Pics Greg McSorley
Another week’s work done, heading off slightly earlier on a Friday is always a good thing; but this weekend was going to be rather special. Shuffledown was back, and this time the festival was to be split over two days, the Friday and Saturday. A bold move for the young festival now entering its fifth year.
It was a blustery walk under light grey skies, April coming to an end and the hints of an early summer were already starting to show in various gardens, as we walked down to the train station, once again on our journey to the Dobbie Hall, a fine venue that has become home for the best indoor music festival Falkirk has to offer.
When we finally arrived at Larbert station and made the brief walk to the venue, it was an unusual experience to be attending Shuffledown on a Friday night, this was the first year that the festival had expended to two dates. I must admit, I wondered how I was going to hold out when I heard that Harviestoun were serving real ales. (their Bitter and Twisted is my tasty favourite.)
We arrived at the doors, it already felt that Shuffledown Friday would have a different feel, absent were the craft stalls and various activities that usually take place inside and around the venue, instead this was a night purely to enjoy the bands and it would prove to be a cracking line up.
Rubian took the stage first, they were a mixture of bright breezy rock with perhaps the occasional hint of sadness highlighted by Cheryl Risk’s impressive range of vocals. They have been one of many bands that regularly play in Falkirk that are enjoying a fairly steep ascendancy in the Scottish scene. With the crowd steadily arriving, a lot of younger faces were making me feel my age, but a good atmosphere was building. Real Life Entertainment stormed the stage with a passionate set, they saluted the crowd with a can of lager and angrily swaggered into their set of slick cut alternative rock. It was enjoyable, and they cleverly varied their pace throughout the brief time they were on stage. Falkirk’s Pleasure Heads have been doing well and the young team down the front of the stage loved them (the auld team watched from up the back). The band, all donned in white tees crafted a brilliant set, early on there was reminders of early Artic Monkeys, with a bit of attitude and sharp guitars. However, the second half of the set was superb, with more emotion, depth and contrast in their music, proving that they have the ability to evolve their sound. Just a few miles from Larbert is Denny, home to Shuffledown veterans the Nickajack men. They played well and are always enjoyable, they are well suited to SD. The Friday night had worked.
By this time, we were fairly well on and left before we had a chance to see Baby Strange, the last train was coming although I do remember having time for a quick pint and a nip in the Station Hotel. Turns out we missed the train…
When I awoke, the whiskey I swore I would never have, reminded me that respect for Scotland’s wee dram should never be forgotten. So, my fuzzy head put paid to an early return to Shuffledown. Instead we ate a sensible lunch and meandered back to the venue. Unfortunately, we missed a few of the earlier acts. However, for the first time, (ever I think) we would see the full set of the headliner, who this year would be Malcolm Middleton.
It was Saturday afternoon, we were back at the Dobbie hall, my head was a little fragile, so when I could hear the music from the main road, I knew it would be loud. When we opened the door to get into the main hall we were hit by a wall of sound that emanated from a trio, that would be Primes. They were brilliant; tight knit as you’d expect from a three piece, their soulful vocals lifted over the hall. They didn’t let up as they leaped from song to song, I quickly forgot about my sore head. Greg was a big fan. Ghostwriter were back, fresh from the high of getting airplay on BBCs ‘Introducing Scotland’ the band looked confident as they once more took to the stage, it’s a venue they clearly enjoy playing. There is a good dynamic range in their songs, ‘I’m Not Trying To Get To Heaven’ remains a highlight, ‘Trashy Blond’ another. They ended with a brilliant tune (I don’t think its released, Sorrow Machine, I think), building from a slow start to an epic solo filled finished, It was impressive. They do soulful bluesy rock well.
After a brief venture into the fresh April air for some street food (amazing pizza, Irn Bru then a coffee, yep I was in for the long haul) We headed back into the dark of the main hall. Playing accordion backed by some subtle electronic beats, Callum Easter confidently took to the stage alone, a silhouette, in front of sweeping blue lights. He changed the atmosphere, the crowd focused as he played his harmonious offerings. I thoroughly enjoyed Broken Chanter, a music project by David MacGregor backed by his band. With a proud Scottish accent in his vocal delivery akin to the Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit; they had an excellent mix of emotionally lifting songs. They were my festival highlight, playing well constructed songs, this appears to a be a music project in its infancy and I wish him and his team luck. Medicine Men delivered some heavy pulsating tunes with a bit of 80’s electronic synth, their album ‘Into The Light’ is worth a spin and were another great SD discovery; fans of Tame Impala will like these guys (one of the reasons I go every year, find new bands). After a brief break, Bossy Love stepped up; the duo, described by the Guardian ‘like Prince on a trampoline’, commanded the crowd. Singer Amandah has such a presence, an energy that she wanted, and succeeded to share with the crowd. Finally, we had Malcom Middleton the headline act of Shuffle Down 2019. The last time I saw him live was at the Falkirk town hall supporting Teenage Fanclub. The Dobbie hall got busy, a late surge in punters came into the take a look. It was a great set, with a few lifts from his latest album Bananas, Buzz Lightyear Helmet, (not sure we’ll get better names for a song this year) was a highlight.
Malcolm Middleton finished and left as the applause died down. The lights on the stage fell dark and it was quickly stripped by the busy sound crew, we looked on as we sipped the last of our ales. The crowd slowly left the building, it was the end of another Shuffle Down. ‘Next year?’ a few people could be heard saying as they drunkenly swayed passed, I met some friends who had never been to the festival before, they had thoroughly enjoyed their experience. They were amazed that all these bands play in their town, on their doorstep.
The work that goes into the festival, I would imagine, is substantial. The volunteers who give up their time and the organisers Rikki and Laura who, when family time permits, throw everything into this. The result? A family run, local festival with an atmosphere that brings people together in these times of self-interest. And you can’t forget the money that has been raised for many local charities (this year Maggies) Five years of Shuffledown, what an achievement. This year has not disappointed. In what has become my yearly ritual, I keep my fingers crossed and hope it returns.