LIVE REVIEW: Waves Festival @ Various Venues, Sunderland (05.11.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: The Pale White by Tracy Hyman

Words: Tracy Hyman & Robert Nichols

I always feel a great sense of community when I attend festivals in Sunderland. The music scene there seems so supportive and today it was coming together not just for Waves, but for local singer-songwriter Faye Fantarrow. Faye has been diagnosed with a rare brain tumour and needs treatment in the USA, which means a lot of fundraising. Throughout the day collection buckets and posters were visible and all the bands promoted the cause during their sets. Faye is tipped for big things, last year she won the Alan Hull award for songwriting and she is BBC Introducing in the North East’s top tip for 2022. She is part of the essence of the local music community and it is heartening to see the strength of support that she has.

Waves was my first opportunity to see the city’s newest venue The Fire Station. On walking in I was impressed by the atmosphere of the place, the lovely The Engine Room adjoined serving food and drinks, the foyer area used for pop-up bands and singers, the intimacy of the venue itself with a great view from every angle. I picked up my tickets with minutes to spare and rushed over to the first venue, Live Lounge, for The Lake Poets.

Martin, aka The Lake Poets, is one of the leaders of the Young Musician’s Project songwriting group, of which Faye has been a key member and has inspired younger members, so at the start of the set her cause gets a mention, the first of many that day. A busy room, seated, stood and crowded round the stage to hear Martin’s heartfelt songs. Rarely played City By The Sea gets a joyous outing, and it’s a perfect song for a hometown gig and a perfect start to the festival.

I’m from God’s back garden, Darlington,” quips Luke Royalty. “And now I’m in Sunderland. It’s bigger than I thought it was.” He performs soulful pop songs with spoken word elements and the tunes feel laid back and summery, but it’s impossible to pigeonhole Luke. Lyrically his songs are relevant and reflective, with melodic hooks and syncopation. Final song Commuter induces an “Ahh wooo” sing alongs, arms aloft and swaying.

Upstairs at The Ship Isis lies a tiny room, with the stage on one side and a Vaux Breweries mirror on the wall opposite. As soon as Wax Heart Sodality enter the room vocals reverberate around the four walls. The masked and plumed deep-voiced singer points and poses at the audience, and song by song the mic stand is moved off the stage, closer and closer to the centre of the room. The singer is in your face, there’s an arm around your shoulder. No one is safe. He circles the mic, dances and hand claps, as a wall of sound, dark and atmospheric, ends with screams cried out behind the curtain at the window. Then they’re out the door with not even a word to the audience spoken. Mesmerising.

It’s one-in-one-out for Tom A. Smith’s performance at Independent, so I just manage to catch the end of his set, squeezing in to the packed room. He ends with Dragonfly, his infectious indie pop sound pulsing through the room. Drums drive the beat, guitar and keys dancing, rhythmic and compelling. The energy in the room is palpable.

My first trip to The Fire Station, and the dance sounds of Vandebilt emanate throughout the space. Made up of some of the veterans of the Sunderland music scene (Lilliput/This Little Bird) they weave a groove throughout their songs, and synth-laden riffs dance to the electro pop sounds. They’re funky and irresistible.

Parked up outside Independent was an NL reg tour van: Amsterdam’s Pip Blom were back in town. The indie post-punk four-piece were like a musical firecracker lighting up the dark stage of the venue. They project so much drive and enthusiasm from the flying, frying guitars and incessant beat of music that wraps around the irresistible vocals of Pip herself. The band give out so much positive energy it becomes infectious. Soon the whole crowd are dancing and weaving along. What a delight.

A quick dash down the street via the late-night Baker’s Oven, and it was heavy riffage all the way from Fire Station headliners The Pale White. The three-piece pack enough punch for a band twice the size. Steaming in from Newcastle, they are keen to promote their Mackem ancestry. The set builds towards a big hitting finale, there are roars of approval for firm favourites That Dress and Medicine. What a climax to the day.

Image: Pip Blom by Tracy Hyman

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