LIVE REVIEW: Women Are Mint Festival @ Cobalt Studios, Newcastle (10-12.04.19) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Ceitidh Mac by Amelia Read

Ever since the venue’s establishment, the promotion of women in creative arts has formed an integral part of Cobalt Studios’ mantra. This inclusive, multi-purpose space was then a natural host for Women Are Mint; a festival geared towards promoting local female talent and to closing the gender gap which remains entrenched across the music industry. Curated by Newcastle songwriter Martha Hill, the community-fuelled weekender supplemented live performances with DJ sets, workshops and a whole host of other activities, while an eclectic line-up ensured plenty of discoveries to go with the familiar faces.

As if to prove as much, Friday’s live offerings got underway with a newcomer in emerging singer songwriter Becca James. Backed by keys and cajón, James’ deep, soulful voice enchanted throughout, illuminating standouts such as her cover of US R&B outfit Vulfpeck’s Wait for the Moment and a stripped rendition of Control – her debut single, which drops on 24th May. Having run a noise workshop earlier in the day, Me Lost Me also arrived bearing fresh material. Although largely built around last year’s superb debut album Arcana, her masterful melange of voice, loops and sparse electronics scaled greater heights still on new single Fools Gold; a hypnotic, indignant commentary on humanity’s rape of the natural environment. Dark and foreboding, its sonic palette provided a tantalising taste of new climate change-themed EP The Lay of the Land, which launches at The Head of Steam on 31st May.

From here, the evening took a rather more upbeat turn, led by the irresistible neo-soul and jazz-inflicted grooves of Portraits. Buoyed by a bold improvisational edge, their smooth sax-splashed jams invigorated and got feet moving; a terrific segue prior to an emphatically on-song Twist Helix. Spearheaded by the vibrant synths and dramatic vocals of Bea Garcia, the group’s odes to the Ouseburn taint technicolour with dysphoria and trepidation, as the likes of Pulse and Little Buildings shine a glaring light on the area’s creative industries and the threats they face. With Ouseburn and Decade providing euphoric, celebratory counterweights, it’s difficult to recall the trio turning in a better show.

Unfortunately, Saturday was a bit of a stinker on a personal level, and come 10pm not even the infectious smiles or wicked rhythms of Ladies of Midnight Blue were enough to raise my mood. As such, I bid my leave while the duo were in full flow – bitter that I couldn’t enjoy their Afro-Latin percussive masterclass a fraction as much as literally everyone else present. I didn’t get a great deal from Picnic either, although here circumstance wasn’t entirely to blame. Certainly, their funky feelgood jazz-pop went down a storm, but even on a good day I suspect their sunshine vibes and middle of the road choruses would have placed me in a dissenting minority.

The Cornshed Sisters by Amelia Read

Saturday was by no means a write-off, though. Granted, The Cornshed Sisters’ decision to dress like “a folk band going to a disco in space” (their words) may well have contributed towards my migraines, yet their acoustic pop melodies and five-way harmonies frequently proved a delight, intervening with timely swells whenever songs bordered on mere pleasantry. Better still, the evening began with a terrific set from Edinburgh-based visitors Jolly Abacus & The Positive Experience. Backing their leader’s spirited beat poetry with keys, cowbells, funky guitar licks and plenty more besides, the quartet were an inspired leftfield addition, displaying a deep appreciation of both hip-hop heritage and the event’s socio-political ethos. If queer raps exploring anxiety and the bitter theme of love sound up your alley, be sure to seek them out!

Luckily for me, Sunday presented a decidedly more relaxed programme. With windows ajar, this family-friendly afternoon saw the room flood with natural light, not to mention food stalls, face painting, and arts and crafts – and, naturally, lots and lots of little people. As for the music, Laurie Shephard kickstarted proceedings with a selection of alluring, world-weary numbers steeped in history and the wisdom it offers. Of course, things rarely transpire so smoothly, and as such her most evocative cut was Lines on Maps, a pertinent lament of international borders and those who continually exploit them to sew division. More introspective ruminations, meanwhile, were offered by Ruth Patterson, whose best musical moments centred around her experiences of chronic illness. Above all, it’s clear how such trials have helped forge her identity, be it through a stirring cover of Cold War Kids’ Hospital Beds (her “favourite song in the world”) or That’s Alright, through which she shared her own original perspective. Sunday’s highlight, though, came via a bewitching amalgam of cello, glockenspiel and spare electronics from Ceitidh Mac. Beguiling in tone, her multifaceted sound is augmented by a deep, dry vocal delivery, while highlights such as the majestic single Rhythm and wondrous instrumental Satellite Stalactite inject traditional components with an inventive, contemporary spin.

With an early finish, all which remained were a selection of pop classics courtesy of SHE Choir Newcastle – from Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams to Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody and Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Featuring all manner of ages, identities and singing abilities, they were a fitting note on which to conclude, encapsulating the collectivism and sense of community which rendered the weekend a heartening triumph. With no quick fixes regarding representation and such a depth of female talent from which to choose, here’s hoping Women Are Mint returns next year.


She Choir by Amelia Read

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