REVIEW: Twisterella Festival, Middlesbrough | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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We sent our roving reporters Danielle Johnson and David Saunders, along with photographer Tracy Hyman, to cover the action at Twisterella Festival on Saturday 10th October. They witness mayhem, mania and amazing music…lots of it!

Words: Danielle Johnson

A full bar upstairs at The Westgarth indicates that one of the greatest things about all-dayers isn’t just the distinct possibility of finding your new favourite band, it’s the perfect excuse to start drinking at two in the afternoon. The blacked-out room fills with a crowd joyously clutching pints and ready for an exuberant racket. Mouses grace our Teesside stages with welcome regularity, and have become a firm favourite with their extremely likeable fuzzed-out frenetic garage pop. Today, you can tell they’re pleased to be here, and they join the glee of daytime drinking with a stage-side bottle of amaretto. They’re always fun live; all manic enthusiastic grins, bug eyed yelping and tangled staggering through a two-piece major key mess. They push it even further today. Splinters of wood fly as sticks break, tops come off, and the skinny-legged high kicks are a wild blur until it’s all over with an absurd and excellent flying high kick to the already battered drum kit. Brilliant.

Downstairs, Keep Breathing sound absolutely bizarre to my ears after the sonic assault they’ve just received. The organisers of Twisterella have definitely kept the line-up diverse, so now I’m watching some mean and moody stadium indie. It’s a kind of soaring, epic sound, and I don’t think they’d be offended if they were compared to U2 or Starsailor. The lead singer has a powerful vibrato voice which gives him an air of being an odd cross between Liam Gallagher and Shirley Bassey. After the unhinged fun of Mouses I find it difficult to get into this earnest seriousness, but I hear someone behind me murmur to his mate ‘now this is a proper band’. Indeed, they’re professional and polished and you can imagine hearing them on a car advert in the near future.

I head over to Teesside Uni Student’s Union to see how Avalanche Party are doing. Brothers Joe and Jordan Bell have been in bands together since they were old enough to be allowed on the stage. Whatever band they’re in; you know it will be loud. And sweaty. The instant the four-piece take the stage, it’s obvious they have matured into something menacing. A wall of noise introduces them as Jordan paces through the crowd, staring intently at anyone who dare cast a glance at his seemingly bloodstained guitar. As the set progresses it’s clear they’re confident with their latest incarnation, alternating lurching heavier songs with breakneck speed all-out rock. There’s hints of QOTSA and Arctic Monkeys after Josh Homme got his hands on them. It’s testament to their attitude, presence and volume that they manage to be a little terrifying despite the odd silk shirt, topknot and bare chest. With such a stern demeanour, Avalanche Party could risk being a party that the crowd aren’t really invited to, but somewhere, a connection is made and culminates in the first stage invasion dancing party of the day. Told you it would get sweaty.

Back at the Westgarth, Liverpool’s Lives look a little shy, their melodic, emo-tinged Americana seeming out of context on a small social club stage. They’re excellent if you like Sex is on Fire era Kings of Leon. They’re very clean and cool; all long hair, hoods up, and no socks on with their Vans. I can almost smell their fresh breath from the back of the room. They’re all so pretty, I can just imagine them being the prom band in an American teen rom-com. It’s heartfelt; there’s a possibility that the age of the average Twisterella goer is a little too old to appreciate what this band are doing.

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Kingsley Chapman & The Murder by Tracy Hyman

Not so the case with Kingsley Chapman and the Murder. We see you, Kingsley, and we see your Morrissey, Brett Anderson and Nick Cave references, and we like them. Another case of a band who matured and evolved into something sinister, the noir-camp theatricality of the Murder is introduced before a note is played, as seven men all clad in various combinations of funereal attire assume their stage positions, with seemingly obligatory glasses of red wine. The talent of the band shines from the off; a piano and violin intro swells with double drums, which suddenly turns ominous and powerful. The entire set is as carefully composed as the songs – hushed lulls make space for layers to build into clattering crescendos. They’re extremely good at getting the balance between polished and raw just right; songs are allowed to wander into authentic chaos, drums tumble, wine spills. This unapologetic melodrama is high camp, and spine-tinglingly effective live, even on the cynics. Kingsley allows the talents of the other members to command the attention they deserve, but fans of his previous work will be pleased to see he’s still very much the frontman. There’s a bit of gentle microphone cord strangulation during a grim ballad that would work so well in Twin Peaks, and plenty of completely un-self-conscious mincing gesticulation, given gravitas by Kingsley’s deep heartbroken croon. He knows how to keep a ‘Boro crowd on his side between these episodes of grandiosity, and chats to the audience, with only a tiny bit of politics, apologising to his parents for having to mention David Cameron and the pig head. They finish their set with their single Lovers, and it’s huge. Every time you think it can’t get bigger, it does. It’s a glorious cacophony and very impressive.

Daylight seems particularly gross after being wrapped in that gothic blanket for thirty minutes, but I head back over to the Westgarth, which is a double decker of good stuff for the rest of the evening. Plastic Mermaids bring a pleasant electro-indie to a packed room. It’s impossible to see what’s going on from where I’m standing, but I can definitely hear a glockenspiel. Twee verses with childlike vocals form cute bases for distorted megaphone choruses that enthral the front half of the room while the back half start to get a little rowdy in their own conversations. The addition of some cowbell is reminiscent of the somewhat dated electro disco that sprung up around Hot Chip, but it’s a more meandering, less danceable sort on offer here. It doesn’t sound fresh, but it’s fun nonetheless, despite trapping me for a short time in a bubble of quirk that I’m not particularly ecstatic about. Speaking of quirkiness, the last time I saw them, I absolutely didn’t ‘get’ SLUG at all. Today, they’re the buzzword on all the coolest lips. People who have many opinions I respect tell me I have to see them; I’ll love them; they’re great, etc. The Westgarth is rammed. Watching them, it’s easy to be confused. Five sailor boys alternate between sounding like Pablo Honey-era Radiohead and 10cc – falsetto group vocals and wonky funks all over the place; it’s definitely feelgood weirdness, by turns melancholic and daft. Spasmodic bursts of energy do entertain but I’m not a true SLUG convert until a sludgy but lovely song similar to A Perfect Circle’s Judith emerges unexpectedly. It’s hypnotic and gorgeous and I get it. And yet, I still expect them to break into Dreadlock Holiday at some point. I still don’t feel like I’m completely in on their joke, but they’ve got a strange charm about them.

Downstairs, Allusondrugs have managed to squeeze more plaid into one room than anyone previously thought possible. Their grungy pop punk is accompanied by neck-snappingly fast head shaking and an absolutely relentless output of delirious energy which only seems to increase as the set goes on. They veer seamlessly between poppier punk riffs and a heavier, churning sound which makes it impossible not to mention Nirvana and Alice in Chains. It’s done very well, and the age of the crowd ranges from those old enough to own Nirvana records from the first time round, to fresh faced hair-swingers down the front, and all seem to approve. At one point, one of Mouses swaps front-row spectator for on-stage temporary member while the real guitarist goes for a crowd surf.

Back upstairs, PINS have a disappointing turnout, but very quickly prove to be one of the highlights of the day, something special and refreshing. This beguiling all-girl five-piece have an effortless cool swagger with instant favourable comparisons to Elastica and Lush. Sugar sweet vocals coat dirty garage riffs and keys, all held together by a primal and incredible drummer using two floor toms for a driving rumble that never lets up. They’re super sharp and tight and it only takes two songs to summon the front rows into pogo-ing along with them. Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Velvet Underground come to mind with some of their darker lovely dirges, but ultimately their pop sensibilities make them extrovert and delightful. They smile and dance with glitter encrusted-cheeks, drag girls up to sing and hug, and end with an onstage dance party for all. Outside, I immediately burst into tears that there isn’t more PINS in the world, and decide that I’ve probably had enough whiskey.

Still elated from this unexpected riot of female camaraderie, I initially find Spring King a little plain. I struggle to get into the room at all, but after snaking to the front, I see that a great deal of space is being occupied by one guy having the flailing time of his life. He’s utterly oblivious as his phone flies out of his pocket, but a kind stranger six feet away retrieves it and hands it back. This gesture warms me. Twisterella is a really nice place to be. Maybe a bit too nice, especially for those of us who risked life and limb at Middlesbrough Music Live year after year. Everyone is respectful, listens, watches; and I’ve yet to see anyone vomit. Heartened by the safe environment and lack of doyles, I let Spring King’s summery slacker pop wash over me. It’s stompy, twangy, fresh-faced cheekiness. It feels a little too familiar to be very exciting; they’re like a suburban Black Lips. Guitars are wedged firmly in armpits as surfy undertones float around pleasantly.

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Spring King by Tracy Hyman

Back upstairs, Du Blonde are the final act to play. The Westgarth has become an absolute sauna by this point, and has possibly been subduing audience reactions a little since around 5pm. Therefore, I’m instantly impressed that Beth Jeans Houghton is performing in a sheepskin collared coat, but quickly feel that the performance is lacking something. Beth looks bored, frankly. She then explains that she’s suffering from bronchitis and apologises if her voice is rubbish. I feel bad. Her voice isn’t rubbish though, and she has great support from her band who dutifully rock pose and gurn around her, and also the crowd, who sing along, enamoured. Du Blonde are at their most interesting when they leave classic rock solos to one side and do their own thing, and I’d like to see them again when Beth is on top form.

We head out into the night and admit that we did get what Twisterella promised us – a glimpse of real emerging talent and a pretty diverse bunch to choose from. PINS and Kingsley Chapman and the Murder were undeniable highlights for me, but what I did notice, even from the bands I didn’t particularly personally love, was that all of those bands relished being there. Twisterella clearly treats the acts well and gives them a great crowd to play to. With a preference for putting on bands with potential for commercial success or popular appeal, you’re never going to find anything super subversive or left-field here, but leave your cynicism at home and you just might, surprisingly, actually find your new favourite band.

 

Words: David Saunders

Today is Twisterella – a super cool, multi-venue music festival showcasing emerging talent from the region and the rest of the UK. As I approach Teesside University from the train station to collect my tickets, I see a discarded copy of the NME strewn across the pavement. Symbolic. It’s as if someone realised that everything they need to know about the best up and coming bands will be found out during the course of the day and they now have no need for the music press. I fail to document this iconic image on my phone and when I tell people throughout the day no one believes me.

Due to my co-reviewer covering the Westgarth and Student Union stages my territory was The Town House, TS One and various pop-up stages. That didn’t stop me from sneakily breaking this treaty as soon as I arrive and watch Serinette after picking up my wristband (Sorry Danielle).

It’s always tough being first on as people sluggishly shuffle in discreetly to the back of the room with their sober, self conscious minds refusing to participate. That didn’t stop lead singer Louise from getting everyone loosened up for the day’s event by pleasantly encouraging people to get to the front and then treating them to 30 minutes of poppy-rock loveliness. With classics such as Bigger Better and new single Routine Of The Week in amongst tracks I had never heard before, including a pacey little number with a Tetris-like theme tune played on the guitar, the audience soon got into it. By the last song Pushing Me Slowly the band was bouncing and guitarists windmilling, whilst the t-shirts that were draped over the monitors for advertising reasons had vibrated to the floor. An early win for the quite substantial crowd who made it down.

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Serinette by Tracy Hyman

After watching Serinette I decided to finally make my way to where I was supposed to be and headed down to the newly rebranded The Townhouse (formerly The Keys) to catch the second half of Josh Newell-Brown’s set, which provided even more loveliness for my ears. If Serinette’s loveliness was popping candy then this would be caramel, with Josh’s soulful vocal and tender waltz of his guitar all wrapped up in the plodding beats and swirling riffs from his band. He seemed grateful for the crowd’s attendance, which once again was decent for an early slot, and after his thank yous he closed on the song Shine. A good way to see out his set with its foot tapping beat on the snare and a much more gravelly vocal performance than on the recorded version, which is a good thing if you like more growl and like many people I do.

TS One and The Townhouse alternated when the acts went on, so as soon as Josh finished I made the 57 (an estimate) step journey to TS One to watch Joe Ramsey. He seemed an isolated figure stood on an empty stage in a room with high ceilings but he didn’t let the setting engulf him. In fact this added to his no frills, honest acoustic performance of all his material. His voice was strong enough to cope with his vast surroundings and despite claims he hadn’t gigged in a while there weren’t many signs of rust. Stand out songs were Here With Me and the more up-tempo Something.

Once he had finished I quickly nipped to get a bite to eat (aka a man date with Broken Broadcast frontman James Riggall) before returning to TS One to watch Dressed Like Wolves. The attendance has doubled so I used my height to my advantage and managed to squeeze in at the back. James was not so lucky. I was treated to a quirky, lo-fi, music experience of Rick & co. with their slightly awkward but comforting stage presence and witty chit chat in amongst songs. That said Tendons was a much heavier (for them) number and the end of Quiet Moments had guitarist Danny veering into the crowd. Rick had a few issues with his guitar at one point and nearly didn’t play Churches but Danny insisted and with that being “the first thing he had said in four years” the band persevered, but imperfections seem to just add to the bands charm so a dying guitar didn’t matter. The band finished off with Trying To Walk Off Into The Sea But It’s Too Late, which left Rick sitting crossed legged as the set finished. People waited for him to get up and say goodbye, but he didn’t.

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Dressed Like Wolves by Tracy Hyman

Fronteers at The Town House were next and had just started as I arrived at the venue. As I entered the room I was met with a harsh, top heavy sounding guitar playing over the top of a very Beatles-esque (turns out they were from Liverpool) indie style of music. To be fair on them the harmonies were great and their songs were tight, but it just wasn’t my bag. The second song I Got By had a guitar that sounded like the song Daytripper and the third song had a chorus melody similar Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. This usually wouldn’t be a bad thing if it wasn’t for the fact I’ve heard all those jingle-jangle, twingy-twangy riffs and coo-coo ca choo vocals a thousand times before.

I drifted back over to TS One once they had finished to check out last minute replacement for Lizzies’ Heart Murmur – acoustic solo artist Glad Town Ghosts. I was instantly greeted with a warm, bassy guitar sound. His vocal was deep, soft and his performance/the ambience the music created would have been perfect for a smaller, more intimate venue. Sadly the crowd at TS One did not seem to want to engage and a lot of people were just talking amongst themselves, which was a shame.

Once finished I headed next door to watch Washington Irving. The first song was a perfect opener with the lead singer’s deep vocal being the constant in amongst an ever intensifying beat and simmering guitar riffs. The second track however sounded very Snow Patrol, which I guess is good if you like Snow Patrol (I don’t). The third song had a Western soundtrack vibe and ended with some whoa’s that carried on as the main hook alongside the rolling beat of the fourth track. After that my attention began to wane and was captured, alongside my imagination, by a lady in front of where I was stood. She was putting her hands down the back of her partners’ trousers (and pants) and rummaging around his bum area. Luckily, before my eyes exploded with disbelief, the band won me back with the last track and best song of their set We Are All Going To Die. With its roaring guitar, industrial drums and sing-a-long chorus it made a lasting impression, although not the biggest in that thirty minutes.

With that finished, Twisterella and Pay For The Piano promoter Henry Carden and his wife Rachel took my hand (metaphorically) and lead me to one of the handful of pop up stages at the prohibition style speakeasy – Alchemy & Co. They left the door unlocked which took away some of the excitement of having to use a code (put out on social media that day) to enter the establishment.

Once inside Henry told me an incredible story about the time he was struck by lightning through an open window when he was once drinking in very near to where we were stood. Before our bonding session could progress any further Fatherson singer Ross Leighton pulled out his guitar and began playing. It was completely unplugged and the packed room stayed impressively quiet throughout a performance of songs none of which I have heard before (admittedly due to my own ignorance) but people seemed to know word for word. His voice was note perfect and his tender guitar playing style cut through the silence and body heat. The intimacy of the session seemed to give people the impression that it was a Q&A session and so started to ask Ross some of the most ridiculous questions I had ever heard about X-Factor and beards, eventually turning into England/Scotland rugby banter. Despite this, the atmosphere was electric, which brought back bad memories for Henry so he left and I followed him.

Next up was Pip Lovejoy at TS One. I caught her one song in and like Glad Town Ghosts earlier that day; she was struggling with a chatty crowd who didn’t seem to want to listen. Her voice was very strong and her guitar playing was of a country style and so occupied the higher end, which meant she didn’t get drowned out by the chatter. She clearly seemed a little annoyed though and after she had finished playing asked the crowd if they had “enjoyed her lyrical finesse” followed up by asking “Why is no one responding to what I am saying?” Brilliant. Ironically, or intentionally, her next song had the lyrics “Surrounded by vampires”, and  “Sometimes I find myself losing heart.” She then played a song she deemed “The saddest song she had ever written”. All her perseverance along with the promoters frequent shushing seemed to have worked and a good half of the audience were on board and listening. A song dedicated to bands who have called it quits (one of whom she names as Lets Buy Happiness) called Call to Arms is my favourite of the night and as she closes the set I duck out and head towards The Town House to watch Beach Baby.

This band had been recommended to me, but I had never heard them before. I’d have to say they are a cross between the The Cribs, The Cure and the band who play the High School dance at the end of Back To The Future. They were good and the track Feel A Lot Better stood out for me. The shortness of that last review demonstrates my tiredness from a day filled with bands. To combat this I headed to Sticky Fingers for my second pop up session, this time to watch Ceiling Demons whilst sipping on a gingerbread latte.

Walking into the venue I was greeted by four masked men and a small group of fear stricken party-goers… Oh don’t worry the place wasn’t getting robbed, it’s just how Ceiling Demons dress for gigs with their black and white voodoo-style masks. Soon enough the two main vocalists revealed their handsome faces and hit everyone with a blistering assault of vocal staccato. I liked their sweaty energy and they had one of the best stage performances of the day, but some of that was dampened by the sound issues. One mic weirdly seemed quieter than the other and the two rappers were frequently and discreetly swapping the mics over depending on who was doing the lead. Not their fault though and I still thoroughly enjoyed the performance, which was capped off with a great rendition of recent single Even If.

I made the journey up Linthorpe Road knowing that Black Honey at The Townhouse was going to be busy one. They were one of the buzz bands that a lot of people had been talking about, which usually means they will be crap. To my surprise they were anything but crap. The first song was cracking, couldn’t tell you what it was called, but it was cracking. Complete with lead singer Izzy B. Phillips, early The Horrors, dark carnival-sounding guitar and blistering ‘have some of that in your face’ chorus, if I hadn’t heard 60 other songs that day I’d have been singing it on the walk home. The second song had a guitar riff reminiscent of The Supremes Keep Me Hanging On and the third song with its steady beat really showcased Izzy’s vocals. The fourth song (yep no song title has been acknowledged or heard yet) had a really Dandy Warhols feel. The band overall had hints of Be Your Own Pet and Blondie and they all looked the part with black leathers flanking mustard dungarees and by the time the air gasping, lift of noise and wah-wah solo of set the set ender had finished I was a satisfied customer. Probably my band of the day.

Staying in The Townhouse next up was Fatherson who had recently signed to a major record label. It was packed and all those who attended were rewarded with punchy, catchy, anthemic tunes that were pleasant enough. Once that had finished I tagged along with Henry once more (he offered). On our journey to the Student Union I found him a male and female milk carton from the Blur’s Coffee and TV music video that had been scattered around Middlesbrough as a promotional tool for Diamond Dogs. I also found a full bottle of Brewdog IPA which I gave to him as a reward for organising the day and I’m sure he commented on how impressed he was by my urban survival scavenging skills.

The night ended by watching Fickle Friends who I thought sounded like Collectors Club but with a female lead singer. It was nice to dance to and people seemed to love it, so I displayed a couple of my own home cooked steps. Once they had finished I said my goodbyes and caught the last train home. I was jiggered but full of joy.

It was a well run, well attended festival and hats off to Pay For The Piano and The Kids Are Solid Gold for putting it on. To summarise the day I am going to quote two blokes who were overheard chatting in the toilet: one asked the other if he had seen anyone good that day to which he responded, “Put it this way mate, I haven’t seen anyone bad.”

 

 

 

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