing while we were away. And we were like ‘oh. We’re a lot bigger than when we left’. Which was nice.” They’ve since toured across the US, Asia and Europe, shouting and jumping with thrilled crowds everywhere they go.
I’m interested in winding back the clock a little, though. A great deal has been said about the South London ‘scene’ over the past couple of years, and about a number of the guitar bands making their first marks at small venues like Brixton’s Windmill. BBC 6 DJ Steve Lamacq has been a particular advocate for Shame and their contemporaries. What was the scene like from their perspective? For Coyle-Smith and Forbes, at least, it wasn’t so unique or special a phenomenon as the music media made out. “People played a lot in South, but not everyone was from South”, Coyle-Smith points out, “It just got called the ‘South London Scene’ for ease of pigeonhole journalism.” Forbes agrees: “At the time it felt pretty cool, everyone was going on about the scene, but it was kinda just us being mates and being in bands”. Things changed when Shame and their immediate contemporaries got signed and started touring, but there’s still some camaraderie between them. They’re currently touring with fellow Londoners Sorry – “we wouldn’t want to tour with other bands when we can just take our mates’ bands”.
To me, this attitude of disregarding the media hype and putting friends first has more DIY spirit than any unscripted Windmill show. Though Songs of Praise changed a lot for the band, it’s clear that Shame’s punk ethos remains intact. Still, I wonder – do they miss the old days? “I miss it”, pipes up Forbes, before Coyle-Smith runs him over: “No. Not at all. I really don’t. It was a good period, but it’s nice to be like, y’know…” He gestures around the tour bus we’re sat in to make his point. “The other night we were walking back to the Ritz, and we walked past this tiny little pub kind of venue where we would have played back in the day, and I looked in the window and I thought ‘No.’” “There was a certain charm to the unsigned antics”, Forbes insists. “Now it feels like we’re being proper musicians, but before there was this kind of scrappy, do-it-yourself, borrowing gear off everyone… I liked it.” Coyle-Smith chimes in, “We’ll probably end up back there in about three years”. Forbes smiles. “Playing the Windmill. It’s the circle of life – born there, die there”.
Alongside other bands from the ‘scene’ – Goat Girl, Sorry, Black Midi – a number of contemporary acts crop up in conversation. Forbes and Coyle-Smith are fans of Protomartyr, Ice Age, Snail Mail – and, of course, of scene-breaking political punks IDLES. Shame frontman Charlie Steen’s lyrics are less explicitly political than the Bristolians’, but there’s something subversive about them which can be just as affecting. “IDLES do songs that say and sound like they’re saying ‘Fuck the Tories Fuck the Tories’, which is great and I really like it, but I feel like it’s never been our kind of thing”, Forbes explains. It’s more “Social commentary, stream of consciousness, with Steen’s lyrics” adds Coyle-Smith. “We’re thinking the same stuff, it’s just said in a bit more of a lowkey way. Not all the tunes are political, but we are a political band, and we’re really outspoken in how we think”. It’s a more subtle expression of rage and dissatisfaction with their world, but just as resonant. And Forbes for one dabbles in more straightforward activism when he can as well – marches, the occasional epetition, “tweeting abuse at Tory MPs”. Coyle-Smith nods – “It’s good fun that”.
So, what’s next for Shame? They have four months free from touring coming up, and plans for album #2 are already in motion. They’re not constraining themselves with strict schedules though. Coyle-Smith insists that “If we get to the point where we’ve written ten songs and it’s not good enough then there’s no desperate rush to slap that out. We want the second one to be better than the first.” Judging by the three new killer tracks they unveiled in their set, they’re on course for that. Any early thoughts on a title? Coyle-Smith grins. “I’d quite like to keep up the theme of English TV show names. Cash In The Attic?”
Charlie Steen (vocals)
Eddie Green (guitar)
Sean Coyle-Smith (guitar)
Josh Finerty (bass)
Charlie Forbes (drums)
Featured image credit: Martin Schumann / Wikipedia
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