Part of the younger generation of South London's burgeoning scene, SHAME discuss their accidental acclaimed live performances, shit jobs, and a fateful encounter with a chandelier.
Text by Tom Revell and Nick Palmer
Reading time: 5 minutes
South London has proved a fertile breeding ground for brash, activist rock bands of late, and formed in Stockwell drinking hole The Queen's Head, Shame display many of the qualities that have made the scene so essential.
Shame have been knocking about for nearly two years, since they finished their AS-levels. They play mean, spaced out post-punk sounds. They’ve got a sound reminiscent of The Fall and Nick Cave - and the attitude of these elder statesmen of the scene to boot - and a perfectly shambolic live performance that echoes Pavement.
Singer and frontman Charlie Steen still definitely looks his age (18), but his lyrics suggest a cynical understanding of modern music that belies his years . It’s thrilling to hear him repeat how nowadays people want music to be “relatable, not debatable”. In interview, his cheerful demeanour suggests nothing of the person who wrote and many a night bellows, “I don't wanna be heard if you're the only one listening, bathe me in blood and call it christening.”
The Queen's Head is a place bound to the local music scene and considered the headquarters of Shame's infamous fellow South London noisemakers Fat White Family, whose name is painted on one of the walls - but more about them later. Apart from Charlie Steen, the band members are all 19. They each have shit jobs - in their own words - as waiters, bartenders and baristas, and they’ve taken a year out to work on the music.
Having set up a video interview with band members Steen, Charlie Forbes, Eddie Green, Josh Finerty and Sean Coyle-Smith, I naively expected that I might actually see the band. Not really, as it turns out. They’re using a phone which they place face up on a table. I see the occasional hand, strand of hair and puff of smoke, but it’s mostly a 40 minute conversation with the ceiling. Shame sit themselves around the phone, out of sight. But they’re actually a very friendly bunch.
Josh: “Charlie [Forbes], our drummer – his dad is best mates with the owner [of The Queen’s Head], so that was our connection to the place. We were fucking shit when we first started and we didn’t own any equipment. We’d come to rehearse there and there’d be no amps or there’d be blood on a guitar. The Fat Whites had been practicing and sometimes they just bleed on things. They supposedly paid for the room, but I don’t believe they paid a penny towards it. Still, we didn’t pay anything, so it was all good. All cream and gravy.”
The interview pauses for a bit as Josh rightly has the piss taken out of him for using such a phrase.
Charlie S: “We first met when they wandered in one day, saw us and said: ‘Hey, we’re going to Berlin, can we have our guitars back, please?’”
Josh: “[Another certain south London musician that NM is not going to name, for somewhat obvious legal reasons...] used to sleep on the most disgusting leather couch, right in the place we rehearsed. It’s a pretty communal pub. Once, when we were on tour with them in Manchester, [said band member] got left behind and had to travel back with us. He spent the whole time on the blower trying to track down chlamydia medicine.”
Josh is again reprimanded by his bandmates, this time for pretending to be out of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. I fear that one more cheesy cockney utterance may spell the end for this promising youngster.
Fat White Family are part of an older generation, whereas Shame are one of several new bands that form what might just be becoming a vibrant South London music scene. This isn’t a Seattle sound kind of situation though, where all the bands sound like they’re copying each other (though maybe that’ll change if/when Shame have their Smells Like Teen Spirit moment...). When they put on a night in South London, there’ll be loads of acts who they’re mates with, and their mates are mates with, each with their own sound.
Sean: “Loads of great bands have popped up in the last two years. It’s a really eclectic mix of genres, too. There’s this really jazzy band called Monk and one called Goat Girl, who play this really sleazy country music. Happy Meal Ltd sound like The Cure, but with dubstep.”
As seen in their video for The Lick, which was co-directed by Mica Levi (AKA Micachu and composer of the award-winning Under The Skin soundtrack), Shame have some serious performing chops, too. They’re a tight band, but able to tear things up when needed. Singer Charlie Steen stalks about the stage, pulling things about and leering into empty space. He’s got a definite Mark E. Smith kind of delivery when he speaks verses, but when he lets loose near the end of the song his voice develops a desperate, raspy kind of brilliance.
Josh: “We’re still a bit shambolic live, though.”
Eddie: “But, it’s confusing because people always say that they had the best time when we put on a really shit show.”
From the sounds of it, it seems like things going wrong is an important part of the Shame experience, including a fateful encounter with a chandelier at [a certain festival, which we won’t name, for legal reasons…]
Charlie F: “We nearly got invoiced for £500 over that chandelier. [Charlie] Steen went a bit Tarzan on it and it came out of the fixture.”
Josh: “The owner told us, so our manager advised we leave pretty quickly. We grabbed a bottle of Captain Morgan and got the fuck out of there.”
Shame have still got a certain teenage goofiness about them, but they’re also motivated by more serious stuff, like the general state of the industry.
Charlie S: “Music publications generally are meant to tell you about all the bands that are working hard and making good music, but loads of them aren’t getting the attention they deserve. The same crap is peddled at you.”
The interview ends with talk of a potential single in September and a discussion about how not-great the new Stone Roses song was, and the latest Pixies album, and the surprising greatness of the last My Bloody Valentine album. We share tentative hopes for the new Slowdive record. They pass me around, so I can finally see the faces of the disembodied voices I’ve been communing with for the past 40 minutes and we say our goodbyes.
Shame have got musical finesse, a loyal following and are a charming bunch. It just remains to be seen whether they can follow those fat, white footprints and make a name for themselves.
Text by Tom Revell & Nick Palmer