Shame: "We've got a lot to gear up for"
Ready or not, South London five-piece Shame are taking over.
Published: 5:06 pm, February 08, 2017
"For everyone who’s heading to the next show, the coach is leaving RIGHT NOW,” announces Shame frontman Charlie Steen from the stage. It’s the first set of an evening that’ll see the band play three shows in four hours - travelling across London with their distinctive brand of high-octane melodic punk glory that takes a history of underground kicks and brings it rattling into 2017. From climbing up and balancing on ceilings, to finishing up the night in Peckham sporting full drag and a rapturous packed out crowd, it’s more of a coronation of one of the most exciting live bands in the country than a cross-city coach journey. When we say coach journey, we mean literally - not many new bands can pack out a coach across London like Shame do.
“It was fucking tiring,” explains Charlie, “but was an incredible experience. We just wanted to do something different for the first single launch, to show what it all meant and do something that was a complete experience instead of just playing one venue that we’d probably end up playing usually. It was a challenge to ourselves, we changed the setlist around, had to think about what to wear and how we would organise it - but it turned about to be a really good night.”
Everything Shame do is built and paid for in unrivalled and thrilling live arenas. It’s the sort of show that no matter where they go, will grab attention and force you to witness something that the next day you’ll be talking about to all your mates. In-your-face, visceral to the bone and a touchpoint for how to command a stage, it’s the platform which brought them into music and breathes through them each and every day.
As Charlie explains, “we started off when we were doing our A-Levels - we were at The Queen’s Head and knew a few people around there and at venues such as The Windmill. We just kinda decided that even when we had four songs, that we were going to play two gigs a week even if that was to two people a night. It’s all about the live environment, and that was our approach - we enjoy playing live, and we want it to be, for whoever comes down, a memorable experience and the best it can be.”
The smell and sounds of South London are encapsulated in Shame, born and raised in the area and with an unmistakable connection to the DIY streets and bare-knuckle truths that form a part of everyday life. It’s a relationship between the five-piece that was seeded back when they were less than five years old and something which makes them such a formidable unit now. “Everyone in the band has known each other since we were in primary or nursery school, and with Sean, who plays guitar in the band, we used to write shitty acoustic songs together. I’d want to write lyrics like Tom Waits or The Traveling Wilburys, but I was eight, so they were the worst lyrics in the world,” remembers Charlie.
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While most bands recall certain musical moments or other acts as inspiration, for Shame it’s apt that influence stems from South London itself and in particular, the Queen’s Head pub - a Brixton landmark and a world unto its own, a snapshot of a time and era in British culture. “We can’t express how much importance it had, the characters that were in that pub who influenced us,” reminisces Charlie. “We were 16 when we first went there, and we met people like the Alabama 3 and Larry Love and that who all used to drink there. Me and Sean met the bassist of Stiff Little Fingers there and we would be listening to that band when we were six-years-old, so they were our heroes. They might have been an older generation, but that was what appealed to us.”
“We kinda sort-of got more friends who were 50 years old than 19, but they were the characters that had a lot of advice to give, and we were always really interested to hear that. It’s easy to start out with so much optimism, but the reality is you’ve got to work hard all the time.”
With the sound of a generation rustling through them, you wouldn’t bet against Shame being the most talked about band in the country by this time next year - a show not to be missed and a voice impossible to ignore. “Our dream from the beginning, being completely honest, was that one day we would headline Brixton Academy,” details Charlie. “We were 17 years old at The Queens Head so that dream was to have a drink at the pub and then walk two minutes down the road and then headline the gig.
“Obviously The Queens Head is gone now but that’s still everything we could always dream of, we don’t want to stop in any way.”