The Afternoon Sets.
The Swindon Shuffle like the rare entertainment truffle that it is, distilled a highly engaging and eclectic mixture of musical genres in a frenzy of toe tapping and finger snapping, body shaking and friendship making. Yay Ha! Rock and Punk sizzled in the same sausage pan as Folk and Funk and the wacky and the wonderful of Swindon’s gifted menagerie of performers, played and sang their socks and cowboy boots off to entertain the masses.
The Venues were The Victoria, The Beehive and The Platform, all juggling a virtually nonstop succession of artists. Everyone’s tastes were catered for in what has become an annual charity event that is oh so much more than digging deep into your pockets.
With old friends staying from ‘up North’ I was reduced to only two afternoons of band bathing on the crazy paving of the Shuffle experience. Not surprisingly I was left reeling by the high standard performances, the effervescent bar staff and the camaraderie, appreciation and generosity of the audience.
People were spilling onto the street like an ample bosom in a low cut dress when I arrived at The Victoria about 2pm on the Saturday. The place was reeling from the revved up punk spunk of Pete Butler, the word slinging, rhythm flinging bassist of Two Sick Monkeys, still glistening with post performance perspiration.
Sipping a Vic cocktail I found a seat and let the ethereal vocals of Alice Offley wash over me. Her voice touches like an embrace, full of passion fringed with beautiful subtlety…watch this woman play the piano, her hands move like shallow waves across the sea of keys.
Tomasso Galati, the singer song writer, filled the next slot. He gave his fingers a guitar string garrotting with amped up acoustics in songs like Devil’s Tricks. He’s Dylan meets The Levellers with a side dish of quirky pronunciations and ‘did I hear that right?’ lyrics. I’ve seen him a couple of times and he always pushes the right buttons. Miss him next time at your peril.
Then there were Andy and Matt. This impressive duo comprises The Doubtful Guest. I was blown away by their country riffs and harmonica with Wayne Raney twists. What the guy with the cap can’t do with his mouth organ frankly isn’t worth knowing.
Whilst waiting for The Off Chance I hobnobbed in a crumbly, biscuit sort of way with one of the Ministers of Music for the Republic of Swindon, Andy Partridge, former XTC frontman. Well it was for about two minutes to be fair, and then only because he knew my brother. But hey, I listened religiously to John Peel’s Radio 1 Sunday night show as a homesick student in Bradford, Yorkshire hoping to hear ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ back in the day, and my effort was reciprocated at the Shuffle when Andy made a point of telling me he liked my dress. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it Debbie Harry!
Anyway, all conversation ceased with the arrival of my third Vic cocktail and the breezy, buoyantly musically adept and beautifully turned out…The Off Chance. They’re like an upbeat Mumford and Sons, with mandolin, guitars and drums moving through Nick Hughes’s crystal clear vocals. They nailed the harmonies, producing a polished performance despite looking a bit crushed on The Vic’s bar room stage. I fell in love with their folksy charm and they’re easy on the eye to boot.
The afternoon sets over, I rushed home to throw pizzas in the oven and exhaust excitable children with running around the garden, Harry Potter and bouncing on the bed. I fell asleep mid-sentence on the settee about 10ish reminiscing about the time when…but that’s another story.
When my friends departed on Sunday afternoon I was ready for another Shuffle session, but this time at The Beehive, a happy, hippy back street pub at the bottom of Swindon’s Eastcott Hill. Again the Shuffle hoards were cigarette socialising and sunning themselves on the pavement outside, but the bar was tightly packed, resonating with the honey sweet, lilting voice of Rumour Shed’s Ellen Carter. It was nice to see new dad Neil Mercer humming with the strumming, especially as he was due an outing with The Dacoits later that night.
The shiny, happy, people present appreciated the easy listening, which continued with the celestial alchemy of clarinet, sax and strings from the beautiful Pre-Raphaelite maidens of Matilda. Their spine chilling harmonies threaded together like silky embroidery through a room shot through with slices of dusty, buttery sun. These girls make you feel warm, in their own words ‘like what bed does’. Cosy… but my duvet wasn’t calling me yet.
The chink of money in the buckets destined for the charities Wiltshire Air Ambulance and Goldenhar was a satisfying sound and a reminder of what this whole Shuffle kerfuffle was all about. Thank God for kind hearts and music lovers.
There followed the folksy, country corn dog delight of Good Things Happen in Bad Towns, all Americana, skin tight tempos and thoughtful lyrics. They made short work of a hip swinging set that I really need to listen to again.
A brief hiatus and The Erin Bardwell Collective, minus singer Sandra Bell launched into their familiar rock steady reggae, with gruff vocals from guitarist Eddie Frankis. By now the room was as sticky as candy floss; I mean who couldn’t resist moving to the grooving of this old school Ska sound.
My one regret was having to leave as kolaKoca began. There’s a great buzz around these guys and the anticipatory atmosphere was electric with expectation. However the day job (the one that pays) was calling and you can only drink so much lager shandy!
In a week that saw rioting around the country, here was the comfortable company of friends and strangers grounded in a love for live music and the need to contribute something positive and tangible. It was hard to drag myself away.
There were bands I missed this time round even though I’ve seen them before like Black Sheep Apprentice, The Dacoits, The Racket, Hotel 75, Baby Train…well the list goes on. But I have the pleasurable knowledge that the experience still awaits.
A grand total of £2600 was raised. Bloomin’ marvellous! Well done to everyone involved. Next year I’ll keep my diary free. Long live The Shuffle shenanigans!
If you were unable to make the Shuffle but still want to make a donation to Goldenhar visit: http://www.goldenhar.org.uk/whatis.htm
Or for a more interesting way of donating why not drop into the Naughty Call Tease, Bands and Burlesque Night at 8pm on Thursday 18th August at The Victoria, Victoria Road, Swindon – where the £5 entry fee will be donated to Goldenhar.
If you want to make a donation to Wiltshire Air Ambulance visit