Wasteland Festival in Newcastle had it’s inaugural season this year and not without a little controversy. Just a few days before it was due to take place the three day event said that it would be moving from it’s advertised pitch by the Tyne and instead take up the main room in the O2 Academy in Newcastle instead. They would also lose the Sunday event (headlined by Richard Ashcroft) but still keep Friday and Saturday’s shows (topped by Bloc Party and Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls respectively). I’m not here to ask why, to me it's probably a combination of a few different things. As far as I'm concerned I’m just here to give you my thoughts on the Saturday show, the one that interested me the most.
With doors opening at five and an unusual extended curfew at the Academy meaning an eleven finish, the event had six hours to go through the six bands and change overs, meaning everything would be incredibly tight. It’s a good job that the crew on hand were up to the task with everyone working to the best of their abilities. When time slipped away at times, the hard work of everyone involved meant that everything went through really smoothly with gear swaps and timings adhered to as much as possible. I'm not even aware of anyone having to drop any songs (although I'm happy to be corrected on this). Being indoors in a controlled environment probably made things a lot easier than they could have been.
Arriving some twenty minutes after the doors opened means that we miss the first song or two from opening act Seán McGowan, a Southampton troubadour very much in the styling of the headline act. McGowan and his three piece backing band were the perfect opener to the proceedings, his songs were easy to listen to; upbeat and catchy. He’s also pretty good with his between song banter too. “Bet you’re pleased it’s inside now” he quipped, “it’s pissing down out there.” My favourite though had to be when he asked people if they had brought a picnic in along with them. “We all know drinks aren’t cheap at an O2” he added which had even the local security guard in front of me chuckling to themselves. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on future gigs up here from him.
Second up were Manchester’s Hot Milk, a Post Emo/Pop Punk band fronted by both Jim and Han. The guys were tight, with Tom on bass and Harry pounding away at the rhythms, as Jim and Han swapped between who was leading each song. Hot Milk never gave anything less than 100% on the stage and clearly looked as though they were in their element playing to a room that was slowly starting to fill up. Not necessarily my usual thing musically, the band come across a bit like Linkin Park, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Both LP and HM have a good ear for melody and infectious energy, something which translated across to the audience really well. Hell, even I was nodding my head along with them after a couple of songs, as jaded as I can be at times. Hot Milk are definitely the quintessential festival band when you need a bit of an energy recharge.
Local act Holy Moly And The Crackers are really starting to build a buzz that’s filtering well past the North East. Second Album “Take A Bite” is easily one of the best albums released this year and the sextet are showing no signs of slowing down. Mixing Folk Punk Pop as if channeled through the legendary B-52’s, Holy Moly lure you in with so many hooks. Ruth on lead vocals and violin really catches your attention as her husband Conrad prowls the stage catching you unawares with his voice on songs like “Sugar” as the rest of the band create a musical whirlwind behind them. There’s a good reason why “Cold Comfort Lane” was picked to feature on the soundtrack to Hollywood blockbuster “Ocean’s 8” and that’s because this is a band that manages to sound both familiar and new at the same time. They're a whirlwind of musical influences that polka dance through your brain. If you haven’t heard them yet get straight over to the streaming platform of your choice and start to enrich your life. You can thank me later.
Beans On Toast (AKA Jay McAllister) is a long time friend of Frank’s and his set of solo folky political songs break up the evening quite nicely. His style is very loose and mellow but he manages to charm most of the audience into falling in love with him. When someone asks him to play a certain song he manages a few lines before admitting he can’t remember what comes next in it and even after a few helpful shouts he's still is none the wiser. Rather than dwell upon it Beans treats us to a song he’s not even finished yet, adding afterwards that we get to hear it before he can add a chorus and another couple of verses. How can you not love that? He removes any pretence of being an artist and songwriter, coming across as a really nice, genuine guy who is in love with the world and just wants us to be able to have a fun time while we’re here, the sort of guy you want to grab a beer or two with in your local while putting the world to rights. Next time your in the North East Beans, the first round is on me.
Now, The Wildhearts have been a part of my life probably as long as they’ve been a band (that’s nearly thirty years now). They were always a band that should have been massive, a household name with a strong legacy of albums under their belt including this year’s release. “Renaissance Men” is an album that takes you by surprise with just how good it is. However, most of Turner’s audience seem to be wondering why these guys were added to the bill as they don’t quite fit in with anyone else. That’s because Frank loved the band as a teenager (something he talks about in his set later on) and Ginger, the band’s frontman, and himself have become good friends over the years. Turner has even appeared at some of their gigs over the past few years as well as adding some backing vocals to their current album, something that seems to have slipped under the radar with a fair size portion of the crowd tonight.
Rather than seducing the audience, Ginger, CJ, Danny and Ritch decide to take the “pummel them into submission” approach, with opener “Dislocated” and it’s screamed verse vocals giving the young girl stood next to me what I can only describe politely as a bit of a shock. The band have a lot of material they can draw from and focus on the faster, high energy cuts from their career, three of them coming from their current album. With songs like “Everlone”, “Vanilla Radio”, “Suckerpunch” and “Caffeine Bomb” The Wildhearts show that they marry melody and heaviness with ease. They all look as though they’re enjoying themselves so much up there, with Danny and Ginger smiling at each other part way through the set, something I’d given up hope of seeing a few years ago. They also prove with “Let ‘Em Go” (featuring a cameo from the headliner) and “Diagnosis” that their newer songs can hang with the best of their classics. They finish off with “I Wanna Go Where The People Go”, my voice hoarse from all the singing and shouting along to my favourite bands. They’re not here to make friends, their high volume and high octane set has destroyed some of the more fragile audience members. When the aforementioned girl next to me mentions to her friend that they were “the worst support band of the night” all I can do is grin to myself. They might not be everyone’s cup of tea but, fuck it, The Wildhearts are an (in)glorious burst of noise and energy. Long may they reign doing whatever the hell they want to do, just as long as they keep doing it.
It’s been a good few months since seeing my last gig which was, by coincidence, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls in Leeds earlier this year on my birthday. The night had taken on an almost spiritual part of my memory, with Frank’s music performing a soundtrack to my personal fight against my mental health, particularly anxiety. After coming through a particularly tough spell recently I was looking forward to this set as a form of musical medication. Who was it who said that music can sooth the savage soul? It really can, especially with song’s like tonight’s opener “Get Better”, it’s chorus shouted back at the band by a bouncing audience. The band just seem to keep on improving every time I see them. Bassist Tarrant Anderson plays his bass in a way that makes it look as though it’s alive and trying to constantly escape his clutches. Ben Lloyd, to Turner’s right, skips around the stage with guitar and mandolin, a big grin on his face. To the rear of the stage is the suave Matt Nasir, adding extra colour to the songs with keyboards and occasional mandolin (who knew that outside of the Country music scene there would be bands with TWO mandolin players in them?), while drummer Nigel Powell adds a sense of style and panache to proceedings, locking in the rhythm tight while adding flourishes with his drum sticks and managing backing vocals at the same time (I’ll admit that Nigel is up there with Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls as one of my favourite drummers to watch). I honestly can’t think of a tighter, better playing band in the UK right now.
For show 2366, Frank and the band are bringing out a beast of a set. It’s a full blown sprint at times with spirited stabs with “1933” and “Long Live The Queen” forming part of the opening salvo. In fact it really should be noted that Frank is probably our generation’s Bruce Springsteen, especially as some songs change and adapt along their lives (like the previously mentioned “GSTQ”). Throw in some choice cuts from “Be More Kind” (including it’s title track) as well as songs from every part of their career and you have something for everyone. Frank’s usual mid set solo break this time featured “Sister Rosetta” a song from his forthcoming album “Tales From No Man’s Land” before slowly easing us gently back into the main set.
Frank knows how to work a stage and a crowd. There’s not a spot up there that isn’t covered by him or the rest of the band. He’s down along the front barrier high fiving people as he runs past them (yes, one of them was me and I’m damn happy he did). He’s even past the barrier at a couple of points, crowd surfing and becoming part of the audience. While he’s not up there front and centre, the band still soldier away, not slackening the pace at any point. If you go into the history of The Beatles you’ll hear stories of their mammoth live sessions as a band playing in Europe. This is an art that’s lost on a lot of modern musicians but not this lot. The gig is essential, Turner is practically on the road most of the year, something that will no doubt slow down at some point, possibly by choice. Life needs to be led away from this six string circus at times and if anyone deserves some respite from that it’s Turner and his crew of Sleeping Souls.
The eighteen song set draws to a close without encore as the minutes slip ever closer to curfew time. A passionate “Recovery”, a wistful “I Still Believe” and a glorious “4 Simple Words” draws proceedings to a close after Turner, as usual, ventures out into the crowd to dance with someone in the crowd before surfing back to the stage just as the band is finishing the song and the set. Before you know it, there are thank you’s and arm waves as the band head back to their dressing room to change and relax a little bit before heading off into the night for “the next one thousand shows”. It’s almost part church revival show as Turner channels the healing power of Rock and Roll into the audience. He’s not curing the lame or allowing the blind to see but for ninety minutes on that stage he gives us joy, he gives us hope, he reminds us that we can all find our way in life and, even if we know where we’re going, he’ll make sure we travel on our way without feeling alone.
Damn, that was a fine gig.
Frank Turner - https://www.facebook.com/frankturnermusic/
The Wildhearts - https://www.facebook.com/TheWildhearts/
Beans On Toast - https://www.facebook.com/beansontoastmusic/
Holy Moly And The Crackers - https://www.facebook.com/holymolyandthecrackers/
Hot Milk - https://www.facebook.com/youlikehotmilk/
Seán McGowan - https://www.facebook.com/seanmcgowanmusicuk/