17th – 19th July 2015
What a weekend! How do those fine folks at the Sage Gateshead and Jumping Hot Club do it year after year, after year? Over the course of the three days I wandered around photographing and talking to music fans of all ages and persuasions and, by common consensus, the balance of acts this year was excellent; possibly the best ever.
As ever Friday afternoon was given over to local North Eastern acts covering the gamut of Roots and Americana music and by golly gosh, we’ve got some diamonds in the rough up here.
At noon Shipcote strode to the microphone and got the weekend on a roll by introducing quirky songstress Caroline Mary who was soon followed with a cool blast of 60’s West Coast harmonious Country Rock from El Cid. Trust me; this time next year these ‘kids’ are so good they could and should be playing one of the halls inside Sage Gateshead.
The sun was shining and there wasn’t an empty seat in front of the stage and the grassy knoll known as Shipcote Hill was filling up nicely as Michael Littlefield sauntered onto the stage. Dressed in a natty sports jacket, smart trousers and shirt and sporting some delightful black & white co-respondent shoes the Blues Boy from the Ouseburn Delta then wowed the audience with an array of Delta Blues from the likes of Skip James and Leadbelly.
Friends of mine who hadn’t seen him before were still talking about his intricate guitar skills and amazing voice the following day.
Surely things had to go down hill now? Nope! Next up were Northumberland’s finest Folk-Rock band Gilded Thieves. Looking as if they had been beamed in by a time machine straight from Woodstock, their harmonies and musicianship were exemplary for ones so young. Two songs in particular stood out; Run and Siren (?) both featuring excellent guitar and violin interplay. Yet another name to put in the diary; and it was still only 4pm!
I have to make a confession here; as I’ve had a crush on Miss Mary ever since she played a guest spot at the Daintees Xmas Party a couple of years ago. For some reason she was missing her normal Rockabilly band the, Mister Rights; but instead formed a duo with living legend Joe Guillan on guitar. I will be diplomatic here and say the songs were ‘under rehearsed;’ but don’t let that put you off seeing her band; it will be a humdinger of a night; especially after hearing her blistering version of Fujiyama Mama.
By the time King Size Voodoo Traveller made their appearance at 5pm the crowd was by far the largest ever witnessed on a Friday afternoon and the KSVT set list of Prog infused rock covers went down well with a ‘well refreshed’ audience. With no CD’s or merchandise to speak of the hirsute and fulsome figured singer proceeded to give the crowd an impromptu striptease as a substitute. Very funny, but an image I’m still struggling to dismiss from my brain.
Two highlights spring to mind – changing the lyrics to Guitar Town to include Ashington and when the singer got over 1,000 people to holler “Bonjour!” to 1o French students standing watching.
Not for the first time the afternoon came to a close with the coolest Bluegrass band ever produced along the banks of the Tyne Delta or the Blue Hills of Derwentside. Their mish-mash of popular beat songs set to old-timey Country tunes had a whole host of people up on their feet dancing.
After half an hour I had to scurry inside the building for the ‘Press Launch’ (i.e. Free Beer and bait) which featured the magnificent McCrary Sisters performing three stunning a’ cappella Gospel Songs.
From there it was straight into Hall I to see Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.
I saw the duo perform here a couple of years ago and really enjoyed seeing them; but thought Rodney was a bit ‘restrained’ all evening.
Tonight nothing could have been further from the truth. Always allowing the silver haired songstress the limelight; Crowell occasionally took lead himself and Bring it on Home To Memphis was astounding – a real crowd pleaser in every sense.
Emmylou has always had one of the finest voices in Country music and over the last couple of albums she appears to have ‘grown into the new timbre’ possibly making her the genre’s Grande Dame?
When she duetted with Rodney on Love Hurts; it made me wonder what might it have sounded like if Gram had been a clean living boy and been on the stage tonight. He wasn’t and the couple made it their own; even drawing a standing ovation from pockets in the sold out venue.
I own six Emmylou albums and five from Rodney; but the only one I played prior to this weekend was Old Yellow Moon and I’m pleased to report that they sang several songs tonight; plus a smattering from the latest – The Travelling Kind.
As a man of a ‘certain age’ I absolutely loved tonight’s rendition of Back When We Were Beautiful. The show had been split into two sections and the two hours flew by; and Emmylou, Rodney and their hot band were quite rightly called back for an encore; and Stars on the Water brought an enchanting concert to a lovely close.
During the intermission I flitted along the corridor to see the legendary singer-songwriters Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham (review to follow).
At the end of those concerts my photo-pass meant I managed to pop in to see three songs from the Felice Brothers (not my thing – too whiny; but the audience all looked in awe and on Saturday I was privy to several animated conversations praising the gig).
I had to smile when I boarded the X1 bus to see quite a few people with plaid shirts, Cowboy hats and picnic boxes on their knees. Later; when we alighted at Gateshead it was like a psychedelic match day as over 100 people in ‘Festival attire’ all marched to the Sage in a long human snake.
When I turned the corner at the back of Sage Gateshead I was taken aback to see the top of Shipcote Hill already pretty full and the seated area packed; with several already hunkered down on blankets.
Opening the show today was a nervous looking young couple called Lewis and Leigh. They had absolutely nothing to worry about as their delicious harmonies and catchy Country-Folk songs like Devil’s in the Detail quickly won the crowd over.
Also, their interpretation of Elton John’s Country Comfort was one of my highlights of the whole weekend.
As soon as their set ended it was a quick dash inside to see 15 minutes of the trio Red Sky July; who came highly recommended. While they were ‘very good at what they did’ their songs were a bit to twee and polished for my tastes; but the large crowd seemed happy enough judging by their applause.
One of my many ‘surprises’ over the weekend was the reaction to the welcome return of Hillfolk Noir. I’m a fan; but appreciate they are not normally to everyone’s taste, yet every song received rapturous applause and when Allison Ward played her saw (an actual wooden handled garden saw) with a bow; the crowd went wild.
It has to be noted too, that Travis played the first (but far from the last) Resonator guitar of the weekend; and what a joyous sound he made with it.
After half an hour I made a quick incursion inside the main building to see Mr. Shipcote playing 78RPM records. A decent size crowd had gathered to watch Shippy playing records on two genuine wind-up record players while a group of youngsters from Swing Tyne were ‘busting some serious olde timey moves.’ The music he played was so ‘hot’ one record player actually ended up in smoke as the motor burnt out!
On the way to see the double header with Callaghan and Jess & the Bandits I caught a couple of songs from a band called Assembly Lane, performing a pleasant mix of British Folk music and Alt. Country. Sadly that meant I missed Callaghan’s first three songs and my photo-pass couldn’t gain me access to the ‘house-full’ showcase; which had lots of Country fans drooling when I finally gained access to see Jess & the Bandits an hour later.
After that it was a hurried return to find the sun shining and Nashville Honkytonkers Suzette Lawrence were already tearing up the joint with some good old-fashioned Country Music the way it used to be.
Rudely cutting a conversation with some friends short; it was back inside Sage to see Jess & The Bandits.
Wow! What an amazing voice Jessica Clemmons has! Sweet as pie with a flirtatious manner and a bunch of songs (I only saw three) that are excellent had me cursing that I’d missed their visit to the JHC last year. (NB keep checking for ‘news’ http://www.jumpinhot.com/club_gigs.htm #wink)
On the way out I managed to catch two very intense songs by folk-singer Norrie McCulloch on the concourse. One song, the touching Black Dust was about his coalminer Grandfather and it held the crowd transfixed.
After my third strong cup of coffee of the day with some fruit and two catch ups with friends I hadn’t seen in years, I hardly any time to draw breath before it was back outside to see the legendary Welsh Rockabilly band the John Lewis Trio. Lewis and his compadres took up the baton from Suzette Lawrence and kept 50 or more people up dancing for their full set; although the blue duck who was the mascot of Stage sponsors DFDSS Seaways tried far too hard to join in the fun.
As John’s set drew to a close I scurried back inside Sage to catch the last 10 minutes of music that shook me to my Roots.
Every year the good people at Sage Gateshead slide something into SummerTyne so bizarre it shouldn’t work but invariably does; so hearing the Northern Sinfonia String Section playing (re-interpreting?) Classic Country tunes was beyond wondrous. Seriously; hearing Bradley Creswick and seven other classically trained violinists having the time of their lives was almost magical. Plus, they even included local legend Archie Brown on a rip-roaring version of Take Me Back to Tulsa.
The next act on the Jumping Hot Club stage divided opinion. I liked Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra but thought their darkly passionate, brooding songs would be more suited to the intimate Cluny II on a dark, dank night. Subsequently three friends have told me that they thought the band ere the best thing they’d seen this year!
A quick check of my watch and it was another dash inside to finally catch Callaghan who was performing an AMA-UK showcase. On the way I bumped into some neighbours from home, Cath and Mark who were with a bunch of friends queuing to see the singer. Before they got to the front of the line at the Lounge a ‘House Full’ sign went up! My photo-pass gained me access; so with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders I said “Adios!”
Playing guitar and accompanied by a cello Callaghan was absolutely outstanding. Another great voice with a bag full of excellent Country (story) songs; the best being If This Is Love and When You Loved Me; which both deserve further investigation.
Immediately after that short gig finished it was back downstairs to see the leather clad blonde bombshell Chloe Chadwick who was showcasing songs from her shiny new EP and long awaited LP (due soon – I hope).
After a day running around the site trying to see and photograph as many acts as possible, I was flagging as the latest ‘next big thing’ in British Country Music, Ward Thomas came on the Jumping Hot Club stage. More strong coffee and big chunk of sticky flapjack was in order.
Back outside the sun was shining and the crowd was getting dangerously close to the 2,500 capacity set by Gateshead Council, when the beaming sisters gathered their band for a ‘selfie’ with Shipcote Hill in the background.
What can I say? Ward Thomas’ infectious, danceable songs managed to keep on the edgier side of Pop-Country and by the end I was most certainly a convert. Their own songs were all very, very good but their take on Hozier’s Take Me To The Church was a highlight of the whole weekend. I can now see why everyone from the broadsheets to Sir Bob Harris are raving about them.
As the stage was re-set at least another 200 or more music fans mysteriously arrived and probably took the numbers present over the capacity. The opportunity to see the James Hunter Six for free money was an opportunity too good to miss; with fans travelling from Glasgow, Nottinghamshire and Liverpool just to see them.
While the area in front of the stage was packed at least 60 hardy souls found enough space to dance during the rasping opening track You Still Got a Way With You and another 100 or more dotted around the hill joined them over the next few songs. It’s that kind of music – Old School Rhythm AND Blues – every song a toe-tapper; even for me.
While every song was excellent James’s take on the 5 Royales (Baby) Don’t Do It really gave him the scope to stretch his extraordinary voice to its limits. The down side was his guitar amp stopped working; and after trying to kick it back into life, he took the guitar off and finished the song without missing a trick.
# In the greatest of confidence James told me the next album is due for release in early 2016. Don’t tell anyone; it’s a secret.
Within seconds of James’s last notes we were running over the Millennium Bridge for a quick bite to eat before returning to see Rosanne Cash and John Levanthal in Hall I.
Over the years I have been vocally indifferent to Rosanne Cash’s music; but within three songs tonight I was won over. How could I be so very wrong for so long?
With no band to aid them and just two acoustic guitars Rosanne and husband John Leventhal took my breath away with the beautiful simplicity of their songs all night; and Cash’s voice was so warm and clear I ordered three albums the following day!
The latest album The River and the Thread made up the bulk of the songs tonight; opening with Modern Blue and following it with The Sunken Lands with was introduced with a very personal story about her paternal Grandparents.
Baring in mind how I felt on entering the Hall, the majority of songs have 2 or 3 stars next to them in my notebook. Of the 3 star songs Tennessee Flat Top Box, Dreams Are Not My Own and the ever-wonderful Long Black Veil were all spine tinglingly good. But it was her rendition of arguably the greatest Country song of all time, Ode to Billie Joe that brought tears to my eyes and had my wife nudging me as she did too when Leventhal de-tuned his guitar for the last couple of notes to add even extra pathos.
Five minutes after the concert ended I nipped in to Hall 2 to photograph Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens while my wife watched The Black Feathers in the Concourse.
Sadly the crowd for Naomi Shelton was tiny but the band hit a groove immediately and when the singer finally made her entrance everyone (inc. me) seemed to have their Soul Shoes on.
When I finally found my wife the concourse was the fullest I’d seen it all day and the Feathers were going down a treat.
An excellent end to another wonderful day of music.
The sun was struggling to break through the heavy clouds when the Mush Collective took to the stage on Sunday. I’ve always struggled to describe their music as it’s a glorious mix of Folk, AOR and even a smattering of Jazz piano, but with everything revolving around Nicky Rushton’s amazing voice who cares about labels?
A friend from the People’s Republic of Scotia had recommended I see a band called The Bevvy Sisters and his words were spot on; with their Country meets Folk songs being just the refreshment my brain needed at that time of the day.
Back out on the JHC Stage it was the Lost Brother’s whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, but that wasn’t the case for quite a few people who sang along with every word. The Bother’s soft Irish harmonies and introspective folk songs pleased most people in the audience; many of whom made the effort to see them again on the inside café/concourse stage late in the day.
For what it’s worth I loved their version of Corrina Corrina, by the way; taking it right back to its raw roots.
One gig I’d promised myself I wouldn’t miss was John Lewis who had played with his trio the previous day; but was doing a solo slot promoting a new album on the AMA-UK Concourse stage. Of course I was stopped twice on the short walk between stages; once by a friend and also by a stranger who complimented me on the website (so I shouldn’t really complain). This meant I only got to see 20 minutes; but each minute was tip-top. This was a completely different side to the funsome Rockabilly singer and subsequently that album hasn’t been off my turntable. (Watch this space for a review).
Next up on the JHC Stage were the stars of the last Jumpin’ Hot Jamboree, Dom and the Iko’s who brought their own little bit of New Orleans to the grey, chilly banks of the River Tyne.
The whole band was immaculately dressed but I salute bandleader, singer and pianist extraordinare Dom Pipkin who not only wore a cream suit but also a bright red Fedora both of which matched his flamboyant piano playing and singing.
As the roadies cleared the stage there was a bit of a buzz going around; because this was the first time Northern Irish singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy had played Tyneside since Adam was a lad and it was apparent fans had come in vast numbers just to him.
Alongside friend and brilliant acoustic guitarist Gordon McCallister, Bap not only ‘stole the show’ with a set of songs from his last three albums; but all three went on to sell out at the merch desk.
I’ve travelled far and wide to see Kennedy’s occasional concerts; but todays may have been the best yet, with his voice never sounding finer with his banter between songs often hilarious. Plus; he had brought the World Famous Bap Kennedy Line-Dancing Troupe with him too – who expected dancing girls?
The first few songs of Hallelujah Trails set was spoilt by the weather not making its mind up if it was going to rain or not, meaning people were constantly putting and taking off coats; eventually keeping them on as it was so cold.
I knew nothing of Hallelujah Trails in advance but what I can only describe, as ‘Prog-Country’ was never less than interesting and will have me researching them over the next few weeks.
As another cup of coffee and a sandwich had my name on it I made my way to the café behind the concourse stage where someone called JD and the Straight Shot were playing. The band appeared to revolve around JD (?) who (I was told) wore a different hat for every song; and four young folk musicians. I only saw a couple of songs but thought they were a lot more Folk than Country and even then depended on ‘performance’ rather than their songs. Not for me.
The 5pm slot on the JHC Stage was given over to another band who are ‘rising Country stars’ – Della Mae from Boston out of Nashville.
Just like Ward Thomas the previous day; the future of Country Music (in this case Bluegrass) is in safe hands with groups like this. Making their UK debut and suffering from jet lag the young 5 piece played their respective instruments with skill way beyond their tender ages and you could have bathed in their harmonies; which brought a piece of Tennessee sunshine to a grey, cold and cloudy Tyneside.
Della Mae were so good, the crowd on Shipcote Hill demanded an encore and were so noisy they were given their way – a fabulous version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 16 Tons, which I think is the first ever encore in 10 years. Unless you know differently of course.
The posse of photographers who had flooded the stage area for Della Mae remained in position for final act of the Jumping Hot Club weekend, Moreland and Arbuckle.
I’d done my research in advance so squashed into a vacant slot at the foot of Shipcote Hill and sat back and thoroughly enjoyed an hour of dirty, swamp encrusted Southern Gothic Blues, the like of which I’ve never heard before. Okay you could mention, Bo Diddley, Alabama Shakes, Jack White and even RL Burnside but this trio genuinely have an accomplished but raw sound all of their own. I can’t think of a better way to close an amazing three days of FREE Roots music brought to you by the kind people at the Jumping Hot Club and Sage Gateshead.
When I went back into Sage Gateshead the concourse area was packed. I’d forgot that Zervas and Pepper were making a brief appearance on the AMA-UK stage. Pretty much playing their new album Abstract Heart the harmonious duo won a legion of new fans with their Laurel Canyon soft-rock songs.
From there it was straight into Hall I to see Jace Everett.
I firs saw him 7 or 8 years ago when he supported Guy Clark at this very festival. Woah there – things have changed somewhat. Gone are the introspective and clever acoustic songs and in comes a ‘Sting meets Bryan Adams’ full on Rock show. Plenty liked it; but it left me cold apart from the obligatory Bad Things and Little Black Dress.
For this I missed Cedric Burnside in Hall II – DAMN!
Hey ho; that still left the current ‘darlings off BBC Radio 2’ The Shires. Yet again any pre-conceptions were blown right out of the water from the get go.
This time last year they were shoe-horned into a 20 minute slot on the café stage and tonight they probably had more people in Hall II than Rosanne Cash the previous evening; and I was impressed that she had attracted nearly 2000 fans.
How good; and indeed how cool are the Shires? Every song was slick and assured but better and catchier than anything I’ve heard out of that there Nashville in 5 years or more.
Crissie and Ben sound as if they’ve been singing together since pre-school rather than the couple of years it really is.
Opening with the rousing Nashville Grey Skies the energy never stopped all evening with nearly every song being a sing-along; and even if it wasn’t meant to be the fans sang along anywise.
The title track of their debut album Brave was a doozy as was the fan favourite Friday Night; but their ballads show they have strength in depth; especially Black & White.
But and it’s not a very big ‘but’ the highlight for me was Made in England. Most songwriters who move away from home eventually write something similar; but this is the best I’ve heard – never mawkish or jingoistic but from deep, very deep in the heart and their souls.
After three 11 hour shifts I was actually buzzing with excitement as I made my way out of the Hall. As we slowly made our way through the crowds we were serenaded by the ‘mystery star’ who was closing the SummerTyne Festival – only Jess and the Bandits.
What a weekend – and next year’s dates are already in the diary!
Friday – http://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/SummerTyne-2015/
Saturday – http://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/SummerTyne-2015-SATURDAY/
Sunday – http://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/SummerTyne-2015/