GALLERY: Music takes over Swindon as The Shuffle comes to town

By Jamie Hill - 20 September 2023

Arts and Culture
  • Chasing Dolls at The Vic

    Chasing Dolls at The Vic

This weekend Old Town reverberated to the sounds of more than 70 acts as unsigned original music festival The Swindon Shuffle came back for its 17th year. And it was so so so good. A sweaty four days of raw music and pounding venues with musicians of every genre bringing everything to the stage. A pretty exhausted Ink Editor Jamie Hill, who is also on the organising committee, attended all four days.

The crowd at The Hop after an exhilarating set by Subject A

It was a festival built of moments. Beautiful, beautiful moments.

From the mesmerising euphoria of Fly Yeti Fly, who played at The Tuppenny on Sunday afternoon, making every hair stand on end.

To the majestic rock-goddery of Chasing Dolls, at The Vic on the Friday night, stealing your soul amid screeching guitars and raw vocals.

I am writing this on Monday morning after four days of constant music. I am tired. But I am smiling. My body aches in places it didn’t even know it had but it was so so worth it. So so many beautiful moments.

Obviously, I’m not superhuman and although I caught as many acts as I could there was no way I was ever going to see every single gig. But, by God, did I try.

Every single session of this year’s Shuffle was packed to the rafters. Standing room only at every venue as the town’s music addicts came out in their droves to get their annual musical fix.

And this year there seemed to be more venues than ever with stalwarts The Vic, The Castle, The Hop, The Tuppenny and The Beehive, joined by fringe venues The Eternal Optimist and Baristocats. Eastcott Community Centre even got in on the act by hosting a community Ceileidh on the Saturday evening and there were even DJs playing all Saturday afternoon at Prospect Hospice’s Commercial Road shop.

As always with The Shuffle, for me it became a musical voyage of discovery as I came upon hitherto unknown acts (for me anyway) giving me aural pleasure everywhere I went.

On the Thursday evening I was mainly at The Tuppenny where I was greeted with the musical goodness of four acts who all knocked it so far out the park that we’re never getting that ball back. First up was Drew Bryant who delivered a set of exquisite lyrical masterpieces. He was followed by the ever excellent Jim Blair, a so so talented slide guitarist with the voice of an angel (if that angel had just swallowed some razorblades). Then there was Jules Hill, accompanied by her men, who filled the venue with her beautiful vocals and captivating lyrics. Closing off the evening was Canute’s Plastic Army, an acoustic duo who were just hypnotic in their ethereal musical craftmanship. I then found myself at The Hop for Subject A who had somehow transformed the space into just one massive all-dancing party with their jazzy reggae-inspired full band masterpiece of a performance. It was magnificent.

For me the Friday evening kicked off with Non-Aplomb at The Castle. A lyrical bombardment of catchy guitar vibes from brothers Matt and Si Hall. I then managed to get myself up to The Eternal Optimist to catch the amazing Chloe Hepburn with her beautiful synth pop followed by the very very talented Ellis Evason and his unique brand of contemporary hip hop. I then found myself at The Vic for a triple-header of rock starting with the aforementioned Chasing Dolls, the wonderful alt-rock of Viduals and All Ears Avow closing the night with a packed room in awe of their perfect blend of incendiary indie rock. It was a sweaty, raw, adrenaline-filled evening of ruddy good guitar.

I think I might have overdid it on the Friday night, as I only made it bleary-eyed to The Tuppenny at 4pm on the Saturday just in time to catch the friendliest man in the world and local music legend David Lynch taking to the stage to give us his humour-tinged anthemic and oh so honest guitar-filled musings. He was followed by multi-instrumentalist Emma Doupé with her amazing powerhouse vocals. One of my favourite discoveries of the weekend was Deadlight Dance at The Beehive - a goth duo who transported me back to the days of my youth when I wore winklepickers and listened assiduously to The Mission, The Cult and Sisters of Mercy. I loved every second of their set. Following them was Liddington Hill a unique mix of Celtic rock, grunge and even a sea shanty thrown in for good measure. And then it was up to The Castle for the indie wonderfulness of MirroredFaces, Moon and the ever excellent Stay Lunar. The night then took me back to The Vic which had transformed into a sweaty moshpit for the fantastic Phantom Droid followed by local favourites Modern Evils who closed out the Saturday night with something more akin to a riot than a gig.

You would have thought that by the Sunday it would all be a bit slower but if you’d ever been to The Shuffle before you would realise how wrong-thinking you were. I got to The Tuppenny just before the bluesy country musical genius of Adam Woodhouse took to the stage. He was followed by Shedric, who was just bloody good (I’m running out of adjectives). Closing off The Tuppenny on that rainy Sunday afternoon were Fly Yeti Fly, blending rich vocal harmonies with intricate multi-instrumental arrangements. The sound they produced was transcending. And then it was on to The Beehive for the final session of The Shuffle. And what a night it turned out to be from the Americana brilliance of Jol Rose to the swagger of Richard Skidmore with his band Black Sheep Apprentice, who ruled the stage like it was his own kingdom. Closing off the night and The Shuffle as a whole was Matt Owens and the Delusional Vanity Project with a set that blew the house down.

It was a ruddy good Shuffle. You can definitely see why it’s such a mainstay for the Swindon music scene calendar.

And it’s free. Free entry for everybody with the committee, sound engineers, volunteers and even the bands all giving their time for free.

But let’s not forget the main thing. It’s all for charity with every single penny raised during the weekend, with a hell of a lot of bucket-shaking, going to Prospect Hospice.

We’ll find out in a couple of weeks once all the donations have been counted how much it actually raised but judging by the amount of people giving generously it should be a hell of a lot. And every single person who put their hands in their pocket should be proud.

I’m sure I won’t be the only one but I’m already looking forward to next year. Bring it on.

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