Live Review: The Sheepdogs + Andrew Cushin, Lafayette, London – March 5th 2022

Photo by Mat Dunlap

The Sheepdogs hail from the Canadian prairie city Saskatoon, the small capital of Saskatchewan – which interestingly has given us Deep Dark Words, Kacy and Clayton, Colter Wall and Steph Cameron, all very fine Americana musicians. The band play southern rock (and when ‘Southern Dreaming’ is followed immediately by ‘Rock and Roll’ it’s fair to take a punt on referencing this genre) with aplomb and every song is tightly crafted, with Shamus Currie’s keyboards always at the heart of the mix. The long term line up is Ewan Currie – lead vocals, guitars, keys, who is the lead songwriter; Ryan Gullen – bass, backing vocals; Sam Corbett- drums, percussion, backing vocals ; Shamus Currie- keys, trombone, guitars, backing vocals and Jimmy Bowskill – guitars, pedal steel guitar, violin, mandolin, backing vocals.

The Allman Brothers are invariably name checked in any Sheepdogs’ review and not without reason. To broaden the high-profile influences that come through, one could readily add the Black Crowes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company, Bob Seger, and early 1970s Rolling Stones. And noting how many of these acts had Muscle Shoals as a recording base on their own C.V.’s is also relevant to the band’s overall vibe. Anyone reading this will know that the chances of the aforementioned bands playing near you anytime soon are either zero or very slight, and in that light it maybe indicates why The Sheepdogs have built such an audience for live gigs; this sold out show at Lafayette in London’s Kings Cross was packed tight from when the support act started.

The interplay of the harmonised vocals is a real quality throughout, as is Bowskill’s virtuoso guitar work, and the trombone is a quirky brass addition to the toolkit. Particularly engaging songs – and the band have 6 full albums plus EPs to draw from – include ‘Southern Dreaming’, where the Allmans’ famous ‘Jessica’ riff appears in a slightly adapted version; the slower meandering ‘Bad Lieutenant’ and ‘Downtown’. The members keep stage chatter to an absolute minimum, with, “It’s so good to be back on the road” the sole utterance for the first hour. This enables them to push through an expansive set of 20 songs, intros, guitar solos, outros and all. The combination of long hair, beards and moustaches and relaxed sartorial choices could all pass muster in the early to mid-70s, so is in keeping with the music.

An impressive and very promising support set came from Andrew Cushin. A Geordie raised in Heaton, he is just 21 and his fresh-faced demeanour could pass for younger but he has a poised confidence on stage, referring to his nerves but in fact not conveying them in his performance. He offers us nine songs in just over 30 minutes and with just his voice and acoustic guitar, it’s a polished set. He has a great skill for a simple but resonating melody and is not afraid to lay out the trials of his personal and domestic life. First single ‘It’s Gonna Get Better’ sets a high bar whilst the more downcast ‘Four and a half per cent‘ narrates a father’s ongoing alcoholism and its destructive effect,”What a way to live your life my father/each drink it drowns your son and daughter.” Similar subject matter features in the final song ‘Where’s My Family Gone’. Noel Gallagher produced this and overall the Oasis song structure has been an influence, and there’s also a young Paul Weller stylistic hint.

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Clint West

Fabulous band. I saw the Manchester gig, also sold out well in advance. They do wear their influences very much on their sleeves but also bring new sublety and life to a genre that too often suffers from rather crude rehashed licks and clichés.