A Night With The Shovell
We spend the night with Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell for their show at The Kraak Gallery
The Kraak Gallery is an immensely difficult place to find. Left circling various archaic building blocks in the Northern Quarter, a collage of beautifully renovated bars and craft shops and grotty, hollowed out stores, I stumble upon The Shovell’s van hidden down an alley way. “It’s a bit of a cack alley,” sticksman Billy Shovell would later comment before cracking – if you’ll excuse the pun – a smile at the sheer irony of it all.
I make my way up the steep, concrete steps of the echoey stairwell. The walls of the stairwell themselves a collage too; of gig posters for both up and coming gigs and previous events, just like the greater collage it is based within. As I ascend the rumblings of the band’s greasy, good-old-days fashioned rock n’ roll takes hold. As I reach the summit and walk into the gallery – a decent sized room boasting a small stage, two supporting pillars, a leather sofa and a makeshift bar at the back, the band are in the midst of sound check. The Sound tech is clearly unhappy.
“You need to turn the amp down,” he grunted to guitarist and vocalist Johnny Gorillar. Dressed in blue denim jeans, a Deep Purple shirt and with his hair its usual scruffy mess, his look always strikes me as pleasingly old school. “Every time I turn down it gets fizzier and fizzier, shitter and shitter,” he retorts. The tech remains adamant and Johnny reluctantly obeys. After more tweaking from the sound desk, the tech remains unsatisfied. “The amps on two now,” Johnny adds. “I didn’t even know your amp went to fucking two,” laughed bassist Louis. With sideburns and flares from straight out the 70s, he too conveys that same nostalgic brilliance of a bygone era when, you could argue, rock n’ roll was a little more magical. “If I turn it down anymore I might as well have brought my fucking belt on Marshall shouldn’t I? Saves mic-ing that fucking thing up!” More twiddling ensues.
Tech unhappy yet still. “You might as well turn your amp up,” he sighs. Louis, contrastingly pumps a fist in the air in celebration.
Sound check over, discussion turns to the venues residential neighbours. Serious noise complaints have left Kraak’s owners twitchy about volume levels, especially after 11pm when, as the tech reveals “the law is on their [then residents] side.”
It is a tale worryingly similar to that of the Night and Day Café’s recent closure threats when a new resident decided the music venue he moved next door to was a bit too loud for his pompous liking. Louis, who lives next to a pub back home in Hastings is hardly sympathetic.
But for now it’s time for food and beer, having jumped into sound check straight after the long and laborious drive from Cardiff.
“The tour’s been going great,” Louis enthuses as I guide them to Morrisons. “All the venues have been packed, we played for nearly two hours in Ipswich when we were the only band. We could have gone on for longer too.”
They arrive in Manchester with a prosthetic leg and a stupendously enormous marrow. “We got the marrow from a pub in Littledean, where we stopped off at yesterday. They were giving them away and we needed something to display our patches at venues. The perfect thing for the job!? We’ve called him Bernard Marrow.”
And the Prosthetic leg?
“We found it in a skip at the Crime Museum in Littledean on the same day,” chuckles Billy. “It was actually closed for the winter but we told the owner that we were a band on tour, he was a big Motörhead fan so he let us have a look round while his wife made us a cup of tea.
“It was crazy, we spent a few hours in there but could have spent weeks. Fred West’s shovel was there – The Shovell touched Fred West’s shovel – Bin Laden’s toilet seat, a two head cow and loads of other stuff.”
Take a look at the museum’s website and it’s a fascinating read. Themed sections include the Nazi’s, the KKK, fascism and Oswald Mosely, celebrity scandals, James Bond and Quadrophenia.
Pasties purchased and consumed, we take a beer and a pew in the Soup Kitchen. It was April since we last saw each other – a blurry night supporting Uncle Acid. I’m eager to know what they’ve been doing to bridge the gap between the two tours.
“We’re working on the next album,” quips Louis as Johnny sits to his right, typing something out on his phone. “We’ve already written a few new songs which we’ve been testing out in our sets on this tour. After the London show tomorrow we don’t have any dates lined up for the rest of the year so we’re gonna focus on writing. We’d like to be in the studio by the end of the year.”
It’s at this point that Johnny reveals what he’s been occupied with throughout our conversation. “How about that for the setlist?” he says, passing his phone to Louis, “that’s about 50 minutes innit?”
We make it back to the venue in time for the second support act, Manchester’s very own Pist. Frontman Dave Rowlands is aptly inebriated but still gives a really powerful performance. They’re sludge coated blues sound has a sharp Down-like edge to it. It was an excellent set. Rowlands’ wankeredness only added to the sense of occasion. Rock n’ roll is meant to be a little bit pissed, dirty and rough round the edges – that’s exactly why we love The Shovell. Pist were exactly that. No wonder this band has been building the reputation they have.
Post-set, the allure of the night air and temptation of cigarettes brings the band outside to the crack alley. We find Blind Haze frontman Conan there sparking up one of his own. He treats us to a tale of stolen whiskey, resulting in shitting on his boss’s carpet and trying to hide the evidence – abysmally – with a page torn from Bizarre magazine.
The story’s soiled sub-plot aside, it’s moments like this that really epitomise the commraderie of rock n’ roll. The two bands know each other well from gigging together, and later as I wait for The Shovell themselves to take the stage, its a matter of seconds before I’m engrossed in a conversation on Electric Wizard with some fans outside. As I’ve said before, there’s something resolutely retro, appealingly traditional about the world Admiral Sir Clousesley Shovell find themselves embroiled in. Their tour has been a consistent cycle of waking up in a cheap hostel, driving to a venue, sound checking, having a few beers (and an ‘anti-inflammatory’ or two), playing the gig to a packed, sweaty room, then brining their beer count to a skinful before crashing in another cheap hostel and repeating that process the next day. There are no riders, egos or any of the shit that can so often overshadow a band’s brilliance. Instead we have three dudes who do this for the fun of it, because they simply love to do it. Back home there are wives and respectable jobs – Louis is a care worker for instance – but on tour they simply live the dream so many of us grow up fantasising about. Sure, they’re not playing stadiums, their latest hit single isn’t on the radio and they don’t live in mansions, but rock isn’t about arbitrary rewards. It’s about doing it for the love and The Shovell have an abundance of that.
Their set was everything the crowd, myself included, was hoping for: A bluesy, raucous, neighbour-unfriendly racket of 70s styled rock n’ roll. From the Budgie meets Grand Funk spit of Do It Now and the punk-edged, wall of noise that is iDeath, they have one of those sounds that absorbs you as you stand there, pint in hand. For a span of 50 minutes you could be in any year from ’69 onwards. Where a seemingly endless horde of new, baby-faced bands try to reinvigorate the spirit of rocks golden days, few do it with as much conviction, few make it seem as effortlessly believable, like you are genuinely caught in some fucked up time warp like The Shovell.
Elsewhere the prowling bass line of Sratchin and Sniffin, with Johnny’s dirt smeared lead work and Billy’s stumbling rhythms that bring to mind the messy innovativeness of Bill Ward is a highlight of the night. The Thicker The Better’s guttural boogie is brimming with energy while set closer Red Admiral Black Sunrisehas the crowd hollering along in drunken unison.
When the lights dim, the noise fades and the show is over, everything suddenly becomes a little bit more 2014 again. In a few days’ time the band return back to their normal nine to five reality. Life on the road pulls over for a little while. But from what we’ve already heard of the new album tonight – new song Tired and Wired is simply a sucker punch to those who think they really know what rock n’ roll is – one thing is for sure: They’ll be back and you’re gonna get shovelled.
Words: Phil Weller