sweet p photography (featured image)
Shuffle Down had a different feel about it this year as we were playing! Read more about that experience in our latest gig diary.
As I arrived at the Dobbie hall some two hours before the doors opened there was a surprising calm in the air. The various volunteers and stalls were quietly setting up their various stations, there was an air of anticipation, would it be as busy this year?
Shuttling back and forth from the stage was Ben White who once again had the duties of mixing and amplifying a number of different bands with a wide range of instruments; he did a superb job. Anyone who has ever provided the sound for a gig will understand how difficult this is to do for two or three bands never mind a festival roster! So hats off to Ben and his team they did very well providing a nice meaty kick sound that cut through the full range of frequencies that are needed for a balanced sound. Everything from the guitars to the bass sounded well knitted. I would argue that this year was the best sound, a couple of technical glitches aside (which you have to expect), it was clear the sound crew have got to grips with the acoustics the hall
In the background Jim Dunbar was once again overseeing the task, A stalwart of the local scene for many years. During soundcheck he reflected on his many years hauling speakers to various venues and hinted that it may be time to put his feet up.
He did the sound back in at our first gigs at the Martell some 22 years ago, now here we were in the Dobbie hall about to embark on another Shuffle Down and all the challenges that come with putting on a show that gives local bands an opportunity to reach a bigger audience on a grand stage.
Once the soundcheck was completed the lights slowly came on, the true beauty of the stage was revealed. Shuffle Down always has the personal touch of the loyal volunteers and of course Rikki and Laura Tonner. This year was no different with a waterfall of lights hugging the back of the stage and the ever present Afterglow Lamp, stage right, proudly illuminated..
The heavens opened outside, biblical rain fell as the last of the early bands arrived to drop off gear backstage and exchange handshakes. There was a good air between the artists, mutual respect and a common desire to entertain the crowds that were on their way. The doors opened and the rain started to ease, a good number of punters drifted into the scent of coffee from The Common Grind and a whiff of ale from the Tryst Brewery.
Up first was Kieran Fisher playing an acoustic set of originals and covers; his gravely voice reminded me of Kelly Jones I thought this was a lazy comparison until he nailed the Stereophonics. Kieran looked confident up in the big stage which is a hard thing to pull off given that you’re up there on your own. Continuing the acoustic theme was Robbie Lesiuk, when he took the stage the hall was starting to fill with punters. The noise of the crowd chatter grew as people greeted each other the atmosphere was starting to build; there was now a buzz about the place. Robbie played well, his subtle use of loops is always good to listen to and Fault Lines always gets stuck in your head
I was surprised to see Have Mercy Las Vegas on early but it really did help get the feet stomping. Their charismatic front man had the audience stamping and clapping and for the first time I felt genuinely nervous that our rock set would plummet to the earth like a dropped pint of real Tryst ale. Then up stepped Pronto Mama, whose dynamic sound no doubt tested the sound engineering skills of Ben but I felt that the mix held well. Their set was a good blend of synth, brass and guitars. I really enjoyed their show. There was an intense feel to it.
We were up next and you can read all about that in our gig diary.
We played a half hour show which felt like 5 minutes. As we stepped back stage and took a few photos and admittedly did a couple of high fives the Lonely Tourist stepped up to the mic. The stage curtains were drawn so he had a more intimate platform for which to share his tunes. I caught a couple and I really enjoyed his music; I love the full band sound on his record and I hope he ventures up here with the band in the future.
I headed out the the stalls to grab a fine burger and the sun peaked out from behind the dark May clouds, they broke and scatters of blue sky could finally be seen. Finally I could relax and enjoy some Dobbie Shuffle from the Tryst stall (can I by bottles of this somewhere?! It’s sweet!). The alcohol hit me pretty quick!
I was really looking forward to Ghostwriter who I believe are one of the best bands to have emerged from the scene recently. For Hire (Summer never ends) was a great opener and that guitar riff is one of the most infectious I’ve heard for a while. Technical issues distracted singer Iain King and it caused him frustration. To be honest I felt his anger added a little edge to the performance which I enjoyed; however it proved to be too distracting for him and sadly their set finished early.
Fly Jackson ambled up to the stage they seem to take these events in their stride, I saw them at the Trinity Church gig and enjoyed them but I preferred this performance. It was a very focused set by the band and the sound had a fine clarity to it. They have some great songs on their roster.
Iain King found his composure and joined Fairweather and the Elements for their set. Ross and co headlined a great night at the Trinity church, this performance seemed to have more energy, perhaps driven by the occasion, vocalist Deborah Lang was clearly enjoying herself as she danced about the stage. By now it was clear that the electric atmosphere of Shuffle Down was influencing the artists; the performances seemed more energetic and the crowd were loving it. This is why we need this event.
I felt myself glued to the main stage, the atmosphere, the bands and the beer. In previous Shuffle Downs I found myself wandering upstairs to see some fine acts but this year I couldn’t leave the big room as it was proving too enjoyable. It helped that the bands were really quick to switch over. The hall seemed to be as busy as previous years, those watching the acts seemed to enjoy the various genres and warmly applauded all that played.
Miracle Glass Company were superb, I was transfixed by the drumming of Andy Duncan, he was keeping these Ringo Starr esq beats going at a pace while aptly performing his singing duties. There was good pacing to their set, Trouble is a great song.
Then came a surprise. 57, a hard rocking duo from South Korea, took me by surprise.The crowd loved them. I liked the set it was impressive and it was a huge sound for just two people. I had no idea that this was coming.
By this time I was a little tipsy and thinking of work the next day (started in the afternoon folks) so my wife and I headed off into the night. The sounds slowly faded as we walked away from the Dobbie hall.
Perhaps I’m biased as we played Shuffle Down this year but I felt that this was the most enjoyable year so far. The first year had big acts, the 2nd found its groove but this year felt different. It felt like a big party, a gathering of people who love music and will come to Shuffle Down regardless of who is on the bill and every band benefited from an audience that was open to hearing something new and it was fantastic to witness this.
Was Shuffle Down 2017 a success? If success was a large group of happy people enjoying a wide range of music, surrounded by friends drinking local beer, eating local food and listening to local acts then yes it was a huge success.
I will probably attend another overpriced festival sponsored by Tennents at some point but I doubt that will enjoy it as much as I did Shuffle Down 2017.
So as the bands packed up and the Afterglow lamp was switched off, I do hope that next year it will illuminate the Dobbie hall once more. The Falkirk music scene would miss what is now becoming the most important date on our local live calendar.