LIVE REVIEW: Tipping Point Live @ Various Venues, Newcastle (21 – 22.06.19) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Friday 21st & Saturday 22nd June by Ali Welford
Right off the bat, I’ll admit to approaching Tipping Point Live with a degree of cynicism. Introduced by local agency Generator as a successor to the much-loved Evolution Emerging, the revamped festival amplified its predecessor’s increasingly industry-centric focus, featuring all manner of talks, workshops and family events atop of the usual musical offerings. There’s no doubt Evolution Emerging outgrew its origins as a grassroots alternative to the Quayside’s chart-friendly Evolution Festival – yet the organisers’ promise of an event that’d prove “bigger, fresher and better than ever,” never rang entirely true.

For starters, although the inaugural Tipping Point Live extended proceedings over two days, the actual programme of live performances was notably reduced. With greater emphasis on acts from further afield – including a ‘name’ headliner in Bill Ryder-Jones – this inevitably meant less room for local artists, and consequently a line-up bearing few genuine revelations. Sure, there was no deficit in quality among those selected, but the majority were already established stalwarts on the local circuit, with many indeed having featured on previous Evolution Emerging bills. Moreover, it’s tempting to wonder who this new incarnation was actually geared towards. Many artists will doubtless have benefitted from a Spotify masterclass and endorsements from some of the more influential ears on site, but while £22 was hardly unreasonable it’s clear that paying punters were low on the list of priorities. Add a sterile promotional campaign into the mix, and the experience often felt less like a celebration of up-and-coming creatives, and more like witnessing musicians’ practical seminar assignments.

Now that that preliminary rant’s out of my system, let’s focus on the stuff that Tipping Point Live did get right. For all my qualms over its lack of freshness, the line-up taken at face value was a strong one, offering plenty of diversity and options catering for a wide range of tastes. Despite feeling geographically detached from the rest of the festival, The Star and Shadow Cinema and Blank Studios were excellent and natural additions to the usual pool of Ouseburn venues – the former lending its space to a pair of specially commissioned performances, while the latter provided ample intimacy and superb acoustics for some of the weekend’s standout sets. The introduction of a specialist jazz stage at The Cluny 2 was another canny move, and it was this which had me most enticed heading into Friday.

Firstly, though, I spent a couple of hours sampling the evening’s other venues, beginning in The Cluny’s main room where Mt. Misery got the weekend underway. Centred around the songwriting of leader Adam Smith, the dungaree-sporting quartet’s plaintive indie evoked little in me, proving neither deficient enough to offend nor distinct enough to inspire. In fairness, though, I only caught their tail end – hardly enough to pass sound judgement. Worry Party on the other hand are a trio I’ve seen plenty of this year; though never in a room that’s provided their minimal R&B with so apt a showcase as Blank Studios. Relishing the opportunity, their set reflected both the increasing prominence of co-vocalist Laura Hilton and the group’s unlikely post-hardcore origins, with Placebo’s Nancy Boy and The Movielife’s Jamestown given sultry, improbably alluring reworks.

Ostensibly the work of Josh Ingledew, tonight saw Spell Token balloon into a full five-piece outfit as one of The Star and Shadow’s specially commissioned projects. Certainly, they spared no expense, adorning the stage with guitar, bass, drums, backing vocals and no less than three synths. If this all sounds a tad over the top, that’s largely because it was. Ingledew’s debut EP Perfect Present Tense is idiosyncratic and rammed with invention, but here its electronic pop delights were often stifled under the sheer congealed mass of sound. Commendably bonkers – but an idea which presumably sounded better in theory than in practise.

Back at Blank, there were no such issues for Me Lost Me, whose packed-out appearance was perhaps the weekend’s most predictable triumph. One of the North East’s most impressive performers, this was yet another case of Jayne Dent’s magnificent voice and beguiling folky electronics ensnaring a fresh clutch converts, with the rejigged murder ballad Bows of London even inspiring an unlikely audience singalong. If anything, the cuts from new climate catastrophe-themed EP The Lay of the Land were more stirring still, not least it’s spellbinding title track, which received a debut airing having only previously been played acapella.

With that, I took my leave from Warwick Street and headed down to The Cluny 2’s jazz stage, where I was greeted by a typically scintillating set from the brilliant Archipelago. Forever traversing new ground, the trio used their slot to debut some compelling new material, incorporating previously alien factors such as handclaps, crowd participation and a vocal from multi-instrumentalist Faye MacCalman. It was an invigorating taster – and if not there’d still have been the fillip of witnessing Christian Alderson behind his kit… what a drummer!

At this point, I’d planned to head back up to Blank to check out Cal Raasay before retracing my steps and catching the back end of Taupe, but given the arduous walk I elected to stay put and sample the latter in their entirety. It was a wise decision, and ultimately wound up being the high point of my weekend; an hour-long masterclass where avant-garde sensibilities met explosive noise terrorism with thrilling, incendiary results. Melding the physicality of drummer Adam Stapleford, guitarist Mike Parr-Burman’s unorthodox experiments and the extraordinary, almost demonic sound of Jamie Stockbridge’s sax, the likes of Get the Keys, Cosmonaut and ACFM exuded a combustible, face-melting vigour, rendering the remainder of the bill somewhat tame by comparison. Superb.

While Friday occasionally felt slightly flat, Saturday carried far more of a traditional Evo vibe, kicking off earlier in the day and seeing habitual stages like The Tyne Bar and The Cumberland Arms come into play. The majority of ticket holders turned out early too, with many gathering at The Cluny in time for Swine Tax’s opening set. Whereas recent shows have found the group bolstering their sound with honorary member Euan Lynn, today saw them revert to their core three-piece line-up. There were times where Lynn’s synth felt conspicuous in its absence – this year’s single Hold Your Own is a particular beneficiary – yet there was no curbing the band’s raucous spirit, as tunes such as I’d Like and thumping closer Natural Causes displayed both the adaptability and increasing depth running through their canon.

Next, I took a pleasant stroll down the Ouse towards The Tyne Bar for Reali-T, a Hackney-born, Newcastle-based MC who’s more accustomed to rapping about Ribena, paracetamol and super-soakers than alcohol, cocaine or firearms. Unfortunately, his appearance on the outdoor stage was dogged by sound issues – so much so that he frequently missed his cues owing to an almost complete lack of bass. It was a bit of a shitshow, frankly, and far from an ideal showcase for such a singular and likeable talent. At something of a loose end, I returned to the now jazz-free Cluny 2 to try out newcomers Blamaire. They’re hardly novices, but there’s no denying how impressive this was for only their third show. Indeed, while not entirely up my street their songs bore few rough edges, packing all the pomp and drama from which the best synthpop is often fuelled.

Up in The Cluny’s main room, The Noise & The Naïve were their usual effervescent, superlative selves, augmenting nuggets from their two brilliant EPs with fresh cuts Quiet Nap and the bizarre vocorded Vintage Mechanical. In all honesty I’m running low on new ways to compliment Anne Langourieux and Pauline Jacquey, and for all the familiarity there was a certain inevitability in them being my pick from day two. Next up on the same stage was a rather more placid figure in the shape of London singer-songwriter Brooke Bentham, whose best moments had me recalling one of my favourite records of the year thus far, Julia Jacklin’s devastating break-up masterpiece Crushing. The wistful and melancholic I Need Your Body was a particular highlight, yet it didn’t take long for my attention to wander – namely as to whether she’d have been better suited to one of the event’s quieter, more intimate stages.

Craving something a little livelier, I returned to The Cluny 2 for Dead Naked Hippies, a Leeds trio who’ve become regulars in the North East and have never failed to impress on previous visits. A truly magnetic presence, singer Lucy Jowett led another fiery showing which peaked with new single Eyes Wide, a hefty riff monster and arguably the most exhilarating realisation to date of their scuzzy lo-fi punk aesthetic. Finally, with little enthusiasm for any of the alternatives, I followed-up on a tip by scaling the steps to The Cumberland Arms and concluding my festival with Grace Gillespie. Flanked by a three-piece band, the Devon songwriter proved a pleasant note on which to round things off, even if these live renditions paled compared to the lush, even psychedelic stylings of her recorded output. Still, with new EP Pretending imminent, tonight acted as a charming taster. I for one will be giving the record a spin when it drops this Friday.

When evaluated as a whole, there’s little doubt the inaugural Tipping Point Live will be deemed a success. The event ran smoothly, performances were generally well attended, and quality-wise the bulk of them were more than up to par. Some of the additional events seemed to go down well too – particularly Bernard Butler’s songwriting workshop, in which the former Suede guitarist enlisted members of Headclouds, Waves of Dread and more to arrange local duo Talk Like Tigers’ song Metallic Light.

As loathe as I am to refer to past Evolution Emergings, however, from a punter’s perspective this new festival just wasn’t as much fun. 12 months ago, I went from watching the gloriously dumb doom-surf of Cheap Lunch at Cobalt to witnessing Jennifer Walton dropping donks at The Cumberland Arms and people doing backflips from pool tables as Ronin Clan tore up The Tanners Arms. It’s no slight on the musicians who did feature, but with the exception of Taupe this weekend offered no such anarchy. If anything, this is emblematic of the aforementioned lack of risks apparent in its line-up; a boldness which could do with returning if Tipping Point Live is to prove a truly worthy successor. 

Saturday 22nd June by Damian Robinson
Seemingly getting better and better each time they perform live, Swine Tax open this year’s main stage with their inspired Gang of Four meets Blur (‘Blur’ era) wail of post punk, loud guitars and spiky anger.  Edgy and experimentational, the Tax boys do what they do best in their allotted 30 minutes; playing the hell out a bunch of interesting art punk tracks, pulling strange on-stage faces, and setting a huge benchmark for other acts. New song Relax and older favourite Tory water steal an almost perfect set.

Sticking around at The Cluny, Freese Trio are up next with their abstract three-piece electro jazz.  Consisting of keys, vocals, bass and drums the Freesers produce an interesting soundscape which focuses around funky bass grooves and emotive vocals.  Highlights Dig and Anchors focus a set which is experimental, intensely delivered, and almost drum n bass breakbeat in places. 

A run up to the newest venue on the festival line up, Kaleidoscope, is perfectly timed to see one-man electronic studio and hip-hop star John Dole and his blend of interesting dark electro.  Working both the live production as well as providing the rhymes, Dole’s set peaks at its most intense moments where his flow broaches into gender politics and rebellion.  It’s a perfect warm up for local grime act NE Dons who are up next with their blend of intense delivery and lyrical warfare.  Led by well-choreographed deliveries from MC’s Castle and Ne-o the Dons set is perfectly delivered in a set which begins with a ‘straight’ delivery of current tracks taken from the recent Ep Imminent before moving into an eskimo set of cut ups and mixed deliveries of older tracks (including stand out ‘Nang’).  Led by dj/producer $onny the Dons set is a firestorm from the word go and particularly impresses both for energy and attitude during the final fifteen minutes. They really are on sparkling form.

Bill Ryder Jones closes out the day at The Cluny with his usual blend of melancholic guitar pop matched with between song humour.  Having spent the day visibly walking around Tipping Point, Jones is in a relaxed mood this evening yet manages to pull out raw emotion when it matters, including on showstopper ‘Daniel’.  With 2019’s Yawn album already standing out as one of the albums of the year Jones’ does what he needs to, which, really, is to reproduce tracks which will be anthems one day soon.

A diverse and well delivered day, Tipping Point proves that there are pockets of brilliance in the local scene.  If there’s any justice we’ll see some of these acts on national festivals this time next year.

Photos by Damian Robinson

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