SummerTyne Americana Festival
The Jumping Hot Club and Sage Gateshead
19-21 July 2013
If you live outside the North East of England, you probably haven’t heard of the SummerTyne Americana Festival which has just celebrated its 8th magnificent appearance on the local cultural agenda; but if you have heard of it you will know what a treat it is for Americana and Roots music fans across the region.
This Festival is held on the Southern side of the River Tyne and there are performances inside the magnificent Sage building and outside on the Jumping Hot Club stage which faces a grassy knoll that holds nearly 2,000 people and has been christened Shipcote Hill in deference to the man who is the forefather of the Jumpin’ Hot Club.
As has become tradition the weekend began at noon on Friday with an array of local acts performing to the largest crowds of their burgeoning careers; and first out of the blocks was Rob Heron and the Teapad Orchestra whose glorious mixture of vintage Jazz, Blues and anything with rhythm was just perfect for lunch in the Tyneside sunshine.
After a short and well choreographed switch-over by the technicians, a brand new group called Gathering Sky featuring chanteuse Hannah Rickard, captivated the ever growing crowd to a luscious mixture of Modern Folk with a nice Americana edge to it.
Why Gem Andrews; who recently captivated audiences in Canada with her blend of sweet Alt-Country should still be playing the Jumping Hot Club Stage and not headlining Hall 2 leaves me baffled; but alongside her band, she wowed the every growing crowd and the queue hoovering up her CD at the end suggested she will be playing that inside stage very soon.
I must hold my hands up and say I’m friends with Record Producer Colin Mee; but this was the first time I’d seen his Rockabilly trio the Mee Kats and; boy were they the perfect music to dance to as the crowd suddenly doubled in size with people leaving work early to take advantage of the sunshine and free music.
Friday afternoons’ at SummerTyne normally attract 3-400 people but when the Kilcawley Family sang their beautiful Appalachian influenced Hand To Mouth there must have been over 1,000 people enjoying Damon’s intricate guitar and Louiza playing her Auto-harp and singing like an Angel. This young duo is definitely worth looking out for, either live or on You Tube.
The stage hands ran around like dervishes setting up Mic’s and amps for the next two bands; Fickle Lilly and Big Red & The Grinners who are two of the best ‘party bands’ in the country and from the opening bars of the Lilly’s good time R&B to the raucous sing-a-long Bluegrass pop songs of the Grinners, beer was drunk; feet were tapped and smiles were smiled by everyone in the vicinity of Sage Gateshead.
Half way through Big Red’s performance I had to skulk away to attend the Festival launch party inside the main building. Normally this can be something of an effort as it can be full of self-aggrandizing speeches but tonight we were treat to songs by two of my heroes; John Langford from the Waco Brothers, who sang Johnny Cash’s Big River and then Raul Malo, looking remarkably casual, who delivered a note perfect Blue Bayou which had the hair on the back of my neck standing on end.
Because of my unfamiliarity with local transport I was running a little late for the 12 noon start on Saturday but still managed to hear one and a half songs from the incredible McCrarry Sisters who were doing a 15 minute performance in the main thoroughfare of the Sage building in front of 100 or more people who blocked my way. I was later to hear great things about their performance the previous evening supporting Matthew E White, who split opinions with what sounded like a lacklustre performance.
When I eventually got to the outside stage The King Bees were introducing their first song; the classic Caledonia that went on to blow away any cobwebs on the music fans who were already filling the quaintly named Shipcote Hill.
It would be wrong to say I was disappointed with their laid back R&B; especially with their magnificent interpretation of St. James Infirmary; but I was expecting a fiery performance like the one I’d seen at Christmas when they had reminded me of the Yardbirds.
In the blink of an eye The King Bees exited stage left and were immediately replaced by five exotically garbed young ladies named The Rainbow Girls. Like the vast majority of the ever growing crowd I’d not heard of them; but their infectious brand of Folk music won our hearts as they effortlessly switched instruments and each took turns at lead vocals.
As the band started their set it appeared that there was a problem with the sound; but instead of panicking, one of the singers began a game of higher/lower with the crowd and the engineer until an acceptable level was met which received a huge cheer from band and audience.
Later that night the Rainbow Girls played to a packed pub in central Newcastle as part of the fledgling Fringe Festival. As you do at Festivals I had to miss their last 10 minutes and the first 15 minutes of The Mighty Phil Lee; to run inside the Sage to catch an afternoon gig by Larkin Poe; but that was a small price to pay as the Lovell Sisters just get better and better with their own brand of infectious Folk-Rock.
What used to be a straightforward Folk act has developed rapidly with the addition of a Fender Jaguar and a really exciting Rickenbacker lap-steel; giving the young sisters the opportunity to ‘Rock’ as well as any band on the Alt-Country scene at the moment.
It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I actually had to run down a steep flight of stairs and along the foyer; scoffing on a sandwich so I could see the final half hour of Phil’s set.
Last seen here a couple of years ago as part of the East Nashville Collective; the Quixotic songwriter already had the crowd in the palm of his hands when I squeezed alongside some friends at the foot of Shipcote Hill. I’d missed it; but friends were still talking about a story about the night Phil caught his girlfriend in bed with her husband!
In a weekend of highlights and memories Bill Kirchen joining the Mighty King of Love for a splendid rendition of A Night in a Box was certainly one of mine.
As the stage was rearranged there was an excitable buzz around the site as people discussed Phil Lee’s performance and; others like me, waited with baited breath for the legendary Bill Kirchen who is a regular visitor to the Jumpin’ Hot Club.
There was absolutely no reason to worry as the silver haired Titan of the Telecaster blew the crowd away with a tight set made up of tracks from his latest album; SEEDS AND STEMS, which had a group of ladies who may, or may not have ‘taken a drink’ line-dancing to Semi-Truck (surely a career first!) and his 12 minute version of Hot Rod Lincoln had hundreds of people smiling and punching the air with joy every-time he played a riff from a favored guitarist.
Although the Jumpin’ Hot Club stage is run with military timing; a standing ovation from the 2,000 strong crowd was rewarded with an encore; and what a song to play at an Americana Festival; Streets of Baltimore; sent a shiver down my spine.
I wouldn’t want to have been the act to follow Bill; and Alt-Country’s latest sweetheart, Brennan Leigh alongside Noel McKay looked decidedly nervous through their first couple of songs; but a sympathetic crowd cheered and applauded every song, dispelling the couple’s fears until smile eventually lit up their faces; although their intimate songs may have been better suited to a more intimate venue.
As we waited for Leeroy Stagger to appear I was privy to fun ‘discussion’ about Matthew E White’s performance the previous evening with three people agreeing on his ‘cavalier attitude towards his fans’ and ‘carefree; bordering on a Jazz like approach to his songs’ but one friend thought it was ‘a memorable spectacle’ another ‘memorable but would not go to see him ever again’ and the other said he would punch him if he ever saw him!
Leeroy Stagger’s raw Alt-Country also managed to split opinion; but only because it was either ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ and his version of Neil’sCinnamon Girl was another highlight of an exceptional day of music.
Not that the day was over; because, as fans in Cowboy hats packed their bags and deck chairs away and headed off into the sunset; they were replaced twofold by Soul-boys and Soul-girls who got their Saturday night started with a party that launched local hero John Turrell’s debut solo album on the JHC stage.
I was already privy to the album; which hits the shops in September and love the raw Blues thread that weaves through each soulful track, so it was amazing to see and hear the response of fans, old and new to the songs agree with me.
Starting with the funkalicious To The City and ending with over 100 people dancing to a cool groove John Turrell and the newly christened Heed Band proved that Soul; and British Soul at that, is every inch a part of Americana music as Country and Western.
Which all brings us to third and final day; Sunday; which began with Blues duo, Monkey Junk who have their own Club night every Thursday in Newcastle and are making waves right across the country with their adaptations of Classic and rare Delta Blues songs by Son House, Bukka White and the like.
Andy Turnbull’s slide guitar playing was extraordinarily clever, for one so young and singer John Nellist’s voice was as authentic as Eric Burden who hails from the same part of the same city; Newcastle.
Although the sun wasn’t shining today, the crowd on the Sage concourse was much larger than you’d have expected for 1pm; but fans had travelled from far and wide to see ex-Mekon, current Waco Brother and all around renaissance man John Langford; whose paintings were being displayed inside the main auditorium perform a selection of songs from throughout his varied career.
Alongside pianist Barkley McKay, Langford launched into Walking on Hell’s Roof (looking at the flowers) and proved you don’t need a big band to make a big noise!
Still looking ‘well refreshed’ after performing at a fringe event the previous evening, Langford appeared a little taken aback by the adulation that his fans were showing; but also looked like he was having the time of his life; even if requests for Mekons songs were left in the wind I can now die a happy man after seeing one of my musical heroes perform Nashville Radio in all its glory.
Alongside another 30 or so ‘Stage Door Johnnies’ I was still hanging around the merch desk as John signed autographs, posed for photos and sold CD’s and paintings to an assortment of portly middle aged men; so missed the beginning of Polly and the Billet Doux set. This was partly through choice as I remember them being to the dark side of Folk Rock; but as I reappeared in front of the stage I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they have now added melodies to their repertoire.
I’d never seen the next singer before; but several friends were very excited that Brendan Croker (ex-Notting Hillbillies) was appearing on the JHC stage. What he does, he does very well but this was too Folky for my personal taste, but I did like one song – Oh Mary; and his guitar had to be seen to be believed! It’s virtually impossible to describe; so I’ve included a photo for you to see for yourself.
A friend, who is a singer in a Rock and Roll band had suggested on the Friday that I shouldn’t miss the Shivering Sheikhs, from Glasgow and he was right. Dressed in immaculate matching outfits they were like a breath of fresh air with their fun time Rockabilly and quirky dancing.
Possibly the biggest and best surprise of the whole weekend was David Wax Museum who had the unenviable task of following the Sheikhs; but they took this as a challenge eventually receiving a well deserved standing ovation and cries for more. Resplendent in a striped blazer and straw hat, Wax wasn’t as quirky as his appearance suggested he might be and the trio seamlessly moved through every genre of Americana with the greatest of ease; and Suze Slezak amazed us with her dexterity on not only an accordion but a genuine donkey’s jawbone which was used as a musical instrument.
The free part of the festival had to come to an end sometime and who better to close the show than Tom Russell? Russell opened with Our Lady of Guadalupe with guitarist extraordinaire Thad Beckman; sitting alongside looking cooler than Paul Newman.
Tom Russell concerts are notorious for the long stories that intersperse the songs; but today he had to squeeze a two hour set into one hour; and thankfully Russell was on good form, replacing long-winded stories with jokes; occasionally told directly to a couple of young children who looked totally bewildered; but Tom carried on regardless much to everyone’s delight; including his own.
Songs were included from throughout his career and I was pleased to hear the crowd prepared to sing along to the tatatatdada chorus of Stealing Electricity; even though 80% had never heard the song before.
With a catalogue of songs as long as his arm I was thrilled he included Blue Wing; done as a duet with Thad; who has a deeper voice than Johnny Cash!
As the hour flew by I nudged my friend Steve at one stage and cupped my ear. He looked puzzled, until I whispered ‘Silence’;which was noticeable as the best part of 2,000 people listened almost reverentially to songs they’d never heard before but all knew that they were in the presence of someone very special.
The afternoon and Festival were meant to end with Russell’s signature tune –Tonight We Ride; with well choreographed ‘roars’ from the crowd at the appropriate moments; but for the second time of the afternoon and only the second time in eight years of the Jumpin’ Hot Club SummerTyne Festival; Russell was given a standing ovation and made to come back for an encore.
After a hurried discussion with Thad, they decided on Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall? Which kept the crowd on their feet to shout along with the chorus and punch the air in solidarity with their Mexican brethren.
What a weekend! SummerTyne may not be the largest or even coolest Festival of the Summer but it is coming dangerously to becoming Americana’s best kept secret.
You can hear a selection of music from SummerTyne artists here on the Jumping Hot Club Radio Show Pod-cast