SummerTyne Americana Festival 2017
First of all, I had the discussion “What exactly is Americana Music?” five times on the run up to and then over the weekend. It is a fascinating question, as I ‘know’ what it is, but find it increasingly difficult to quantify; especially as over the weekend we witnessed a diverse mix of music from straight forward Country via Alt. Country, Pop-Country, with a bit of Western Swing too, lots of Bluegrass and Folk many singer-songwriters, a smidgen of Southern Rock, The Blues (Country Blues AND Blues Rock) and some sweet, sweet Soul Music too. Confused? You won’t be!
As usual the weekend started at noon on Friday outside the magnificent Sage Music Centre on the Jumping Hot Club stage with the quaintly named Home Fries acts, from the local region.
With the crowds already filling Shipcote Hill the delightful Rhona Dalling and her sweet Country Folk songs got the day started in the most delightful manner.
After a short break the more rumbustious Buffalo Skinners got the toes tapping in the sunshine, before legendary singer-songwriter and former Pop-star Paul Handyside alongside Rob Tickell performed a series of dark and articulate modern Folk songs, much to the crowd’s obvious delight.
Next up were The King Bees, who annoy me more and more every time I see them. I say ‘annoy’ but it’s only because their brand of Classic Chicago Blues is so incendiary it blows me away every time I see them; but they all have day jobs and can’t find the time (or finances) to go into a recording studio. It was no surprise to see the first of the fabled SummerTyne ‘dancers’ filling the sides of the stage.
The sun was shining and barely a blade of grass could be seen on Shipcote Hill as Archie Brown and the Prisoners of Fender made a welcome return to the picturesque stage overlooking the Newcastle Quayside. After seeing his many incarnations over the last 40 years I’m still not sure how to describe his ‘music’…..think Tom Waits singing Rock and Roll with the coolest Blues band in New Orleans; or something like that!
There was a relatively last minute change to the headline slot, with the Theresa Watson Band and her heady mix of Blues and Soul filing the night air as 6 or more people danced their hearts out in front of the stage.
As the ‘outside crowd’ began packing their bits n bobs away and thousands more were making their way into the Sage to see Sold Out shows by both the Shires in Hall 1 and Merle Haggard’s sons Ben and Noel in Hall 2, I got to see the kids from the Stax Music Academy on the concourse stage blowing the dust off a series of songs that changed my life…….WOW! But more of them later.
Catherine McGrath who launched the evening performances in Hall 1 is a new name to me; but her lovely Northern Irish voice brought some lovely Countryish songs to life; and her chirpy demeanour caught the attention of many people around me.
She was followed by Sarah Darling who is exciting a lot of people within the British Country Music scene and I can now see (and hear) why…..hopefully she will be back in the area soon.
But, the 1600 people who had bought tickets within 72 hours of them coming on sale had come to see the Stars of British Country Music; the Shires.
It was a similar mix of songs from their two hit albums, as their previous visit in December but no one minded with glazed eyed fans singing along from start to finish. I was really impressed with the way their stage presence has evolved in the last four years. To see them tonight you’d think they had been filling halls for ten years or more; as opposed to their debut on the Concourse Stage downstairs in front of 50 people and another 50 empty seats in 2014!
A few feet away in Hall 2 there was a pair of Country acts that intrigued me. Thankfully my AAA Photo-Pass meant I could see most of both concerts (with Mrs Magpie filling in the gaps at the Shires concert).
Ashley Campbell is the daughter of Glen Campbell and, while several ‘friends’ felt she leant on that relationship, I didn’t and was stunned by her dexterity on the banjo and has a fabulous voice…..one to watch methinks.
I’m going to be contentious now; I’ve never been a fan of Merle Haggard, and tonight seeing a hall full of Country Music fans ‘wallowing in the past’ and, with so much new and exiting music to see and hear it filled me with despair.
Merle’s youngest son Ben actually has a great voice and can play the guitar with flair; while eldest son Noel who looks and sounds a bit like his father relied more on humour and laughs. Me? I was left non-plussed by it all but the following day two friends were still starry eyed at the thought of the concert. You can’t please everyone, can you?
Things started early with a grey faced crowd queuing from 10 am on the Quayside for cruise up and down the Tyne to the music of Ashley Campbell and Massy Ferguson.
Me? I was at work until 4pm…..so I had to employ Magpie Spies to bring you Saturday’s day time adventures.
At noon jaws dropped all over Shipcote Hill as the first notes from the Stax Academy filtered out across Gateshead…..WOW……for the first, but not the last time this weekend these kids blew socks off music fans with their amazing voices and musical skills on four Stax Soul Classics……dancing? You betcha.
While the JHC stage was being changed around Laura Oakes was winning hearts and minds on the AMA UK Concourse stage with her punchy modern British Country songs, and RMHQ favourite Vera Van Heeringen was playing the first of two gigs in the SummerTyne Lounge.
With the sun fighting through the clouds the feisty Country Rock of Fargo Railroad Company went down really well with the swelling crowds on Shipcote Hill.
As they finished there was a mad rush inside for the sold-out show in Hall 2….Sold Out at 2pm? That musty be something really special; and it was (and I bloody missed it…grrrrr); a double header with Danni Nicholls and the new ‘darling of the Ameripolitan’ Angaleena Presley both making their NE debuts. I subsequently spoke to 8 diverse people who saw the show and each said it was the highlight of this particular weekend and a couple suggested it may be in the Top 10 of all time.
While that crowd were pretending they were in Nashville, those outside knew they were in Gateshead as it started raining just before Vera Van Heeringen came on stage; but the umbrellas came out and the ponchos unfurled as our favourite Dutch songstress wowed them with some terrific songs from her new album.
As happens at Festivals sometimes there are two or three things happening at once but thankfully the Magpie Spies caught the spellbinding smoky voice of Danni Nicholls on the AMA UK Concourse stage, while three others watched the place go wild outside for the exhilarating Rockabilly of Howlin’ Ric and the Rocketeers; who quite possibly ‘stole the show’ and negotiations were immediately struck for a follow up gig …..sometime soon.
I finally arrived as the incredibly handsome Paul Carella was on the AMA UK and sounded mighty impressive too, on the two songs I heard.
But I couldn’t hang around as one of our ‘finds’ at SummerTyne 16 was Amythyst Kiah who was on the Jumpin’ Hot Club Stage. Is she Blues? Folk? Country? Gospel? Who knows and who cares, as her intensely rich voice combines absolutely everything that is good in Americana Music.
As her final notes were filtering into the leaden sky I rushed straight back into the Sage to finally see Massy Ferguson…..yowza, yowza and YOWZA! Seattle’s finest sons were every inch as good (and loud) as I’d hoped and had the crowd standing shoulder to shoulder in the main area and three deep on the staircase. As SummerTyne is rapidly becoming famous for; Danni Nicholls was invited on stage to join the band for a rockingly ramshackle performance that had people queuing at the merch desk to buy both albums that RMHQ raved about.
A quick cup of coffee and three all too brief ‘hi, good to see you….we must get together’ conversations meant I missed the first 15 minutes of Earl Thomas on the JHC Stage; but the 45 minutes I did see were amazing; scorching and Soulful R&B …..with a charismatic singer, what’s not to like?
More strong coffee and a big dirty burger later and I was witnessing the kids from the Stax Music Academy for the second time; as they opened the show for Mr William Bell. Honestly…..they were/are truly amazing, and each of the six singers gets the opportunity to take lead, which showcases some amazing ‘strength in depth’……the future is bright; the future is STAX!
As they finished I met Mrs Magpie in the bar as she was here to see Sam Outlaw in Hall 2; as part of a double header with Jim Lauderdale (both have great new albums out).
Jim was a ‘vision’ in a brightly coloured shirt and matching Crimpolene trousers; and his many years on stage showed as he held the audience in the palm of his hand from start to finish with a series of songs from his back catalogue, each introduced by a story that made you smile.
As Mrs Magpie enjoyed a convivial tincture with some friends I rushed back to Hall 1 to see and photograph the very dapper William Bell. What a voice this fella still has and like Jim Lauderdale; what a showman!
With the clock ticking I had to run across the concourse and arrived in the Sold-Out Hall 2 just as Sam was being cheered onto the stage. It’s amazing how much he has changed since I saw him play to about 60 people at a JHC gig just over a year ago; and tonight he looked uber-confident and immaculately dressed alongside his regular band. With time not being on his side he crammed a ninety minute set into 6o; and didn’t leave the crowd with time to breathe between song after great song; leaving all 700 fans completely breathless at the end. A relatively new kid on the block for many (but not RMHQ readers) I forecast Sam Outlaw won’t play in front of 60 fans ever again in the North East.
The gig was cut short because an exciting Songwriter’s Circle featuring Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Prophet, Ashley Campbell and Amythyst Kiah was following and it was FREE ENTRY. I only got to see two songs before I had to leave; but a friend who was there said it was a stunning hour and something they would love to see again.
My one and only full day at SummerTyne 2017 started at noon, with the leader of the Royal Northern Synthonia Sir Bradley Cheswick leading the All-Star Hot Club of Geordie Town through a series of Country and Western Swing Classics. It took me a couple of minutes to realise that the handsome young singer fronting the band was none other than Brian Hume and the harmonies provided by his much younger wife Irene; from Folk legends Prelude! Hey…..that’s SummerTyne for you; a bag full of surprises around every corner.
I then scurried inside to see the Kentucky Cowtippers from the Chowdene Delta on the AMA UK Stage, and again these young ‘uns have really developed their Bluegrass/Country-Folk sound by spending the last couple of years constantly touring and serving their apprenticeship. Today their all too brief set revolved around a recent EP of self-written songs with only a couple of covers slipped in under the radar.
One of the less well known highlights of SummerTyne is always the films that are unearthed and shone in the Lounge to a handful of people. Before going outside I popped in and saw a wonderful 14 minute film called Buna and Bertha about two old ladies (in 1985) talking about keeping Appalachian Folk music alive. I just wish more people could see these delightful slices of musical history.
Alongside Massy Ferguson on Saturday the other act that I was desperate not to miss was Rob Vincent whose album will feature in many Top 10’s at the end of the year. The wait was most definitely worth it……this lad has it all; great songs and a stage presence that kept the audience entranced for over an hour.
Following a couple of quick howdy do’s with some old friends; and finally meeting David from the Three Chords and the Truth website; it was into Hall 2 for another Sold-Out show. This time the passionate solo Blues Rock from Lisa Mills…..(a big guitar and an even bigger voice) and the sultry late night soulful Blues from Jo Harman.
Outside on the JHC Stage Errol Linton was making a welcome return with his own take on Urban R&B this time adding some modern hippitty hoppitty (Grime?) splashes for the teenagers.
As I left Hall 2 I caught Chloe Chadwick’s final song and somehow ended up talking so long to some friends I totally missed the Country Twang of Jonathan Terrell on the JHC Stage playing to an ever diminishing crowd as the rain set in with a vengeance…..sorry mate; these things happen at festivals.
With the rain now belting down, the concourse was packed for Scouse Alt. Country band Rosenblume who took full advantage to showcase their exciting and raw songs.
It really impressed me to see how many hardy souls were prepared to sit in a Monsoon more fitting to February to watch RMHQ favourites Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay in the guise of High Plains Jamboree on the JHC Stage. Not for me I’m afraid; I ran around for ten minutes taking photos then decamped back inside the main building. In any other year this would have been the perfect music to watch on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Back to my opening question….’What is Americana Music?’ Well; one of the highlights of the weekend came next; and the pouring rain yet again a much bigger audience than expected got to witness the beautiful Gospel songs from the Voices of Virtue Choir and hearing them sing such a delightful mix of songs.
As they finished I looked out of the Sage’s huge windows and saw the rain coming down in sheets from four separate angles, so the jacket was zipped up to my throat and the trucker cap pulled on tight as I made a dash outside to see The Savoy Family Cajun Band close the weekend on the JHC Stage. I couldn’t believe my eyes as less than 100 people were there and over 50 were dancing! Dancing in multi-coloured ponchos and wellies! You gotta love Geordies.
Back inside steam was coming off my jacket while I watched local lass Hayley McKay in her sparkly dress on the AMA UK stage. Not to everyone’s taste; I loved her Dollyesque Country-Pop and look forward to the album that is meant to be coming out in the Autumn.
It was a similar sound with Callaghan who opened the evenings entertainment in Hall 1. She looks amazing and has a great voice with some ‘good songs’ and it won’t take much for her to have a hit and surf the Shires coat tails into British Country Stardom.
As she was still tinkling the ivories on the Sage’s Steinway I excitedly made my way to see a band I discovered last year with their debut EP and subsequently fell in love with the follow up LP…..Curse of Lono from London Town!
On the lead up I thought their blend of Southern Gothic music was an odd choice for a support to Chuck Prophet; but hey! It worked and worked incredibly well as a cautious audience fell under the spell as their magical songs won the hall over with ease.
By now I should have been flagging; but the adrenaline was pumping as I went back across the building to see the start of Beth Neilsen Chapman’s concert in Hall I. While I only watched for about 20 minutes, I saw enough to confirm my love of live music. The ever smiling Beth had a couple of ‘technical problems’ which she laughed and joked through before realising she hadn’t plugged the bloody thing in! Still laughing at her own expense she then went into the most beautiful love song.
But, there was Chuck Prophet to see! Even the look on his face as he walked on stage told me he was ‘ready to Rock’ and Rock us he did……two hours of songs played fast and loud with the occasional ballad and political tirade made for a glorious end to another SummerTyne Festival.
What more can I say? SummerTyne is ‘my festival’; it’s on my doorstep and means I can sleep in my own bed and not a tent; but it’s all about the music kids; and the balance of music here plus and the sound quality inside the Sage is as good if not better than anywhere else in the world.
Now……what was that rumour I heard in the car park about a potential headliner next year?
Alan and his Magpie Spies.
Photo-Set Saturday http://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/SummerTyne-Saturday-2017/
Photo-Set Sunday http://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/SummerTyne-2017-SUNDAY/