Obituary: Ian Shedden, Scottish drummer (The Jolt, Saints, Small Hours) music journalist and author

Drummer and music journalist Iain Shedden has died at the age of 60
Drummer and music journalist Iain Shedden has died at the age of 60
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Iain Shedden, drummer and music journalist. Born: 6 January, 1957 in Wishaw, Scotland. Died: 16 October, 2017 in Sydney, Australia, aged 60

Although the too-short life of Scottish musician Iain Shedden – who described himself rather modestly as ‘Drummer. Scot. Aussie.’ on his Twitter biography – can’t quite be over-dramatised as a rags to riches affair, there’s little doubt that he lived something approaching the dream of most music journalists. In the 1970s he started out as a reporter on his local newspaper, the Wishaw Press, while playing in well-remembered Scots punk group The Jolt.

The group moved en masse to London when they were signed to Polydor Records in 1977, although they never quite made the big time. Yet Shedden himself managed to side-step into stardom in 1981, when he was asked to become the new drummer in cult Australian punk and New Wave group the Saints. He played with the group mainly throughout the 1980s, although he returned to their drum stool on and off until his death. From 1993 on, however, he returned full-time to his original vocation, emigrating to Australia and joining the Australian newspaper as a sub-editor. Over the next quarter of a century, he became the paper’s music editor and one of the country’s most widely-read rock critics.

Born in the Lanarkshire town of Wishaw in 1957, Shedden founded The Jolt in 1976 with guitarist and singer Robbie Collins, also from Wishaw, and bassist Jim Doak, from Shotts, both university drop-outs; Shedden had entered the newspaper business straight from school. Influenced greatly by the style and attitude of 1960s garage rock and mod movements, their sound also bore a contemporary edge which drew from the nascent punk scene happening in London and elsewhere in the world.

With public hysteria about the negative influence of punk at its peak, gigs in Glasgow were regularly cancelled, and so for a time venues in the towns surrounding the city became havens for the style. One popular location was the Crown Hotel in Wishaw, and The Jolt were the in-house band there for 20 weeks. At the time, Shedden told Lanarkshire Life that “the music scene in Scotland has been dead for years and the punk rock bands are creating a new excitement here. It’s just the same as rock ‘n’ roll in the late ‘50s.”

Such attitude was reflected in the trio’s music, and they signed to Polydor and moved to London amid a wave of positive hype. The Jolt released a clutch of singles – including the spiky debut double A-side You’re Cold!/All I Can Do and a strutting cover of the Small Faces’ single What’cha Gonna Do About It – and an eponymous album in 1978. The record was produced by Chris Parry and Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, the team who worked with the Jam, while Paul Weller gave the group his then-unreleased See Saw to record. They supported Weller’s band and many others on tour, and Shedden even had dinner at Weller’s parents’ house.

Yet hindsight would say it was Polydor’s keenness to remake the group in the image of the Jam (both were power trios, although the Scottish group later added fourth member Kevin Key) which meant they didn’t cut through with the public, while the move to London eroded their strong local support in Scotland. With punkish attitude, Shedden had once declared to the Grangemouth Advertiser that “I’ve not really thought about the far-off future, but I certainly won’t be returning to newspapers”. After the Jolt split in 1979, he remained true to his word for a decade and more.

He stayed in London to form Small Hours, then throughout the 1980s he played with three interconnected Scottish groups: indie-folk band the Snakes of Shakes, jangle-poppers Summerhill (who were, ironically, signed to Polydor after Shedden left) and the very briefly-lived 13 Frightened Girls. Yet his biggest gigs as a musician were his contribution to the Saints’ (whom The Jolt had also supported) fifth, sixth and eighth albums, while he also played with Arizona’s alternative country icon Howe Gelb in Giant Sand.

Following his emigration to Sydney, Australia, Shedden continued to play, rejoining the Saints for live gigs in 2002, 2004 and 2016, and gigging with the Belfast singer-songwriter Andy White, and with Mental As Anything’s Reg Mombassa in Dog Trumpet.

Yet his career at the Australian returned him to his first ever job after 15 years, and over the next two and a half decades he interviewed local and touring artists, wrote album and live gig reviews, and had a column, Spin Doctor, where he shared his thoughts on the industry. He also appeared on radio and as a speaker at music events, and in 2010 co-authored Hey, You in the Black T-Shirt!, the memoir of Australian rock promoter Michael Chugg.

Among those he interviewed were Keith Richards, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Kylie Minogue, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, Morrissey, Lou Reed and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. In January of this year, he was the first journalist to interview Nick Cave following the death of Cave’s son Arthur, while Shedden’s most recent article on the Australian website is an interview with St Vincent, one of 2017’s stars. It has been announced that the media suite at the ARIA Awards – Australia’s equivalent of the BRITs or the Grammys – will be permanently renamed in his honour.

Of the many testimonies which have been left for Shedden by those on the Australian music scene, each one attests to his easy-going nature and his knowledge of and passion for music. “You can’t write (about music) without a passion,” he told the Lismore Echo in 2011. “You translate that passion into good writing and you have to be able to make the reader feel as if they are involved in the music when they read about it.” A fan of Motherwell FC since childhood, he is survived by his wife Christine, who he met in his early days at the Australian, and their children Molly and Conor.

DAVID POLLOCK