Hector Gannet (aka Aaron James Duff solo) + Ren Lawton
The Engine Room,
Sunday December 11 20222
I had been looking forward to the original gig for what seemed ages and then two days before the show, the headliner David A Jaycock pulls the plug and messages the venue to say sorry, as he can’t make it up from his Cornish enclave.
Hats off then to The Engine Room who did more than just salvage the situation, they nailed it with a last minute line-up change. Up stepped Aaron James Duff who doubles as front man to North Shields favourites Hector Gannet to take headliner duties.
That switch appeared to have created a last minute rush for tickets, encouraged too by Cerys Matthews on her BBC 6 music show that morning who had recommended the gig and played support artist Ren Lawton’s ‘Cold Afternoon’ into the bargain.
I arrived at The Engine Room in good time, partly because I wanted to have a chat with Ren Lawton over a pint of the excellent ‘Dark Side of the Toon‘, an Irish stout brewed in by the Three Kings micro brewery in North Shields.
He was clearly buzzing having just had airplay on BBC 6 Music’s most listened to show.
He was also barefoot – he told me he had walked to the venue from South Shields (via the Shields ferry of course) and his socks and shoes were soaked. I liked him instantly and his songs are clearly an extension of his warm personality.
Clash Magazine were bang on when they described his music as ‘Intense, frank and warm’.
His opener ‘The Coast‘ contained the line
‘In my bag with nothing more than dreams’,
and I pictured him trudging along the North East coast with his guitar on his back, his feet freezing but his dreams still intact.
I particularly enjoyed the track ‘Blue Hounds’, a protest song he introduced by telling us how much he disliked the country’s government of the day. Blue hounds indeed.
He reminded me a lot of Jackson C Frank but he said had never listened to him – he did tell me that Dylan was a major influence though.
After a short break, up stepped Aaron Duff to the warmest of welcomes from the sell out crowd.
He was clearly amongst friends and from the off he didn’t disappoint. His opener ‘Tower on The Hill’ is an acoustic version of his bands most recent single, a track lifted from their upcoming album release ‘The Land Belongs To Us’.
His voice is an assured and powerful baritone coupled to his forcefully strummed acoustic guitar giving his performance an edgy feel.
‘There’s a tower on the hill where heads will roll’, he sings and indeed, the songs reference points seem to me to be historical but within them there contains a warning for us to keep our eyes open otherwise things might just get a lot nastier than they already are.
Last of the Buffalo is another cut from the new album and there are two covers in the set, both written by his major influence, the great Alan Hull, first up is Blue Murder taken from Hull’s s Pipedream album, a song Hector Gannet have also covered on ‘The Land Belongs To Us’.
What I love about Aaron is that his Geordie accent is never disguised and it doesn’t get lost in the songs, in fact it permeates his delivery and gives him an authenticity that many singer-songwriters just do not possess.
He’s obviously proud of his northeast roots and that comes across in his songs, the content of which frequently depicts respect and love for the regions people and its landscapes.
He closes out his well received set with the classic Lindisfarne tune ‘Winter Song’, written of course by Hull and released in November 1970 on the bands debut album ‘Nicely Out of Tune’.
There are a lot of young folks in the audience tonight and before he plays the song Aaron encourages them to explore the music of his hero before telling them he can’t hang around afterwards as he has a table booked at an Indian Restaurant in Whitley Bay and he’ll miss out on the poppadoms if he doesn’t make haste.
Nevertheless, he treats us to a lush 6 minute version of this beautiful composition, a song which speaks of injustice and suffering, something that he acknowledges has sadly not lessened in the intervening 52 years since the songs first appearance on vinyl.
He gently sings the haunting last line ‘when winter comes howling in’, then a delicately strummed outro; a roar of appreciation from the sell out crowd and Aaron Duff is off into the cold, hotfooting it to Whitley Bay and a richly deserved curry.