By Paul Boyling
Stuck underground as part of a 150-strong crowd (filled to the underground venue capacity), The Social (in association with Wrangler Europe and Council Records), held a free gig to help raise public awareness towards the Little Portland Street venue’s possible foreclosure – linked with pressure from “Rising rents and an offer to the building’s leaseholder from a cocktail and wine bar chain” – and rigorously campaigned on social media towards raising £95,000 in order to keep the doors open; not only as one of the last remaining West End venues, but also one of the few remaining in central London. Fortunately (and unbeknownst to me at the time), the venue reached its goal earlier in the day. So this show was a celebration of sorts (at least, for the currently secured, foreseeable future).
At this point I’d like to give special thanks to The Social for granting me access to the show, and allowing me to document what definitely became a memorable night.
Nevertheless, on first were Talk Show, a four-piece from South East London, who commenced the evening with their gothic-influenced new-wave-turned-punk sound. Second onstage were fan favourites, Yak; performing tracks from their new album, ‘Pursuit Of Momentary Happiness’. The Oli Burslem-fronted group started with relaxed, psychedelic blues (with the band sitting down) to eventually erupting into high-energy alternative hard rock. Their entire set was improvised, including Oli’s sporadic venturing into the crowd, and at one point, eventually tearing off a piece of the air-conditioning unit from the ceiling. The crowd were pumped up and restless by this point; breaking into constant crowdsurfing over virtually nothing besides boredom; overeager fans waiting impatiently for the headliner. Well, as soon as Shame broke out onto the stage from the backroom – with lead vocalist Charlie Steen having to literally climb over the cram-packed punters themselves in order to reach the stage – the crowd immediately erupted into a frenzy.
The South London alt-rockers took to the tiny stage at their first official gig of the year to road test new, previously unseen and unheard material for a possible new album, including now-identified songs as Exhaler. Human For a Minute and an unnamed third track – all thanks to footage captured at the back of the venue by a fan – in addition to the more recognisable hits from their debut album, Songs of Praise. Even by this point, the room was practically a sauna; so much sweat and humidity had built up in the air that it became muggier than a sardine can left open on a hot summer’s day. However, this certainly didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, nor slow down Shame for that matter, as they frantically played on. Steen especially couldn’t help but join in with diving into the crowd multiple times, with his microphone cable often getting tangled amongst himself and the audience alike. At the height of not giving a crap, he lit up a cigarette and carried on smoking it during the latter half of the set; blowing smoke everywhere until passing the ‘roach’ onto members of the crowd to partake in. Immediately as their set was over, the crowd collectively sighed in relief, and was able to breathe once more.
The show not only cemented Shame and Yak in particular as some of the best live bands you will ever see, but also cemented The Social’s resilience and defiance against the all-too-familiar sight of venues across the UK being closed due to gentrification, homogenisation and all-round corporate greed. I hope that the success of this night inspires other venues to take up similar action, in order to safeguard the future of live music and grassroots venues alike.
By Paul Boyling