“Oh Theresa, baby / We’ve been going for a while / But I think I want more than your sideways smile.” Charlie Steen, front man of South London post-punk band Shame, is sat to my left spitting out lyrics to ‘Visa Vulture’, a crude love song to Britain’s home secretary Theresa May, that may or may not make their next demo cut. “Oh Theresa, honey / Know I mind the gap with my chargrilled meat inside your butter-bread baps.” He catcalls over four other Shame members attempting to drown him out around our dilapidated pub bench. “No one wants to hear your fucking lyrics, especially to that fucking song,” screams drummer Charlie Forbes with a mouthful of overcooked meat.
But they do. As we gather roadside in Deptford, the stench of sewers made sweeter by happy hour pints, these punch-drunk, punk-blues teenagers are gathering pace as one of the most watched and crucially most talked about live bands in London. They predictably balk at the attention and prefer to discuss Theresa May’s urethra (we’ve skipped that lyric) or the imposing EU Referendum (didn’t end well, did it). Guitarist Eddie Green’s thoughts now seem bittersweet. “They were saying that the last General Election, despite it not really going our way, young voter turnout was much bigger than it has been in decades and it is only going to grow. Tomorrow is going to be so close. We are preaching to the converted but we feel we have to put our voice out there and vote remain.”
The outspoken Forbes wades in again: “A lot of fucking indie bands are more interested in selling records and don’t want to divide opinions.”
Not afraid to rock the establishment, Shame’s recent live video for their Fall-esque song ‘The Lick’ repeatedly challenges the music industry’s tendency to be “relatable not debatable.” This lyric dominates a noticeably chorus free-song and typifies the band’s conformity. “We were just desperate to get something out there; Mica Levi got involved after coming to see us and asked to film it,” explains Steen as Josh continues. “It was important for us to do something visual – it makes people want to come and see us live because that’s what we are about.” The introduction of Levi (or Micachu, as she’s professionally known) behind the camera has given Shame artistic clout to add to the cannon. “She doesn’t care about any of the bullshit, she’s not a socialite or after money. She just genuinely really likes music,” enthuses Charlie Steen, his passion pouring out.
Mica, like many others, was startled by Shame’s growingly notorious live presence. Eddie sums up the experience best: “It’s quite funny playing a gig and looking at peoples faces in the crowd,” he says. “Half of them are loving it and the other half are thinking what the fuck is this?”
“Much better to gain a reaction, though, surely!?” says Steen. “A gig by definition is entertainment; you’re allowed to entertain. You’re not there to look at the pedals so you should put on a show. At the same time, we’re not going to stand on stage and say you can’t leave.”
The other Charlie finishes his burger before saying his bit: “As long as we get an actual reaction then that’s cool. Marmite, that’s what the album is called. I think that’s the best album suggestion we’ve had so far.” Everyone laughs before Sean brings the conversation down to earth. “It’s true, you either love us or you hate us, we’d probably get sued with that name, though. Perhaps we can call the album yeast extract instead.”
“Of course we don’t care what people think,” says Steen. “You look back at any band that splits opinion and they were hated when they started. If you’re in a band and you’re trying to please everyone then you are doing something wrong.”
So the band might go off script on stage, that’s fine. They invite controversy but not confrontation. At a recent gig tucked in Tulse Hill, a leafy corner of South East London, violence erupted and Steen is uncomfortable with this. “Yeah, we had a fight at a recent gig of ours,” he says. “Some bloke punched Eddie’s girlfriend in the face. It’s a bit of a wanker move isn’t it? If you punch a guy because he’s done something badly wrong I think that’s alright, but if you just want to promote violence then you’re a sad man with a small penis.” Eddie looks down at his drink and carefully explains. “To be honest, that happened when I saw it brewing in the crowd, this girl pushed my girlfriend and her boyfriend got involved and manhandled my girlfriend so yes I put my guitar down and yes I smacked him but… everyone came up to me afterwards and said that was so rock and roll but no, it was fucking stupid and it shouldn’t have happened.” Sean lightens the mood a little. “Shame gigs are a safe place, we might beat ourselves up on stage but that’s it.”
Talk moves on to The Birthday Party, Jesus and the Mary Chain and other bands whose provocative stage shows encouraged lively audience participation, for good or bad. For a set of 18 and 19 year olds, Shame really understand their heritage and influences. It’s this knowledge that has led them to put on their own night at their favourite venue, The Brixton Windmill. Everyone is excited now but it’s Josh who walks us through it. “It’s called Chimney Shitters. The reason why… Sean once claimed he got trapped on his roof at his house and needed a shit so he shat down his chimney. We all know it’s not true – look at his face… we know it’s not true!” Forbes tries to stop laughing. “There is a really good scene in South London,” he says. “It’s all about the scene man. It’s not just in the South but that’s mostly where we look. These are just our school friends and bands that we know. If we put on a gig at the windmill we know we will get at least a 100 people down so we use that audience that we have to bring stuff to people’s attention.”
The chatter and hum around the table increases and I start to get a real sense of community. These five have been friends since an early age and as they move around South London their gang continues to grow. “We spent some time with Chilli from the Palma Violets – he really helped us out,” Steen tells me. “We needed to do some demos so he got us a great sound engineer and invited us down to where we practice. They are really nice guys and we also know the Fat Whites after practicing at the Queen’s Head in Brixton. We’ve just met them all along the way – Segs from the Ruts, Larry Love of Alabama 3, all these amazing musicians who have gone through it all; we have always taken advice from people who have a lot to give.” Steen finishes as quietness descends. Forbes looks rather reflective now and adds: “Everyone has been so supportive…”
Sean calls over: “Eat your greens for fucks sake.”
“Fuck you Mum!”
With happy hour coming to a close, pints are drained and cheap lager purchased. A trip to Glastonbury awaits tomorrow where the band have arranged unorthodox passes to play the Strummerville stage. “No one needs to know that,” Forbes tells me. “Actually, fuck it, we’ve got no audience, it’s not going to be on the front page of The Sun, Shame break in to Glastonbury!”
Eddie seems exasperated by the whole thing. “I don’t like festivals,” he says. “I will play the gig and then go back to the tent, you fuckers can do what you want. Too many people trying to have fun in the same place, don’t like it.”
The festival talk is soon tempered by Steen bringing up the referendum once more. “In the General Election it was relatively easy to slot people into groups, Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, but in this vote it seems that it’s been so different. We have a very small platform to a limited amount of people, but even if you have one or two people who might read or listen to what you have to say then you should do what you can to give information on a subject others might not know about.”
I ask them if they’re going to write a song about the referendum. The reaction is mixed. “I think we’ve reached the point where it has become quite unfashionable to say anything political,” says Steen. “I don’t necessarily mean writing a political song – that could go really bad. You can fuck that up.” We’re back at ‘Visa Vulture’; Steen slams down his drink to audible groans. “I have remembered my favourite line – “Do you feel like a commoner exposed and dominated? / Have you gained a moral conscience yet or are you not that degraded?”
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