FESTIVAL REVIEW: Hardwick Live | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: James by Grange Photography

With so many festivals this summer succumbing to the torrential wind and rain, it was an enormous relief that the weather Gods had decided to spare last weekend’s Hardwick Live. The Sedgefield festival’s grounds are absolutely stunning, with the main site sitting snugly between the hotel premises and a pleasingly tranquil lake, which drags your eye away from the main stage from time to time. Far too picturesque to be sullied by storms.

The festival itself was run impeccably. The security were present without being overbearing, the food and drink options were plentiful and the toilets some of the cleanest I’ve experienced at any such summer jamboree. Each of these, particularly the latter, may sound like a low bar to clear, but it’s not something that every festival manages. Hardwick Live wasn’t beset by any of the problems which often blight smaller or younger festivals. So the fact there is little to report in this area makes it much easier to shine a spotlight on some of the weekend’s musical highlights.

Our Saturday began by watching a polished performance from Sunderland’s breakout star The Lake Poets. Having soundtracked the Sunderland ‘Til I Die Netflix documentary series, his own musical career has really begun to take off. It’s richly deserved, with this particular writer having seen Martin Longstaff turn in some excellent sets in some of the North East’s most intimate venues. Shipyards is an undoubted highlight, although some of his forthcoming material sounds as if it may be even more affecting. British singer-songwriters have developed something of a trope for sad, endearing singalong anthems, with Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi leading the charge. The Lake Poets has a little way to go in this regard, but the early signs are encouraging.

For all the excellent guitar music elsewhere, it was Sister Sledge who provided the weekend’s highlight. Basking in the all too rare mid-afternoon sunshine, they raced through some of their greatest hits and even brought some of the crowd with them. During a seemingly endless rendition of He’s The Greatest Dancer they invited a handful of lucky individuals to flaunt their moves on stage. There was a nice array of dad dancing, body popping and endearingly awkward shuffling; a lovely example of what sets live music apart from more or less anything else you could choose to do with your time. Having opened with Lost In Music, swaggered into Everybody Dance and ended with We Are Family, their performance was absolutely everything I’d hoped for. 

Indie, rock and disco were all well represented across the main stages, but the programming for the Courtyard and Dome was even more inspired. Such is house music’s enormous popularity that any contemporary music festival hoping to find its place in the market needs to have something to offer. Horse Meat Disco and Joey Negro were inspired choices for a sun-drenched courtyard on Saturday afternoon. They carry enough gravitas to entice a the slightly more ‘experienced’ house heads and keep the dancefloor moving at a pace that’s perfect for the younger generation. Their Glitterbox takeover was genuinely excellent, and the flamboyant drag artists strutting their stuff at the side of the stage added to the immersion. The Saturday evening was rounded off by Shapeshifters who did an excellent job of maintaining the energy levels as the sun set over the Courtyard.  

Manic Street Preachers brought the Saturday to a triumphant close. It’s sometimes easy to forget what an indelible mark they’ve left on British guitar music, but rattling through their greatest hits was an easy enough way of reminding people. If You Tolerate This sounded note-perfect, and closing with A Design For Life sent casual and committed fans home happy. There was even time to squeeze in a cover of Sweet Child of Mine, which was something of a curveball, albeit an enjoyable one.

I went into Sunday equally buoyant, if a little bit more hungover. Llovers are a band I’ve written about in these pages before, and their early evening performance on the BBC Introducing stage did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for them. They’re an excellent prospect, whose effortlessly cool-languid style is lifted straight from the Pond playbook. They ought to go far. At the other end of both the age and musical spectrum, Ziggy Marley rolled back the years, his rendition of One Love both uplifting and relaxing. It was ideal fare for a Sunday sunset slot. James closed the weekend’s proceedings, returning after an excellent performance in 2015. Sit Down always was and remains an outstanding singalong, after which followed a volley of hits including Attention, Many Faces and Come Home.

Whereas the Saturday had been notable for DJs who had been honing their craft for years, the Sunday showcased the next generation. Elliot Adamson’s meteoric rise has seen him play at clubs and festivals across the continent, including at Parklife and in many of Ibiza’s most renowned venues. Having him close the dome on Sunday evening was something of a coup, and an example of the sort of forward-thinking programming which should see Hardwick go from strength to strength.

Our only real regret was not taking up the option to camp, which would’ve helped toward the immersive festival experience. It’s a lesson to be learned for next year though, and a sincere compliment that I’d rather have spent an extra two nights sleeping in a tent if it meant more time spent on site.

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