Andy Shauf - Bush Hall, London - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Andy Shauf - Bush Hall, London

by Nathan Fidler Rating:9 Release Date:2013-04-29

Much like one of the characters from his songs, we first spot Andy Shauf outside smoking a cigarette. He’s leaning against the wall down the side of Bush Hall on Arminger Road, clad in a denim jacket, taking short drags and talking on a mobile phone.

“In person is way better”, Andy admits when we ask him whether he prefers to do phone interviews or meet in person. This is surprising given how shy and timid he can come across, but he’s pleasant and polite enough to take the time to sit and chat about everything, from his new album, The Party, to his louder beginnings as a teenage musician.

 

A staple of the Shepherds Bush music scene, Bush Hall has played host to a variety of events and musicians down the years. It stands out a little more these days having been painted on the outside in recent years, but it also seems right at home among the high street of Greek, Thai and Afro-Caribbean takeaway. Tonight the old dance hall plays host to Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf - and it’s a sellout show of seats under the chandeliers and slightly cracked plaster.

 

The mosque next door keeps the pavement on Uxbridge Road busy and support band Evening Hymns, a Canadian folk trio, are going through soundcheck when we meet. When Andy comes back inside we endeavour to find somewhere a little quieter to talk. Upstairs there is a terrace level leading to an outdoor area, Andy tries the door, steps on through and looks around, his mousey-blonde hair sitting long over his shoulders

“Is this ok?” he asks. We check the door won’t lock behind us, then take a seat on the bench. He takes out a cigarette and lights it, setting himself despite his focus seeming to be elsewhere.

 

The withdrawn mannerisms aren’t just as a result of the interview scenario either. While he confidently ghosts about the venue - inside and out - before the show, he doesn’t strike up conversation with anyone or meet anyone’s eyes. It seems as though he’s searching for someone particular, but even as Evening Hymns are due on stage he’s still skirting around the edge of the audience.

He draws glances from gig-goers, who whisper to one another and point him out, but either he avoids noticing or he’s caught up in his own head. The merchandise stand has vinyl and patch badges but with no one attending it most people mill around with drinks in hand. Andy glides past all of this, sometimes with his hands in his pockets, only keeping backstage once Evening Hymns finally come out.

“Sometimes I don’t get nervous at all,” he says out on the terrace “but there are still nerves.” He talks about the unexpected energy behind these nerves helping with playing live, but his eyes scan the crowd on the night, glazed over with focus more than anything else.

When a reveller yells during the live performance: “Love you man!”, Andy gives a bashful smile, choosing to reply with “Okay...here’s another song”.

We ask him what he prefers most out of writing, recording and playing live, sensing that he likes to keep himself to himself from our chat so far, finding his answer to confirm this.

“It’s probably the writing and recording, for me, I do those at the same time. I really like shaping how a song is going to be presented to people listening.” You can find evidence of this in his latest album, on which he wrote and recorded every instrument bar the string arrangements.

 

On Andy’s last record there were plenty of tracks to choose from, but the process this time was different, he tells us. “I started it more as a batch of songs, some of them were personal songs, then I had a few about partying. The subject matter lined up, it was easy for me to be like oh, you know what, maybe I’ll turn this into somewhat of a concept album”.

Recent performances recorded for promotional purposes online show Andy accompanied by people playing violins and clarinets, but the small stage at Bush Hall seems to signal this won’t be the case tonight. “It’s pretty hard to arrange all that, I wish we could do that all the time, but it’s expensive and it’s hard to find people” he tells us when discussing the setup for tonight and why it will be a fairly low-key affair.

The show consists of pretty much every song from The Party, with a couple from The Bearer of Bad News. Opening with ‘Jerry Was A Clerk’ seems almost cruel without the accompanying aftermath in ‘My Dear Helen’, but Andy and his band of drummer, bassist and keyboardist nail stripped back versions of tracks from the new album with aplomb.

The guy sat at the Wurlitzer keyboard looks uncomfortable, squeezing his tall frame down on a bench stool, while the drummer, complete with bowl-cut hair, stoops to every piece of his kit, sometimes getting a little too carried away with the tempo of the songs. The bassist looks most out of place, he’s tall and dapper looking, but uses a short bodied bass guitar. Despite the seemingly unmeshed collection of these musicians, they all take cue from one another well, serving the songs as Andy intends.

Andy doesn’t engage the crowd too much throughout, but in a nervous joke asks if there are any questions, to which one audience member yells “Where are the clarinets?”, followed by “And the horns?” from someone else. For a moment it seems like Andy might not bite, but then smirks and replies “It’s coming man, just wait”.

 

Up on the terrace we talk about Andy’s musical roots and how he’s learned to play such a variety of instruments. “They’re just instruments I taught myself to play,” he states in a throwaway fashion, “Piano I picked up in high school, a little bit, still trying to get better at it. Clarinet I learned just so that I could record it.” With this in mind it’s surprising that he goes on to talk about being in punk bands.

“The loud stuff was the most fun to play”, with this a grin spreads on his face, he talks about pop-punk influences and drumming in bands. From here his singer-songwriter instincts kicked in, but as a lorry rumbles by on the road below, he describes listening to the old pop music which has helped influence his most recent work.

Intrigued by the punk references from such a quiet musician, we push him a little on whether he’d like to stomp and yell a little more. He refers to it as “the olden days”, telling us that he sometimes wishes he could “rock a little harder” before eking out a little laugh about it and describing it as a fleeting feeling. We shouldn’t be expecting anything too heavy anytime soon then.

 

‘Jenny Come Home’ gets an airing tonight, to hushed delight of the crowd, delivering one of the jauntier numbers of the evening. It’s a song he almost threw away, he tells us, “It didn’t quite fit, I decided really early on that I didn’t like it so I put it on the shelf”. Thankfully he “took another crack at it” after finishing the album, so it still has a place on the set list.

“They’re all imagined, some of the situations that happen are pretty familiar. A small town, a close group of friends, lots of...yeah” he tails off describing characters on The Party. He seems like the high-school wallflower kind, attending parties and drinking in the different dynamics - in between playing in punk bands of course.

 

“Did someone just ask me on a coffee date?” Andy asks as he tunes his guitar for one of the final songs of the night. More cheers and shouts from the crowd come, mainly questions about whether he’ll play the grim tale from last year called ‘Wendell Walker’. Finally, he thanks the crowd for making his night, before saying “Okay, here’s another new song”. The crowd whoops and misses his confession that he’s kidding - then he strums the drop tuned chords and sings in his Canadian, stuffed cheeked accent: “Wendell Walker was a friend of mine…”

While his music is often a sombre or sad reflection, and although his own actions make him seem shy, Andy is clearly enjoying himself through the nerves. The crowd  remains quiet during the aforementioned ten minute rendition, before going nuts and letting him know he’s always welcome here.

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