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Rusty Shackle + Apple Tree Theory & Sion Russell-Jones

Venue: Caldicot Castle
Town: Caldicot
Date: 14/07/17

Situated in the shadow of the original Severn Bridge, the town of Caldicot was mentioned in the Domesday Book, not for its castle but for the agricultural holdings of the Sheriff of Gloucester. The castle itself has been in existence since about 1170, when the current stone keep and curtain walls were built to replace an earlier Saxon stronghold built by Harold Godwinson. In 1964, the castle passed into the ownership of Chepstow RDC (Now Monmouthshire County Council) who established a small museum and opened the castle to the public. Since then Caldicot Castle has hosted a variety of events ranging from Historical Re-enactments to Classic Car Shows and live music. This year saw a diverse range events including Little Mix, Ocean Colour Scene, Only Men Aloud as well as a homecoming gig for Folk Rockers Rusty Shackle.

Having been to Caldicot Castle on several occasions I must admit I wasn't entirely sure where the stage would be set up, given the castle is surrounded by parkland, and it was a pleasant surprise to be shown through the keep to find the main stage set up within the curtain walls leaving the assembled concert goers to relax on the grass bathed in the evening sunshine before events got under way.

The first act to take to the stage were a band that must admit to not having encountered before. Apple Tree Theory are a band from Newport who blend Bluegrass and folk influences with a dash of Reggae, Ska, Hip Hop, Skiffle & Rock 'n' Roll to great effect. Their set was designed to get the crowd into a party mood for the coming evening with an eclectic selection of covers including Bob Marley (3 Little Birds) The Zutons (Valerie), The Specials (A Message To You Rudi), Ini Kamozi (Here Come The Hotstepper) before finishing with a rendition of Rednex's Cotton Eye Joe. All in all Apple Tree Theory are an unashamed good time band who gave us a thoroughly entertaining set. I look forward to seeing them perform again in the future.

Next on stage was another Welsh act, this time Cardiff based Singer/Songwriter Sion Russell Jones. The first thing that strikes you about Sion is his appearance, which, along with his performing style will inevitably bring comparisons to the most famous person to come out of Framlingham since Mary Tudor. On this occasion, Sion had trouble holding the attention of a crowd pumped up by an exuberant Apple Tree Theory set and impatient for the headliners, I suspect that had he done on first, his music would have got the attention it deserved. Having said that, Sion is a very talented performer who has a great future ahead of him and I look forward to catching him again in a more suitable setting.

At 9pm the arena went dark and the wail of an air raid siren, search lights sweeping the stage and the opening beats of When The Morning Comes announced the arrival Rusty Shackle on stage for their long awaited home coming gig.

Right from the start it was evident that we were going to be in for a special night with a set list showcasing music from all three of the albums that the band has released to date, with familiar favourites such as Sunrise (possibly my all-time favourite Rusty Shackle song) appearing alongside material such as Fight For The Queen, a darker and, to these ears, more political song taken from the band's debut album Wash Away These Nights and one that reminded me in style and delivery of The Manic Street Preachers.

One thing that Rusty Shackle have never shied away from is cover versions of their favourite music, Hidden away at the end of their debut CD Wash Away These Nights is a rather fine version of John Henry and in the past The Bloodhound Gang's The Bad Touch has been a part of their repertoire in the past. Tonight was certainly no exception with three cover versions in the set list. A great version on Dizzee Rascal's Bonkers. A version of Dolly Parton's Jolene sung with Chepstow born Actress and singer Remi Beasley who also reprised her duet from Dusk on the beautiful Moving On. The final cover, a faithful version of the Skiffle classic Rock Island Line, was the first of two encores.

Given that this was the band's homecoming, it was not at all surprising that the band's set included several songs dedicated to their home town. Taken from Wash Away These Nights, Rusty Shackles first ever single, Cold Hearted Town, is the band's homage to the town of Caldicot. It wasn't just the town that got mentions, however, Glorious May was dedicated to The Cross Inn, the pub where the band played their first gigs seven years ago and the band's alma mater, Caldicot Comprehensive got a dedication with Junco Partner, a song that had me racking my brains as to where heard the hook before. Only after the gig did I realise that it was very reminiscent of Adam Ant's Goody Two Shoes.

Over the years I have seen Rusty Shackle on numerous occasions on stages of varying sizes from a tiny bandstand in Cardiff Bay to the Acoustic Tent at Caerphilly's Big Cheese festival and every time I have been impressed with their musicianship and how the band's stagecraft has developed and the Caldicot Castle homecoming was another, triumphant, step forward on Rusty Shackle's journey. Seven years in to their career Rusty Shackle are going from strength to strength and this gig, their biggest headlining performance to date, has only served to underline just how good this young band are. In years to come Rusty Shackle at Caldicot Castle will become one of those "I Was There" moments, it was a pleasure to be a part of the night and I'm looking forward to seeing them perform again at Bunkfest at the beginning of September. Rusty Shackle are a band who have a very bright future ahead of them and are a group that should be on everybody's to see list at least once.

David Chamberlain

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