It’s November 2017, and five young men are horsing about in an East London studio, dressed in tea towels, bed sheets and a donkey mask, attempting to recreate a scene from the nativity. There are far more empty tinnies around than in your average school play and, last time we checked, none of the Three Wise Men normally went commando, but there’s still something tangibly exciting in the air and the image of the guitarist puffing on a roll-up with a star around his head is one that’s strangely appropriate.
See, back then, when we costumed up Shame to be inducted into DIY’s Class of 2018, it was already pretty obvious that the South London quintet had a twinkle about them that was brighter than most. On the cusp of releasing debut LP ‘Songs of Praise’ and with a burgeoning live following growing by the day (the band had just sold out the 800-capacity Scala), it was clear that their socially-charged blasts of cathartic, yet sneakily melodic punk were starting to seep into a wider world than just the musical hotbed of politically-minded young talents that their Brixton base was home to.
Fast forward 12 months and we’re sat in a different part of East London, dressing the band up in rather nattier garb for another photoshoot just ahead of their last tour of the year, where they’ll headline the city’s 2,300-capacity Forum. That’s almost certain to be a sell out, too. It’s familiar but notably different and though the band are still pissing about, smoking fags and recounting tales of their whirlwind year just the same - “Mac DeMarco came over and shouted ‘SHAME ON YOU’ about 50 times to me in Perth,” recalls guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith as we’re sipping a post-shoot pint - there’s no getting away from the fact that Sean, singer Charlie Steen, bassist Josh Finerty, guitarist Eddie Green and drummer Charlie Forbes have had the kind of year that most new bands dream of. Shame have undoubtedly been the name on more lips than just Mac’s.
It began, as so many years do, with a ridiculous scene in Wetherspoons.
“Waking up in piss – not even your own piss – is how close we’ve become.”
It’s a pleasing nuance to Shame’s all-consuming 2018 that ‘Songs of Praise”s magnetic, visceral ten tracks were released right at the top of it, while the remnants of Christmas lights and leftover crackers were still loitering in kitchen corners. Landing on 12th January, the record was preceded with enough anticipation to put them in the indie public eye but it was only when a series of unanimously excited reviews started unfolding that the hype began to escalate. “The most surprising thing was after it came out. It was anticipated, but the reaction we then got was the more bizarre thing for us,” says Eddie. The night the record was released, the band got a call to say they were going to be on the front page of a national newspaper the following weekend. By Friday, they’d landed in the Top 40. Of course, they celebrated as all young twenty-somethings with more Instagram followers than pounds in their bank account are wont to do: by putting their ‘Spoons table number up online and waiting to reap the spoils. “Within about five minutes the manager came out and was like, ‘What the fuck are you doing?! I’ve got orders for 50 fried eggs here’,” recalls Eddie. “He wasn’t even nice about it,” Josh laments. “He was like, ‘If you wanna come and do your Facebook shit, do it somewhere else.’” “He thought we were YouTube bloggers,” grins Steen. “That’s how uncool we looked.”
It’s this seesawing between glory and comical disaster that characterises the majority of the band’s tales. This summer, they were booked to play Reading Festival’s Main Stage, thus realising a childhood dream; of course, on the day, the show was an absolute torrential washout. In the middle of a successful tour and in the throes of World Cup glory, Sean decided to get inked with a tattoo - his first - saying ‘World In Motion’; of course, England got knocked out the following day. If there’s an anecdote that seems strangely to sum up Shame’s ridiculous year, it’s that of the guitarist waking up on the morning of his 21st birthday, in sunny San Diego, next to Steen, who’d pissed their shared bed. “Waking up in piss - not even your own piss - is how close we’ve become,” Sean sighs.
Yet if life hasn’t quite thrown them limos and luxury just yet, then it has given them the fruits of a wealth of hard graft that no amount of thunderstorms or footballers or nighttime incontinence can scupper. Over this year, Shame have played, they estimate, around 200 shows, including 35 festivals, across 25 countries. They’ve taken three flights in a day to get to a gig, played the gig, and then got on another flight a few hours later. They’ve driven for 15 hours across an identical American landscape to stay in an identical American Holiday Inn to the one they left before (“That fucks you up,” grimaces Eddie). The way they speak adoringly about a newly-opened branch of Pret-a-Manger in Copenhagen airport suggests that they probably need someone to give them a cup of tea and a hug as a matter of urgency. But in return, they’ve honed one of the most thrilling, urgent, edge-of-your-seat shows out there. In any given festival line-up, they’re almost always the most exciting proposition, whether they’re creating a raging moshpit in a tent, converting a new herd of followers on a main stage or inciting a crowd of Sicilians in the grounds of a castle to chant their name, as they did at Ypsigrock. The next morning after that festival, Steen woke up to a message. “He’d got back to where we were staying and said he’d just stayed out for a bit,” recalls Forbes. “The next day, checks his phone and some random girl had sent him a picture of himself asleep on the floor, with a load of vomit around him. No recollection at all.” Like we said, it’s a seesaw.
Sidebar of Shame
Over here at DIY Towers, we’re not ones to point the finger and mock people’s insecurities. ‘You do you, babe’ is our motto. But Shame… well, Shame seem to enjoy regaling us with their ridiculous escapades more than most. Here are some more of their woeful 2018 tales…
Eddie: Steen insists on sleeping naked. In Sicily, we were sharing a room and every fucking time I’d come back and there’d be a watermelon next to the bed and Steen akimbo, naked. Like, alright mate! That’s the third time I’ve seen your penis today!
Forbes: The last night at Laneways was good, when we all nearly drowned. We all went skinny dipping, swum out really far and then the next thing you know we’re all really out of our depth and the tide starts coming in.
Steen: We’d been given this drink called Pastis which is like absinthe, tried to get in a police buggy…
Sean: Another down-point was being done three times in 24 hours by the Spanish police.
Steen: In the space of 12 hours we got robbed for over £1,500.
Forbes: I got stopped coming out of Benicassim by the police for not wearing my seatbelt and Joel from Wolf Alice had to pay my fine for me.
Sean: But we live our lives with forgiveness and love in our hearts…
Eddie: Shut up, mate.
Like any group of pals, Shame are infinitely better at self-deprecatingly joking about the more ridiculous moments of their friendship, verbally clambering over each other to get the punchlines in, than bigging up their genuine achievements. There’s a lot of those moments, too. Like the time that Steen accidentally ended up in Steve Lacy’s dressing room because it said ‘The Internet’ “and I thought it was the wifi hotspot”. Or the time that the singer got into an argument with Alexa Chung at Glastonbury because “I said The Libertines would be shit and she said I have a negative aura”. Or the time that Sean got told by Plan B that he looked like a member of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. “I’m still not sure to this day whether that’s a compliment…” he muses.
But there’s also a huge amount of undeniable victories that even this lot can’t play down. Immediately leaving after the release of their album for a huge, four-month run of shows across Australia and the US as a completely new band again, they undoubtedly succeeded where many, many before them had failed. “When you hear about a lot of bands touring America it can be pretty soul crushing, but we went to all these college towns and the shows were rammed,” says Sean. Emerging from Austin’s next big thing-indicating new music festival SXSW as one of the biggest successes of the week, Shame even found themselves squeezing onto the front of the New York Times. “It was the size of a 5p coin, but we got there,” chuckles Steen. “If you’ve ever held the New York Times, it’s fucking huge and you unfold it and there’s a postage stamp-sized picture in the corner of us, but I’ve still got a copy.”
When they returned home, meanwhile, it was to a sold out UK tour and, shortly after, a performance of ‘One Rizla’ on Later… With Jools Holland that burst through the screen, exciting and pissing people off in one deliciously visceral swoop. “When you start getting the hardcore Smiths fans commenting then you’ll never win because we’re not The Smiths,” begins Sean. “I think I might have endeared a couple though because they think I look like Andy Rourke,” chips in Eddie. “That’s the number one comment on the Jools Holland video. And there was one guy who just really hated Josh for some reason…” “‘There’s no room for shorts in rock’n’roll!’,” mimics the guitarist, animatedly.
Around The World In 365 Days
Over the past year, Shame have been on tour pretty much relentlessly. They’ve travelled to the other side of the planet and back, trotting around Europe and the US a fair few times for good measure, too. And throughout it all, DIY have been there to document the band at various pit stops along the way: here’s the best of Shame’s chaotic on-stage year, in pics.
“This year has pushed us to realise we could be doing this for a lot longer than we expected.”
Yet throughout it all, despite the anecdotes, Shame have clearly shirked most of the rock’n’roll pitfalls that, this time last year, they were so adamant they wouldn’t fall prey to. Sure, the five might have little to no actual life skills (“I went on holiday to Norway and realised I don’t know how to chop an onion,” sighs Steen), but - for a young band given the keys to the kingdom - they’re coping with music life pretty damn well. “At the start, it’s a bit like you have to take advantage because you don’t know how long you’ll be in that situation for. We were like, let’s have as much fun now as we possibly can,” begins Sean. “But this year, when we’ve been selling out shows and playing bigger places, that’s what pushes you to really realise that you could be doing this for a lot longer than you expected and what makes you want to get as much longevity out of it as possible,” Steen finishes off.
And there’s the crux. Shame might not have got a Number One with their debut, or won the Mercury Prize that they were early bookies’ favourites for. They might still have a lot left still to achieve. But over the past 12 months they’ve proven that, far from just a hyped exponent of a buzzy scene, they’re a band that can break out of the confines of their peer group and into the wider consciousness, onto stages around the world and TV screens and into mainstream radio playlists and that, one day, they could just get all those other accolades too.
Next up, following this tour, the band are setting aside several months to disappear and work on album two. If you’ve been to any of their recent shows (and if not, well, you’ve had enough opportunity…) then you’ll have heard one newie - the recently-titled ‘Human, For A Minute’; they’re hoping to dish up a couple more across these forthcoming dates too. But primarily, they’re in no rush to churn out a follow-up without giving it the required time to fully fulfil its promise. “We’re still very much figuring out, not what we wanna do, but we’re playing around with things,” explains Sean. “Like guitar chords and singing properly…” quips Steen in his dirty baritone. “We’re new but we’re learning…” “We’re batch cooking songs,” joins in Forbes. “Slow-roasting different ideas,” adds Josh, “and then when we get time off they’re just gonna… Pew! Pew! Pew!” he finishes, shooting imaginary musical bullets into the pub air. “Oh, and we’re going to start a dumpling fast food chain!” “Steen’s just learnt how to chop an onion so we’ve got that bit sorted…” deadpans Eddie, as the rest begin excitably brainstorming ideas for their new culinary venture.
Luckily for the stomachs of London, it’s a business model they’re likely not going to need for some time. Ending the year as one of its most notable breakthrough bands, Shame are going into 2019 with the potential to steer their ship into bigger and more exciting waters with every next move.
As Steen reiterates at the end of each incendiary live show: Shame. Shame. Shame. That’s the name. Just you try and ignore it.
‘Songs of Praise’ is out now via Dead Oceans.
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