NARC/Ouseburn Festival 2022
Despite the ubiquity of online music content today, I confess to a liking, no … to be honest, a genuine preference for its analogue bedfellow; old-fashioned ink on paper.
Newcastle’s NARC magazine is now 185 issues old, so by my reckoning for the last 15 years, they have been the independent reference point for alternative music, art, literature, comedy, film, theatre and culture in the North East.
In fact, I’m underselling NARC here – they do loads more than just publish a monthly FREE magazine, they have an online TV channel, an excellent website and are across all the social media sites. They also release an annual free compilation download on Bandcamp, and importantly for this live music aficionado they put stuff on.
Case in point; a stage outside The Cumberland Arms on a sunny July afternoon, which was their contribution to the 2022 Ouseburn Festival.
As luck would have it I managed to bag a seat in the shade for the second act of the day – Fawns, an indie-folk duo who I later discover are Abi and Lou from Durham.
The first thing that strikes me is the volume of ‘body art‘ on view – perhaps this has something to do with Abi’s daytime gig as a tattoo artist in Bishop Auckland.
It’s a brief distraction though – the girls are clearly good friends and there is plenty of banter back and forth between the two; their Instagram profile states they are ‘Durham-based acoustic buffoons‘.
However, all of that deflects somewhat from the seriousness of their songs.
Tales of love and loss, coercive control, self-worth and death are all featured.
It’s really interesting (and skilful) how they manage to walk this tightrope. Thanks to their superb harmonies, between song banter and the breezy guitar playing of Lou Maddison they manage to keep the atmosphere light and summery on this warm, Tyneside afternoon.
I’m not sure of the song title but it could well have been ‘Misled and Innocent’ – where Fawns harmonise about the heartlessness that is at the core of any emotionally abusive relationship
‘Don’t put the blame on you….how can someone be so cruel.‘
I start thinking to myself it’s a bit First Aid Kit but with more substance, and more authentic too; due to it being delivered with a hint of a Durham accent.
I’m warming to them, and then Abi produces a harmonica that takes the music elsewhere – into Neil Young territory?
She’s a great harmonica player by the way and by this point I’m really getting into it.
Next up is ‘Gaslights’, taken from their 2020, 3-track EP ‘For Those Dearest’.
‘There’s an epidemic in the youth,
those who’ve been sold a fictionalised truth
…and how can it be the subjugation of this generation
is now so routine‘.
In part, it’s a swipe at the downside of social media and it’s no surprise to discover their own presence on these platforms is pretty much ‘light-touch’.
Good on them, they speak through their music and judging by the reaction today there’s a receptive audience out there for Fawns and their message.
‘It’s a good one for a cry, this one’ Abi says as she somewhat lightheartedly introduces their final song – ‘Bags and Boxes‘, another tune lifted from their EP.
It turns out to be a very personal, tender song of how when someone we love passes away we carry out the painful task of packing away their lifetimes’ possessions.
It’s heart-wrenching stuff with a swooping harmonica interlude and great harmonies.
You just drown in it. It’s beautiful, important music.
Keep doing it Fawns and keep the Durham accent too.
Review by Graham