SummerTyne 2014 review

photos from this Festival are available here–

Wow, it’s taken nearly two weeks for me to get my breath back after another frantic and wonderful SummerTyne Americana Festival. As I say every year, the crowds turn up not knowing anyone on the Jumping Hot Club Outside stage and go away with their favourite new artist of the year.

Starting at noon on Friday, the outside stage hosted seven local acts, all with their feet firmly ensconced in what we all know and love as Americana. In baking sunshine, JHC Impresario Shipcote and his band of Friends opened proceeding with 45 glorious minutes of old timey country swing music that had the growing crowd clapping and smiling along to in equal measure. 

Sadly, as they left the stage, a big black rain cloud hovered on the horizon and literally put a dampener on proceedings. Paul Handyside and cohort Rob Tickell attempted to regale us with deep dark tales, in keeping with the sky, but they weren’t able to build on Shipcote’s reverie, which was a shame.

Within minutes of Paul and Rob heading backstage, the sun made an appearance, casting a lovely glow on Rosie and the Hips, whom I’d not seen before. Vikki Price’s glorious voice will soon have me travelling great distances to see a proper gig sometime soon.

Next out of the traps was local singer-songwriter, socialist activist, and all around nice bloke Tony Bengtsson and Band. As expected, they gave a really punchy performance, full of powerful lyrics and plenty of “guitar shapes” from Comrade Bengtsson. Great bands like this are what this festival manages to deliver every year.

The sun was now high in the sky and plenty of office workers were drifting onto the site, as the delightful Lesley Roley pulled up a chair and wowed the crowd with her sweet country tunes and excellent guitar picking. It has to be mentioned that Ms. Roley was wearing her jeans tucked inside a pair of very sexy cowboy boots — a purchase on a recent recording trip to Nashville.

All of the seats and tables on the concourse were now full, and what is affectionately known as Shipcote Hill was covered with sweaty bodies when Gateshead’s premier Bluegrass troupe, the Kentucky Cowtippers made their first appearance in four years. Halfway through their first song, some “relaxed” fellas were frantically dosey-doing in front of the stage, much to everyone’s amusement. There was already a queue at the merch table to buy the band’s new CD when they appeared from behind the stage, and I was told it had sold out by Saturday afternoon.

Closing the Friday afternoon show on the outside stage was Geordie legend Archie Brown, with a quality quartet that included violinist Bradley Creswell from the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra. He performed an intricate and passionate three-minute solo which received a standing ovation. This and Archie’s infectious rhythm & blues was the perfect way to end day one.

A quick dash inside the main hall meant I got to see and hear John Fulbright perform two beautiful songs as part of the official introduction to the local dignitaries and rapscallions from the music business.

After a late night watching Chuck Prophet perform alongside an eight-piece string section from the Sinfonia, then John Fulbright in concert at 10:30, I was surprisingly bright-eyed the following lunchtime as Geordie rockabilly princess, Hannah Rickard and the Relatives, got the show on the road with some toe-tapping rock and roll that had plenty people dancing when they would normally have been in a supermarket. For the uninitiated, Hannah has a fantastic voice and is absolutely also the hardest working woman in showbiz. She performs regularly in three different bands, on an array of local albums, and she plays fiddle in folk goddess Kathryn Tickell’s touring band.

Just as Hannah sang her last note, I hightailed it into the Sage to see twenty 20 of highly acclaimed duo the Shires. That taster confirmed what I’d heard, and another name went in the notebook for future consideration.

With a cup of coffee and an apple in hand for lunch, I returned to the outside stage to see Welsh folk singer Lowri Evans,whose album I reviewed last year. While I like her songs, I’m still to be convinced that they fitted into the Americana theme, especially when sung in her native Welsh language. But, the reception from the large audience meant genres were there to be broken and my thoughts counted for nothing.

I slightly cut short Lowri’s performance to see the delightful Gem Andrews on the Americana UK Showcase Stage inside the building, but got my timings wrong and just got to say hi as she carried her guitar case to the car park. This meant I was in the right place to see another Welsh act — Zervas and Pepper — who very nearly took my breath away. Zervas looked and sounded uncannily like a young James Taylor and the blonde-haired Pepper (their real surnames) had a crystal clear voice just perfect for harmonizing. I got to see them again the following evening supporting Berkley, Hart, Selis, and Twang.

As they finished, I had to scurry back out into the sunshine to see London band the Snakes on the JHC Stage. As I squeezed in alongside some friends on the stone steps beside Shipcote Hill, it was difficult to imagine why they’d been booked. They were all competent musicians and certainly looked the part in de-riguer denim, beards, and shades but there must be at least 20 similar bands within a stone’s throw of the stage. Hey ho; what do I know?

As they finished their set, I was in deep conversation with friends who had travelled from Nottingham for the weekend. They in turn introduced me to some fans from South Yorkshire, who in turn pointed to some other attendees from Shropshire, North Wales and Scotland. I was later introduced to others who had travelled hundreds of miles to visit our little local music festival, making me feel a little bit proud on behalf of everyone involved.

Checking my watch, I knew I only had ten minutes worth of red hot bluegrass from the Hot Seats, who had plenty of people dancing in-between the tables. I headed in doors to see a singer-songwriter that Michele McCallion from Sage-Gateshead had recommended: Gabriel Kelley from Athens, Ga., who was also part of the Americana UK Showcase sessions.

To say I was blown away would be an understatement! Not only does Kelley possess an enchanting voice but his story-songs were a joy — occasionally bittersweet and always listenable. The ladies are just going to fall in love with the be-whiskered, musclebound hunk. (There’s a sentence I never expected to type). As the weekend progressed, Kelley seemed to be shadowing me, turning up at all the gigs I went to see and also standing beside the outside stage catching acts he’d never previously heard of. (Watch out for my CD reviews.)

When I left Hall 2, I couldn’t understand why the foyer was so full, as Jumpin’ Hot Club regular Otis Gibbs was due on stage. Then I realized that the Heavens had opened and a storm was in full flow. This didn’t stop the hardcore troubadour who was entertaining several hundred stoical music fans sitting huddled under a myriad of multi-coloured umbrellas and bin bags. Gibbs regaled them with his wonderful stories and a mixture of old and new songs that would have done Woody Guthrie proud. Even now, two weeks later, social media is awash with complimentary words about this performance. A legend was created.

The rain was still pouring in from three directions as Big Joe Louis and His Blues Kings set up their gear, starting rumours that the festival may be brought to an abrupt end. But, the decision was deflected as the clouds eventually disappeared and the sun came out as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Big Joe and his sartorially dressed Band took advantage of the good mood and gave us a master’s class in cool blues and R&B, plus they looked pretty damn funky in their flares and neon shirts.

I was now flagging so continued chatting with friends I hadn’t seen for a long while and was therefore sitting comfortably on the grass, when the Magnolia Sisters came on stage looking a little shell-shocked at the size of the crowd facing them. But what a joy their Cajun-dancehall mix was; with kids from 6 to 60 strutting their stuff with smiles on their faces.

While they were playing their final tune, I made my way back inside for a wash and brush-up before seeing the Jayhawks (disappointing) and Marc Ford (bloody awful!). I got side-lined when I saw my favourite Delta blues duo, Monkey Junk, setting up. Halfway through their first song, they already had three hundred perplexed music fans in the palm of their hands. There aren’t many laughs in their songs, but the way these two throw themselves into the songs they certainly puts a smile onto the grumpiest of faces.

After my disappointment seeing the Jayhawks, my love of rock music was restored with a staggering set from Dan Baird and Warner E Hodges who were going under the moniker of the Bluefields. They not only took my breath away, but very nearly blew my shoes and socks off with a terrific mix of songs from their three albums.

After another late and relatively drink-free evening, I was walking through the Sage concourse when my ears pricked up as I approached a relatively large crowd watching The SummerTyne Choir. They are made up of an assortment of volunteers from the region. Many sing in church choirs, but the majority are just people who fancy giving it a go, and every year they produce something that takes you by surprise.

This morning they were led by and joined by Yolanda from Phantom Limb, who performed a version of “Delta Dawn” that was genuinely spine tingling. What a way to start the day.

Because of my new-found love for a choir singing gospel music, it meant I was late for the first band of the day on the Jumping Hot Club Stage. Fickle Lilly have a sexy and sassy female singer and a crackpot long-haired guitarist, but their mic of infectious R&B, ska and old fashioned rock and roll was just what the Boogie Doctor ordered. People were already dancing by 12:10.

I have to confess that I thought I knew who the second act of the day was going to be, but when I saw the six-foot-something lad with a mop of curly hair setting up, I realized I’d made a mistake. Dan Owen was billed as Blues Boy, but could easily have been “Baby Face” as he looked so goddamn young. He even looked too big for the stool, as he huddled over his jumbo acoustic guitar. The opening 30/40 seconds of the first song was made up of some intricate blues noodling; but when he opened his mouth, a primeval sound came up from his toes. I swear that there was an audible gasp from the hundreds sitting on Shipcote Hill.

During his third song, the great and the good were seen hurrying from the bar in the main building after being texted by friends to “come and see this kid!”

After 40 minutes of some of the rawest Delta blues I’ve ever witnessed, an encore was demanded by the crowd, who were standing in adulation as a bemused singer was sent back to the middle of the stage.

Every year, SummerTyne throws up something unexpected and memorable. This year it was Dan Owens and his foot-stompin’, heart racing blues from the soul, which left 1,300 Geordie music fans open-mouthed, in awe.

I could easily have spent the next 20 minutes talking to my gobsmacked friends about the young singer, but I had a genuine legend to see. I had to run (walk breathlessly) to Hall 2 to see Ethan John on the last night of his European Tour; not because I’m a fan but because BJ Cole was playing pedal steel! That name may not mean a lot outside these shores, but I doubt if there’s ever been a steel player as good or as influential. (Watch out for my “Why London Pub Rock begat Alt. Country” article in the New Year).

After half an hour worshipping at the great man’s feet (bedecked in co-respondent shoes) I had to scurry out to see the unfeasibly young and talented Buffalo Skinners and their bluegrass-flavoured hoedown music. After four year,s I’m still stunned how good these lads are and how authentic they sound. (They hail from the rolling hills of North Yorkshire, not Carolina as you’d expect).

If you follow my writing here, you will know that I have a soft spot for local minstrel Martin Stephenson in any and all of his guises. Today he was meant to be promoting his Bumper Brown album alongside guitarist Jim Hornsby, but he rocked up with a full band in tow, much to the consternation of the sound crew. Martin is Martin and, as long as the basics were covered, the show would go on. And what a show it was! Mr. Stephenson was in his element, poking fun at anyone who dared walk in front of the stage, which included a gig-long gag with a little girl dancing astride a hobby horse (cue Godfather jokes). In between, he sang his Greatest Hits. Hearing 1,300 people singing along to the chorus of “Left Us to Burn” will live with me forever, as will Martin cajoling the devilishly handsome saxophone player Jason Isaacs into singing Bobby Darin’s “Across The Sea,” which is the cornerstone of his award-winning Rat Pack act.

Everyone was still buzzing with excitement as even more fans arrived specifically to see Britain’s premier alt-country combo Danny and the Champions of the World. They took to the stage looking like refugees from a bar fight in East Nashville. An afternoon like this is just perfect for their blend of twangtastic country songs that are as humorous and as full of pathos as anything written in the London suburbs are allowed to be. Their set was predominantly from last year’s Stay True album, with a couple of oldies thrown in for boring old farts like me.

The sun was still shining and the (extortionally expensive) beer and wine were flowing in Biblical proportions as I Draw Slow delighted the crowd with their Irish-Appalachian folk hybrid. I knew very little about the band in advance, but was mightily impressed with singer Louise Holden’s voice and her ability to clog dance in cowboy boots. They will go down in SummerTyne history, because the double bass slowly collapsed mid-song with Konrad Liddy playing on manfully, as technicians ran to his aid. If that wasn’t enough, a replacement bass was produced as if by magic (who packs a spare double bass?) and the band, who had NOT stopped playing, finished their song with the requisite amount of instruments. Now that, my friends, IS rock and roll!

After their amazing performance at last year’s inaugural Jumpin’ Hot Jamboree, word had obviously gone round and hardly anyone had left, and many who were here for the evening shows surrounded the stage to see Davina and the Vagabonds rock the joint with some of the finest danceable New Orleans honky-tonk you’ll ever hear. The band, including the sexilicious Davina herself, are consummate showmen. But, boy can they play, and boy can they write a song.

By the time they belted out “Lipstick and Chrome,” there must have been over 100 people dancing in front of the stage and some of them actually knew what they were doing. The show had to come to an end. Davina’s rendition of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” was positively spine-tingling, before they evolved into “St. James Infirmary Blues,” which had the crowd roaring their approval at the end. An encore was rightfully demanded, so watches were checked and shoulders shrugged by nervous officials as the band came back on and deliberated before launching into “(Won’t You Please Come Back) Bill Bailey,” which had absolutely everyone on their feet, shuffling their feet at the very least.

That was it. SummerTyne #9 on the Jumping Hot Club stage was another roaring success, with the obligatory “something for everyone.” This year, even the rain couldn’t beat us. Here’s to next year, which promises to be the best yet (if whispers I heard are to be believed).

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