After ten years, Shrag have finally called it a day. Sussex Heights Roving Arts Group will rove no more. It’s been on the cards for a few months – Their gig at the West Hill Centre before Christmas was their last Brighton date, they had their last BBC session with Marc Riley in January and last Friday the band played their closing concert at the Lexington in Islington.
Of all of the bands in Brighton, Shrag are one of the most responsible for me starting up the blog. Before I’d even heard their music, Greg Neate’s promo photos shot in Bob Brown’s flat at the top of Sussex Heights had caught my eye (he’s recently put up a retrospective set of old shots of the band up on Facebook). It took until July 2010 for me to catch the band live at Concorde 2 where they outplayed headliners Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and I was sold. And the seed was sown to pay a lot more attention to local bands.
Shrag were pretty much everything I wanted from a band – I’d grown up on indie music, so songs like Rabbit Kids and Mark E Smith were right up my street. I loved that they were a little bit rough around the edges, that the singing wasn’t always perfectly pitched and that it could appear a bit shambolic. To me that was charming – if I wanted professionalism, I’d have gone to the bloody opera and been bored senseless. That’s not to say that Shrag were a dumb band – How many records came out last year which used the word Genuflect? (Actually, this isn’t the best example – the Searching for Sugarman album by Rodriguez features the word in A Most Disgusting Song, but I’m sure you can get where I’m coming from). One thing that unites all of my favourite bands is that when you see them onstage or when you read interviews with them, they feel like a gang, a close unit, and more than that, they’re a gang that I want to be part of, and Shrag were obviously a bunch who would joke and laugh and rib each other as only close friends can.
The Lexington gig was immeasurably better than the West Hill gig in December (which was woefully unattended and towards the edge of my limits of how shambolic they could get away with). This time they were going out with a bang, and they were note perfect. Support came from longstanding indie legends Comet Gain, who I can’t have seen live for about ten years. They’re still the same as they ever were, and obviously a big influence on Shrag’s sound. Shrag didn’t make it onstage until gone 10 o clock, so didn’t get the chance to play their whole set, but for the hour and a half they played we were treated with tune after tune – it says a great deal about the band that they only released three albums, but could play a set as strong as this. It was quite heavy on material from last year’s Canines album, but I guess that’s the tunes that they’re proudest of and probably that are most rehearsed. Before the band returned on stage for their encore of Rabbit Kids a humorous but heartwarming message from Marc Riley was played urging them to reform soon. I hope they do. I missed the final moments – it’s not quite a simple for me to get home from a gig in London as it is a gig in Brighton – so who knows quite how it all ended. Hopefully with as much energy and fun as they’ve given us for the last ten years.
We’re left with one last release from the band – far and away my favourite track from Canines. A 7″ of On The Spines of Old Cathedrals was out to everyone who attended the gig, and has been out in the shops for a few weeks now. It’s the one off the album that goes a bit New Order in the middle, which makes distracts me from whatever I’m doing for a moment with it’s glory. It’s not called On the Spires… as I’ve been guilty of calling it. It is a fantastic note to end on.
Thanks for the music Shrag. You’ll be missed around here.