LIVE REVIEW: Last Train Home festival @ Various venues, Darlington (03.09.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

Words: Tracy Hyman & Robert Nichols

Main image: The Lovely Eggs at The Forum by Victoria Wai

Darlington’s Last Train Home Festival celebrated its fifth birthday with a line-up full of local and national, new and emerging talent, along with some past festival favourites. Spread across three venues and five rooms, it’s only a short hop between the stages and importantly the last train home from Darlington station.

It is amazingly good value as the ticket price hasn’t changed over the years. One other thing that hasn’t altered is the atmosphere generated by such a devoted posse of music lovers.

Everyone turned up early to welcome the first act and it was so apt that it was a Darlington resident Caitlin Morrow, setting the festival rolling at St John’s Church. Caitlin’s gentle folk pop was augmented by a three-piece backing band and vocal harmonies. The lyrics are very personal and drawn from life. A recent relationship break up fuelled several break up songs, including the bittersweet, Baby Stupid.

Caitlin was followed by Harriet Bradshaw, whose wonderful soaring vocals have been compared to the great Joni Mitchell and were perfect to fill a church right up to the clerestory. Fairy and folk tale and romance are the orders of the day for Harriet, from Mermaids and Pondskaters to Stone Cold written sitting on a rock by the swishing Swale at Richmond. Harriet would later put down the acoustic guitar and keyboards to accompany Nel Unlit on cello. But more of that later.

Folk singer-songwriter Parissa opened the Noisy Daughters stage at the Hullabaloo. Strong vocals are carried on a gentle wave of finger picked classical guitar and the occasional violin, all played perfectly by Parissa herself. Her set ebbed from the soothing and gentle to the more rocky and upbeat, such as the strummed title track of upcoming EP release Written in the Sand. A thoughtful and inspiring start.

The NARC. stage was upstairs above the Hullabaloo theatre, with encouraging hand written signs on the staircase telling us we were almost at our destination. But, in any case, we could hear the rock tones of Labyrinthine Oceans long before setting foot in the room. The young Sunderland four-piece were equal parts rock and funk, and grunged it up through a lively set. They left us with a stinging parting shot across the bows with the angst ridden Liar Liar, a former NARC. Demo of the Month.

As ever with these grassroots festivals, it is about the surprise performances that leave you wanting to try more. Teessider Sarah Johnsone filled the Hullabaloo theatre with her big personality and catchy sounds that shuffle seamlessly between indie and jazz. The singer-songwriter is now a focal point for a talented four-piece band who are producing some great songs, notably new single Hurricane. Oh, and what a voice!

Image: Viia at NARC. Stage, Hullaballoo by Victoria Wai

One to watch Viia powered into the ears and eaves of the upstairs room, her vocals pulling and reeling you in. Dark pop rock with soul, her band provided a wall of sound and an early chance to rock out. Anthemic and catchy one minute, with Viia headbanging to the beat, a switch is flicked and the set moves to stripped back vocals and keyboard, and suddenly you could hear a pin drop. Heartbreak and angst feature in heavily in the songwriting of this future Darlington starlet.

Ava in the Dark are a swirling mix of atmospheric electro rock, a melting pot of guitar, synths, effects and drum pads. It merges to transport you to a distorted audio journey into the music. The songs build to high powered choruses with forceful drum beats and fast, repetitive synth.

Thankfully the showers had cleared up before making an escape just down the road to the converted Victorian school that is the Forum hub. Inside and Komparrison were as always a real bundle of wickedly playful infectious energy. But as always conveying life messages in a party pack of musical fun. Following on from their Wake Up Call, Komparrison all too soon had us Dancing With Our Demons and bouncing off the ceiling. Hand actions absolutely mandatory. What a year it has been for these lovable Teesside terrors. We haven’t even mentioned the fact that this festival is a huge celebration of women in music. Not just on the Noisy Daughters stage, but everywhere you looked there were so many talented musical women being showcased.

Elsewhere, Darlo electro dance trance rock duo Analogue Bloods driving beats and scything guitar assault had the floor of the NARC. room absolutely bouncing. While downstairs Caitlin LM’s soul searching anti-anxiety tonic is a moving, musical maelstrom. All eyes and ears were tracked on the Manchester artiste centre stage in the theatre. Technologically challenged on the day Caitlin ended her set with an unplugged song that was spellbinding in its intensity.

Image: Nel Unlit at St Johns Church by Victoria Wai

Back in St Johns for Nel Unlit‘s magnificent tribute to the all-consuming clutter of Tosh. A collective consolidation of musical talents, all seven of them, including two drummers, somehow squeezed into the chancel of the church. From the pews the sights and sounds of the different voices and instruments was a real joyful experience.

Then it was straight back over to the Hullabaloo, after a much-needed pit stop for a chip butty and scraps from the chippy opposite St John’s to catch the last song of Me Lost Me. I immediately longed for more as Jayne took her atmospheric, soundscape meanderings to another level, accompanied by double bass and clarinet. Fingers crossed this becomes a regular occurrence at her gigs.

How would you describe Rudi Betamax? Driving glam punk synth space rockers, maybe. Contagious, elevating, innovating. Short, sharp, zappy. Synth player Danni complained the room was too church-like clean. “Can’t someone be sick on the floor…” She cracked herself up and everyone else. We were then immersed again in another ripping, gripping Ramones-like riff – a great way to end the entertainment up on the NARC. stage.

Back at the church, the beautiful harmonies of Sunflower Thieves match the exquisite stained-glass windows behind Lily and Amy. Ethereal vocals float up and are enhanced by the acoustics of the church, hypnotising a spell-bound audience. A brand new, never played before song fits perfectly into the mix. Simply stunning.

Down the corridor of the Forum a tiny room holds the comedy element of the festival, curated by Hilarity Bites. Keen to see some in between the music I headed to the start of the third session. Now, it really wasn’t for the faint hearted being in that small room, certainly not on the front row anyway, so I tucked myself safely a few rows back. MC Andy Fury’s conversations ranged from wine, his dead mother and how the journey from the station took him through the rough part of town. The first comedian Catherine Young took no prisoners, with her self-described “tit energy” and love of men’s bollocks, telling stories of Middlesbrough and how the bare ankle is a rarity.

Back to the music and another exciting find in at the Hullabaloo. The dreamy synths and steady dance beat carries Ellur’s indie pop songs through the air. Powerful and uplifting, with high flying, driven choruses. A tight, polished sound. Hit song Burn It All Down had the crowd pouring onto the dance floor.

The riotous punk pop duo The Lovely Eggs first played the Last Train Home back in 2018, in the upstairs room of a pub called Hogans. With a bigger stage in The Forum and projections of quirky, arty videos on the screen behind, The Lovely Eggs brought their manic magic to Darlington. The festival gong sounded at this, their last festival of the season, to start Magic Onion, warning us of the apparent imminent release of traces of unknown intoxicating substances over the crowd. Apparently. They commented on how quiet the audience was between songs, saying they don’t get this in Lancashire, or anywhere else in the North East. The whole crowd were soon joining in with Holly and David and the frantic fuzzy pop genius that is Wiggy Giggy. Wiggy.

And so finally to the theatre and final act of the festival, Liz Lawrence. Oozing with stage presence, her upbeat, quirky performance captured and captivated the room. Everyone was on their feet for her mix of alternative, lo-fi pop. Despite having ran out of songs, due to popular demand, Liz reprised a request from the set and played an encore anyway to the delighted crowd. A highlight of the festival.

Last Train Home is such a homely, friendly festival, there is so much mutual support with many of the artists joining the crowd processing from venue to venue. We enjoyed a musical introduction to so much new and emerging talent and made plenty of new friends in the process. It is a fantastic advert for Darlington and the region. We cannot wait to take a ride back again next year for Last Train Home.

Image: Liz Lawrence at Noisy Daughters stage, Hullabaloo by Victoria Wai

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