Nadine Shah at the 100 Club

Fred Perry Subculture evenings at the 100 Club have almost become as iconic as the venue itself. Over the years, Fred Perry have brought amazing artists to the 100 Club stage for the cost of a pint. Tonight, Nadine Shah and Sinead O’Brien were the latest to play that hallowed stage.

I have seen Sinead O’Brien half a dozen times supporting other artist or playing festivals. She’s pretty unique. Superficially she seems to fit in with talky bands like Dry Cleaning. But unlike the recent slew of story-led bands. Sinead is first and foremost a poet and it marks her music out from the rest. But it also means she’s probably more of an acquired taste than other talky bands.

SInead’s Irish lilt is put to great use in her poetic approach, with rising emphasis on words that sometimes seem to be at a strange point from a traditional music perspective, but perfectly normal in poetry. But it means that the music doesn’t just follow a simple verse/chorus structure. The music has to force itself to follow her inflections, short sentences and pauses. Sometimes this means backing off, laying down a backbeat of post-punk guitar, like on Talking in Time. Other times, the drums and guitars have to wander off into psych territory, providing a swirling wash to underpin her lyrics.

Tonight, was another good performance and will no doubt have won over a few more new fans.

Set List:

  • Girlkind
  • Post Modern Painting
  • Roman Ruins
  • A Thing You Call Joy
  • Kid Stuff
  • There Are Good Times Coming
  • Taking On Time

The great thing about the Fred Perry gigs is that they are cheap. Tonight’s gig was less than £6. So I half expected a stripped back set from Nadine Shah. That wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Nadine’s early albums, when she sung and played guitar were brilliant and it would be great to hear some of that music again. Something expressed jokingly from the crowd (it was a joke, I’m sure Nadine knows him). But her music has so much of a bigger sound and it would have been unfair on her latest album, Kitchen Sink. It came out during the first lockdown and tracks from it have hardly been aired live and it deserves to be heard live. So rightly, most of tonight’s tracks were from this album, with a few from Holiday Destinations

With her last two albums, co-written by Ben Hillier, her sound has shifted to include some jazz influences, a much bigger sound and much expanded band. The addition of saxophone, especially, has shifted her music to another level. She now is vocalist and that’s not a bad thing. She’s a bloody good vocalist and she has something to say and it gives her a chance to perform. Others can play the guitar bits. We want to see and hear Nadine. More bands coudl learn from her. Singers, put your guitars down and own the stage. Nadine, certainly does.

I’d call Nadine ‘gobby’ and for me, that’s a very good thing. More musicians should be gobby. Music has become too safe. I saw the king of gobby people, Bod Geldof at SXSW in 2011, mid banking crisis as austerity was biting and he decried the lack of artists singing about important things. Something I completely agree with him. Music is often too safe. Indie music is full of boy/girl (boy/boy, girl/girl) songs. If bands do touch on issues, it’s usually issues that relate to them and not commentary on society. Sadly, few put a stake in the ground and write songs about societal issues of the day. Nadine has a lot to say. You don’t have to agree with everything she says (although, I’d hope most of her audience do). That’s not the point. Nadine, is one of the few artists using her platform to try to make people think. With the world as it is. We need more artists like Nadine.

I’m going to slip into politics for a second. We are currently watching the collapse of Afghanistan on our TVs. Our great liberal hope, Joe Biden, has shown himself to be as extreme as his predecessor. Acting on his view that we should never have been in Afghanistan, unilaterally pulling out US troops ignoring NATO and our Afghan allies. Taking the same ‘USA first’ approach as his predecessor. Handing back the country to the Taliban and their regressive form of Islam and possibly sending thousands of Afghans to their death, resetting women’s rights back to the middle ages and undoubtably creating a humanitarian disaster. Having written ‘Holiday Destinations’, an album focused on the disposed, it wasn’t a surprise to see Nadine include some those prescient songs and address Afghanistan between songs.

One of the reasons given why artists don’t write songs about things that matter is that they will write depressing songs and lose the audience. Let’s face it, there’s something to be said for that. I want to have a bit of a dance at a gig. But that shouldn’t stop them writing about things that matter. These worthy songs give the artist an opportunity to take a second to make you think. They have a platform. Use it. Nadine in her usual, ‘shit’ way did that. I love how crap she is at doing stuff like this. That’s why it works so well. It’s not a long Billy Bragg speech (sorry Billy, I love you really) . With Nadine, it’s straight from the heart with no filters. As a Teessider, I’m with Nadine. I’d love to be like Billy and present coherent views, but why say ten words, when you can just say the ‘fuck’ and we all know what you mean?

Tonight, Nadine owned the stage. This was my perfect return to gigging gig. I loved tonight.

I love the 100 Club. There is no venue like it in London. While big venues like the Albert Hall might have a great history. This venue has been instrumental in creating new music genres. While watching Nadine, I was struck that she was probably the most ‘100 Club’ artist I’ve seen play here. With a stunning voice and jazz background, she could have easily graced the jazz era of the club. But with her attitude, her spirit is completely PUNK. She is the perfect 100 Club artist.

Musically, tonight the band were as good as ever. Pete Wareham’s saxophone put to effective use on many of the songs, sometimes seeming to become a second vocal, providing a screaming chorus to Nadine’s biting vocals. Vocally, Nadine blew me away today. It’s a while since I’ve seen her on a small stage. At times she let rip with controlled power and was as good as any vocalist I’ve seen.

This is going to be one of my favourite gigs of 2021. Yes, I may not get to many this year. But even in a normal year, where it would be jostling with 150 other gigs, tonight’s performance would almost certainly be fighting for top spot. It was that good.

Set list

  • Kitchen Sink
  • Ladies for Babies (Goats for love)
  • Holiday Destinations
  • EVIL
  • Buckfast
  • Club Cougar
  • Trad
  • Prayer Mat
  • Dilly Dally
  • Fool
  • Out the Way