Aidan Smith: The second coming of punk is here

Charlie Steen, of Shame, on stage at the 29th Eurockeennes music festival near Belfort, eastern France. (Picture: AFP/Getty)
Charlie Steen, of Shame, on stage at the 29th Eurockeennes music festival near Belfort, eastern France. (Picture: AFP/Getty)
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Despite being dubbed ‘punk rock for snowflakes’ by one online wit, Shame are making Aidan Smith feel nostalgic.

I’ve always wanted to do a Jon Landau. That is, just for the hell of it, make a big, bold, bumptious prediction like the writer with Rolling Stone magazine who back in 1974 declared: “I have seen the future of rock ’n’ roll and his name is Bruce Springsteen.”

Ultimately, Landau was proved right. But he was subjected to a lot of sneering and Springsteen was subjected to a lot of scepticism. Nobody loves a smartass, you see. Would you believe me, though, if I said: “I have seen the future of punk rock – second time around – and their name is Shame”?

Shame are a young band who have just released their debut album to rave reviews. Now, it’s not 1974 anymore. Forty-four years ago popular music didn’t need a future; it was doing just fine and the top stars were selling millions of records and concert tickets. Two years later, of course, music got the revolution it didn’t think it required but palpably did: a sharp jab on the backside with a safety pin followed by a broadside of phlegm, the first coming of punk.

Today it’s a different scene. Some would call it desolate. Indeed, a few would claim music’s finished. The stars are either dead or sad parodies of themselves. Everything’s been said and done; there’s nothing new under the sun.

The attention-deficit generation don’t commune with their favourite records, don’t even collect records, pressing “Skip” long before the end. The music press is all but gone; no one wants to read their 5,000-word dispatches on magic and mystery and flying TV sets.

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Top of the Pops is in disgrace and can never return. And everybody and their mums and dads is perfectly happy to have Ed Sheeran as the soundtrack to their lives.

Except … except that when a new band emerge with a bit of attitude we still get excited. After failing to anticipate the first punk explosion, we’re determined not to miss the reprise. Thus Shame, a five-piece from South London, come along with their boisterous guitars and a song about Theresa May and right away they’re hailed as “the snotty spirit of punk rock defiance given an energy shot for a new generation”.

Are they? Can they possibly be? Will the kids even notice? (After all, one headline summing up the band goes: “It’s punk rock for snowflakes”). I feel I should be listening to their album Songs of Praise in the new black drainpipe jeans which I smugly wore to journalism college in 1977, knowing the rest of the class, including a future editor of the Daily Record, would be swishing across the concourse in their flares as usual. I feel I should be listening to it on puke green or unmentionable brown or splat-of-sick-shaped vinyl. Tragically those breeks no longer fit me. Tragically I must make do with an MP3.

First impressions? They sound like the Fall. Singer Charlie Steen has the same lugubrious, drawled delivery as Mark E Smith, but without much of the humour or any of the surrealism. In the comments underneath one of Shame’s YouTube clips, someone asks: “Is he old enough to be smoking?”

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In fact Steen and his mates are aged 20 to 21 while that remark makes me think of the best-ever description of Smith’s spectacularly unprepossessing demeanour: “Like a long-distance bus driver on a fag break.”

It’s often said that part of the problem with today’s music is that only poshos can afford a career in a band. This affects many of the arts: you need wealthy parents to be able to pay the college fees that are prohibitive for the less well-off – or, in the case of aspiring rock stars, can indulge you during the formative years of playing toilets and sleeping in the van. Hence the rise of the trust-fund musician, the gap-year popster.

I’ve no idea whether Shame are public school-educated but that didn’t stop the Clash’s Joe Strummer becoming an authentically angry voice of the disaffected, although to be fair, his back-story emerged later.

To be fair to Shame, they don’t seem to be setting themselves up as spokesmen of their generation, or the punky successors to the bands who outraged the Daily Mail before they were born.

Right now, our new heroes seem preoccupied with not copying any old gits. This is fine in theory but more difficult to bring off in practice. When Steen skulks behind his mic stand he’s evoking Johnny Rotten, while flipping the stand onto the shoulders is a Jim Morrison move.

As I say, it’s difficult to be original anymore but Shame’s frontman insists: “I think the idea of the leather jacket-wearing, womanising, drug-fuelled rock star should be burned.”

They’re feeling their way. “My brain is still developing,” says Josh Finerty, and bandmate Eddie Green concurs: “You can’t decide what you want in Subway, never mind what your musical legacy should be.”

There’s a suspicion that Shame are having greatness thrust upon them, such is the clamour for headlines like “An exciting new guitar band (finally!)”, hopefully confirming that music isn’t really dead after all.

They may also be having punkness thrust upon them. The Theresa May track, Visa Vulture, didn’t make it onto the album, suggesting the band may not ultimately think it representative of what they’re trying to say. Rather than the excoriating political diatribe you might have expected, it paints the Prime Minister as a lust object and Shame come across like the the sniggering sixth-formers they were until only recently. This band may not be the future, after all, at least not yet. Just very naughty boys.