Image by David Wala
James Leonard Hewitson‘s band is sound-tracking the final lazy days of summer perfectly as the first arrivals step through the entrance of the sophomore We Are Family Festival in Hartlepool. Airport-style security checks aside – are you really searching through that guy’s cigarette packet and wallet? – there was a feeling that this was going to be the final blowout of the local festival season.
More cautious – and wiser – attendees were already firmly ensconced in deckchairs in the temporarily commandeered car park of the soon to be defunct Jackson’s Landing complex. The once vaunted designer outlet is now deemed to be surplus to requirements and the wrecking ball was moving in on Monday. Will there be a new location for this successful addition to the North East music festival scene? Let’s hope so, because what WAF does really well is compile the local movers and shakers of the past year into a sort of “best bits” revue show for the more dedicated gig goers and provides somewhere nice for baldie Hartlepudlian gadgies to go and and get drunk with a bit of noise in the background.
Hewitson has been omnipresent lately. Lots of gigs, lots of promotion and serious interest from taste making music websites have shown that he is a star on the rise. The occasionally acerbic, between song quirk isn’t as obvious today but the needly wordplay of Care Less, Love Less closes his set beautifully. Hazy and lazy and perfectly observed; in the early autumn heat there are too few people in attendance at this point to really make an impression but it wouldn’t be surprising to see his band rising up the billing over the twelve months.
While JLH charmed the sparse outdoor crowd, the cavernous and suitably booming indoor space is filled by the rock sounds of Serinette. It’s difficult to know what to make of this Teesside rock band really. They’ve been around for a good while and despite a slew of well produced singles and videos and a vibrant lead in the form of Louise Radford, there’s something holding them back from really breaking out and being celebrated in the way other local acts currently are. It’s tempting to say that their sound is a little dated; harking back to the Brit rock days of the early noughties, but since when has retro been a bad thing? If there was a glorious revival of this era then Serinette would be in the vanguard but right now, the Zeitgeist is looking elsewhere for his kicks.
Social Room are a band for the #LADS though, aren’t they? Eh, lads? Their posturing Kasabian-lite is fairly underwhelming and that’s before they commit credibility suicide by doing a cover of Born Slippy. Somewhere (probably in a drunken, rehearsal room brainstorm sesh) this was a really good idea but honestly, please reassess. Without being unduly harsh, there’s a massive audience for this type of stuff and they were proficient with their swaggering indie rock but a knowing nod and wink to the derivative would go a long, long way.
A studied and enthusiastic set from Parastatic pulled the afternoon back from the brink of well-meaning but average. Instrumental post-rock loveliness isn’t perhaps the order of the day at a festival like this but provided the calm before the storm before Avalanche Party coil themselves up ready to strike.
Image by David Wala
Fresh from their recent triumphs at Reading and Leeds Festivals, they deserve to be higher up the billing than they are but when they do take to the stage there’s an undeniable feeling that you’re witnessing a band that is ready for the next level. They’re already huge rock stars; the world just needs to realise it. Jordan Bell’s mesmerising stage persona is just one aspect. That contemptuous stare beaming out across a half-full warehouse seems to draw people in but not pull them close enough to the stage for him to engage in the usual barrier sing-a-longs. A shame, but next time perhaps? A potent, unfiltered brew of garage punk, psych and amphetamine rock n roll – whatever they have in the water up on the North Yorkshire Moors, it should be bottled.
The twin masks of comedy and tragedy, a mainstay of any traditional theatre worth its salt; both seem present in any Kingsley Chapman & The Murder performance. All sparkly suit and fringe, KC treads a fine line between the drama and the sleaze of a cabaret show, offset by the serious, gloomy chamber pop of his musical accompaniment. This is a greatest hits set of sorts; cutting some of the more recent tracks that have been engrossing slow burn growers on record but lacking the explosive immediacy for casual observers in a live capacity. The political and emotional combine quite spectacularly with a re-arranged Fevers channelling the ghost of Kurt Weill and the sharp, jabbing knife of Poison Tongues sounding as vital and fresh as ever.
With the release of their long-playing debut in the next couple of weeks, Mouses have a busy couple of months coming up and they followed up their recent BBC Introducing Reading/Leeds slot with a show that eventually fizzed with the energy and spark that is synonymous with their growing reputation. It’s not the best show they’ve ever played. Early issues with sound seemed to knock the confidence out of them a little and it wasn’t until about halfway through that they really hit their stride. That said, a Mouses gig at 50% is better than most bands’ 100% so by the time latest single Green is wheeled out, the earlier problems are pretty much forgotten.
Image by David Wala
It’s difficult to tell whether The Jar Family‘s inclusion towards the headlining slot is justified. They evidently have a loyal fan-base as the crowd for them is probably the largest of the day but there’s a strange disparity between the revolutionary, fuck-the-system credentials with which they sell themselves the soft stadium rock schmalz that they purvey. One of their many t-shirt designs for sale proclaims them as “Industrial Folk” but the image, to these ears, is as far as it goes. If this is where the musical tradition of industrial Teesside was going then it’s a mercy that they closed down the steelworks. They’re not a bad band, they’re just not what they Ronseal themselves as and that’s a disappointment.
Cattle & Cane are an odd one. Trumpeted by the likes of Dermot O’ Leary on his Radio 2 show and other cutting edge taste bibles, you would be forgiven for wondering just how many urban coffee tables their album ended up on. The living rooms of middle England were probably cooing in approval: “Oooh, they’re a bit like Mumford & Sons but they’re an actual real family.” And sarcasm aside, I’ve been guilty in the past of disregarding them, but do you know what? They’re bloody good. Charismatic and joyous, they’re eminently watchable and if the new material on offer is a pointer as to what their new record is going to sound like then the North East is likely to have Premier League chart botherers once again.
With the North East music scene being in such rude health at the moment, there was more great than awful on display this year at We Are Family and that’s a huge reason to be cheerful. Less so happy is the idea that this great little showcase might not happen again and that would be a shame.