Review by Joy Bells

Let the battle continue…

Day 2 of the shuffle! Saturday and Apollo’s polished up the chariot. The sun is officially out! Yesterday’s lesson learnt I slip on my Converse and cadge a lift on the Triumph Bonneville, courtesy of Mr Mick. Yesterday’s early evening soda drinking jamboree has left me hang over free and that’s good as I anticipate a busy day fitting in shedloads of talent at 4 different venues. My shuffle will see me doing more hopping than a cockney vacation to Kent!

The Rolleston is my first stop and Doeser, Swindon’s punk age prototype pits his raw vocals against Mike Nee’s sleaze blues harmonica. This is half of ‘Hamsters from Hell’ – with the staying power of Stonehenge they’re part of Swindon’s musical archaeology. Billy Jon follows; all rich vocals, unbuckled charm charting thoughts mined in moments of clarity and thrills spilt in bright guitar flashes of light. The benches outside begin to empty as Shufflers forego the sunshine for this acoustic set and shoppers gripping Sainsbury’s carrier bags pop their heads round the door to see what the fuss is about. Fresh faced Faye Rogers takes over, engaging and vulnerable her clean, lilting voice has a Bjork like ebb and flow wrapped up with pretty guitar melodies. Here’s a really promising talent…and what a cracking pair of red Doc Martens. But I need a pick me up and the thought of Starbucks and The Bateleurs playing at Rise Records in Swindon’s Brunel Plaza prompts us to head into town.

Caffeine quaffing we arrive at Rise as Buswell play their last few numbers. Reduced to 7 or 8 members there’s still a disparate musical dialogue delivering unyielding country/folk vibes less Mumford and Sons and more Buswell (as in Shaun) and friends. There are musicians from Anchor and the wolf, Missing Rosie, The Shudders and God knows how many other bands, which reminds me why the Swindon music scene is worth its weight in grand piano’s! Ego isn’t as important as creating music; from sound engineers to bass guitarists, roles overlap like tectonic plates holding this musical world together.

A sizeable crowd have gathered outside the shop and Brunel ‘security’ informs management that they need the people watching to move inside. There’s a great atmosphere and when The Bateleurs start playing at the back of the shop, sure enough a few people decide they’ll throw their lot in with the devil and shuffle (see what I did there) uncertainly in.

Having missed the silky folk smoked rock of The Bateleurs last night I soon start tapping my feet and nodding my head. I love Sean Amor’s voice, like gravel in a thick milkshake and the fiddle, plaintive and restrained. What a wicked way to buy your books and CDs.At the end it was hard to drag ourselves away and in an attempt to maintain our stamina we force feed ourselves pasties from Greggs while discussing ‘endurance between venue’ tactics for the night ahead. But as Steve Martin says, ‘Talking about music is like dancing about architecture’ – so we made our way back to The Rolleston for the real thing.

Adepto Futui were just setting up and they did not disappoint. This is a 4 man funky, hunky package tied up with groovy, twangy strings, with keyboard notes flying like bullets through cymbals crashing like Atlantic waves in a storm. Believe me, that’s a very good thing. West Coast Americana bubbling under the grill of the Swindon Town shuffle. Don’t mind if I do…They’re quickly followed by the technically excellent Blowbacks. I’ve seen them before and will see them again. They’re melodic, articulate with a dash of Blur-ish Britpop rock and cool as cucumbers to boot. Eight or nine songs later and they’re making way for the next band.

The musical tapas continues in the form of Nudybronque. Mike Sheehan sounds like Morrissey (if Morrissey ate meat and liked people) and the rhythms and beats are bouncier than Jordan’s breasts, but they also entertain with on stage wrestling, drum kit demolition, infectious smiles and songs about real life…’she says she’s pregnant’. The drum kit is quickly reassembled for Super SquareCloud, all innovative melodica, percussion driven, keyboard frisson, guitar risen from the dead and octave changing vocals pared at times into ethereal bars of flighty lyrical fancy. Super SquareCloud need some absorption, but osmosis is my middle name!

A few songs from the end we stand outside wondering if we can get to 12 Bar in time for Plummie Racket’s acoustic set with Dan. Fortunately Alan Holmes of Holmes Music appears. He’s checking the equipment on a quick trip out from The SOLAM festival at Riffs and offers us a lift. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, or anywhere else come to think of it, we hop in his van and are at 12 Bar before you could say ‘The Black Hats Rock!’

There’s only a couple of people in the venue, so Frankie and I pull our chairs to the very front and treat it like our own personal show. Affably sweary and constantly updating his repertoire with songs he writes a few hours before going on stage, he and Dan perform like they’re engaging with a Glastonbury crowd. As the first song ends I’m surprised by the clapping and hooting behind me. The venue has filled up and the rest of his set is met with loud and good humoured appreciation.

Farewells done we leave and pop into the Chinese take away on Faringdon Road for a bag of chips. Shuffling is no good for your health; I’m going to have to run every day next week to combat one day’s pastry and potato combo. We hear a horn beep and look up to see Mr Holmes four-way flashing on the road side. He’s fast becoming our taxi service and whisks us up to The Beehive. The pub is heaving. People aren’t standing outside to enjoy the balmy evening they simply can’t get in. Melodious tendrils of delicate harmony filter through the cheery babble. Matilda are in full swing.  (with Becky called away Matilda actually became Emily Sykes and friends instead – Ed) By the time we actually push through to the back they’ve finished and Emily and the Dogs are setting up.

I’ve been meaning to check out this band for ages, everyone’s talking about them and from the moment they begin I know why. The guitars and drum fit like well-crafted jigsaw pieces around the most emotionally weighted voice, all Dion Washington washed with Winehouse; there’s depth and resonance, jagged edged pain and joyous melody. It’s all here, soul, jazz and folksy charm playing beautifully together and sharing musical jewels.

It’s been a long day and we nip out to Fratello’s on Victoria Road for a pick me up coffee. On the way we’re startled by a badger running hell for leather down a back ally. An animal contingent of music lovers must have heard that Emily and the Dogs are live at the Hive and want to play!  We bump into Plummie (again) on the way back and he’s still promising Racket badges. At the Beehive the 3 man acoustic collective Mr Love and Justice are filling the place with easy listening folksy nostalgia, all long served musicians highly respected on the Swindon music scene. What a great way to wrap up the night.

But it doesn’t end there. Talking politics with Steve Cox of Mr L and J, playing darts and winning – that combination of alcohol and live music again and making a detour on the way home to say ‘Happy Anniversary’ to Dave and Anna who were partying up at The Victoria all added to The Shuffle experience. One more day to go…can I do it? Is the Pope Catholic?
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