Image: Frankie & The Heartstrings
This year’s DFDS North Sea Sounds music cruise season has once again seen a bunch of bands take to the North Sea all in the name of entertainment. The mini-cruises, which have been organised with a little help from veteran promoters Jumpin’ Hot Club, have seen the likes of Smoove & Turrell, The Lindisfarne Story, Martin Stephenson and Craig Charles perform. But my personal pick of this year’s line-ups included a who’s who of the Sunderland music scene, with Frankie & The Heartstrings, Hyde & Beast, The Cornshed Sisters and Field Music DJs teaming up for a pretty impressive shindig. When offered the opportunity to head along to check the whole shebang out, it was an easy decision to make.
The Newcastle-Amsterdam cruise could be seen as a bit of a rite of passage around these parts, and it’s a pretty decent offering – two nights on board, with entertainment chucked in, plus about five hours in one of Europe’s most cultural cities. NARC.’s creative whizz Vicky Markham joined me in our bunk room as we set sail from a rainy North Shields harbour, full of holiday excitement.
the muso crowd stood around the edges of the dance floor trying not to get jabbed in the head by He-Man’s sword
Anti-sea sickness bands strapped firmly to my wrist (and not removed for the entire trip), we attempted to ignore the swaying movement of the boat, and dived straight into the entertainment in the smaller of two live entertainment rooms. Up and coming songwriter Jess Wilson’s pretty voice is plainly accompanied by acoustic guitar, and it makes for a good start; while Tom Fletcher’s astonishing finger-picked guitar skills are damn impressive. There’s a respectful audience for The Cornshed Sisters, who delight with their harmony-drenched folk. New songs get an airing, which whets the appetite for their new album due next year. If their set was anything to go by, it’ll be replete with sassy tunes and hummable choruses; this writer for one can’t wait to hear more.
With an hour’s break before the next act, our attention wanders to the main Columbus Club, where the audience appears to be made up of superheroes. The dance floor is rammed, there’s a dodgy mixture of pop and house music coming out of the speakers and it looks like the entire Bigg Market have taken a wrong turn and ended up on a boat in the North Sea. We worried about how the sweetly nuanced retro pop of Hyde & Beast would go down with such a rabble, but our fears were unfounded and the boys did a sterling job of entertaining the hordes as the muso crowd stood around the edges of the dance floor trying not to get jabbed in the head by He-Man’s sword (not a euphemism). In fact, with parping brass and catchy, bouncy tunes, Hyde & Beast’s laidback cool was a pretty good match for the rather lathered crowd. By now though, the motion of the swaying dance floor and the rocky boat meant that our evening was forced to an early end.
Up bright and early (thanks to the cheerful multi-lingual wake-up call), and we’re floating our way into Ijmuiden. After we’ve clambered onto the courtesy coach, attempting not to breathe the fog of stale alcohol and Lynx emanating from the young passengers at the front, we trundled along the quay and into the city.
Hyde & Beast
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t quite on our side this weekend, and we spent most of our all-too-brief time in Amsterdam ducking into vintage shops or quirky galleries to get out of the often torrential downpours. It’s rained every time I’ve been to Amsterdam and I’m starting to get a complex. By the time we arrive in the city at 11.30am and after being given strict instructions to miss the last bus back at 4pm at our own peril, we’re not left with much time to take in a whole lot of culture. We made it as far as the venerable Rijksmuseum, but didn’t have the heart to do such a cursory sweep of its artistic wonders, preferring instead to wander cobbled streets and people watch. All was not lost though; cheese was purchased, the flower market was perused, canals were photographed.
Back on the boat after our all-to-brief sojourn, we’re now starting to get used to the ever-present seasickness, but the roiling storm that closes in on us as we sail out of Amsterdam harbour brings a sense of unease with it. It was either the pelting rain and peals of thunder that kept the stag and hen parties away from the Columbus Club on Saturday night, or everyone had partaken of a little too much of Amsterdam’s more notorious delights, but the room was curiously subdued on our return journey. Frankie & The Heartstrings (with Field Music’s Peter Brewis stepping in for poorly drummer Dave Harper) provided an excellent distraction from the dodgy weather and managed well with an empty dance floor (aforementioned musos remained firmly scattered around the edges). While this more down-tempo audience probably wasn’t much fun to play in front of, I for one had a blast. The band never fail to raise a smile, even if Frankie seemed to be going through the motions a little. That Girl, That Scene’s punk-inflected bombast lifted the band and the audience halfway through, and they continued to rip through upbeat pop gems.
Over both nights we had reservations in two of the boat’s restaurants. Friday’s Explorer’s Steakhouse meal was exemplary, with a steak so melt-in-the-mouth that I didn’t want it to end. Saturday’s dinner in the more swanky surrounds of the Blue Riband a la carte restaurant had us in raptures over perfectly cooked lamb fillets and a chocolate torte just the right side of bittersweet. The food was a real highlight of the trip and, thanks to two- and three-course meal deals, surprisingly good value.
Overall, the North Sea Sounds cruises are a fun experience, albeit with a slightly mixed up clientele. Just don’t forget those Seabands.
Bowie Ball North Sea Sound Mini-Cruise
The season’s not over yet, with the Bowie Ball mini-cruise still to come, departing on Friday 2nd December. Celebrating the life of the iconic musician, dressing up is encouraged, and seafaring Ziggys will be serenaded by The Ronsonettes, one of the finest Bowie tribute acts around. Prices start at £51.50 per person. To book, head to www.dfds.co.uk/music