INTERVIEW: Shrug | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Ian Allcock

Shrug singer Rob Nichols is in ebullient mood when we meet in a Wetherspoons in town (an old haunt of his with Middlesbrough Music Collective back in the day, as it happens), “I used to put the gigs on upstairs here on a Monday and at that time it was the only regular gig in Middlesbrough.”

Abstract situationist storytelling and nascent punk riffs has always been Shrug’s modus operandi and 29 years after their first album, Septober Octember No Wonder! they finally release their second this month. The band’s Bandcamp page is a smorgasbord of EPs, cassettes and live releases over the intervening years which begs the obvious question: why now for a full album? “Nigel Crooks at the Teesside University studio had asked us to record some stuff but I thought he was probably just drunk! I just said no and ignored the offer for quite a while but then got a bit of inspiration and Oli [Heffernan, guitarist] wrote a load of music, so I wrote some words and we just decided to put it together as an album.” The resulting Island Complex album will be officially launched with a live show at Sound It Out record shop in Stockton on Friday 13th April.

Taken as a follow up to Septober… it’s a mature reworking of the original Shrug blueprint, steeped in local folklore with a contemporary political undercurrent. “There’s quite a lot of local legends, there is some stuff about Captain Cook in there and also I was thinking about islands and Brexit. Assimilation Waltz is probably the most political track and there is a link between the lyrics in that song and the last song on the first album. As a band we’ve done lots of shows in Europe and always been made very welcome. Island Complex was something Amy Liptrot said about Orkney in her book The Outrun but it can equally be about people here, everything can fit into Brexit can’t it?”

Abstract situationist storytelling and nascent punk riffs has always been Shrug’s modus operandi

Rob explains the book had particular influence on the lyrics. “Amy is a writer from Orkney who went to London and became an addict. The book drew me to the island so I went up to see it all,” and while there Rob learned of a James Cook link that added a serendipitous credence, “he was dead but the ship coming back to Britain was blown so far off course to the North that they landed in Orkney to take on water and had to sell his dinner service to fund the rest of the journey.”

Indeed, the album artwork incorporates a sketching of Cook’s fateful landing in Hawaii prior to the ship’s return. “It’s quite controversial because when he’s being killed he’s turned round but is he waving his marines to shoot or is he saying to go back?” It’s a neat simile for the double meaning in the Island Complex title; on first listen I initially perceived the album concept as exploration and the island hopping of Cook’s time, but it’s now all the more relevant as Rob succinctly sums up: “The final scene of the video we did for Whitby Kipper is me looking out to sea. Suddenly people have this thing about wanting to be an island again and the sea becomes a barrier rather than being the routeway.”

Shrug launch Island Complex at Sound It Out Records, Stockton on Friday 13th April.




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