Sometimes your ‘big break’ can come from the most unexpected of places. Take Talk Show, the South London new wave punks, recently signed to Felix White of The Maccabees’ new Yala! Records venture. It wasn’t a fortuitous gig or an ear-turning demo that nabbed them that. It wasn’t even a chance meeting with the Maccabee himself. As it turns out, it was the bloke behind frontman Harrison Swann’s impressive undercut that got them their first record deal. As you do.
“Danny seems to know everyone in South London – apparently he cuts Jack Peñate’s hair.” grins Harrison, tucked away at the back of a Deptford boozer, bassist George Sullivan beside him, giggling at the absurdity of it all. “Cutting a long story short,” Harrison continues, no pun intended, “I mentioned that I was in a band and had my first show. He started coming down to shows and really liked it, and was like, ‘Oh, my mate Felix runs a label – I’ll send him over your stuff!’” Harrison thought nothing of it. “Obviously, I didn’t realise it was Felix White… from The Maccabees…”
From there, they were invited to open up one of Yala!’s regular gigs at Bermondsey Social Club. Straight after the set, Felix cornered the band as they were stepping off stage. “He came straight up to me and goes, ‘I wanna release ‘Fast & Loud’ – I wanna work with you guys.’ I was like, ‘Oh, shit!’” That same single, released last month via Yala!, has become Talk Show’s mission statement – a fittingly-titled blast of laser-cut post-punk, Harrison alternating between the doomy cadence of his thick Manchester accent, and cackling like a man possessed.
It’s little surprise their live show was what sealed the deal. For the past two years, Talk Show have thrived in South London digs like the Bermondsey, slowly building a following alongside their studies at Goldsmiths College. The majority of that came from Cultural Treason – a series of self-promoted gig nights at Peckham basement record store Rye Wax, which saw them packing out the dingy locale night after night, mosh-pits popping up amongst the LP boxes.
“We knew so many people in bands, having been to Goldsmiths,” says Harrison. Calling upon those classmates and cohorts, they started filling the venue with those same bands’ first ever shows. “We did five, in the end,” he recalls, “We’d just fill it with our mates. Rye Wax was great to us – they gave us the space for free, and they let us just crack on with it. They didn’t expect just how many people would come down to it – everyone turned up. The first band brought all their mates, cause it was their first gig; then the second band would bring all their mates, because it was their first gig. It was a really nice knock-on effect.”
One unsuspecting observer to this bubbling underground? Yannis from Foals, who recently moved from his Oxford hometown to just down the road, in the Peckham-adjacent Nunhead. While Talk Show were soundchecking their wares for the first night, Yannis was flicking through the record sleeves in Rye Wax, and meeting with the manager to discuss his improv night MILK., held in that same venue. “We invited his mates down,” smiles George, “they didn’t stick around.”
Yannis and co.’s loss is the capital’s gain. While Talk Show were packing out Rye Wax on a monthly basis, that now-well-worn cliché of the ‘South London scene’ was ticking along, bands like Shame, Sorry and HMLTD and Goat Girl finding a level of success that Talk Show found just out of reach. Despite the then-gulf between the Shames and Talk Shows of the world, though, the pair deny any jealousy. “That was always so far beyond where we were, that we were just doing it for ourselves,” says George. Besides, they’ve quickly played catch-up, Talk Show opening for Shame and Yak at a recent benefit show for Central London hotspot The Social, inciting almost as much mania as the headliners themselves. “It’s mad to be playing shows with them now,” admits George.
“It’s within touching distance,” Harrison agrees. “They were all being written or talked about loads, and we were just sat in our bedrooms, thinking, ‘Right, let’s crack on.’” It’s a heads-down attitude that reaped rewards.
Bursting free of that basement, Talk Show’s live shows remain one of the capital city’s most beguiling prospects, Harrison stomping through stages and clambering around venues, his bark just as bad as his bite. Festival dates are racking up; another single is tentatively scheduled for summer. ‘Til then, that debut single’s leading the way – ‘Fast and Loud’ by name, fast and loud by nature.