Chuck Prophet and the Royal Northern Sinfonia String Section – SummerTyne 2014

Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express plus the Royal Northern Sinfonia String Section
Sage Gateshead
July 18th 2014

Every year the good people at Sage Gateshead include a couple of exclusive and special concerts to the programme of events during SummerTyne; in 2011 Chuck Prophet’s re-interpretation of the Clash’s LONDON CALLING   was a huge success and he was invited back to re-create his TEMPLE BEAUTIFUL album for a chamber orchestra! Who among us wouldn’t want to hear that?

The show was a complete sell-out and rumours filtered out that the show was going to be something really special; meaning some tickets were exchanging hands for considerable sums of money.

With no support act all ten members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia String Section made their way through the shadows to huge applause; followed by a be-suited and rather dapper looking Chuck Prophet and band. The atmosphere was palpable as Prophet, with a grin that lit up the room strapped on a Gibson SG and then looked around the stage, making sure everyone was in place before the opening chords to ‘Play That Song Again’ raised another roar from the knowledgeable audience. While Prophet still played power chords on the Gibson; when he nodded his head stage left and the string section played their instruments; we knew we were witnessing something really, really special.

As soon as this was followed by a romantic ‘Castro Halloween’ it was evident that the album was going to be replicated in sequence.

It would be wrong to say that there was any tension in the crowd as the first notes of the title track ‘Temple Beautiful’ filtered out into the hall but when Chuck replaced the reference to arch rivals manchester United with our local football team Newcastle United; the cheer sounded like he’d actually scored a goal.

The mood changed for ‘Museum of Broken Hearts’ when the ever smiling singer strapped on an acoustic guitar. Coupled with the swooping sound of the Chamber Orchestra and Stephie Finch’s feather light touch on the Vox; the song took on an ethereal quality that will live with me for a very long time.

With time on his side for once we got to hear the background to a few of the songs which helped add some perspective to ‘Left Hand and the Right Hand’ which also benefitted from the new arrangements.

Because the ensemble had only had a few hours to practice (arrangements had gone backwards and forwards by e-mail) it was no real surprise that there had to be a mistake at some stage; and it was the intro to I Felt Like Jesus that Prophet himself got wrong; much to his and our amusement. Thankfully Stephie had the set list and put him right.

Looking back at my notes everything has 2 or 3 stars next to it; but the call and answer ‘Little Girl/Little Boy’ has 5 stars next to it and was a pure joy from start to finish with Stephie’s line “Daddy’s got a string quartet” being followed by the string section getting to strut their combined stuff for a moment or too; which drew the loudest applause they are ever likely to hear.

This was followed by a glorious rendition of ‘White Night/Big City’ which really allowed the Sinfonia players to show us lesser mortals how their instruments should be played. Their standing ovation was truly well deserved.

It had been obvious throughout the concert that Chuck was having the time of his life and he was genuinely fulsome in his praise for everyone on the stage; and managed to remember every individual by name and made everyone, no matter how reluctant, stand up and take a bow.

With twenty five minute left until curfew; ever the showman Prophet asked if it would be okay to play a couple of new songs. The roar that greeted ‘Wish Me Luck’ was nearly deafening, as the combination of strings, acoustic guitar and piano provided a beautiful accompaniment to a delightful song – boding well for the new album.

This was followed by a psychedelic version of the Flamin’ Groovies ‘Shake Some Action’ which had the orchestra musicians rocking their socks off as Prophet danced around the stage while the audience sang/shouted along with the chorus.

Two more new songs; without titles once again  showcased Prophet’s more sensitive side and then the concert came to an end and 500 music fans left the hall with grins the size of the moon.

God Bless SummerTyne.

#photo courtesy John Jobling

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