Last time I went to the Shacklewell Arms, it was to a discreet Scritti Politti gig, probably about three years ago. The atmosphere could not have been more different, in the back room at least. The bar to the front was exactly the same and I had that same feeling of being in a 1970s youth club.
This, I think, is something to do with the shade of peeling cream paint, liberally decorated with real or imaginary grey cobwebs and peppered with gig posters that draw you to them like subversive magnets.
'It's loud in there', warned the chap on the door.
This event was part of Label Mates 111, a selection-box of bands on emerging labels that has been happening over the course of the week. I had gone to see Royal Limp, a band I have written about a few times over the last year since Offsprog One joined them on keyboards.
This was Faux Discx's night and the 'loud in there' band was Lower Slaughter. I do have earplugs to protect my high-end hearing, which oddly enough for someone with variegated tinnitis, is exceptionally good (they say it's a precursor to deafness).
The earplugs were at home and I was just about to duck out when they finished.
What were they like? Well, loud. Half the time I thought they were brilliant and the other half I though they were awful. They were really well rehearsed and obviously really committed to their screamo genre, and the lead singer was very funny.
This was the problem though- was he meant to be? He jumped to the floor in front of the monitors and roared and whined into the microphone while the guitarist, bassist and drummer (great rhythm section BTW) gave it all they'd got. Their singer has a lot of charisma, but he needed to let the audience know whether to laugh with him, or at him. I know absolutely nothing about that sort of music so perhaps I'm a misinformed idiot; they were a good band, but I wasn't sure what I was watching.
After a very quick changeover, soundcheck done with the decks still churning (and hence a slightly muddy-sounding first song, which got sorted quickly), Royal Limp arrived. They are growing in confidence live, and gelling as a group; this is one of the things that I have always loved about seeing fledgling bands, ever since I started playing myself a million years ago.
You can see them consolidate in front of your eyes, getting into a groove and really enjoying playing their songs, they become tighter, they relax, their songs become familiar and the interplay between the band members is visible.
(Many years ago I had the misfortune to see Lou Reed at Wembley Arena. What a disaster- thin wobbly plastic glassed filled with watery lager, red plastic seats bolted into place, awful lighting and an orange-plastic-faced Lou Reed who grunted through his songs grudgingly then disappeared. He couldn't care less about the audience, seemingly. Maybe he could, and we just couldn't tell through his black shades, grumpy face and non-existent talking between songs; I would have had a much better time at home playing the music and staring at a poster on the wall. This is why I rarely ever go to see mega-famous groups or artists live; it was such a disappointment that I was warned off for life. If that's a legend, give me a short story every time).
Royal Limp are developing a sound. Sometimes they sound a bit like early Velvets, or even Jonathan Richman before he went simple. Last night there were hints of early Roxy Music, specifically the Phil Manzanera influence, and just like last time, the song Public Transport Blues shone as a track full of interesting sounds and a great groove. I want to persuade them to let me do a mix of that one!
Andy is a very funny front man who knows how to engage the audience. The room filled up, and they got a solid round of applause for their short and punchy set.
(there is another review of their Brighton set here http://www.brightonnoise.co.uk/live-review/?p=102489)
I'd been hoping to see Keel Her but I think it was a DJ performance, so I headed home feeling that I'd had a great night out. Hats off to the organisers, and also to the people who are running these labels. It so important to have a live music scene (there have been lots of bands on each night) and so important that people keep making music underground and untroubled by metaphorical men-with-cigars-and-chequebooks. I love it that people are still making music the untrained way, the refusal of the business plan, the love and control being with the scene and not with the industry. More, please!
As always, the way home was peppered with London eccentricity. On the train, an enormous Eastern European man in a fez and bright green tracky bottoms was having a joke with his pals, oblivious to a white slip of pigeon-down knitted into his fleece. They were having such a funny time I wanted to ask what they were laughing at. And when I changed trains, a young chap clattered along beside me, one skateboard under his arm, and pulling along three identical ones in a special skateboard trailer made of dark green canvas, with a complex wheel arrangement just in case the skateboards felt like going off on their own multi-skateboard adventure.
I got home early enough to read a bit more of Keith Richards' biography, which has been on the book shelf ever since it came out and which had been pushed aside by my predilection for crime novels.
It's very perceptive and touching, actually. I'm at the childhood/adolescence bit and kind of dreading the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll bit because that story is always the same and makes me yawn.
Perhaps he will be able to describe it from a different perspective, but I doubt it.