Image: Kay Greyson by Martin Sharman
Some gigs are merely that: you turn up, a band plays their songs, you go home again. It’s a rare event when the band isn’t really a band, that the people involved (some of whom have never met before) make everything up as they go along; by its very nature it transcends the word ‘gig’, and becomes, at the risk of sounding very pretentious indeed, a ‘happening’.
From The Hip was precisely one of those rarities. Backed by a three-piece band, the great and the good from Newcastle’s hip-hop scene took to the mic and ripped the place to shreds with their rhymes. First up was Lion who, faced with opening the set, was subtle, tuneful and humourous. As the band warmed up they knocked out some beautiful chilled-out vibes, and his Transatlantic flow was the perfect foil. Just as he confessed he was “boring us”, which of course he wasn’t, up stepped Kay Greyson for some moral support, the two of them sharing airspace so naturally as if they’d been rehearsing all week.
Kay is a big name on the Newcastle hip-hop scene, having supported Pharoahe Monche earlier this year. When she talks to you she’s clearly from round these parts, but to hear her in action you’d believe she’s straight off the streets of Compton. In this context she’s got plenty to say, and her improvised quick-fire bars really have to be heard to be appreciated. Quite a talent.
Indeed, the off-the-cuff nature of the night is its inherent strength; bassist Joe Fannan from local heroes Velvoir kept the low end supplied throughout the night, and given that this was a three-hour marathon, deserves special mention for his stamina, not to mention encyclopaedic bass licks. Alex Lawton generated the drums via his Akai MPC, over which he literally bled when things got steamy later on; that’s dedication for you. Adam Sams on guitar, again from Velvoir, had a lovely line in jazzy arpeggios which were the bedspread upon which the performers laid for the first half of the set.
Then the guitarists changed places, and this time, by coincidence, it was your humble reporter himself that was pressed into service to play six strings for the second round. To say it was a blast is an understatement. Fannan’s improvisatory skills are second to none and Lawton was solid as a rock so we were happy just to jam, time becoming an irrelevant concept, denoted only by the superbly spat bars being related through the mic. And those bars were quite superb. Lay Back And Unwind and (Money Ain’t) The Root Of All Evil by Kay Greyson (I’ve no idea if they’re the actual names of the songs, but they should be) were instant classics.
It was when Ben Traviss, aka County Durham MC Absorb, took the floor, the room really kicked off. Not only does Absorb have the flow to drop everyone’s jaws, he’s also well versed in the rare art of getting a crowd going, and as the band ramped up the BPMs, the crowd submitted themselves to the peerless energy contained within Absorb’s rhymes. Fragments of his songs appeared now and again, somehow melding perfectly with what the band were playing, mixed with a scarcely believable improvisatory flow.
When Absorb had got everyone properly in the mood, the mic was passed around, and MCs Ben McMaster and Kevin Harrison joined those that had already played in a crowdsourced rap round robin. Even though the crowd numbered in the tens rather the hundreds, there was a feeling that we were witnessing something special, something that, given the correct exposure, could fill a much bigger venue. Arch 16 is well regarded for supporting scene-defining stuff such as this – one gets the impression that everyone would rather have people queuing outside the door than move to a more commercially minded venue.
From such little acorns can a whole scene grow, and from the evidence of what was on offer here tonight, Newcastle and Gateshead have a surfeit of hip-hop talent, willing and able to put their reputations on the line and play an unrehearsed show. As thrilling a show as you’re likely to see all year, there’s no doubt that From The Hip is going to become a fixture on the local scene.