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Vermaak | Entertainment > Musiek | Music > Artikels | Features > The Shotguns – The British bunch with South African pasts, celebrating all those reasons not to be in a celebratory mood

The Shotguns – The British bunch with South African pasts, celebrating all those reasons not to be in a celebratory mood


Henry Cloete - 2010-04-28

This road stretches on for ever, it seems. The sun is long gone and this flask of throwaway whiskey feels ominously light. Pull over to pick up a hitchhiker – the girl looks pretty tattered, her clothes seem rather lonely. “Good evening,” one has to say to her around a cheap cigar booming bad smoke from your bottom lip. She turns, rests her heavy, wide eyes on the eager lap of your gaze and whispers, “First you too late … then you don’t come at all” before putting a gun to her chin and blowing herself into some faraway land. Now there’s a dead body on the passenger seat and a road block looming ahead, between fuck-all and a burnt bridge.

You blink quickly. A young woman with camo pants and a baseball cap is applauding madly, along with a god’s-fist-full of swaying, clapping creatures in an old rundown-factory-building-turned-nightclub called The Assembly in Cape Town.

The song is over.

Four scruffy guys in black suits are on stage. They call themselves The Shotguns and they call that song “First You Too Late”.

The guy behind the microphone is Warren Haviside. Soon he will introduce the song which I title “The Canyon” in my notebook (there’s no track by this name on the album, so I might be … uh ... mistaken): “This is about having fire in your soul. This one’s for my good friend Francois van Coke!”

Woooooooh, all go.

Soon after that he will be dragging on a cigarette, screaming “Rock and roll’s got my soul” at the crowd, stretching his arms out as if to bless them with some sort of mass hug.

The music is tight as hell, and they’re jamming with the confidence of a speeding just-married car.

The Shotguns, British folk by association these days, have just finished their Cape Town gig. This is Thursday 8 April. Maybe it’s just ’cause I haven’t serviced it in a while, but I swear my rib cage has come loose a bit.

Backstage it’s Black Labels, smoke and sweat all round. The bass player, Merwe le Roux, reaches out his right hand. I know him from a few years ago.

Stuart McLaren, the drummer, is a tallish man with red hair and a constantly wavering smile. Mark Austin, the guitarist who was breastfeeding the crowd maple syrup bled from his axe every time he bent a string tonight, sits in the corner. Quietly content, it would seem.

Warren sports an impressive stubble, cocksure in all he does and says.

“Yeah, we’re all expats, man,” he says.

The bunch hooked up in London, all of them with South African pasts – some having crossed paths and some having crossed ditches.

“I found Merwe in a Klipdrift bottle a few years ago in Brackenfell,” Warren jokes.

This banter, including a story of Merwe and Warren hooking up with two sisters, falls away when the serious music talk starts.

The guy behind the microphone, Warren Haviside
Photo: Annie Klopper

“Warren wrote some pretty sweet songs, and when Merwe came over he joined the band,” Stuart says.

The group ended up recording their first album, Dust to Dust, in the legendary Abbey Road studios in London. Yes, the one where the Beatles recorded.

How the hell did they manage this?

“Warren just ate baked beans and sand for months,” says Merwe. I try to imagine those wide, eager eyes I now see on Warren, exponentially more so staring up at Abbey Road studios, trying to conjure up a plan.

After much saving, scheming and gigging, the band booked two days in the studio with well-known producer Chris Bolster (Oasis, Travis, Placebo et al) and “swagger” their way in there to record Dust to Dust.

“Abbey Road is like a prison,” says Stuart, “you don’t get in or out if you’re not part of the musos.”

At this point in the interview Francois van Coke (Fokofpolisiekar and Van Coke Kartel), who did an acoustic opening set tonight, bursts through the door.

“Heeeeey!” he shouts.

“Heeeeey!” the Shotguns shout back.

“That was kak tight. You guys win tonight by far!” says Francois through his blond fringe.

When order is restored, Warren tells of how beautifully The Shotguns managed to connect during the recording.

At £2 500 a day for recording, they had to. That’s like … a lot of rands.

This is the last show of their South African tour, promoting the album, which includes a DVD with footage from the Abbey Road sessions. They currently count Black Label as a sponsor.

“We sent them some stuff and they are a sponsor now. It has to be something that fits in with us, with our vibe … Black Label is the rock and roll beer … fuck KFC,” he says, the last statement in obvious disgust at the Parlotones’ massive KFC sponsorship which, incidentally, includes a “Parlotones meal”.

They consider the South African rock scene to have a “massive gap”. For now, they’ll rely on “DIY marketing” through the internet and its friends to grab South African rock by the you-know-whats.

“The South African scene is desperate for something new,” Warren states. On whether they’ll be punting their tunes mostly in Pommie land or in Mzantsi, there’s no conclusion.

“We don’t want restrictions. We’ll play there and we’ll play here … It’s just about keeping the music alive.”

Backstage
Photo: Annie Klopper


Shit, I’ve written quite a lot now and not one word about the album, which this article is supposed to be a review of.

Over the weekend of 10 April I played the disc to my uhm-friend (for those not familiar with the term, it’s the person you introduce at a party as “my … uhm … friend”). She didn’t like the album. She schemed there aren’t enough cathartic moments in the songs, that the melodies are too generic, and basically that the quality of the music doesn’t match up to the lovely packaging.

Though one should always agree with the uhm-friend in this delicate phase of courting, I did contest her view.

So here’s the review – first the stuff I think of the album that’s in line with the uhm-friend’s view, and then why I think it should be contested.

Warren mentioned during the interview that when he saw the Springbok Nude Girls as a young man, he knew immediately what he wanted to be and do for the rest of his life.

To Dust to Dust’s credit, and its slight detriment, I do hear this. The album’s got a wonderfully raw sound that certainly chucks up reminiscences of the Nude Girls’ Neanderthal 1 album. Detriment because the somewhat generic play, employed heavily by the Nude Girls on that album as well, between the major chord and its relative minor is relentlessly employed in the songs’ chord structures. This isn’t necessarily bothersome if you treat every song as a single, but I do feel that this album’s got real strength as a package. In that sense, some might regard Dust to Dust as ever so slightly monotonous. And yes, some more exploratory and daring structuring of the songs would have been interesting. This sentiment may well apply to the lyrical work as well – at times lovely (“I’ll go to the mountains/ No one knows what’s there/ And I’ll blow all of my secrets/ Out to the storm/ And then I’ll let my hair go/ And realise the warmth”) and, at times, less inspiring (“Pacing and trading/ Are we losing it all?/ Tight skinny jeans/ Does not mean/ You’re rock ’n roll”).

Having said that, this is a different kind of album and a different kind of band. There’s no real point in pros-ing and cons-ing the whole thing.

That dead prostitute on the passenger’s seat is still swaying her head rhythmically as this album streams its hard-liquor-drenched breath out the stereo.

This album is not a collection of songs. It’s a night at a strange bar where you don’t know nobaawwwdy and you don’t care to know yourself. Contentedness and desperation are stirred together like cubes of ice in a triple Jack Daniels. No place to sleep and nothing to do but think of lost ideals and lost lovers, so you slink over to the jukebox to get some fucking rock and roll going. At that jukebox, pick any of these truly transcendent songs from the Dust to Dust album: “Camden Rock” (for all the poms); “First You Too Late” (the slow blues-rock-ballad highlighted on the album); “So Where To For Us” (Pixies and Weezer in the same song; my prediction for their first single to make some noise); “Scum Train Blues” (Oh god, that harmonica …); and “London Boy” (another one for the poms … what the hell, it’s a great track with a haunting chorus.)

This is the kind of album that makes you want to go and run in dark weather with a torn umbrella and swallow all the rain that reaches your lips. Because this rain is honest and real, and you groove to it like people in different walks of life would groove to a promotion.

Maybe Warren sums it up best in “Scum Train Blues”:

I was slipping on my habit
And riding on the rail
When a wise black man
He brought me along the frail
He said don’t intimidate her
Just liberate her
Don’t intimidate her
Just liberate her
Don’t let me down
Watch me let you down
Scum train blues
Won’t you come and wash
These feelings away.

Cruise past the roadblock, give the cheap cigar its due attention, swagger the vehicle in home’s direction … screw it, pull in here and consider celebrating all those reasons not to be in a celebratory mood.

Perhaps it’ll be to 20 000 people, maybe to 200, but the Shotguns will be there, grinding their tunes.