Shame at The Pyramids Centre, Southsea: ‘We stay on the outer edges and do our own thing’

Shame play at The Pyramids in Southsea on November 16, 2018. Picture by Jordan Hughes
Shame play at The Pyramids in Southsea on November 16, 2018. Picture by Jordan Hughes

They once told a national newspaper that they find the very notion of a rock star ‘offensive.’

But as one of the leading lights from the scene that has emerged out of south London over the past couple of years, the five-piece now find they’re in the precarious position of being described that way themselves.

With Radio1 play-listed songs, sold out shows, American tours, and celebrity endorsements, their debut album Songs of Praise found its gritty post-punk sneaking into the top 40 at the start of the year.

As they head out on their biggest UK headline tour to date, do they ever catch themselves thinking they might be entering ‘rock star’ territory? 

‘Well rock stars have money, we don’t,’ deadpans frontman Charlie Steen. ‘When we’re at shows and meet people, if someone’s got a tattoo, or they’ve been waiting hours and they know all the songs and the lyrics and they know everything about us, it is a surreal feeling and it’s one I don’t think we’ve adjusted to yet.

‘But it’s not like we’re getting stopped in the street and stuff. If we go to an indie gig, someone might know your band, but it’s relative. If we went to a Katy Perry gig, I don’t think we’d have too many people coming up to us there.’

Shame play at The Pyramids in Southsea on November 16, 2018

Shame play at The Pyramids in Southsea on November 16, 2018

The band formed when they were all still teenagers, with Steen only recently turned 21, but Steen balks at the idea of being called ‘experienced’.

‘We started band when I was 16 and the rest of the guys were 17, so yeah, it’s been a little while.

‘But I don’t think anyone’s experienced. I’ve grown to realise that no-one in this industry is really professional and no-one really knows what they’re doing. It’s all about the gift of the gab.’

And it’s a gift the frontman possesses. By turns thoughtful and then full of ‘I’m not phased’ bravado, Steen is friendly, but can be tough to pin down –  going off at tangents but passionate when he gets on a subject he likes.

Charlie Steen of Shame goes crowdsurfing. Picture by Jordan Hughes

Charlie Steen of Shame goes crowdsurfing. Picture by Jordan Hughes

The band formed around The Queen’s Head pub in Brixton, also the former HQ of controversial rock act Fat White Family. They soon started putting on their own club-nights at nearby The Windmill pub, which were instrumental in fostering the scene, which has also see acts like Goat Girl and Sorry emerge.

‘I think it’s weird going to places like The Windmill and there’s a new era of people there now – that’s definitely weird but it’s also exciting at the same time.

‘We’ve got to make a lot of friends along the way, and when we’re touring, meeting different people, the bands we’re touring with and bands we really like, it’s been really cool.’

And he’s enjoying watching their peers start to take off as well.

‘I did drama with Lottie [Goat Girl’s lead singer] at sixth form, and we’ve known everyone else for such a long period of time, like Sorry and HMLTD, so it’s interesting to see others doing well. When we were just 18 and playing at the Windmill, now we’ve got more music out and are going out on headline tours, it’s weird.’

And what did they make of early single One Rizla getting regular airplay on Radio1?

‘It’s good to get a bit of cash from PRS to be honest, we’re not getting paid anywhere else! It’s really nice - in one sense it’s a form of validation, but it didn’t really linger on my mind. It’s quite funny for us to be on the Radio1 playlist, but it’s cool, y’know, it’s exciting.’

Right now though, it seems that the celebrity world isn’t turning their heads.

‘We’ve never really taken it too seriously. We’ve never tried to immerse ourselves in a group that’s not representative of us. We just try to enjoy ourselves and not get too involved in the world of the music industry. We don’t get invited to those cool parties like iD or Dazed’s. We sort of stay on the outer edges and tour and do our own thing - that’s what we enjoy doing.’

The band has acquired a reputation for being political, and while politics is not something Steen shies away from, he says that perception rests largely on one song, Visa Vulture.

Written when Theresa May was still home secretary, it features the chorus: ‘Theresa May, won’t you let me stay?’

‘Lyrically the only political song we have is Visa Vulture. I do all of the lyrics and the rest are more social commentary or personal criticisms, or whatever.

‘It’s definitely something we’ve discussed, and it seems natural to us and the majority of people we know in our age group feel the same [to be anti-Brexit].

‘But my mum is from Newcastle and she always says we do sort of live in a bit of a microcosm, with our surroundings in South London and our age group where everyone is very aware, but as soon as you go outside that, there’s places we’ve been and you can understand where the resentment and frustration stems from.

‘Being from London can give you delusions about what the rest of the country is really feeling.’

Although he’s self-aware enough to realise not everyone shares their views, he’s not optimistic about our country’s future and the question of Brexit: ‘Nobody knows what’s going to happen, they only know it’s going to be bad.’

Shame have become renowned for the intensity of their live shows, and at one or two early shows this spilt over into violence. But thankfully it has been quite some time now since the band have experienced crowd trouble. It’s something that does concern Steen though.

‘At the beginning of our shows I always say it’s all about just enjoying yourself and looking out for everybody around you. I think everyone’s quite respectful of that, and if they’re not, the security is usually good at getting people out, but we haven’t encountered that problem in quite a while.

‘I think just as long as you announce it and you’re quite conscious on stage and aware of your surroundings and what’s going on, it’s much easier to control things. And if someone isn’t  enjoying themselves you do everything in your powers to make sure that they are.’

Shame are at the Pyramids Centre in Southsea on Friday, November 16, doors 7pm. Tickets £14.25. Go to pyramids-live.co.uk.