LIVE REVIEW: Stockton Calling @ Various Venues, Stockton (08.04.23) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Avalanche Party by Tracy Hyman

Words: Robert Nichols

The gloves were off, coats off too as the sun shone down on Stockton for a day of live musical magic. From early afternoon onwards there were steady streams of music lovers wending their ways between the ten venues either side of the famously wide High Street, all within comfortable walking distance. I decided to approach my day without any advance research, so it was something of a musical mystery tour.

Upstairs above Ku Bar, The Social Room has been superbly refitted since last year. Jen Dixon and band brought strong melodies, smooth harmonies and sparkling seaside delights to the stage.

Things were a shade heavier at ARC 2 where teenagers Gone Tomorrow were making lots of converts and wooing the crowd. Driving guitars and an exciting highwire chorus for stand-out new single Matador impressed mightily.

Cortney Dixon cut a dapper figure in the Georgian Theatre. Bowie cover Rebel Rebel showcased some of the glam credentials of the music of the South Shields singer-songwriter, and her set was full of cool pop melodies, spiky riffs, big production finales and a great stage presence.

I dived upstairs for a pizza and espied Sisi from the balcony, and the home town artiste was totally in her element. Moving and grooving from Afropop through to garage via house; still a teenager and already having bagged several major national festivals and radio station plays and with a storming live persona, Stockton’s Sisi is definitely going places.

We stayed with the youthful performers for Common Courtesy, the Darlo four-piece are delighted to be making waves out of their town and in the Green Room. From metally guitars to turning on the funk and then tuning in the bluesy melodies, Common Courtesy ask us if we are ready to get funky. Not ‘arf.

Dilettante bring the lounge into The Link venue. Jazzy, arty, ambient, dreamy, spacey and sophisticated are all words that I noted down during the four-piece’s set, and we swooned to the looping, swooping vocal harmonies of singer Francesca Pidgeon.

Back over to The Social Room and The Clause are in full singalong mode on Time Of Our Lives, a high flying tuneful anthem to the lost Covid year. The Clause bring malady, melody and jeopardy with final offering My Element, and the total capacity crowd is bouncing off the ceilings.

Next up, the long awaited Stockton Calling reboot for Avalanche Party at The Social Room. A mix of old and new tonight, but nothing toned down at all as it is power overdrive, psychedelic energy excess, an incinerating, white-knuckle, crowd surfing sonic disturbance of the band hewn from the rocks beneath the North York Moors. What a return!

I dive out for a breather at Storytellers and catch Rosellas bountiful, tuneful Manchester guitar sound, then head back upstairs to The Social Room for the driving bass, mariachi brass and rhythmic delights of Opus Kink. From the Streets of London to the streets of Stockton, another stormer.

So to my finale, and the punky word-fuelled wonders of Panic Attack at ARC 2. Songs about meal deals, binning someone off for putting the milk in tea first and shushing you in the cinema – they are quirky, cheeky, super fast on the guitars and a sparkling way to round off a quite superb Saturday by the Tees.

Words: Leigh Venus

We kicked off our day at ARC as, mightily hewn from tragedy and brutal personal experiences, We Tibetans channeled a lifetime of challenging experiences into the oddly positive, ultimately uplifting tracks like Running Away and latest single White Knuckle Ride. This was solid, and occasionally soaring, rock ’n’ roll. 

Filling ARC’s massive stage with hooky bratpop and sheer force of personality, ZELAs turn saw lead Liv (swapping trademark PVC wrap for flame-flecked streetwear) throwing down party anthem High Wasted Genes and call-to-arms I Want Attention, before upcoming single – and euphoric bisexual anthem – I Really Like Her put a button on a blinder of a set before the duo announced a surprise second show later in the day.

bigfatbig were an ever-reliable riot of pink hair, trashy guitar, tiny synth and stomping, propulsive slacker pop. As ever best-served live, Robyn and Katie delivered an authentic and unapologetic punky riot of a show, upcoming single Fine lighting up a packed room for this diamond of a band that deserves a much, much bigger stage than The Storytellers next time. 

Back at ARC, self-made from struggle and relentless hard graft, Wakefield’s indie soul three-piece Skinny Living brought the working-class soul ahead of the release of their debut album, their no-drums-necessary tunes including Smoke and Never Say Die all slathered in rich, warm tones, gorgeous harmonies and the occasional dollop of funk.

EEVAH nailed their first time at Stockton Calling with a heady combo of lilting vocals, irresistible pop hooks, and killer space buns. Asking the ARC crowd whether they “wanted to vent it out” landed a resounding “yes”, the floor struggling mightily under the euphoric bouncing prompted by the fuzzy and furious electro pop of Take Me to Bed and Look What You Had.

The Queens Head, a South London five-piece boasting “the same hopeful feeling and the same hopeless dread” came out swinging with a cocky set at ARC 2 that had all the feeling of stumbling into a rage room that just happened to be full of instruments. With sexy dancing that would put Talking Heads to shame, this was esoteric, eclectic pop from a bunch of glorious oddballs. 

In a day of packed-out rooms, Benefits may have taken the cake for the hardest gig to get into at The Georgian Theatre, a sweaty, electric affair as bracingly, searingly political as ever, furious spoken word spat with venom into an all-consuming maelstrom of pounding electronica.

Going round the crowd after their set at the Green Room asking people if they wanted some ket (and handing out band stickers to the visible disappointment of many), Northumbrian joycore pushers Kkett were delirious and irrepressible, a joyous blast featuring Kraken A Bath and Bill Oddie Bastard Bitch, with a few stints from the lead singer in the crowd and on the floor before closing with Death In The Disco Toilets.

Also at the Green Room, Hot off the release of their documentary earlier in the week, composer-producer Straight Girl (neither straight nor a girl) delivered a beautifully manic, all-consuming show bursting with gorgeous, genre-bending electropunk, featuring terrifying forays into the crowd, an impromptu duet with Kketts lead singer, and a strangely heartwarming dance with an earmuff-clad baby. 

Sleeper brought the night at The Georgian Theatre to a euphoric close, the near quarters of the stage positively packed with beaming fans as the preternaturally energetic, ever-enigmatic lead and Britpop icon Louise Wener showcased still-dazzling pipes with Inbetweener, Sale of the Century and Blondie cover/Trainspotting soundtrack-classic Atomic.

Radical Manchester quartet Loose Articles wrapped the night up at NE Volume Music Bar with a bawdy political piss-taking post-punk showdown, Up the Disco, Chaos and Kicks Like a Girl the perfect chaser for another belter of a festival from the Stockton Calling gang. 


Image: Sleeper by Tracy Hyman

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