LIVE REVIEW: Peterlee 75: Isabel Maria, Steve Pledger, Brick, The Lake Poets, Paul Smith @ Lubetkin Theatre, East Durham College (21/1/24) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Photos by Tracy Hyman

Everyone loves a birthday celebration and when Peterlee reached the grand old age of 75 years the invites were thrown out far and wide to join in. How could we resist? Especially with musical artists of the calibre of Paul Smith (Maximo Park) and The Lake Poets performing. Paul would include in his set a special composition for the new town born in an age of tremendous optimism and hope in the immediate post-war period. The Lake Poets were among many performers conducting workshops with local school children, co-writing songs and then performing them jointly with the pupils on the stage. That stage was in the wonderful Lubetkin Theatre in East Durham College.

Five days of gigs culminated in the Sunday show starting mid-afternoon with local poet Bob Beagrie as MC and also regaling us with poems crafted from the memories of local care home residents. Talented teenage East Durham student Isabel Maria has already gigged around the area. Seated at the keyboards, it was the perfect platform to charm us although beware the sting in the tail; a Flower walk ended up with Isabel having to leave with hay fever. A special birthday song for Peterlee Place To Be brought the set to a rousing end.

Steve Pledger always sings out loud and strong for the underprivileged and unfulfilled. Yet, it is never preachy, there is a real streak of compassion through all his memorable songs. It must have been a rare treat for the primary children to work with Steve to craft a song they performed together. Brick are Bridie Jackson (minus the Arbour) and Nick Pierce. Viola, keyboards, guitar and the soaring, soothing voice of Bridie. Songs of reflection and grieving, as well as a folk version of Living in Electric Dreams, the Brick set had it all, with a primary school chorus as a climax.

It has been a long time since I have seen The Lake Poets Marty Longstaff with a band. This special gig saw Marty backed up by not one but two bands. St Bede’s School provided the musicians and extra voices for a really lively pop song about the heart continuing to beat in Peterlee. There was so much heart and humanity in The Lake Poets set, songs born from the community built around the collieries and the shipyards surely struck a chord. Talking of which, what a fantastic band.

Paul Smith forewarned us he would talk and play a few songs in between and he was as good as his word. This made it a fascinating intimate affair as the Maximo Park frontman put each song in context as well as his self-inflicted ailments; a splattered thumb and a Billingham parmo Sunday lunch. Songs were drawn from his solo albums and also last year’s collaboration with Rachel Unthank, often with a nod to the setting and the event. For instance, Fill In The Blanks from Contradictions includes a walk through Jesmond Dene, which might easily be local beauty spot Castle Eden Dene.

Paul rested his thumb as he launched unaccompanied into the highly emotional song of the stricken ex-miner, Ah Cud Hew, originally penned by Ed Pickford. Just about time to squeeze in a double encore of Maximo Park numbers. By The Monument was dedicated to the Peterlee space race tribute, the Apollo Pavilion. Then finally, to bring the whole show and indeed series of shows to a conclusion, a mighty rendition of the smash hit, Apply Some Pressure.

Happy Birthday Peterlee.

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