A very British punk band.


Photography by Owen Richards | Words by Ian Roebuck

“There’s really no way to answer that question and take it seriously.” I’ve just asked George Haberis, lead singer of punk band Sharm El Shakes, a loaded gun of a question. “The whole concept of punk being dead comes from a really simplistic view of what it is – spikey hair, gobbing, pogoing and getting the national media in a tizz by swearing on TV. If that’s what you’re talking about, then, sure, it’s dead. But that whole interpretation of punk is not something we prescribe to.” You can probably guess the question and George is right to put me in my place. An evolving ideology, punk doesn’t die, it simply moves with the times as unique forms of expression come and go. Besides, one person’s punk is another’s herbal tea.

Right now George’s band are playing a particularly British take on the genre, albeit influenced by American bands such as Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and George’s favourite, The Modern Lovers.

The world punk was shaped in, one which harboured a necessity for communal support and a strong sense of group mentality, is very different to the world Sharm El Shakes live and play in today, says guitarist Henry Withers. “Yeah, sure there’s a community of bands like before who all help each other, but it’s completely different,” he says. “Just as the ’80s hardcore community was different to the British post punk movement of the late ’70s and ’80s, we are different now. There’s a community in the sense that we have a studio, friends do sound for us and work the bars, we have friends in bands like Sauna Youth, but there is no necessity in today’s environment. We eat, we can use the Internet and we all have separate jobs.”

It wasn’t long ago that the tight-knit Sharm El Shakes were playing in separate bands too, Henry in Lovvers along with bassist Michael Drake, George in Prize Pets and drummer Dominic Haley in French Kissing. So this is a band born out of that community. A supergroup. “Absolutely,” chimes Dominic with expert timing making George laugh. “I’ve heard that phrase thrown about although I’m not so sure.”

They’ve all walked the block with varying degrees of success, Henry arguable the most. This band was formed as a direct reaction to the demise of their previous bands, although not for any wanton desire or hunger for the limelight explains Henry. “One of our main criteria, well our only criteria really, was that we all had to live within a mile radius of each other. I don’t want to mess about as my other band’s in Nottingham (Henry’s also in Human Hair) and I was in a band before where all four of us were in different cities, it was a nightmare.”

George concurs that this really is a no stress band. “Yeah, Prize Pets were up and down from Nottingham to London too and now one of the band has moved to Korea so that was that.”

Sharm El Shakes – who formed less than a year ago – now just have to hop on the 56 bus. Dominic was the final piece of the jigsaw. “I was on a date and Henry came up to me and said, ‘hey do you want to be a drummer in our band?’. I must have looked like the coolest man in the world. It kind of looked like it had been planned though.”

As for success, to Sharm El Shakes it seems to be marked by their continued friendship and maybe, just maybe, getting a record out. “Yeah, success isn’t why we do this,” says George. “Really, for us, it’s a release and something outside of a job that’s fun. There’s no plan but it’d be cool to put out a 7 inch.”

Dominic has a different stance on the matter. “I joined to get chicks, but it’s not worked,” he says. “That is definitely the most stupid myth about playing in a band ever.”

There does, however, remain a real intent to the music of Sharm El Shakes. Fuelled by ennui and shot through with a dry wit, the band’s visceral playing style drives their material forward, and can end up sounding like Pere Ubu. It is punk of course but there are melodies, mid paced garage numbers in the mix and a full hearted, extremely British, delivery to every track.

“The music’s quite like a skeleton,” explains Henry. “It’s not fleshed out with distortion and layers and you can hear everything that’s happening, which is definitely a trait of older punk music. This is quite unassuming music though, a bit more held back.”

For both him and Michael, who’d come from the distinctly America-influenced Lovvers, a more British sensibility gradually became important, “and I can’t do a decent American accent,” adds George.

“I tell you what,” says Henry, “and this is probably quite boring if you’re reading a magazine, but the way we write songs is very different, too. You come to realise that the workflow from band to band is radically different. This band is boy meets bass, writes sequential line and passes to guitarist who comes up with his parts and puts a twist on it. They practice and finally the singer adds lyrics. There is no ego in this band.” They all nod in unison before Dominic tells us what it’s really about. “Yes, let’s be honest with ourselves here,” he says and pauses. “It’s all about who can pull the best face on stage.” Henry chuckles. “I thought we were a blank faced band.”

“We don’t know what’s going on behind us,” says George. “Dom’s obviously going crazy.”

We start with a loaded question so refrain from finishing on one, but George’s guidance seems prudent after spending time with the band. “That thing about punk, who cares anyway? I mean, what if we all agreed it was dead? What are people going to do then? Stop playing in bands? Stop putting on shows and releasing records? I don’t think so! We do it because we simply enjoy it, right.”

Originally published in Loud And Quiet 42. Read the issue in full here.

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