Whilst my blog tends to focus on bands, I was keen to do a feature on London’s Oliver Shaw, an incredibly talented musician who is building a reputation up for himself as one of the city’s best acoustic musicians. The ex-bassist for the Garage Flowers, Ollie has played a variety of solo acoustic gigs and open mics, gigging mainly around the Camden circuit and building up a solid fan base there. Bands like Paves, The Skinner Brothers, J.W. Paris and Adrenaline Animals make up a lovely circle in London, and Ollie’s solo music has slotted into this scene perfectly. Recently Ollie performed a stunning set at the iconic Dublin Castle, and before he played we had a catch up over a quick coffee for an interview. One thing I can’t stress enough about Ollie is how lovely and genuine he is; I’ve been good mates with him for months now, and was so proud to see him perform such a fantastic set. Ollie performs regular open mic nights at Nambucca and Dublin Castle, and you can keep an eye on his live dates here.
First up we spoke about Ollie’s recent transition from being the Garage Flowers bass guitarist to a solo performer, to which he replies ‘I’m actually loving it. I feel like I’ve got something for the first time, like I’ve had a moment of clarity.’ ‘I do an open mic every two weeks at Dublin Castle’ he tells me, ‘and I’m going to start doing Nambucca every Sunday.’ Ollie then goes on to tell me how much be loves Dublin Castle as a venue; ‘Madness to the Libertines, like all the bands I love have played there’ he exclaims, ‘all my favourite musicians have been hanging out there.’ We talk about the local music scene around Camden/ Holloway (where Ollie is based- ‘I live in the outskirts of Camden, can play a gig at Dublin Castle then walk home’ he laughs), which he describes as having ‘always been very supportive.’ But in terms of being a solo artist, ‘there is an element of you against the world…first time I can appreciate it’s only me to blame, it’s so stripped back but lovely sometimes.’ We talk a bit about venues around London too, Ollie telling me ‘I used to like Denmark Street, particularly the old 12 Bar Club.’
I ask Ollie a bit about his writing process, to which he simply explains ‘it’s songwriter style, some people get it, some people don’t.’ ‘It’s just songs’ he explains, likening this style to artists like Pete Doherty, John Lennon, Elton John and Noel Gallagher. ‘It’s quite prolific’ my writing, he muses, ‘I’m happy self reflecting.’ ‘Sometime you sit there with a glass of wine and think “what am I doing?” It’s like these ideas, how am I going to put them in one chain of thought?’ ‘I don’t care if I’m unsuccessful, I just don’t want to be unhappy. I am a hippie at heart!’ he laughs. ‘So I played bass with the Garage Flowers for eight months, and they were lovely gigs, they’re good mates of mine. But then I went to Amsterdam and took my acoustic guitar, there was lots of listening to And I Love Her actually. I saw my friend for a bit and had two days alone, and just learned to play it by ear. He [McCartney] was, what, 18 when he wrote it and is in his 70s now, and I’m like 33. It’s so timeless.’ ‘There’s something so lovely about songwriting’ he insists, coming back to my initial question about his writing process; ‘something so lovely, I missed it in all shapes and forms.’ ‘I love the Garage Flowers guys, but it’s like a relationship, it’s full on, you’re trying to get a deal…like what’s the final final straw?’ ‘It’s been a year of extreme extremities’ he tells me, ‘I stopped drinking in Amsterdam, and there was the comedown of not drinking, I was almost depressed!’ But this weakness isn’t a bad thing for Ollie, as with Lennon for example ‘his weaknesses were his strengths- he was a classic, normal guy, well not normal he was a genius!’ But like Lennon, Ollie ‘learned to write songs, learned to play guitar and learned to write poetry.’ ‘I started at 14’ he explains, ‘for my 14th birthday I got a guitar.’ ‘My first guitar was a Fender’ he tells me, and ‘I currently play a Fender square electric and a Gretsch acoustic.’
I then go on to ask Ollie about his favourite new bands, to which he immediately replies False Heads; ‘they have the whole package’ he insists, ‘their lyrics are so good.’ Discovering new bands, ‘it’s like falling in love’ he laughs.’ ‘I like The Tramadolls, and of course I like the Garage Flowers, they’re lovely guys and have got really good songs.’ In terms of what Ollie likes in music, ‘it’s gotta have a catchy bass line and riff’ he tells me, ‘but again it’s the lyrics.’ ‘It’s like This Charming Man‘ he laughs; ‘it’s an ambiguous anthem that butch men were singing in the 80s, it’s very English.’ Coming back to lyricism, we get on to the subject of The Beatles, a mutual favourite band between myself and Ollie. ‘As a 33 year old, I can connect to lyrics written by an 18 year old 50 years ago. There’s something very human about them, Lennon and McCartney.’ ‘It’s the same with Kurt,’ he mentions, as well as bands like The Doors and The Smiths; ‘there’s something special about the lyrical content of the band.’ ‘The Doors were at the height of the Vietnam war’ he explains, ‘and their lyrics were just a big up yours to society’ he grins, picking out “well I woke up this morning, got myself a beer” as a personal favourite from The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues; ‘it was how every US man would’ve wanted to be.’ Another favourite he picks out is “Is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for” from Oasis’ Cigarettes & Alcohol; ‘Gallagher really summed up a generation.’ The Smiths he describes as ‘very accidental, he was such an ambiguous character in every way Morrissey.’ ‘He was a great social documenter himself’ Ollie tells me; ‘he always wrote as a more social thing, I write as a release.’ ‘My brain just comes out with something creative’ he tells me, ‘as songs are about you- you write them and live them. You remember a song then you live through that; it would somehow have my stamp on it’ he insists, ‘because it comes from you.’ Lennon went through four stages Ollie muses, ‘psychedelic, sad, political, and I ‘love you’…it’s a weird moment of reflection.’ That’s the whole beauty of music though he insists; ‘like Noel didn’t realise the whole country would be singing Don’t Look Back In Anger 15/20 years later.’ ‘My style of writing is very English’ he muses, ‘but I don’t know what people are going to connect with.’ ‘I have a track called Holes In The Sky’ he tells me, which effected a friend completely differently. ‘“This song reminds me of my mum” my mate said, and he just sat there in tears.’ ‘Trying to understand the mathematics of everything people write is boring, lyrics approach me as I’m living it, that’s what lyrics are about.’ With Holes In The Sky, Ollie tells me that ‘I sat in the moonlight hour playing to myself aged 14, then started playing it in my 20s.’ ‘It’s fairly… I mean… that’s art! Good writing is ambiguous.’
Catch Ollie live at Nambucca on 7/09, and at The Monarch on 12/09 playing Musicians Against Homelessness with 485C and Adrenaline Animals
Listen to his music here