Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

A debut festival in Teesside chock-full of great new, mainly unsigned, bands and artists, The Gathering Sounds will be a regular on the calendar from now on.

A debut late September festival in the North East titled ‘The Gathering Sounds’ was announced with little fanfare in July this year and as its base was Stockton-on-Tees, which is only an hour drive from my house, so it went into the diary straight away. Can’t help but try to keep festival season going after some mammoth 4-day weekends at Leeds, Kendal and Boomtown this year. This is a metropolitan festival though, which basically means it opens the doors to several venues in the city and you get 1 wristband and it’s first come first served on the doors throughout the afternoon and evening. Stockton already does this for the established Stockton Calling festival in has a thriving music venue scene and they opened ARC, The Georgian Theatre, the 2 KU Bars, Green Room and Vault. Some 35 artists turned up across all 6 venues, headlining we thought were The Blinders, however Thom isn’t well, so they had dropped out midweek due to illness. Avalanche Party stepped in though, which was an unexpected bonus and they managed to juggle 2 gigs, an appearance in Doncaster in the afternoon with a 10pm start tonight in ARC.

Avalanche Party

First though was Cleargreen in KU2, as a starter there were only a few people around, but those that were there heard some nice jangly indie music – think The La’s or Oasis at a stretch. Ali Staley wore the brightest yellow coat today, and they went higher up my expectations ladder when covering I believe a Jorja Smith song right at the end, showed a bit of bravery from these young lads from Greater Manchester. New track ‘People’ was the standout song of their set.

Cleargreen-2

Cleargreen

KU have 2 venues (upstairs and downstairs) so it was easy to just spend the time drifting between these 2 stages in the late afternoon. I was eagerly anticipating the next band on my list – Crystal, as I’d been playing ‘Speak of the Devil’ for weeks, it has a chorus of “Can’t get you outta my head” and rightly so, it’s a tune of some serious high powered turbo rock, and as I’m early with only about 10 other people in the room, I can’t believe my luck as they are sound checking playing it. Nothing quite prepared me though for the wide-eyed stare from Anna Shields as she stepped off the stage area and walked amongst us at the front of the crowd, only two feet away and looking directly into our eyes whilst singing – a little intense to say the least. A crying shame that there weren’t more people there to see this performance, and I can only imagine a packed-out sweaty King Tuts in their hometown of Glasgow will be a riot this week. ‘Sex Rich’ is another punchy punk opus to get the adrenalin pumping, whilst ‘Sugar Sweet’ has a more grunge feel in the style of L7/Hole et al, all shouty choruses and thumping rhythm and basslines, if they aren’t playing some much bigger venues next year, I’ll be amazed. Crystal are coming back to Stockton on 16th November as part of the BBC 6 Music ‘Songs from Northern Britain’ show which will see them alongside York’s brilliant The Howl & The Hum and Leeds all girl rock outfit Venus amongst others. That’s another date needed in the diary.

Crystal-2

Crystal-3

Crystal

Back in the KU main room James Leonard Hewitson is playing songs from his yet to be released album ‘Only the noise will save me’. Tight backing band with a guitarist that couldn’t stay still for 5 seconds, ensured his songs were given a full workout. ‘Deader’ was the only one I knew thanks to The Gathering Sounds Spotify playlist, but it was enough to hear his socially tormented lyrics like “I could hide behind the screen of my computer, I’m still walking around in the same old sweater” matched with an earworm pop chorus of “I’m feeling deader, deader, deader”. There is more to this Hartlepool lad than just another singer/songwriter, so watch out for the album when it drops very soon.

James Leonard Hewitson

Social Room were playing in KU2 and it was busy for a change, full of mid 90’s mod/indie haircuts on 50+ year old blokes, they obviously have a good following but their Oasish sounds left me a little cold, I just had the feeling that I’ve seen it all before, the anoraks, tambourine shaking, the haircuts, the swagger. I don’t want to diss them as they clearly have their place and plenty of local fans, but it was tired enough to send me over the street to Vault to watch a more interesting 3-piece band called Pink Tide. Coming across as a Supergrass inspired indie band, there was more to be heard in a live setting than initially expected. Sure, there are the classic indie chorus-based tracks like ‘Change My Mind’ but somewhere in there is a blues-based guitarist who could switch the tempo down a little and rock out some startling blues solos. Give me some Hendrix, Cream or Zep inspired slow bass rumblings and I think you are on to a winner here.

Social Room

Pink Tide

So much to see, and as you head through the clashfinder you realise most of it is on last, meaning I can’t possibly see it all and choices need to be made. I decide to camp in the ARC for the evening, it’s a really great venue and I’m hugely impressed with the sound quality and the stage/lighting. Much more professional than anywhere else I would visit. There is a band on as I arrive Be Quiet Shout Loud and it felt like I had stepped into a 70’s Phoenix Nights rock tribute act performance. Lots of silver suits, make up, scarves and bright shades. The singer was a larger than life hairy guy who would whip this small audience into a frenzy with his jokey party band antics, even having a confetti gun at the end. However, I’m really at The Gathering Sounds for the next 3 acts – MarthaGunn, Sophie & The Giants and Avalanche Party (The Blinders replacement).

Be Quiet Shout Loud

I first saw MarthaGunn at Kendal Calling last year and they were the closest thing to Fleetwood Mac or maybe Florence & The Machine that I had seen in years. Tonight, I felt no different and witnessing them on a decent stage and lighting was a complete joy for the 40mins or so they had as a slot. Singer Abi is either confined to her keyboard or manages to get out and throw some hippy shapes across the stage, an incredible voice which reminds me so much of Julianne Regan of Leeds 80’s Goth/Folk Rock All About Eve. The whole band puts their heart and soul into the live performance. ‘Saint Cecelia’ and ‘Honey Let Me Know’ were amazing, and the lights and sound of the ARC added to the emotional dynamics. Perfect acoustic moments with harmonies galore as they grouped around the mics before launching into another folk/rock refrain, it just felt incredibly accomplished for a band playing some of the smaller local venues on their Love and Emotion tour. Several fans here tonight had just come to see them, having already been at their shows on previous nights, it seems that they gather new devotees wherever they play.

Martha Gunn-3

Martha Gunn-2

The next band up on the ARC stage were Sophie and the Giants, and having seen them twice this summer already, I knew what to expect, at Kendal Calling I saw them by chance and stopped to watch the whole set, it was immense. Sophie Scott is a powerful young frontwoman who (when reading her bio) has gone through some difficult adolescent times but emerged as this strong confident singer with a booming voice and cool dance moves. I had brought my daughter Aimee to see them and unsurprisingly she was transfixed throughout. From the opening of ‘Waste My Air’ to the closing ‘Bulldog’ it was a cavalcade of punchy pop/rock anthems that should be on everyone’s favourite streaming playlist. New recruit on Bass, Antonia Pooles is everywhere, bending backwards and then on her knees, they all put so much energy into each song. I’m prepared to nail my colours to the mast and say if this band are not playing a Main Stage or two at festivals in the next couple of years it will be a complete travesty, surely their debut album must be coming hopefully soon, for now we will have to make do with the Adolescence EP and others tracks found on Spotify. Sophie and the Giants are almost at the end of their first headlining tour, but they do play York on Sunday 13th October – I’ve bought tickets already.

Sophie & The Giants-5

Sophie & The Giants-2

Sophie & The Giants-3

After that no other band would get to the same peak, and it was tempting to call it a night but as Avalanche Party were about to go on the same ARC stage in place of The Blinders then let’s stay for a couple. Opening with ‘I’m so wet’ the focus is completely on lead singer Jordan Bell as he is stripped to the waist and having water splashed at him from a couple of loyal followers. It is controlled chaos from all the band and you couldn’t tell they had already played one gig today already, having hot footed it from Doncaster, they respected The Blinders by covering ‘Brave New World’ tonight.

Avalanche Party-2

Avalanche Party-3

On our way home we called in at The Green Room for some sweet country/folk acoustic songs from Georgie. There were only 4 people in the room when we arrived, but nonetheless it felt like a sweet intimate gathering as Georgie poured her heart out on stage, just her and a guitar, we all ended up down at the front for the last song. A quiet end to a busy day, but as a debut festival The Gathering Sounds feels like a success, perhaps they overestimated on ticket sales and should have concentrated on just 4 venues, but that wouldn’t have given such intimate opportunity to see some incredibly fine artists at close range. This has been a great day for new and unsigned bands to showcase what they are made of and I hope it will continue for years to come.

Georgie

LISTENING: Sophie & The Giants – Adolescence EP

WATCHING: Crystal – ‘Sugar Sweet’ Live at Kendal
Sophie & The Giants – ‘Bulldog’

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