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We might be light on ‘in real life’ live performances and events over the coming weeks, but there’s still plenty of music and creativity to dive into! Find out about new releases from Fax Machine, Michael CG, George Boomsma, Will Good & The Mattes, Marske, E-Mence, Lanterns on the Lake, Shy-Talk and more, plus livestreams from Motorhouse Studios, our NARC. TV series on YouTube continues, there’s online exhibitions at Eston Arts Centre, online dance performances courtesy of Dance City and a virtual theatre festival at Northern School of Art

INTERVIEWS 12 | NEW JAZZ & IMPROVISED MUSIC RECORDINGS 14 | LIVING IN SHADOWS 15 | BALTIC OPEN SUBMISSIONS 16 | ENDEM & ROB IRISH While putting together the images for this month’s cover I got lost down a rabbit hole of digital editions, (too few) printed mags and (too many) folders named ‘cancelled stuff ’. During this rather depressing task I was struck by our optimism – May’s issue, for example, carried an article about rescheduled events which seemed to suggest we’d all be packed into sweaty gigs and comedy clubs come July. Then, as now, I was excited by the innovation and online activity that we were cramming our pages with; we couldn’t be together, but we could still create. Now, I’m afraid to say, the optimism has dissipated somewhat. I write this on the day we discovered the North East would be placed into the highest restrictions after lockdown ends, and I can truthfully say the only thing I’m looking forward to right now is tonight’s glass bottle of wine. Come tomorrow morning though, it’ll be time to reassess and ask ourselves important questions, like what can we do to make this period of uncertainty and sadness better for those around us, and how do we move forward in positive and creative ways? I decided well before Tier 3 was hovering over our heads like an ominous rain cloud exactly what we wouldn’t be doing. We wouldn’t fill our pages full of pointless articles about bound-to-be-cancelled events, we wouldn’t throw up our hands and admit defeat, we’d do what we have always striven to do: we’ll shine a light on the positive, the creative, the innovative and the beautiful; we’ll entertain you, whether through digital pixels, sights or sounds; we’ll help those in the industry who are struggling, as best we can, to fight for their survival. As such, within our pages this month you’ll find stories of wonderful achievements, thrilling creativity and excitement for the future. Best wishes to you and yours, and here’s to a hopeful new year. x Editor Claire Dupree info@narcmedia.com Website David Saunders narcmagazineonline@gmail.com Creative El Roboto Advertising Claire Dupree info@narcmedia.com

Cover Image Vicky Markham Contributors Chris J Allan / Paul Broadhead / Mark Corcoran-Lettice / Caitlin Disken / Laura Doyle / Lee Fisher / Lee Hammond / Francoise Harvey / James Hattersley / Louise Henry / Jonathan Horner / Jason Jones / Beverley Knight / Ben Lowes-Smith / Tom McLean / Jay Moussa-Mann / Robert Nichols / Ikenna Offor / Stephen Oliver / Nicola Owen / Damian Robinson / Elodie A Roy / David Saunders / Steve Spithray / Jamie Taylor / Robin Webb / Ali Welford

Stay social, connect with us NARC.magazine @narc_magazine @narcmagazine

NARC. Magazine, Tel: 07748 907 914 Email: info@narcmedia.com Web: www.narcmagazine.com Published monthly by NARC. Media. Printed by Reach Printing Services, Middlesbrough. Distributed by CSGN All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or part without permission from the publishers. The opinions expressed in NARC. belong to the individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of NARC. or its staff. NARC. welcomes ideas and contributions but can assume no responsibility for unsolicited manuscripts, photographs or illustrations

18 | NE DONS 19 | DISTRICT ATTORNEY 20 | BENJAMIN FITZGERALD 21 | GOBSCURE 23 | BENJAMIN AMOS 24 | CHRISTMAS FEATURE 26 | 2020 (WASN’T ALL BAD) In an effort to prove that 2020 wasn’t a complete write off, we spoke to musicians, comedians, artists and theatre makers to find out about their challenges, successes and achievements this year. Plus, we get recommendations from musicians about some of their favourite local artists.

REVIEWS 54 | DEMOS Featuring Back In The Dark, Eve Cole, Isabel Hudson, FAWNS and Goat Majesty

55 | TRACKS Reviews of new releases from local artists including Sophia, Nadedja, Feed Your Wolves, The Strands, Danica Dares, Slow Decades, Conor Michael, Smithereen, Andrew Bradley, Ceiling Demons and Faithful Johannes

56 | ALBUMS Reviews of new albums by Viagra Boys, Daniel Knox, Kiwi Jr., Rhye, Son Lux, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Sigur Ros, Lande Hekt, Half Japanese, The Besnard Lakes, James Yorkston, Shanghai Restoration Project and loads more

60 | MIXTAPE Richyy Hetheringtin chooses some of his favourite festive tracks ahead of his annual charity Advent Calender event

Next Issue Out 27th January


PREVIEWS Hello… At the time of press, the North East has been placed in the highest tier of restrictions. This clearly has a profound effect on the businesses and people we champion every month, not to mention you, dear Constant Readers. It’s going to be difficult to predict what will happen over the coming months with any degree of accuracy, and our hearts go out to those in hospitality, performance-based businesses and creatives who won’t know if they’re coming or going from one month to the next. As for us, we’re as much in the dark as anyone, and while it saddens us greatly to have to go back to publishing digitally, we’re absolutely determined that as soon as our outlets are happy to welcome us back we’ll be there in the format we love. In the meantime, there will be much to engage with; our region’s creatives are old hands in the virtual world now, so expect livestreams and online creativity to flourish. When it happens, we’ll bring it to you via these pages and on our website, where you can get up to date information and entertainment. Thanks for reading. The thought of you keeps us going. Claire & the NARC. team

George Boomsma by Josh Tarn



Words: Jay Moussa-Mann Chinatown is the latest exquisite EP from George Boomsma. The four-track EP was recorded live to tape at Echo Zoo Studios, with the addition of a string quartet bolstering George’s refined guitar mastery. The title track


immediately stands out, throwing together all the best parts of Boomsma’s sound; his warm melodic voice, his poetry, clever songwriting and deft guitar playing. Boomsma skilfully throws in chord changes, surprising the listener while at the same time making them feel as though they had been waiting for that particular resolution all their life. SamSara is another quiet gem nestling towards the end, don’t miss it! This EP reaches new musical heights for Boomsma, bearing the huge sweeping emotion of a 1930s Hollywood soundtrack, with all the gentleness and soul of the Laurel Canyon

scene. The vintage sound is no accident, with the subtle fingerprints of producer and studio owner Dave Izumi Lynch, creating the characteristic saturation and crunch of tape recording. Having supported many established artists such as Maximo Park’s Paul Smith and with a memorable musical appearance on UKTV’s Taskmaster, George Boomsma is definitely one to keep an eye on, and Chinatown is the perfect collection to warm you through the season. George Boomsma releases Chinatown on 6th December www.georgeboomsma.com


When Saturn Returns by Alicia Meehan



Words: Claire Dupree While Dance City’s spaces have been quieter this year, there’s still been plenty of activity behind the scenes. Not least the creation of brand new work by some of the region’s most exciting performers. As part of the Newcastle venue’s annual professional platform event, Dance Edits, eight artists and companies from the North East and Scotland have been developing their work with support from Dance City through residencies and surgeries. Audiences will get a chance to enjoy an eclectic evening of live performance and dance film on Friday 11th December, as Dance Edits gets an online outing. Each performance is roughly 10 minutes long, offering a variety of work and concepts. Adam Russell’s Love_Dances (Phase 2) explores the universality of love; Alicia Meehan’s When Saturn Returns is a colourful work about real life friendship and selfexploration; Ellen Spence’s dance documentary follows culture, community and connection with artists, refugees and migrants in the UK and Lebanon; developed for families and children,

Jennifer Essex’s How Long Is A Piece Of String? is a digitally interactive work in development; Lila Naruse explores happiness, existence and struggle in her piece, FLOW; Patricia Suarez presents La Llorona, a choreographic exploration of femininity and internalised emotion; Penny Chivas’ Burnt Out takes climate change as its subject matter, with text and choreography used to question how we got here and what may lie ahead; while Meta4Dance’s Anonymous is a fluid and contemporary piece exploring the representation of the dancers’ identity performed in a raw and open way. Dance Edits is available to view on Dance City’s website on Friday 11th December www.dancecity.co.uk



Words: Laura Doyle Band-turned-solo-project Will Good & The Mattes takes regional pride to the next level with the latest release Three Tynes. This hefty

seven song EP celebrates all things River Tyne. But in a move that will only disappoint geographers and the like, this is not just a bunch of songs about meanders and oxbow lakes. Instead, from the sparsely populated highlands and origins of the river in Kielder to the escapism of the mouth of the Tyne, the record personifies every step of the river’s formation in a heartfelt, romantic story. In a genius move which combines both the iconic aesthetics of the North East and its unique culture, North and South Tynes appear as two loves making their own way in the world from humble origins to become a torrential force to be reckoned with. From techno-rock opener Something Else to the folkish mellowness of This Place, and even the disjointed classic rock energy of What A Pair We Make, each track embodies a different aspect of life by the River Tyne. As someone who has spent most of their life in the region, the character of the North East is easily recognisable. Best enjoyed on a moody drive from the depths of Northumberland or Wearside to our gorgeous coastline. Will Good & The Mattes release Three Tynes on 1st December www.willgoodandthemattes.com



Fax Machine



Words: Ali Welford Regular local gig goers will probably recognise David Turnbull by now – whether he’s creating a doomy din with Okay Champ, tranquil dream pop with The Dawdler or most recently retro torch songs with Lovely Assistant. By contrast, the guitarist’s own project, Fax Machine, is yet to make its live debut, but has gathered a word-of-mouth following regardless on the strength of last summer’s low-key full-length, Soup. A gloriously off-kilter patchwork of lo-fi alt. pop, the record was likened in these pages to “a broken Field Music”; an aesthetic Turnbull has expanded and then some on this month’s follow-up, Ouch! While Soup was pieced together from around a decade of disparate ideas, the new record benefits from a more focused gestation, with work (alongside returning producer Willy Thorneycroft) having commenced immediately after its predecessor’s release. Exploring the interplay between childhood memories and adult dreams with a characteristic discordant clang, Ouch! nevertheless skips through a


melange of idiosyncratic sounds, effortlessly offsetting jarring and peculiar pop nuggets like Motorbike and Spelling Kids with stripped dirge-rockers such as the sax-splashed Scole Group. Due on 11th December, it’s a late addition to the bounty of brilliant releases North East artists have treated us to in 2020 – an early gift in this oddest of festive periods! Fax Machine releases Ouch! via Treetrunk on 11th December www.faxmachinemusic.bandcamp.com



Words: Caitlin Disken “One positive that has come from all of this crazy period is that it has offered an opportunity to diversify and democratise the industry,” says Jonny Bussell, Faculty Leader for the Acting Stage and Screen degree at the Northern School of Art. With coronavirus making physical performances unfeasible, the Hartlepool-based school is holding a week-long online festival to celebrate the work of their acting students. Entitled Interact, the festival will take place between Monday 18th-Friday 22nd January, and aims to equip students with the skills needed to enter a post-pandemic acting

industry. It will feature mockumentaries, solo shows and a contemporary rework of Georg Buchner’s tragedy Woyzeck which will mix livestreamed performance, recorded montage and projection mapping, whilst also utilsing Instagram and Twitter to showcase the students’ skills beyond the traditional stage. “The sector is changing and is so different to when I was at Drama school,” says Bussell. “Then, coming from Teesside, you felt you had to go to London to be successful. However, now with developments in technology and the fantastic arts scene we have in the North East I think students can have a great experience learning their trade and then after graduating forge their careers in the North East and beyond.” Second-year acting student Gemma Blake is particularly excited about the event. “I’m excited for this festival to take place not only to allow artists in training, like me, to have an opportunity to shine, but also to show people how welcoming the arts are.” The festival is free, but donations to Mind and the Trussell Trust are encouraged. Northern School of Art’s Interact theatre festival takes place online from Monday 18th-Friday 22nd January www.northernart.ac.uk


Image by Meg Smith



Words: Damian Robinson Observing from afar, there’s something special about E-Mence and the way he carries himself. A character slightly removed from the group, yet potentially the most supportive within it; the

North East rapper has the persona of someone who is both fully in the moment and yet reflective of it at the same time – an interesting style when you think of the core requirement for a rapper to be able to proficiently communicate how they see the world. Returning with the forthcoming album Talking To Myself, itself kicked off with a number of singles including the recent spirited release Someone Else, E-Mence makes the most of 2020, carrying on his musical, lyrical and personal development to new highs. Focused around the concept of being true to yourself,

and trying your best to live the life you want, Talking To Myself finds E-Mence in deep reflection, contemplating the expectations others have of him – and those he has of himself. Dark in places (Not Enough) and lighter in others (People Say) Talking To Myself is an album well worth looking forward to; both for its rhythms as well as the opportunity to spend time with a special character. E-Mence releases Talking To Myself on 10th January www.e-mence.bandcamp.com

WAX presents

WORK IN PROGRESS - WIP An exploration of photography that is ongoing, evolving and in progress.


image by David Egan



19/02/21 The Auxiliary Project Space 31 Station Street / Middlesbrough / TS1 1SR Thurs - Fri 12pm - 4pm





Marske by Will Morgan



Words: Beverley Knight Inclusivity steers the ship in the latest ingeniously titled exhibition, Never Normal, from Chilli Studios, which will be housed at Vane Gallery in Newcastle between Wednesday 20th January-Saturday 6th February. As a charity, Chilli Studios have provided the valued service of creative endeavours to those experiencing mental health problems or those that society can often exclude for sixteen years. The challenges of 2020 have brought to our attention and strengthened the necessity for safe places to express ourselves. Arts Co-ordinator Jo Burke demonstrates: “This year has only highlighted the importance of art to our mental health and well-being. Using art as a powerful and liberating tool to often distract and heal ourselves, to self-express, to also challenge and make actions towards change.” The exhibition represents over fifty artists including Tracey Hopper, Janice Ormston, Clare


Armstrong and many more, and is not only inventive but delicately invites others to look in on personal experiences of the past months. Considering the concept of our ‘New Normal’, the work playfully questions how the media’s view can differ with ours. It considers reality, what we class as normality, and how this has affected individual and collective mental health. A visit to observe the show at Vane may provide some clarity on what we have all encountered together. Chilli Studios’ Never Normal exhibition takes place at Vane Gallery, Newcastle from Wednesday 20th January-Saturday 6th February www.chillistudios.co.uk



Words: Laura Doyle Change can be scary: new jobs, new relationships, an unexpected change of circumstances – all can provide challenges that

can seem too overwhelming to overcome. But let the debut release from North East/ London-based artist Marske show that it is possible to go through troubling times and make it out the other side stronger than before. Marske (aka Patrick Duffy) underwent some big life changes that, while some may call them less than ideal, gave him an opportunity for a career refresh. But he may not have steered himself in a wholly creative direction without input from world-renowned DJ Geoff Kirkwood, alias Man Power, who just so happened to also be considering shifting gears from global touring, to taking a decidedly more experimental approach to his creations. The result is an explorative, exciting album that, thanks to some incredible visual and physical materials in addition to the record, goes beyond any mere auditory experience and encapsulates the shared values and culture of two guys who both grew up in the North East. Swell might not feature heavily on the dancefloors of Ibiza, but is sure to pump up the vibes of your own at-home, socially distanced club nights. Swell by Marske is out now www.mememe.bandcamp.com


Michael CG



Words: Jonathan Horner You could be forgiven for loving Michael CG as a fine, inspired, rock historian. His passionate channelling of his many muses – from Bowie, through Bolan and Byrne, via many more that this writer isn’t cool enough to have heard of – is unparalleled. However, to see him as such, you would be limiting yourself to 2D, a flat world. Looking at a sculpture from the front and missing the body and depth. Pop on those cardboard 3D specs and circle Michael CG and you will see: he just keeps on going. This is not just homage. Though if it was, it’d be a fine homage. His grandiosity is matched by his virtuosity, and then some. His enthusiasm for his heroes is such that he leaps from this genius to that revolutionary like he’s chatting manically to you on a stranger’s sofa after a few too many. This whirlwind of hyperfanism coited to his own transcendent self gives birth to something new. In The Most Highly Acclaimed Horror Phantasy Of Our Time he is growing into this otherness. It has a special energy: restless, sprinting, skipping, lurching around corners. Hooks full of sass and layer upon layer of fuzzy fun. Less guitar-led than its predecessors, though it rocks

no less for it, he’s flexing his musician muscles, from the brass fanfare of the chorus of Paper Plastic to the organ-led chaos of Heads Will Roll Pts. 1 & 2. However, guitars do step forward when called for. The creeping, stalking (in a playful, jaunty “he’s behind you” kind of way) bass and muted guitar duo of The Living People are joyfully theatrical. This all results in an EP which is something that we are all lucky to experience and something that is sure to be soon not just ours but the whole nation’s and indeed the world’s! Doubt not, an ominous looking cartoon box labelled ‘Acme’ has been planted under Michael CG, and it is a case of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’ it will detonate! Michael CG releases The Most Highly Acclaimed Horror Phantasy Of Our Time on 4th December www.michaelcg.bandcamp.com



Words: Louise Henry Back in September, a grainy video of Lanterns On The Lake vocalist Hazel Wilde appeared on my Twitter feed. Sat on the floor with her back

against the wall, she recalled a moment during recording Spook The Herd, where the entire band laughed at the thought of being nominated for the Mercury Prize. “These things don’t happen to bands like us,” she said in a later Guardian interview. No one else laughed of course, and just about everyone North of Wetherby services jumped out of their seats when Lauren Laverne announced their place on the shortlist. Fans will be pleased to hear that they’re back with new material, and the five-track EP, The Realist, is 22 minutes of goosebump inducing perfection. The EP includes four new tracks, along with a paired back, revised arrangement of single Baddies. Recorded during lockdown, the reworking is a far cry from the original; the lyrics still hang heavy, but there’s a gentle, reflective feel to the track, which save for Wilde’s unmistakable vocals could pass for a Cinematic Orchestra cover. Title track The Realist is one from the archives that didn’t make the cut for Spook The Herd as it “didn’t fit sonically or narratively”. Here though, it’s a powerful yet delicate opening to an intimate record. “Every moth needs a flame” sings Wilde, as the song draws to a close; it’s certain to become a release which draws listeners in for some time to come. Lanterns on the Lake release The Realist on 11th December via Bella Union www.lanternsonthelake.com



Monomyth, 2020 by Petra Szeman



Words: Claire Dupree Two new exhibitions which explore themes of identity, social interaction and our everincreasing dependence on the virtual world will take place at Eston Arts Centre. Geraldine Snell’s work navigates humour, nuance and awe by utilising moving image, performance, music and the written word. Her exhibition, self help, runs from Thursday 17th December until mid-January. “My creative endeavours help me to navigate being an overthinking, overloving, oversharing subject in our hyperconnected, oversaturated, dopamine-soaked now.” She explains. Often using a compact or camera phone, her work captures sublime and mundane moments and insights. “I embrace digital and social media because they are best placed to house antidotes to the conditions of oversaturation and alienation they can induce. Whether it’s human eyes blinking through an emoji, the grubby phone that draws attention to your own sticky screen, or YouTube tutorials that offer more rumination than instruction, I interrupt image streams and social media zing with intimate works that offer a slow, haptic counterpoint to the speed and slickness around them.” Somewhat ironically, given the uncertain local lockdown situation, the exhibition will be held online if it’s unable to take place within the arts centre itself, but rather than detract from the message the artist is conveying, the medium merely serves to prove her point. Already slated to take place online throughout December and January, moving image artist Petra Szemán’s show also plays with boundaries between screens and the worlds represented inside them, via notions of identity, virtual worlds and animation theory and dissecting the ways our memories and selves


are constructed within a landscape that has become oversaturated with fiction – both on and off-screen. www.facebook.com/estonartscentre



Words: Claire Dupree We launched NARC. TV, our magazine-style programme featuring live performances and interviews, on YouTube in early November and we’ve had a fantastic response – thanks to all who’ve tuned in! The five-part series (with potential bonus footage to come!) was conceived in order to fill the gap that the lack of live music had left in our lives during lockdown, providing musicians and venues with paid work and a music-hungry audience with exciting live performances and in-depth interviews. Episodes one and two featured incendiary performances, captured by talented filmmaker Ste Bardgett, from Ceiling Demons, Girl From Winter Jargon, bigfatbig and Mt. Misery. Still to come, we have thrilling sets from Wax Heart Sodality and Shakk and Eyeconic (Thursday 3rd December), Marketplace and Plastic Glass (Thursday 17th December) and The Dead Seat and Faye Fantarrow (Thursday 7th January). As we now enter another uncertain period for the live music industry in the region, we believe that it’s more vital than ever to show support for musicians, venues and the technical teams that make live shows possible, and we’re working hard to raise funds for series two so we can pump some much needed money back into our precious live music economy. For now, we’d love it if you could tune in to the shows coming up, and don’t forget to check out the episodes already online. If you like what you hear, why not go one further and purchase music or merch from artists’ Bandcamp pages, donate to one of the venues or buy a ticket for a future show. www.youtube.com/narcmagazinetv


MOTORHOUSE STUDIOS LIVESTREAMS Words: Claire Dupree As has been reiterated in these pages many times over the last few months, adaptation and diversification is the name of the game for cultural practitioners in the region. Having carved out a reputation as a respected recording studio, Sunderland’s Pamplemousse studios was started by producer and musician Jordan Miller five years ago. Joined by fellow Vandebilt musician Jack Wade in late 2019, the pair had big plans to renovate the studio and push the business forward as the recently reimagined Motorhouse Studios. “This was going well until the lockdown happened in March, and it wasn’t until the end of June before we finally got back to work and started completing the renovation work.” Jack explains. “We soon realised we would have to adapt the business to try and generate some work as with bands not gigging for so long nobody had a disposable income to spend on recording, so we invested in some new equipment and turned our space into a live streaming venue!” Streaming from their studio space, Motorhouse have already put out some quality content, with full-on performances coming from Smoove & Turrell, Me Lost Me, SQUARMS, Plastic Glass and Vandebilt themselves over the last few weeks. Coming up in December, they welcome Hartlepool’s dream pop band Leopard Rays (Thursday 3rd), funk popsters Picnic with support from RnB folk pop artist Nadedja (Thursday 10th) and on Wednesday 16th December the irrepressible rockabilly honky-tonk sounds of Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra, with more shows promised in the new year. Tickets are available via Skiddle. www.facebook.com/motorhousestudios




Words: Damian Robinson If Pop Art’s central prose was the ability to find meaning and inspiration in the most usual of places, then God only knows what Andy Warhol would have made of the new track by Shy-Talk. Taking a poor tackle in a non-league football

game as its central narrative, Reducerer, a scuzzy, feedback layered piece of guitar pop, uses the everyday event of playing football to make interesting comments on social class and modern life. Further, it makes art out of non-league football. Speaking about the song, vocalist Michael Bridgewater, aka Moses Escariot, says: “Reducerer is a song about social class and non-league football. More specifically, it is about a tackle so ‘bad’ that it transcends the definition of ‘reducer’ – it is a reducerer. The band attempts to capture the gleeful/lamentable violence of such a hypothetical tackle through

agitated vocals and crushing breakdowns. By the way, it’s a pop song.” Not ones to let a good merch opportunity go by, the band follow-up on their ‘magnificent dog wearing sunglasses’ ornaments by offering a 12” screen printed vinyl (literally floor vinyl) alongside tote bags and mugs, accompanied by branded tea bags and milk. Shy-Talk have once again, both in musical bombast as well as high-brow art, exceeded themselves. Shy-Talk release Reducerer via Box Records on 11th December www.shytalkne.bandcamp.com




John Pope by Victoria Wai



NEW JAZZ AND IMPROVISED MUSIC RECORDINGS WESLEY STEPHENSON AND JOHN POPE TALK TO MARK CORCORAN-LETTICE ABOUT THE LAUNCH OF A NEW HOME FOR IMPROVISED MUSIC AND THE DEBUT ALBUM FROM THE JOHN POPE QUINTET For all the immense strife and hardship that the last year has caused across the arts, 2020 has also found a great spirit of resilience and creativity emerge. A case in point: Wesley Stephenson, the promoter behind the wide ranging Jazz North East concert series and the Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music found himself facing a blank slate, he quickly launched into plans for a new venture that’s now bearing fruit with his new label New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings. “When Covid-19 started shutting everything down, it became apparent the festival couldn’t happen this year but that allowed time to start getting the systems and team in place to support this project and make something happen,” Stephenson tells me. “I wanted to generate work for us as creatives throughout lockdown. I’ve got a head full of ideas, but they all require financial investment: I’m independent, so it’s not like I can ring up the fundraising team offices and tell them what we need. I’m usually conceptualising several projects simultaneously, so when the opportunity arises to develop one further, I’m hopefully already roughly in the region.” Stephenson is happy to discuss influences on his new label and those who have helped him – special praise is reserved for he advice given by Martin Archer at Discus Music, while when discussing the impact of seminal indie label 4AD he notes, “Vaughan Oliver was the pinnacle of graphic design with v23, he was from Sedgefield and a graduate of Northumbria University. It’s a shame they don’t celebrate that fact more: if I ran the place I’d have his work exhibited all over the buildings, a huge blow up of Surfer Rosa when you walk through the door to your first lecture…” For all this though, he’s clear minded about his intentions for the label to be a “bespoke, ethically-driven” enterprise that still encompasses a broad musical aesthetic, with the label’s first six releases encompassing artists hailing from Gateshead (a duo album from Andy Champion and Graeme Wilson) through to Copenhagen (a new release from acclaimed saxophonist and composer Laura Toxværd). “People can approach me, I could approach them, the project isn’t really founded on any traditional idea of a record label, I’m working for something more holistic and engaging than that.” Central to the new label’s successful crowdfunding campaign earlier in the year was the then yet-to-be-recorded debut album from The John Pope Quintet. Usually found playing in a variety of acts from the beloved garage-jazz trio Archipelago to the electro funk revivalism of Twin Beam (via a plethora of solo work, commissioned performances and other activity), The John Pope Quintet finds Pope in the bandleader role, drawing from the pioneering work of Ornette Coleman whilst pursuing a distinct sonic identity. With Faye MacCalman (bandleader/composer for Archipelago) on clarinet alongside Johnny Hunter on drums, Jamie

Stockton on alto saxophone and Graham Hardy on trumpet, the Quintet’s chord-free line-up grants them a vast range of harmonic possibility to make the most of. “When I started composing for the Quintet,” Pope tells me, “I wanted to lean in to that simplicity of melody and leave a lot of space to learn about the individual players’ voices. I also wanted to investigate the tradition of arranging other artists’ music as improvisation vehicles, so I worked out some songs by Tom Waits, Pixies and a few other acts I loved and put that in the set, along with the Ornette Coleman material and my original pieces. It’s less a challenge of ‘can you play this?’ and more a challenge of ‘what will you do with this?’ This kind of music, when there’s no chords to lean on, is all about the collective mind of the band, and over the last few years we’ve really discovered and expanded that identity.” With several mooted recording sessions for the Quintet variously falling by the wayside due to scheduling conflicts, fatherhood and the pandemic, Stephenson’s approach to have the Quintet record for his new label proved pivotal. “It was looking hopeless, but then Wesley came to me and said ‘I can’t do the festival this year, but I’ve been thinking about starting a label; how would you like to put the Quintet out?’. At first I wasn’t sure, because I’d had so many attempts at building a DIY plan I couldn’t see around that idea, but we sat down and hashed out how it might work and then it all fell into place.” Following a weekend of intense recording at Blank Studios in October (which climaxed with a live-streamed performance), the Quintet’s debut album Mixed With Glass came together in a highly pressured but also highly rewarding atmosphere that showcases the Quintet’s interplay in sparkling form. “The Blank crew are incredible and they really know their space, so John Martindale got us set up and sounding great really quickly. We took our time, just because our stamina wasn’t what it might be without our usual gigging routines keeping us fit, but I think you can really hear us digging into the music and egging each other on: we got the bulk of it down on the first day. Then we got to play a gig, knowing we had an audience, even if we couldn’t see them. It was overwhelming to play so much music in one go after a long break, but towards the end of the set I felt all of my bandleader concerns and fatigue melt away and I was filled with gratitude to be making music with my colleagues and friends again. Beat the shit out of my hands though, my blisters had blisters!” Mixed With Glass by The John Pope Quintet is released Friday 29th January on New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings www.facebook.com/newjazzandimprovisedmusicrecordings




Image by Adam Kennedy

LIVING IN SHADOWS BEVERLEY KNIGHT TALKS TO JAZZ MUSICIANS ZOE GILBY AND ANDY CHAMPION ABOUT CREATING AN ALBUM OF UNDEFINABLE DELIGHTS Four years in the making, duo Living In Shadows, consisting of vocalist Zoe Gilby and multi-instrumentalist Andy Champion, are eager to share their fresh sound and self-titled LP beyond the jazz scene. Both are accomplished in their own right, but as a couple it seemed an appealing path to investigate. “We’ve worked together since 2008 but started writing a few years later. It’s intense to be married and to create music, but it works!” Zoe discloses. Jazz music is a beloved part of their repertoire, but the opportunity to welcome and incorporate other genres was attractive. “We listen to lots of 70s and 80s pop and rock. It’s natural for us to write music that mightn’t fall under the jazz umbrella.” “Living in the Shadows started because Zoe had some ideas that weren’t as jazz as the stuff we had done before. It became a studio-based project, allowing us to use different instrumentation and multi-tracked vocals.” Andy adds. The award-winning singer does not ordinarily write autobiographically. Inspired by books, films and landscapes, she goes on to reveal the origins of a few tracks. “For The Day came about when I noticed a flock of birds migrating south for the winter; Try To Take It Twice was from an emotional conversation with a victim of domestic violence; the novel Alone In Berlin inspired Postcards. Different topics, but all about change and moving


forward. I’m proud of Try To Take It Twice. It’s a good indication of what was rattling around our heads when we made the album.” Andy continues: “Smoke & Mirrors is the longest track and has lots of sections and changing moods. I drew on my prog influences on that one, which was a lot of fun.” The resounding quality of the new LP is clear to hear. Zoe reveals: “Andy produced the record. We basically built a home studio as we made the album. We’ve worked with Paul Edis [piano] and Mark Williams [guitar] for years; they’re the core of the band.” Andy reminisces further: “Mark was involved from the start, and he’s an essential part of the project. Paul brings the jazz into the mix. His approach to chord voicings and phrasing sets the album apart. It was great to have Graeme Wilson [saxophone], Emma Fisk [violin] George Milburn [mandolin] adding a different dimension to the album.” It’s tricky to pin down the style of each song. Uncommon and effortless, the jazz essence readily runs throughout. Andy jokes about the varying influences pals have heard: “One of our mates said, ‘it’s like Kate Bush meets Steely Dan.’ We absolutely love Kate Bush; she’s a massive influence. Can’t say the same for Steely Dan!” “It’s hard to sum up our sound. I suppose it’s a bit alt-pop-jazz-prog! If anyone has a more succinct label, please let us know!” Zoe requests. Living In Shadows release their self-titled debut album on 4th December www.livinginshadows.com





“The common misconception is that District Attorney are a band from South Shields. They’re not, they’re actually an omnipotent ball of matter racing through space and time at incredible speeds. It’s rumoured that every leap year if you squint at the first puddle you come across upon waking, you might steal a glimpse of them.” Getting a straight answer out of District Attorney is not always the easiest task. Your standard Q&A session with them ends up with something more free-wheeling, raconteuring in style: apt perhaps for a band whose songs are stuffed full of wry character studies, dark wit and literary flair. In actuality, District Attorney is a four-piece featuring former members of The Union Choir and Here Comes Good Sailing, and having garnered themselves a cult following for their impassioned performances since coming together in 2019, their debut album Someone Is Safe is a strong collection of ruminative folk-infused ballads and raucous rock and roll anthemics. Asked about their sound, bassist/vocalist and lead songwriter Ian ‘Doc’ Smith notes: “There’s lots of playing the bass like a guitar, and that definitely plays into that Wedding Present kind of sound. We’re blessed with two great guitarists in this band, so I write songs on bass and a lot to them are given free reign to do their thing. I think we’d all be flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as Frightened Rabbit. To be honest, it’s been pretty hard to listen to since Scott passed, but it’s definitely that kind of song writing that


we aspire to. Martin once described us as a glam Pavement, which was really funny and kind of on the nose.” Alongside already released singles like the barnstorming Thou Art and the recently released 37YO are songs that showcase the softer, more ruminative side of the band, like album centrepiece St Catherine. “I wrote St. Catherine about a friend of mine who passed away. We were raised Catholic together, and she died on St Catherine’s Day. I tend to get into the nuts and bolts of something I’m writing, and I found that St. Catherine is the patron saint of unmarried women. That’s a terrible anachronism, but not the worst one the Catholic church is guilty of. That was the jumping off point for me, in terms of the lyrics. It’s one of the rare times on the album I play guitar: recording it was nerve-wracking as it’s not my instrument, but the guys helped me out by watching the Sunderland match in the control room and ignoring the mistakes.” Although the album is only scheduled for release digitally at present (guitarist Ian Pippin hints at a later vinyl run –“it’s both having a huge resurgence in popularity and, selfishly, I want a copy for my collection”), Someone Is Safe is both a testament to the band’s strong songwriter (and guitarist/producer Martin Trollope’s thoughtful recording style) but also a welcome souvenir of their live show, according to drummer Grant Lagan. “The track list and the live set kind of merged as one. It happened naturally and it felt right when playing live so it made sense to keep it that way on the record. The tender moment of the more stripped-back set hopefully leads to a false sense of comfort before we increase the energy levels again.” District Attorney release Someone Is Safe on digital platforms on 18th December www.facebook.com/districtattorneyband





FRANCOISE HARVEY TALKS ABOUT LOCKDOWN COLLABORATION AND NAVIGATING RADIOACTIVE HOTSPOTS WITH RAPPER ENDEM AND PRODUCER ROB IRISH Endem and Rob Irish always intended to go to Chernobyl – yes, that Chernobyl – to shoot a music video, but they didn’t expect a pandemic to force them to rebook their flights three times, or expect that delay to prompt the writing of an entire album based around their trip. “It was originally booked for the end of May, and because the lockdown happened in March, we were like ‘It’ll be gone by May, won’t it, this whole pandemic thing?’” says Rob Irish, laughing at their optimism.


“We’re still owed a load of money off Ryanair,” says Endem, shaking his head. Acute Radiation Poisoning is a lockdown album and Endem says it would never have been finished without the duo being stuck at home. Initially a four-track EP, it avalanched into an album when Endem needed a new beat for one of his songs. He went to Rob, who he’s worked with exclusively as his producer since 2018, though they’ve been friends for far longer. “Rob showed me the beat and I was like ‘Ah, that’s mint’. I started



Image by Rob Irish

spitting over it, and we both got gassed,” says Endem. From there, they spiralled into a perfect storm of collaborative writing, partly because they work so well together, but also “because we were sat in the house just bouncing beats back and forward”. “You were writing at a ridiculous pace,” Rob tells Endem. “Every day, yeah. I had nowt better to do with my time and Rob was just flinging beats at me.” The two ultimately wrote 15 tracks in what felt like no time at all. “Rob’s one of my best friends,” says Endem, “and when you’re working with a friend in that capacity, it doesn’t really feel like work.” That first session became Levels, the last track on the album, and the most complicated. It’s one of Endem’s favourites because of the acrobatic speed rap – but they both pick Faith as “something special”. “It’s filled with dark introspective lyricism,” says Rob. “We kept all of Chernobyl’s deepest and darkest locations for the video.” A.R.P includes beats and features from a variety of other producers and writers. But it’s directed and mixed in its entirety by the duo, creating, Rob says, “a sound of its own that’s exclusively ours.” The visuals are exclusively theirs, too, as “filming in abandoned locations is a vibe that we’re both pretty into.” Indeed, for anyone familiar with their previous work, Chernobyl seems a natural progression. But getting the shots they wanted there wasn’t simple. Though they were, eventually, lucky with the timing of their trip, slipping into the country just before the borders closed so it was almost entirely empty of tourists, a huge hurdle was getting a drone into Chernobyl’s exclusion zone.

“It was a nightmare,” Rob says, “because the Ukrainian Secret Service are really tight about drones. You can’t fly within 5km of the power plant, still. There’s nothing that people don’t know about it now, you would think, but they’ve inherited a lot of rules from the Soviet Union days. They had to check the memory card on the way out of the zone, and on the way in they had to know the model number of the drone we had, and loads of additional paperwork…” “But it was worth it. 100%. I’d do it again.” Endem adds. The drone took the shot for the opening of the video for Radioactive – a stunning rising view through the trees, over Chernobyl. Speaking of the drone, it appears it may have had a mishap or two along the way, including a crash… “Yes,” Rob admits. “But not in Chernobyl. There are details of this story that we’ll leave out, but...” He launches into a tale involving beer, 2am and an annoyed concierge – because they had some mad adventures, of course. But they are eager to point out that the madness came after the labour. “We only had two days to do everything we wanted, so that really put us in work mode,” says Endem. “The amount of footage we got for just one video would normally be a whole album’s worth.” And there’s a reverence in the way they talk about Chernobyl. “Even from a tourist perspective Chernobyl’s an amazing place to see,” says Rob. “This city frozen in time. There’s something in the air, and it’s not just radiation. It’s a feeling you can’t quite describe, the eerie loneliness really puts you on edge knowing you could stumble into a radioactive hotspot at any moment, or anywhere you stand could simply collapse.” I ask if they have any other dream abandoned places to film in. “I think we’ve set expectations a bit high. We should have shot in Butlins and then Chernobyl!” Says Endem – but he has an abandoned Alton Towers-sized amusement park in Russia in mind. They’re already making plans for January, when Endem will be returning to releasing singles, two every month for a year. It’s a lot of work, even with some of the songs already in place thanks to the lockdown writing frenzy. But, Endem tells me, hard work is part of it. He has been building the Legitimate Anarchy label with his co-founders since 2015, and is just starting to get what he wants from it, having taught himself how to promote music professionally – an area of knowledge in constant flux. “It’s such a minefield,” Rob says. “They change the algorithms every five minutes.” “It’s not easy,” Endem agrees. “There’s so many mistakes you can make. But when you know what you want to do, you just keep pushing forward, and that’s what I intend to keep doing.” Endem and Rob Irish release Acute Radiation Poisoning on 5th December www.legitimateanarchy.co.uk






Image by Jack Craggs Back in March, grime duo NE Dons turned to each other on stage at The Globe in Newcastle and joked that this could be their last gig for a month. Little did they know, eight months later live performances would still be off the cards, leaving their beloved small venues facing potential closure, and that their new EP would be promoted online during a national lockdown. From beginning the year on BBC Newcastle’s 2020 tip list, and attracting the attention of 6Music’s Tom Robinson, it’s fair to say the last few months haven’t quite gone as planned. “We were a staple on regional rap shows,” Morgan Cole sighs. “Even in slower months, we’d still be performing three or four gigs. We started playing bigger venues, selling CDs. We were supposed to be playing Tyne Bank Brewery but that was binned off too. I miss it, man.” When asked if online gigs appealed, the answer was a resounding no. “I don’t think our music translates into that. I feed off people being there – how do you know if people are paying attention to you through a screen?” Cole laughs, shaking his head. Whilst they agree it’s hard work getting hyped up for a gig in your bedroom, they’re quick to point out that they’ve supported livestreams from other artists and flag Newcastle-based John Dole as the best of the bunch. Lockdown has allowed plenty of time for reminiscing, and conversation turns to the earlier days of NE Dons and how they found their feet in the North East music scene, famed more for guitars than grime. Cole and Will Lawton came together in mid 2017 - the same year Stormzy’s Gang Signs and Prayer topped the UK album charts. “We didn’t know what we were doing at all at the beginning. I was pretty shite to be honest,” laughs Lawton, but it didn’t take long for NE Dons to find their feet. They credit live shows and the “community-like” audiences at World Headquarters,


I FEED OFF PEOPLE BEING THERE – HOW DO YOU KNOW IF PEOPLE ARE PAYING ATTENTION TO YOU THROUGH A SCREEN? and BBC Introducing’s Lee Hawthorn for their quick progression. With a tight knit local community playing a huge part in NE Dons’ music, it’s hard to imagine them working on their new EP, Energy, remotely. Snatching time together here and there in between local lockdowns and shifting Government guidelines, the process was fairly swift, although “it could have come out in August, easily”. As the title – and their attitude – suggests, the tracks are full of energy and drive, centred on the notion of getting stuff done – easier said than done in 2020. Written entirely pre-Covid, I wonder how different the sentiment might have been had the writing process happened a couple of months down the line. “I’m glad we wrote it when we did,” Lawton reflects, “there could have been quite a significant change, although we’re not known for introspection, and we haven’t lost that drive.” This sense of ambition doesn’t stop with their music, but extends into hope for the region and its creatives. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to the wider music industry, but if there’s anywhere that will battle through this it’s the North East.” I log out of Zoom feeling a little bit more hopeful than before. NE Dons release Energy EP on 11th December www.facebook.com/donsnortheast



L-R: Artwork by Mark Carr, Reconciliation by Jayamini de Silva, Angharat ton Uelen still by Rosie Morris



LOUISE HENRY TALKS TO THREE OF THE REGION’S MOST EXCITING CREATIVE MINDS AHEAD OF THEIR NEW EXHIBITION AT BALTIC Scrolling through the 150 or so artists and makers selected for this year’s BALTIC Open Submission, I came across some familiar names; former school mates, colleagues and a bloke I was introduced to in the pub in 2015. This, I think, is what makes the BALTIC Open Submission so special. A celebration of local talent and storytelling, the exhibition is a collective expression from the beating heart of the North East. Selected by a panel of local artists – Richard Bliss, Lady Kitt and Padma Rao, and Katie Hickman, BALTIC’s Curator of Performance and Public Programmes – the exhibition presents works by artists with a long history of making, sat alongside those who are just beginning, giving visibility to individuals and collectives never before seen by public audiences. No stranger to local audiences is Gateshead-born Mark Carr, whose submission I Am Somebody centres on the Friends of the People’s Kitchen in Newcastle. Carr volunteered as a cook for two years before photographing 31 of the people he saw from afar week in, week out. “Sometimes you just get sucked in by peoples faces,” he tells me over Zoom, his own face ironically replaced by a black square. “The work is political, don’t get me wrong, but as a visual artist I’m just interested in faces and features.” Whilst some found the intimacy of being photographed prompted them to open up, others would say nothing. “I’d get a vast amount from that nothing. Just a look can give so much away. There’s a certain drama about these people. A drama in the simplicity of their lives and who they are.” This drama is captured beautifully in Carr’s final submission; a series of 6ft by 3ft woodcut prints in black and white, a powerful reminder to give the faces of strangers the

attention they deserve. Drama takes a different form in Angharat ton Uelen, a film created by Rosie Morris, showing micro-scale architectural sliding screens, built at home during lockdown, dancing – at times playfully and others frenetically – to Harpist Rhodri Davies’ music. There was no exact science to the screen’s movements, though the rhythmic shifts from light to shade feel like watching the passing of time. “Rhodri’s music has mistakes and honesty, all the bits that make it human. It moves and jumps and dances,” says Morris, “I had to make tweaks, and it won’t fit the music exactly, but we had a few goes and picked one that felt right.” Also made during lockdown, is Sri Lankan-born Jayamini de Silva’s Reconciliation. “We have this mentality in Sri Lanka that fairer skin is the most beautiful skin,” she explains, reeling off a staggering number of opportunities refused to her and her daughter on account of their darker skin. Her response? To focus her work around women’s bodies, promoting “harmony, peace and love” through the female form. Her bold use of colour is an acknowledgement of nature, and its impact on our bodies. “Everything starts with nature,” she says, going on to explain how human interference with the natural world causes problems, such as say, worldwide, life-altering pandemics. After a year of setbacks and unimaginable loss, galleries may have been forced to close their doors, but what lies on the other side is certainly worth the wait. The BALTIC Open Submission exhibition will be open from Wednesday 6th January until Sunday 6th June www.baltic.art





Image by Krzysztof Furgala


THE MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST AND CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSER TALKS TO NICOLA OWEN ABOUT FINDING INSPIRATION FOR HIS WORK AMID THE NORTHUMBERLAND WILDS Enter into the world of The Cottage with musician and composer Benjamin Fitzgerald’s new release, music that needs no qualifications, explanations or essays, just a mind that yearns for a safe space of tranquillity and peace. “The Cottage is in complete contrast to my other stuff,” explains Fitzgerald. “It came from that idea of release and safety and being calm, being in nature and being content and happy with what you have. For me it’s somewhere in the middle of Northumberland where you’re completely isolated and you can process what you need to process.” The Cottage’s uplifting, folky strings merge into gentle waves which become an energetic, insistent dance with piano before softening again. To me it evokes the excitement of travelling to that happy place and embarking on a joyful journey. A self-taught contemporary classical composer, Fitzgerald grew up in Newcastle. “I’m a working class kid from Kenton,” he says, “I don’t represent what most people might think classical music represents and I think that’s such a beautiful niche. My main paying job is to play percussion and I taught myself piano. I’m super inspired by contemporary classical composers but also things like 90s uplifting trance, film scores and whatever gives me the most peace. It’s an obscure but fresh way of looking at it, and I think the reason it’s worked so well is that I’ve been really selective with who I work with; it’s friends from Uni who I can talk to about the concept and play them what I want them to play and then get them to play it back on their instrument.”


Curating organically with friends in a studio is an essential part of the process, but what happens after this? I wonder about the performative aspect and whether he intended these pieces for a live audience. “I’ve grown up playing in bands, performing live, I’ve always thought live music is the direction I’m going in. It’s hard to reciprocate feelings and emotion on just a recording.” Nobody gets away without being asked the tedious lockdown question and he laughs as I ask how it’s been for him. “You know what, lockdown’s been mental but also the opposite of mental.” Something I think most of us can identify with. He stays connected through social media with people who inspire him and who he can reach out and contact directly. Social media has helped to cut out the middle men and democratise a lot of creativity which can only be a good thing for creators and consumers alike. “When I released my previous EP one of the tracks got picked up by the biggest Spotify classical playlist and my listens went from hundreds to tens of thousands, which for an unreleased artist is unbelievable. It was such a massive feeling of gratification to be put alongside my heroes.” Fitzgerald’s music is clearly connected to the region in an intrinsic way. “I feel like it’s a bonus to be here, the internet makes it so much easier to connect. Environment is such an inspiration, the further I am away from Northumberland and the countryside the harder it will be to make this music.” The Cottage by Benjamin Fitzgerald is out now www.benjaminfitzgeraldmusic.com




Image by Lindsay Nicholson

LAURA DOYLE TALKS TO THE INTERPLATFORM ARTIST ABOUT THE DANGERS OF APATHY AND THEIR NEW WORK ‘PROVOKED TO MADNESS BY THE BRUTALITY OF WEALTH’ Consider that old cliché which posits depression as a key fuel for creativity – a notion that gives far too much credit to a debilitating condition. We should really put that to bed. For interplatform artist gobscure, something else serves as the backbone for their latest work. “A so-called ‘support worker’ said, ‘What d’you need books for? You’re homeless.’ So I spent thirteen years reading. The show is about revenge. It’s about reading. One of the books was Engles’ Conditions of the Working Class in England. In 2003, I wrote down ‘provoked to madness by the brutality of wealth’, and a bunch of other poetic truths.” Devaluation and underestimation of those deemed ‘lesser’ because of social standing is all too common. Provoked to madness by the brutality of wealth not only proves that personal circumstances should never be considered as a barrier to personal fulfilment, but it also provides commentary on stigmatised and under-represented issues that have plagued society for millennia. Just take a closer look at that eloquent title... “This German in Manchester in the 1840s being shown around by Mary Burns, an illiterate Irish woman, more underclass than working class, who became his lifelong partner. An amazing, incredible woman. His family had factories in Manchester, and she showed him around. He wrote Conditions of the Working Class in England...This book, although it gives facts and figures and statistics, it also gives us the personal. The title comes from [Engles] having his eyes being opened to what was happening to people who were


being crippled by circumstance…Victorian diseases are making a comeback. The stuff he was writing about back then is making a comeback. People being paid crap wages. The amount of money being paid on their rent was obscene, and now people paying way more on their rent. That book is living history. We haven’t learned the lessons.” Another misconception is that history is a straight line of progression. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t have vast swathes of society stagnating in poverty and ill health. It’s so difficult to rise out of such situations that these stories fall into the cracks. Yet here we have gobscure’s creative testimony: a voice that has seen firsthand the failings of a ‘first world government’ that condemns those who have allowed these issues to fester unresolved. “The people in Parliament, the people in ‘Drowning Street,’ the ‘Govern-mentals,’ they are the mad ones. But they are civil servants. I don’t like the language of ‘servant’, but officially they are servants. They are there to help us. There to make sure everyone has as much potential, as much right, as much access to food, education, housing. We don’t want palaces; we need social housing, and to give people stuff that they need. If you look at societies that are fairer, they are happier, more equal and they generate more money. If it’s about generating wealth and money, ours is the crap way to do it.” gobscure’s work combines the entertainment value of an interactive, personal performance piece with the forthright, educational testimony that constructs a narrative based on shared experience, and sheds light on true injustices. It’s deemed trendy to be detached and analytic about art – but don’t be afraid to feel something. Nihilistic apathy gets us nowhere, the time for actionable empathy is now. Watch gobscure’s performance of provoked to madness by the brutality of wealth via livestream, recorded at ARC in Stockton, on Friday 8th January. Further dates to be confirmed www.gobscure.wixsite.com


Credit: Saya Rose Naruse

Live stream performance and film from Dance City Featuring 8 North East and Scottish dance artists presenting new work Friday 11 December, 7pm Pay what you feel from ÂŁ3


dancecity.co.uk / 0191 261 0505



Image by David Cavan

BENJAMIN AMOS STEVE SPITHRAY DISCOVERS HOW RECORDING A CHRISTMAS ALBUM DURING THE SPRING BECAME A CATALYST FOR NEW MATERIAL FOR COUNTY DURHAM MUSICIAN BENJAMIN AMOS The last thing many people want this year will be Christmas music, but Benjamin Amos’ downbeat take on some seasonal standards is the odd tonic we might not have realised we needed. Ben’s new album, Joy, is stylistically something of an extension of the guitarist’s quietly expansive input on Nel Unlit’s Wake For The Dreaming album earlier this year, while his naturally rusty vocal tones add an element of authentic Yuletide melancholy. But there are more upbeat moments too: So I Saw Three Ships has a jaunty Simon and Garfunkel feel to it, while his reworking of Good King Wenceslas is built around a slightly skewed beat. “I didn’t put loads of thought into what it would sound like because the main purpose was to use this as a way of getting back into writing my own stuff. With those two tracks in particular I had quite a lot of fun. I wanted to build a beat using just percussive sounds from mustard seeds, claps, shouts and my kitchen table. So, I built the beat first and then just started playing over the top.” I asked Ben if there is a fine balance between staying true to the origins of the songs and being inventive at the same time. “I think melodically Christmas carols are written beautifully so it was more the arrangements of the tracks I wanted to mess about with. I also tried to create one little hook that wasn’t originally in each song. That helped me to then get more creative and forget the traditional arrangements each carol has.” While it must be discombobulating enough to record Christmas songs in Spring, let us not forget that this year all creative roads led to lockdown. “In the first lockdown I thought it was a great chance to get creative. Within a month I had recorded all the songs. My favourite covers album is the Sufjan Stevens Christmas album and it became a reference point as people started to tell me I should release

I LOVE LO-FI MUSIC. YOU CAN HEAR A BABBLING TODDLER ON MY KNEE WHILST DOING VOCALS, I’M DRINKING COFFEE AND EATING COOKIES BETWEEN TAKES AND YOU CAN HEAR MY WIFE CALLING UP THE STAIRS AT TIMES Joy. I think because lockdown itself was so crazy, Christmas tunes in late Spring didn’t feel as mad as it normally would.” With lockdown as challenging as it was, Ben played everything himself and even enlisted his mum to do the cover art. “I played, recorded and produced it by myself and then Rob Irish mastered it and put it all together for Butterfly Effect. I asked my mum and an hour later she produced the front cover. I love lo-fi music. You can hear a babbling toddler on my knee whilst doing vocals, I’m drinking coffee and eating cookies between takes and you can hear my wife calling up the stairs at times.” Ben is keen to press ahead now the creative juices are flowing again. “That’s the coolest thing for me personally; you can be creative in the weirdest, strangest times. The idea of Joy was to put a bit of fuel into the tank and see if I could finish [another] album that I’ve been working on since before Nel Unlit, and I have nearly finished it. I’d love to put it out by the end of 2021 and I don’t see why not.” Benjamin Amos releases Joy on 1st December via Butterfly Effect Records www.benjaminamos.bandcamp.com



5 Plays of Christmas at Live Theatre



Live Theatre’s festive offering is a perfect example of what they do best; supporting up and coming writers and giving them a valuable outlet via their Live Wired virtual platform. 5 Plays Of Christmas is a spirited selection box of online short plays from the coolest new writing talent, with the plays being developed, rehearsed, performed and filmed behind closed doors and available to view online for free from mid-December. The five writers who contribute to the programme – Olu Alakija, Mandi Chivasa, Ellen McNally, Benjamin Storey and Sarah Tarbit – have already taken part in the theatre’s recent 10 Minutes To...Call Home series of shorts. The theatre give a sneak peek into what to expect: “Martin Maxwell is reliving the time he killed Christmas. A missed bus has consequences for the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future. Danny is in an elf costume while Joe just got arrested and Agnes sits in a quiet living room, sun on her face and the cold at her door. Meanwhile on a beach in Newbiggin, a giant whale is washed ashore.” There’s more alternative performance at The Stand Comedy Club, as Hal Branson, Sammy Dobson, Lee Kyle and Hannah Walker reprise their Cinderella & The Beanstalk panto, available to watch for free via YouTube from Sunday 20th December-Sunday 17th January, which promises laughter and daftness for all ages. There’s also an adult version of the story which will be broadcast on Boxing Day at 8.30pm, so set a reminder! Keep an eye out for more online action from the venue too. If it’s a festive soundtrack you’re after, look no further than Darlington collective Tracks, who present their Hark! The Sound of Christmas via their Facebook and YouTube pages on Sunday 20th December. A celebration of Christmas music and spoken word, host


T-B: Cinderella & The Beanstalk, at The Stand Comedy Club, The Emperor’s New Clothes rehearsals at Northern Stage by Von Fox Promotions Fran Harvey and will welcome festive music performed by The Bookshop Band, Benjamin Amos and Oui Bee, plus specially commissioned work from local writer and performer Lisette Auton, animation from artist Andrew McAdam and readings of A Christmas Carol and festive poems. The event is accompanied by their ‘gig in a box’ initiative, which features a programme with original artwork and lyrics so audience members can sing along, a mince pie, a Hark! branded pencil and a Christmas decoration. Earlier in the month, on Saturday 12th December, Tracks’ BIG Little Gigs present a family Christmas at home, featuring silly sing-along and storytelling courtesy of the Christmas Witches (aka Sarah Wilson and Fran Harvey), and also accompanied by ‘gig in a box’ goodies. Champions of imaginative and creative events, Stellar Projects move their annual outdoor Nightfall event online from Thursday 3rd-Thursday 10th December. In The Stars Guide You Home, families are invited to immerse themselves in an enchanting starry online world, meet wonderful characters and discover stories that come to life in the dark. Alphabetti Theatre’s delightful sounding online offering takes place on Saturday 12th December in the form of a beautifully animated play, Holy & Ivan, by Christina Berriman Dawson and Richard Dawson, which features a dog who needs a knee replacement. All of their online shows from this year are also still available to watch or listen to on their website, and their Christmas show Love From (originally planned as a physical show) will now go online just before the big day. Gosforth Civic Theatre’s ‘in real life’ Christmas programme will

feature a beautiful winter-themed puppet show for families, In A Nutshell; a heart-warming tale of growing up and letting go, taking place at the venue (fingers crossed!) from Monday 21st-Wednesday 23rd and Monday 28th-Wednesday 30th December. Northern Stage team up with Kitchen Zoo for their brand new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic folktale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, streaming online from Saturday 12th-Thursday 31st December. The production has been adapted by award-winning playwright Laura Lindow and directed by Mark Calvert, who tells us more: “The Emperor’s New Clothes has to be the biggest con ever pulled in the history of story-telling. Two inept chancers – think Laurel and Hardy or the wet bandits from the classic Christmas film Home Alone – manage to convince an Emperor to go out in their ‘all together’, exposing them in more ways than one. We feel it’s a story so packed full of ridiculous moments, that to call it farce would be too tame.” Also taking place online, Durham’s Gala Theatre premiere a specially filmed comedy thriller featuring characters from pantos past, who team up to take on Rupert von Rottenchops. The new adventure series will kick off on their website from Monday 14th December. www.live.org.uk / www.thestand.co.uk / www.tracksdarlington. co.uk / www.stellar-projects.co.uk / www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk / www.gosforthcivictheatre.co.uk / www.northernstage.co.uk / www. galadurham.co.uk






LANTERNS ON THE LAKE BOB ALLAN, BASSIST IN NEWCASTLE’S EPIC INDIE ROCK BAND LANTERNS ON THE LAKE, TALKS ABOUT THEIR FOURTH STUDIO ALBUM RELEASE, WHICH WAS NOMINATED FOR A MERCURY PRIZE THIS YEAR Spook The Herd was a long time in the making, after a break between touring our last album and taking our time to write and record this one, it was a few years of blood, sweat and tears before it was finally released in February, and then... the whole world stopped. The tours and festivals were cancelled and we feared that the album we had worked so hard on might be forgotten, but then the most incredible plot twist happened and the record was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize. It really did feel like a dream come true and it was quite a mind-blowing experience, the judges’ decisions are based solely on the quality of the music on the albums so to have Spook The Herd recognised in this way was an immensely proud feeling. The shortlisting allowed us to record a live performance for the award show on BBC4 and has led to so many more people finding our music. The band has been going for around ten years and hopefully it shows that perseverance and belief in what you’re doing can pay off.

How do you find hope beyond a year that has been ripped apart by a global pandemic, exacerbated inequalities and seen artists work stop overnight? It’s a difficult process but I think it’s an important one, and something that Hazel has crystallised in the lyrics of Spook The Herd; on the surface the record is about polarized politics, the impending climate crisis and personal loss, but at the heart of the album it’s about hope, trying to help each other and not letting fear overcome you. We’re hopeful that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel; that we can tackle these challenges together; that live music and culture will be valued even more as the life changing forces that they are; and that socially distanced and livestreamed shows will eventually become the ‘old normal’, so we can all have live music back in our lives and stand shoulder to shoulder in full venues once more. www.lanternsonthelake.com

WAX HEART SODALITY: TWIST HELIX: MOUSES/BENEFITS SWINE TAX Cheated a bit here but we’re picking Teesside’s Mouses and Benefits. We feel that these bands share the same level of discontentment with society at the moment as we do. However, unlike us, they are more overt with their frustrations and it is incredibly satisfying to see and hear. Whether it be the raw soundscapes and razor sharp observations of Benefits or the empathetic ethos and fuzzed up energy of Mouses, it is music (and performance) that is a reaction to the dystopian times we find ourselves living in and to us, that is what good art is all about. www.soundcloud.com/waxheartsodality / www.mousestheband.com / www. benefitstheband.bandcamp.com

Garage rockers Swine Tax encapsulate so much of what we love about the North East’s DIY scene. As visceral and emotive live as they are on record, the power trio have built a reputation for rough, uncut alt. rock gems that pair a barbed lyrical wit with a ferocious sonic immediacy and urgency. We’ve followed the band keenly since their excellent 2018 debut BRITTLE and are heartened that their unrelenting work rate shows no signs of letting up, this years RELAX single proving a particular favourite of ours. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the band in 2021. www.twisthelix.com / www.swinetax. bandcamp.com


There are lots of North East artists both past and present I’d like to write about, but I first heard Me Lost Me when we both played alongside O’Messy Life at the Lit & Phil last year. I hadn’t heard Jayne’s music before and didn’t know what to expect, but her songwriting and the power of her voice really struck me. She released an album this year, The Good Noise, which combines beautiful folk balladry with dark electronica, a combination that I love. www.ajimal.co.uk / www.melostme. bandcamp.com




Thinking Inside The Box, still from exhibition space. Artists in image Tom Oliver, Ali Cadir, Isgandar Hajiyev, Victoria Peal



For background, myself and Bobby Benjamin ran the Dovetail Joints organisation together until November 2019, putting on events first in a flat above the Bongo Club just as and where we could, with no fixed location. When Bobby stood back from the project in November 2019 leaving me sole director the initial plan was for me to keep putting on exhibitions around Middlesbrough with no fixed space. I got as far as putting on one IRL exhibit at Disgraceland in January when lockdown hit and it all looked pretty impossible. That’s what led me to look to the online program, and turn Dovetail Joints into a virtual gallery; I’d always intended for the Dovetail Joints organisation to be pretty fluid so this seemed a logical extension of that. I studied architecture at university and had just finished a placement at an architectural visualisation firm in Seville so it seemed the perfect opportunity to recontextualise and enhance some of these 3D modelling and rendering skills. In present times projects like this are more vital than ever. Showing work online through social media and even using virtual tours as a way to archive previous exhibitions has been present a long time, but when spaces are forced to close the reliance on these technologies increases massively. The response I’ve had so far from artists I’ve featured has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only that the virtual space is able to offer a replacement but also that the medium can allow them to really scale up their ambitions and scope for what’s possible without the usual budgetary restrictions. My personal highlight exhibition-wise was the Thinking Inside The Box architectural open call I hosted back in June. It was the most ambitious exhibition I had done to date, holding an open


call for architecturally inspired works. My aim was to allow students, recent graduates and experienced practitioners an equal platform. There was also a good mix of 2D and 3D modelled works submitted which really brought the space to life. Another highlight was the OUR PLACE IN THE NORTH exhibition, bringing together two Teesside-based artists who have been massively influential to me over the years: Bobby Benjamin and David Watson. Bobby has been vital to my artistic progression over the years, since first taking me in volunteering at the House of Blah Blah, helping me to navigate the local arts scene and bringing the Dovetail Joints project to me in the first place. David Watson’s work has been on my radar just as long. Both these creative partnerships continue to this day in one form of another, so to host the two artists in my own space felt really fulfilling as a curator. Looking to the future, things look pretty positive. The usual gallery programme will likely slow down in the immediate future as Dovetail and Wet Productions collaborate on a six month programme with recent funding from the Arts Council. We’ll be hosting a variety of open calls and paid opportunities in the form of virtual exhibitions as well as some real life ones provided Covid doesn’t get in the way. Additionally, I’ve recently worked with The Auxiliary in Middlesbrough in create a 3D modelled virtual twin of their warehouse space and side gallery, currently housing Gordon Dalton’s exhibition but eventually expanding with new content. My hope is that the success of Auxiliary’s virtual space will attract the attention of fellow spaces looking to expand into the virtual realm. www.dovetailjointsvirtualgallery.co.uk




I recommend local indie band Crimson Bloom. Although hailing from Teesside, they seem to have a much bigger following out of the area, including the likes of Robert Carlyle! They’ve been hard at work even throughout the pandemic, having put out five singles and an album this year, and I’ve not stopped listening to them. For fans of Stone Roses and Kula Shaker. I’m also a big fan of folk singer George Boomsma, whose emotive, poetic lyrics and gorgeous string arrangements have hints of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen. I could listen to George’s voice all day – it’s like honey! I’m still yet to see him play live but really hoping I get to catch him at some point in 2021. www.ameliacoburn.co.uk / www.crimsonbloom.bandcamp.com / www.georgeboomsma.com Rachel Horton by Marion Botella Photography

THE CULTURE VULTURE RACHEL HORTON, AKA THE CULTURE VULTURE, CELEBRATES RESILIENT AND PASSIONATE CREATIVES AND SPACES Well what a year 2020 has been; it has felt a bit like accidentally competing in Ninja Warrior whilst everything is also on fire. As The Culture Vulture, someone whose passion and purpose is to champion and celebrate all the lush spaces, places, faces and happenings across the North East, I could not be prouder of the response of creative folx; how resilient, brilliant and innovative everyone has been. The passionate creative people of the North East cultural scene all bring a huge smile to my massive face. I recently heard an ‘innovation expert’ claim that we’ve done the learning, growing and innovating as creatives that we’d normally achieve in seven years, across 2020! I agree with this – whilst it has been GRAFT, it has also led to amazing new things, pivoting in ways unimaginable, connecting with audiences and fantastic digital events. I’d like to give a special shout out to a few 2020 trailblazers who have thrived in spite of everything. Gosforth Civic Theatre – Their socially distanced live gigs were brilliant and they’ve invested in special equipment to livestream theatre in the future; watch this space. www.gosforthcivictheatre.co.uk Sunderland Culture – Their commitment to Sunderland freelancers through their digital Unlock Programme has been ace; they’ve offered high quality training and support at an important time. www.sunderlandculture.org.uk The Spaghetti Factory – These creative lasses have created a glorious regional digital map of street art with QR codes; the urban landscape is one big art gallery! www.spaghettofactoro.weebly.com Good Strange Vibes / Slutmouth – Two artists with amazing creative products, creating lush social media content; both rays of positivity whilst challenging gender stereotypes and body taboos. www.goodstrangevibes.com / www.slutmouth.co.uk Mortal Fools – From reimagining their projects with young people, supporting freelancers and building a digital game to support children with anxiety, to their audio theatre experience When The World Is Loud, this theatre company is the definition of achieving great things and supporting their network in 2020. www.mortalfools.org.uk Check out some of the folx listed and if you know of anyone who has SMASHED this year in spite of the pandemic, tell me on social media via @ theculturevulturene www.facebook.com/theculturevulturene


The Unit AMA are a great band, I was lucky enough to be on the same bill (as part of Yakka Doon) with them when Sweet Williams played the Cumberland last year. They’re an amazing live act, don’t play very often and seem to be quite different every time I see them. I find describing their sound almost impossible, so I looked up what their label said about them – “The Unit Ama make music that explodes outward: dense but soothing metronomic pulses morph into a wild fracturing of the traditional rock trio” – so there you go! And they put on a show, there’s definitely a sense of occasion when they’re on stage. www.badamputee.bandcamp.com / www.theunitama.bandcamp.com

FAITHFUL JOHANNES: DRESSES LIKE WOLVES Dressed Like Wolves affect me emotionally. Every time. Even after a thousand listens. Rick Dobbing is Thornaby’s answer to Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), but with better songs. I’ve seen them live with a full band of five or six, playing loud and rocking out, just Rick alone, unamplified, and loads of line-ups and set ups in-between. It’s hard to work out exactly why DLW simultaneously upset me and make me smile. The songs have a colourful, broad vocabulary – halogen ovens, lost toothbrushes, White Russians – but aren’t quirky or contrived. Rick’s voice is fragile and small. The music is fuzzy and warm; chords, organs, strings, overdriven guitars. I’ve got their CDs in my car. When I see Rick about I try not to scare him. www.faithfuljohannes.bandcamp.com / www.dressedlikewolves.bandcamp.com




THE STAND COMEDY CLUB THE ROAD HAS BEEN ROCKY FOR STAND-UP COMEDY THIS YEAR, NEWCASTLE’S STAND COMEDY CLUB HAVE (JUST ABOUT) WEATHERED THE STORM, ANTHONY DORMAN TALKS ABOUT ADAPTING TO ONLINE STREAMING AND KEEPING AUDIENCES LAUGHING When the original Government advice was for people not to visit bars, theatres etc. we realised we would need to act quickly to offer an alternative service and that we had the venue, acts, technology and social media reach to make an online show work. Within three days of conception we had booked a line-up, arranged the filming, set up a bespoke donation page and livestreamed via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to over 400,000 viewers. The success of our Saturday Night Live At The Stand show has been highly influenced by the interaction between the public and host. This is all done in real time with our social media team feeding live comments, shout outs and heckles to our host. We have been told many times that our show has been a highlight for many people over lockdown and that the viewers have felt part of the show itself. Logistically it’s a live show and anything can happen, so there is an element of excitement which has been well loved. The show was only meant to run for a short while to entertain people, help provide income to us during our time of need. The continuing pandemic and its effect on our venues have meant that this show has been our main outlet to entertain people and keep our business alive and in people’s minds. There have been many big names on the show but my personal highlight has been our regular host Mark Nelson. He has provide a voice to the show that people have warmly embraced. He’s incredibly professional, very funny and also able to talk about issues that we are all facing. His rant about lockdown mental health was probably my biggest highlight. He took a sensitive


subject and treated it with honesty and humour. The other main highlight was actually realising that the first show was such a huge success. As I had initially proposed the show I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and relief that it had worked so well; it drained me physically and emotionally and a few tears were shed before a few (many) drinks were consumed! When it came to doing shows in the courtyard, Richard Turner our venue manager and his team did an amazing job with their Covid-19 procedures and won lots of praise from the public, acts and organisations alike. There was a buzz about the first show, everyone was really up for it and we believed it to be the first step to a return to live comedy. As soon as we were allowed to move the courtyard shows indoors with reduced capacity we did and again these were greatly received. We had Kevin Bridges, Daniel Sloss, Omid Djalili and our weekend mixed-bill shows and they were a success. Without the live shows I doubt we would have survived the pandemic so far. Nothing beats a room full of people enjoying themselves; The Stand was built on this ethos – entertain people with good quality affordable comedy, make the venues safe, cosy and welcoming and create buzz. Virtual comedy can only do that to a point so we really need actual shows ASAP. There are shows on sale now, including Simon Evans, Reginald D Hunter, Sindhu Vee and more. Our main objective is to survive the pandemic, offer laughter to people as much as we can in the ways that we can and to come back stronger for 2021. www.thestand.co.uk


Newcastle’s Newest VENUE will probably be open






Dilettante at Last Train at Home, image by Rob Irish

DARLINGTON MUSIC COLLECTIVE TRACKS HAVE EMBRACED REAL LIFE AND VIRTUAL EVENTS THROUGHOUT THIS TUMULTUOUS YEAR, SARAH WILSON EXPLAINS WHY IT’S BEEN SO IMPORTANT TO KEEP REGIONAL MUSICIANS IN PAID WORK It’s been such a stressful, heartbreaking year for many of us. I think we have veered between feeling absolutely gutted to feeling like we must follow our gut instincts, which is to continue to create music events in whatever form we can. We have spent a lot of the year embracing our new role as filmmakers (which Rob Irish was excellent at anyway, but I have certainly had a lot to learn!) Music has a wonderful way of lifting people’s moods. When we started hosting busking-style outdoor performances after the first lockdown, it was so lovely to see people’s smiles when they heard the musicians singing in the streets, as for many it was the first live music they’d seen in a long time. It is more important now than ever to support musicians. One of our biggest fears is that after Covid has faded away, so many people from the music world just won’t be there any more. They will have had to take work elsewhere and the music scene will be a far less rich landscape because of it. When it comes to the events we’ve run, I think we have been quite cautious as we simply don’t have the finances to attempt to run an event and all the costs that are incurred in setting one up without the certainty that it would actually be going ahead. In


that respect we have embraced creating interesting online content. Our online event Last Train At Home was pretty special. It felt very emotional to see Ceiling Demons, Shakk, Eve Conway and Dilettante all play live whilst it was being filmed. We were all feeling very emotional having not seen live music for such a long time. Also filming it in such an atmospheric place as Darlington’s Head Of Steam Museum added to the vibe. As for the future, like many independent promoters, we will be treading carefully, especially for the first half of 2021. We have some plans for some great online content including more Hark! events, Noisy Daughters workshops, more BIG Little Gigs and also hopefully some exciting hip-hop events working with Legitimate Anarchy. Going forward, we really hope to see the return of Mish Mash Festival in Darlington Market Square in August and our Last Train Home Festival in September. Fingers firmly crossed! www.tracksdarlington.co.uk



JODIE NICHOLSON HURWORTH-ON-TEES’ SINGER AND MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST JODIE NICHOLSON TALKS ABOUT LESSONS LEARNED AND THE OPPORTUNITIES THAT HAVE LED TO SELF-GROWTH 2020 has been a pretty crazy year for me in terms of music, I really didn’t expect it. Jo Whiley played Losing Track on BBC Radio 2 in February and I thought ‘that’s it, 2020 complete’, especially when lockdown hit. Weeks after the announcement, I launched a Kickstarter to release my album Golden Hour on 12” vinyl and it ended up over 250% of its initial target – madness! – and it feels like I haven’t stopped since then. Crowdfunding and lockdown in general has made me step out of my comfort zone massively with social media. I’ve shown more of my face, experimented with content to try and cut through the noise, and livestreamed for New York’s Rockwood Music Hall and Summer Streets’ Virtual Festival; that likely wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic. I’ve also learned animation, the importance of a plan B (or C or D!) and delved into Facebook Business (a big, baffling world that I never knew existed). The biggest game-changer has been receiving Help Musicians’ Do It Differently and PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music

awards in May – it would have been a very different year without these awards. They’ve given me the opportunity to release new music right through to Spring 2021 with a new EP in the works, (virtually) meet so many amazing people in the industry and work remotely with the phenomenal producer, Tim Bran, (who’s previously worked with Aurora, London Grammar and Rae Morris). It’s been SO cool watching my new single, Move, unfold since its release in September, from class write-ups in the States, to landing a spot on BBC 6 Music’s Introducing playlist and Radio 1 with Huw Stephens and Amazing Radio’s A-list. This year’s been one heck of a roller-coaster and it’s definitely not been plain sailing, but it’s taught me that even during a global pandemic, loads of things are possible. I’ve gained a huge amount of knowledge and reassurance, space to really grow as an artist and form an amazing support system, despite Covid’s limitations. I feel very grateful. www.jodienicholsonmusic.com

SWINE TAX: NO TEETH LEDDIE MC: CHURCH HONEY A raw and darkly inventive six-piece band from Newcastle, their demonic noise punk is characterised by repetitive crush-huge riffs, caveman drums and absurdist rants. It’s a case of anything goes with No Teeth, they’re never afraid to experiment – an ethos that’s best showcased on their brilliant 1930s Graphic Design Menopause single released earlier in the year. We’re gutted not to have the chance to see them play in 2020, because No Teeth are a truly special live act. Their gigs somehow just get more and more intense; they’re like a careening juggernaut of sound that’s teetering on the edge of collapse. Newcastle’s best kept secret – great band! www.swinetax.bandcamp.com / www. no-teeth.bandcamp.com

Church Honey only have two singles out so far as a full band, even though a few of the band members have been on the scene for years, whether it be solo or in other local bands. Ben’s writing is amazing. It is so raw and it seems to have the ability to touch a part of your soul that you never knew existed. The instrumentation the band create behind the lyrics is fantastic too. I cant wait to hear more from them. www.facebook.com/leddiemc / www. facebook.com/churchhoneymusic


Yakka Doon’s beautiful album Strenuous Detour brought me great comfort during lockdown, so it was brilliant and quite moving to see them play live on the Sage concourse when it briefly reopened from lockdown in October. Claire Welford has one of the most compelling voices I’ve ever heard; it’s powerful, vulnerable and warm, as she belts her lush folk songs over guitar, with delicious harmonies and additional instrumentation from Phil Tyler. You should check them out if you want to listen to something mellow and earthy to soothe yourself on a rainy day. www.melostme.com / www.yakkadoon. bandcamp.com




Paislie Reid, who performs Olu Alakija’s Watching And Waiting as part of 10 Minutes To...



The beating heart of what Live Theatre does is to create new plays and support new writers. The theatres being closed is a huge threat to writers and performers. It’s a particular threat to writers and performers in the North East to whom opportunities can feel limited in the best of times. Telling stories is a huge part of our culture, we need it. We need those writers and performers to tell them. We launched Live Wired, a new digital platform from which we can stream plays and keep the stories alive. We kicked off with 10 Minutes To… Call Home, nine brand new short plays performed at Live but captured digitally. Doing 10 Minutes To.. was vital in keep the stories alive but also provide that support to those artists. We are going to need them to still be here when all this is over. The response has been fantastic. 10 Minutes to... Call Home has had over 20k views online. It’s fantastic that audiences have supported the work like that and shows the hunger there is for it. It surpassed my expectations for it. A lot of different people use Live Theatre and it’s vital we maintain that. Our Youth Theatre got back up and running, digitally, in September. We have also made a huge range of creative


opportunities for artists available, and there is much more to come. Live Theatre is about sitting in that small intimate space and enjoying world class theatre. There is no substitute for that. Of course, that isn’t possible at the moment, so going digital has been the only option but it’s been a huge success. One of the good things to come out of this is that theatre’s engagement with the digital world has been accelerated. We are all eager for the day the theatre’s doors are reopened but I think digital is here to stay. We have 5 Plays of Christmas coming over the festive period. Live has really established that alternative festive offering with the likes of Bonnie & Fanny and The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes. 5 Plays is definitely in that same vein. After that we have our Live Playwriting group but and a few other bits, but we are all hoping to get back in the theatre as soon as we can. We have lots of plans and we can’t wait to share them. Things have started to look a lot more positive, let’s just be hopeful that means audiences back in theatres sooner rather than later. www.live.org.uk



COBALT STUDIOS’ EVERYDAY ART FOR EXTRAORDINARY TIMES COBALT STUDIOS’ KATE HODGKINSON TALKS ABOUT THEIR EVERYDAY ART FOR EXTRAORDINARY TIMES PROJECT, AND THE WORK WHICH DOCUMENTED A POIGNANT VISUAL MEMORY OF A HISTORICAL MOMENT IN TIME The idea behind Everyday Art for Extraordinary Times was to create an archive of everybody’s everyday art during lockdown. We wanted to capture the breadth of the creative work that everybody was using their extra time to produce, in many ways it felt like the whole world had a moment for pause and for many people creativity seemed to be a very human instinct to fill the time and find a way to express important stuff. It gave a real window into the world of many people’s different experiences of lockdown and created visual memory of a very specific historical moment in time. It also gave people a chance to feel connected to a project and for their creative endeavour to have a platform whatever their background – if it mattered to somebody enough for them to create it then it mattered to us too. The response was incredibly broad, ranging from technical animation explorations to a kitchen ballet and somebody who made a kind of floor plan piece of art of his flat and lots of people who documented daily walks. It was real mix of people, some making a living from art, some hobbyists, a lad doing his GCSEs, and in some cases it felt as though submitting visual art to a project might be an entirely new experience. I loved the dancer who did a sequence of dances around a chair in her small backyard, and the single mum at home with two small kids who was still finding time to make photographic images. We are making a limited edition book, as a thank you to all contributors and there will be some spare. As for Cobalt, our creation of a co-working space continues, and we are also creating additional studios and a small outdoor venue area (subject to planning and licensing) – as Covid continues, these plans are strategic in terms of sustainability and survival. There will be music, arts learning and lots of other creative interactive stuff in some shape or form. We’ve got to keep believing that somehow or some way there will be dancing at some point not too far away! www.cobaltstudios.co.uk


There’s a couple of artists who’ve left big impressions on us during 2020, one being John Dole. The amount of absolute gold he has hidden on hard drives away from ears is genuinely mind-blowing and we feel super excited for him to share some of it during the coming year. His latest releases Rolling and Moving showcase his soulful skills of production and songwriting. Another we have to mention is Psydove, who we did a lockdown gig with, the band bring some incredible song writing and visceral psychedelic pop vibes with crazy keyboard solos and melodies that will stick in your head for decades. Last but definitely not least, we recently we did a livestream with Me Lost Me which left us melting in some kind of ancestral dream-space due to Jayne’s haunting and blissful lyrics and unique, experimental electronic production; the pure expression of an artist who knows their roots. Go check. www.squarms.co.uk / www.soundcloud. com/johndole / www.facebook.com/ psydovelove / www.melostme.com


I’ve been lucky enough to hear the stuff they’ve got in the pipeline and it’s absolutely RAD! I’m just a big fan of what they do in general and I really vibe what Elliot does with synths (not to mention Steph’s amazing vocals). Plus they’re quite unique on the local scene, there’s no one quite like them, especially live. www.facebook.com/akonewcastle / www. holybraille.bandcamp.com


We are obsessed with Ceiling Demons. From the first time we saw them a few years ago at Stockton Calling, we were hooked. Art rap with live instrumentation, power in their words and passion in their performance (not to mention sampling A Silver Mt Zion). They have managed to flip traumatic experiences into a positive message and they live by their words! We were lucky enough to work with them this year on a single and we can not wait for their second album next year! www.nelunlit.wordpress.com / www. ceilingdemons.bandcamp.com


One local band we discovered in 2020 as a result of them blowing our heads off just before lockdown #1 is Onlooker. They came from Teesside and dished out their frantic, garage-y post-punk to a sold out Little Buildings (for the Fast Blood EP launch). It was heavy duty! It was our happy place. 10/10 would recommend. www.pavethejungle.com / www. onlookertheband.bandcamp.com




CROSSOVER COVERS MUSIC BLOG SPOTLIGHT TEAMED UP WITH SUNDERLAND’S UNISON MUSIC AND EVENTS THIS YEAR TO LAUNCH A COLLABORATIVE CELEBRATION OF THE REGION’S MUSIC SCENE, SPOTLIGHT’S JORDAN DAVIDSON EXPLAINS HOW CROSSOVER COVERS CAME ABOUT Nobody could have predicted the topsy turvy (to put it lightly) year we’d be in for, but one thing that I’ve been inspired by was the way that the music scene in the North East has rolled with the punches and adapted along the way. Very quickly we witnessed a shift in the zeitgeist that was born from our region’s many creatives being, well, creative and using the power of social media and DIY style live music streams to reach their followers. This refusal to be silenced was one of the inspirations behind myself and Ben from Unison Music & Events wanting to make the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown a chance for collaboration and shared love for our music scene. We decided to launch a video series that would encourage local musicians to cover one another’s tracks, encouraging them to communicate with and support each other as well as gain new followers at the same time. Some went above and beyond, such as Holly Rees and her band who made a quirky well produced music video for their cover of Swine Tax’s track I’d Like, and Thomas Dixon who made a hauntingly passionate saxophone solo of Before The Fall by Ten Eighty Trees. Once we realised we were onto something that people were really excited about, myself and Ben decided the next step would be to turn the project into a charity campaign, settling on the North East based Crossings Community Group, who provide a safe space for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants to come together, practice music and express themselves creatively alongside local musicians and the community. The important work they do has, like many other charitable organisations, been under threat by challenges such as seeking appropriate venue spaces to practice as well as lack of funding and awareness, not to mention the Covid-19 lockdown. Collecting together 15 of the 29 cover tracks that were made as part of the project, we set about making a compilation album which is available on Bandcamp with a suggested donation of £5, with all of the proceeds going to Crossings Community Group. www.crossovercovers.bandcamp.com



Hen Ogledd are such a joy to listen to! I think it’s a really unique sound. The production, instrumentation, lyrics, melodies, everything! Just loads of fun. They’ve soundtracked a fair few impromptu lockdown living room dancing sessions. My dear friend David Turnbull, aka Fax Machine. Baffling musicianship and creativity. It can be heartbreaking, hilarious, terrifying, and crazily groovy from one minute to the next. Fax Machine should be a household name, in my opinion. I’m also really enjoying material from Ceitidh Mac, and looking forward to hearing more from one of the very best voices. Talking of great voices, Hector Gannet have a voice from above. www.thedawdler.bandcamp.com www.henogledd.com www.faxmachinemusic.bandcamp.com www.ceitidhmac.com www.hectorgannet.com


Onlooker are my personal favourite local band at present, for those who aren’t familiar they’re a great band from Teesside who write really catchy and interesting garage-esque rock songs incorporating guitar lines with heavy hints of John Reis’ (Hot Snakes/Rocket From The Crypt) style. I’ve really enjoyed their recorded output this year, mostly as you can hear them growing in confidence and develop their style with each new release. I understand they have a full album in the works so am excited to hear that in 2021. www.ballpeennewcastle.bandcamp.com www.onlookertheband.bandcamp.com


Hartlepool’s finest alternative rock band Leopard Rays are similar to us in having quite a guitar-heavy, grungy sound and they have a unique style and some really cool riffs. We started around the same time as they did and we’ve been fans of theirs since day one, sharing a number of bills with them. We even record at the same studio (All Silk Recording Studio with the legendary Ed Hall). www.swearsband.co.uk www.facebook.com/leopardrays




MUSICIAN AND SONGWRITER RICHARD DAWSON TALKS CANDIDLY ABOUT THE POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF A LIFE TEMPORARILY ON PAUSE When Covid first landed here, despite being nervous and sad I really thrived. Lockdown elicited in me a sense of novelty and adventure. I’d been expecting to have my busiest year of gigs yet before this wide abyss of days opened up, swallowing all plans. Instead, over March and April I finished the lyrics and recorded the singing parts for a record I’ve been working on with one of my favourite bands, Circle, the ‘best band in all genres’, much sooner than I’d expected to. I read a lot. Me and my partner Sally formed a band called Bulbils and we made fifty (shonky) albums. I found my anxiety-levels started to creep up around May’s end, as the hitherto roaring river of pandemonic info evaporated to a thick fog, reaching really high levels by mid-summer. I guess I should be more worried if I felt perfectly fine? An unfolding global catastrophe is at least a clear and identifiable reason to feel bad. I’ve found keeping that in mind can be a useful strategy in staving off anxiety. But that’s all it is – a strategy. The truth is I’ve felt far worse than this in much better times. I have come to see my anxiety as a sort of swirling dark green cloud that floats around the ceiling of whatever room I’m in, watching me, waiting, then attaches itself to an event, thought or feeling. It’s the raw worry that comes first before latching on to my bodybrain, causing me to fret about something I felt fine about just the day before. Anxiety skewers rationality, not quite killing it, but pinning it against the wall. Rationality watches on helpless as the bodybrain under the influence of horrible green anxiety proceeds to torture itself, neglect itself, chuck precious hours to the dustbin in tens and even hundreds. Things have settled down a bit. I still look at the news every day, but no longer for hours at a time – now just the briefest of

morning glances over a horizon of Special K. I’m trying to focus on the good, simple things. It feels less of a taboo now than at ‘the beginning’ to say it out loud: There’s plenty to enjoy about life under lockdown; The sound of few cars and the cleaner air it arrives on; Returning squirrels to Nunsmoor Park; A bittersweet absence of hugs, so close yet so far; The sheer lifeforce of music; Wandering golfer-free golf courses listening to true crime podcasts; Yellowhammers (according to the bird-identification app) by the hedgeful; Knowing no-one will sit next to you on the train, spoiling your rare journey; Satellite-spotting; Heard-butnot-seen salmonsplash at Hagg Bank; Having to really smile with your eyes so that people may easier imagine what’s beneath the mask; Horsebreath in the nearby dark; False football crowd-noise and the total revelation of competetive sport’s searing emptiness by a mere remote’s flick to the channel which features only ‘natural stadium sounds’; Parsnip soup under a trembing potlid; A new high score in Tetris; Autumn’s disrobing of the trees to burnish walkways with soggy fire; Regular phonecalls with dear friends; Seaton Sluice jellytide; Seaton Delaval ice-cream; Neolithic cups and rings close to falling water where time-travel is possible; An unhealthy obsession with the Great British Bake-Off (still fuming about Lottie); A bounty of Zoom quizzes; Good booze; Rutting deer at Raby Castle; Clumsy elbowbumps; YouTube videos of surly older cats accepting the attentions of a new kitten after having initially rejected them (set to stirring strings); The joy of practice; Biscuits and cakes; Love; Quiet; The generosity inherent in people. www.richarddawson.net






T-B, L-R: OOIOO, Roscoe Mitchell, Angel Bat Dawid by Alejandro Ayula


ADAPTATION AND INNOVATION IS INGRAINED IN TUSK FESTIVAL’S ETHOS, ORGANISER LEE ETHERINGTON EXPLAINS HOW MOVING TO A VIRTUAL EVENT THIS YEAR EXCEEDED HIS EXPECTATIONS This is our 10th year and the choice was to either do Virtual or do nothing, so there was no way we were going to take the year off. It felt like we should try to do something big and substantial to make up for the rest of the world cancelling. We were cautious at first but we also had the advantage a fair bit of streaming experience, it’s just that we hadn’t presented an entire festival online in this way before. So we had to basically devise a totally new format for TUSK. I think at first we agreed a 14-day format and it didn’t occur to us how big a job it was, and it seemed to get bigger the nearer we got to the first day. We also gave a huge amount of trust to the artists we work with to send us in their pieces (we had over 50 new performances) and with little or no time to reject/replace anything, but that was never an issue – everything we got sent was fantastic and it’s hugely reinforced our faith in the survivability and resilience of art and music and the artists we work with. It was a total headlong rush too – basically a year’s work in six months and in a totally new format, so we’re over the moon with the outcome. Opening with Sun Ra Arkestra was a dream; putting together a digital festival changes several rules quite a lot – we could normally never afford the Arkestra, and ultra-busy folks like

Matana Roberts have proved hard to pin down to an in-person TUSK show in the past, so we embraced the possibilities and dived straight in. I think we gave a great picture of a vibrant music scene in the North East too – I think we had 14 North East acts and they were all fantastic. So many highlights though – MC Yallah followed by Horse Lords worked very nicely I thought, and giving a sense of life in other parts of the world, like Yan Jun’s piece in a lift in Beijing. But then Blóm were on fire, eh?! I felt more like a TV producer than a festival producer, but I really loved the different way of working and the different possibilities and doing little touches like the idents and so on. We’ll definitely be taking some of the things we’ve learnt into future TUSKs, I’d be amazed if we went back to a straight ‘live’ festival after this. I really don’t know if a ‘live’ TUSK is likely next year – if the conditions allow (and we get our funding) then it will happen ‘live’ but we’ve loved this way of working and I’m sure that’ll change how we do things in the future. www.tuskfestival.com




Star & Shadow Micro Projects - Rachel Bollen, Swimming painting


THE VOLUNTEER-RUN DIY CINEMA DIVERSIFIED INTO CREATING AUDIO EXPERIENCES WITH STAR & SHADOW RADIO, MICHAEL MCHUGH TALKS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY AND CREATIVITY We decided pretty quickly to start broadcasting. Radio was easier than moving to film streaming – which we have got up and running now too. It was also really important to keep people together when the first lockdown happened – that was the motivation. Like most things at Star & Shadow, programming is completely open. If you’re a volunteer with us (and we have nearly 800 active volunteers) and you have an idea, you can make it happen. People will help you. There is a huge amount of generosity. No other venue, cinema, music or arts space in the country works in this way. The programme came about by a number of volunteers pushing and advocating the idea across the volunteer collectives. All the shows after that just came. Many volunteers had never made anything for radio before and now they are seasoned professionals at it and can pass the skills on. The diversity of what is being programmed is a highlight. In an unexpected way it has brought volunteers together that would not have usually worked together when we were open publicly. For many volunteers making shows it’s the first time they’ve programmed something for the venue. The summer solstice live 12 hour continuous broadcast was a highlight though, this involved a big team of people who had never worked together before – it was a showcase for what we can achieve. People think being underground/experimental means it has to be weird in some way. We aren’t that weird, we just provide an opportunity


to people who would not get a chance anywhere else. We broadcast things that are very accessible. We just take chances and risks more than other places and can work very quickly. We also promote things in a different way, maybe not so corporate or branded – which is because we have open programming and don’t operate under a strict managerial hierarchy. Unlike other venues there isn’t any pressure to attract 1000s of listeners. We don’t look at competition either, it’s all relative. The important thing is volunteers making the show and providing a creative outlet for people. At this point nearly 400 new and original shows have been made by over 40 different volunteers and we’ve attracted over 30,000 listeners. It’s just about taking each day as it comes now. The radio continues, the film streaming is up and running and we’re supporting volunteers. We were successful in applying for an Arts Council grant to fund volunteers to make new things. We called this Micro Projects and nearly 40 volunteers have made online films, radio and in person things like prints, artworks, zines and gardening projects. Like everyone, we hope to be open in the new year and we have been using this time to continue the build in the venue. We’re completing the build of a dark room and printing facility. When the day finally comes when we can have a party, it’s gonna be a hell of a blow out. www.starandshadow.org



VIRGIN MONEY UNITY ARENA STEVE DAVIS, DIRECTOR OF SSD CONCERTS, EXPLAINS HOW THE WORLD’S FIRST SOCIALLYDISTANCED VENUE WENT FROM PIPE DREAM TO REALITY The eventual outcome for the Virgin Money Unity Arena was a world away from the initial idea! We started with people standing alongside their cars and driving in but we quickly realised the sound would be awful with 500 cars facing an outdoor festival PA. As we went the guidelines changed so we were able to lose the cars and add the platforms so there was a natural barrier between all the pitches. We were super happy with where it ended up however, and feel like it was as close to normality as we could push it whilst respecting social distancing and people’s health and safety. In terms of delivering a Covid-safe live music experience with only eight weeks notice from approval to build, I feel very proud of what our team created. We almost didn’t have any expectations as the turnaround was so quick which helped us enjoy more as we went. Sam Fender’s opening night obviously meant a lot to us, coming out to a local hero was something else in the circumstances and definitely left a lump in my throat. As the shows started kicking in Van Morrison was definitely a highlight, he was amazing and it was a great evening weather wise which added to it. The other main highlight was the closing night, we were obviously cut short

due to the local lockdown and Chase & Status fully embraced being the final performers. The crowd interaction and the atmosphere that night was sensational. During the summer, a little bit of hope to people went a very long way, live music fans need that stimulation – I certainly do – which is why we fought so hard to make the shows happen. It’s been a terrible year for people in general and a lot of people’s mental health will be at an all time low. It’s great to see examples of innovation and how people are responding to these difficult times though. We need to be strong, we need to be resilient and we need to be innovative to outlast the virus. Live music and music in general can definitely repair mental health, there will be so many hits written throughout this pandemic; if you look at it positively there is hopefully an avalanche of good music to come from it. We think that there may more shows to come; as much as we’d love things to go back to normal it seems like it will be later on in 2021 so we are actively looking at the Spring and making plans for the event to return. www.virginmoneyunityarena.com




Image by Saint Sophie


NORTHERN ALT. POP SONGWRITER MARTHA HILL GIVES AN INSIGHT INTO HER YEAR, AS HER NEWLY RELEASED MUSIC HIT THE NATIONAL AIRWAVES It’s been a funny year for me, but also weirdly good in lots of ways. I’ve been lucky to have been able to continue working and creating throughout lockdown due to having invested some funding into a home recording set-up at the end of last year, and I’m massively thankful for that. I knew I had Summer Up North EP ready to release this year, but the challenge was: how do you record an EP when you can’t leave the house? After a few trial and error sessions, myself and producer Julien Flew managed to find our flow with it. I’d record the acoustic parts (my vocals, guitars etc.) in my living room and send them over to him, and then we’d sit together for hours over Zoom, screen and audio sharing, and build the rest of the arrangement together. It was funny being ‘in the studio’ and on my sofa in pyjamas at the same time! When I released Grilled Cheese in June, I was hoping it would do


For high excitement thrills, tunes, glamour, and bravado you couldn’t go wrong with Kkett, Shy-Talk and Blom, the latter being a particular high point of TUSK. Everything coming out of the James Watts/Skyler Gill orbit was incredible, either being Lump Hammer barrage of repetitive noise riffs, Penance Stare with Esme Louise’s guitar reconfigurations of Goth for the New Age, Mobuis with spirit invoking chanting or James creating crushing sounds from self invented spring instruments. 2020 saw Gary Wilkinson produce a superb classical sample based symphonic electronic work full of the soul and passion he has always put onto his projects. Drooping Finger and Chlorine


well, but I had no idea it would receive the national radio support that it got. It felt unreal when BBC 6Music picked it up on their B-List playlist, but then they bumped it up to the A-List and Radio 1 also picked it up as the BBC Introducing Track of the Week! The support it received was amazing, and it was lush having pals messaging me saying how buzzing they were to hear me on the radio. I have absolutely no idea what 2021 will look like. But I’m currently focusing on writing as much new material as possible, and I also have a tour booked for the end of April. My Durham show has already sold out, but there’s still some tickets for Westgarth Social Club in Middlesbrough (24th April) and The Cluny, Newcastle (30th April). I can’t waaaiiittt to play live again! I miss it so much. www.marthahillmusic.com

have continued to find new ways to unnerve and entice with electronic and percussive landscapes. Two albums that have rarely been off my personal listening devices this year have been Bad Amputee’s Convenience Kills and Yakka Doon’s Strenuous Detour, the latter’s Demolish The House being a particular favourite. www.stjamesinfirmary.bandcamp.com www.tqzine.bandcamp.com www.dolmendweller.bandcamp.com www.droopingfinger.bandcamp.com www.chlorinerecordings.bandcamp.com www.badamputee.bandcamp.com www.box-records.com www.kkett.bandcamp.com www.weareblom.bandcamp.com www.invertedgrim-millrecordings. bandcamp.com

www.penancestare.bandcamp.com www.yakkadoon.bandcamp.com


Alexys Alfaro is a Peruvian multi-instrumentalist who is based in Newcastle and has been performing his beautiful Latin guitar compositions for as long as I’ve been gigging here (and probably quite a bit longer). Sensitively utilising guitar loops he creates atmospheric pieces the likes of which you don’t hear very often in the North East nowadays. You can check out Alexys’ 2020 release Guitar Dreams on Spotify. www.simontaylor.bandcamp.com www.facebook.com/alexysguitar



Art Confined by Lady Kitt 2020, socially engaged live art craft project


MULTI-TALENTED ARTIST LADY KITT ATTEMPTS TO MAKE SENSE OF A YEAR OF SOCIALLYDISTANCED SOCIAL ART Along with producer Sarah Li, artist Sofia Barton and a brilliant bunch of folks from around the North East I’ve been working on Art Confined, a project scrummaging around in, and making art inspired by, the question “how the hell do we do social art with social distance?!” We’ve been supported to do this by the amazing disabled artist led consortium Disconsortia, Durham University and Norfolk Street Arts in Sunderland. Also me and artist Dan Russell have been continuing our work growing and sharing mutual support for artists locally and nationally with the Social Practice Surgery and co-leading the North East hub for UK wide Social Art Network. The pandemic has affected me in so many ways. Basically I spend my life making art with people and when you can’t spend time with people that all becomes a bit complex! The initial impact was, well, devastating actually; no collaborating, no income, no creative focus, no professional development. No access to my studio or physical access to the people and groups I was working alongside. Home schooling two small children whilst having to find/secure/develop new work opportunities. Thinking “Why bother? How/why the hell would I ‘do’ participatory art in a socially distanced world?” But that question became key; answering it – trying to, anyway – is

what I’ve spent most of the last eight months doing. I’ve been forced to work slower, which has actually been dead useful and to embrace digital stuff in my work – something I’ve been very hesitant about previously, but I’m now really getting into it. I think there’s something about going through this collective trauma that has allowed/encouraged/given permission for people to be very open and vulnerable with one another. The work I’ve been part of has felt kinda tender and intimate. It’s had a sort of intense clarity, you know? People have really wanted to ‘do’ art with social purpose(s) and talk about what that really means and how it happens. And it’s felt open to (supported) experimentation and mess and gainy-ness and failure – which I absolutely love. I just found out we got Arts Council England funding for a project which expands on the Art Confined scrummaging. It’s called (en)SHRINE and involves collaborative crafting, massive paper shrines and institutional policy change! Other than that, more (supported) experimentation and mess and gainy-ness and failure I hope!! More cuddles though, eh? I really miss cuddles... www.lladykitt.com





IN TEAMING UP WITH LITTLE BUILDINGS, TYNE BANK BREWERY’S LIVE SHOWS TURNED OUT TO BE ONE OF THE SAVIOURS OF THE REGIONAL MUSIC SCENE, PROMOTER ALLAN SCORER TALKS ABOUT THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF RUNNING SMALL GIGS IN BIG SPACES... The Tyne Bank Brewery events involved resetting the room layout with a gradual introduction of smaller tables and decreasing the bigger ones as restrictions got tighter. It was a bit messy in the latter stages of September when we were having to split tables up whilst keeping groups in close proximity to their initial parties, but the shows far exceeded my expectations – I went from worrying about an all seating affair and audience interaction with the artists to then hearing the applause after every performance. You could just tell how great it must have felt to be able to perform again by the massive beaming grins coming off stage every night. It’s been a massive help for most, if not all, people mentally. Last year when Little Buildings was in limbo looking for a home I went through all the motions where that was concerned, so being able to offer a platform for those who value live music as therapy is the very least we could offer. When Robyn from Picnic spoke about how much it had helped her during their gig on 1st November I was nursing a canny hangover so a tad emotional but managed to stop myself from having a public bubble. Seeing the same faces attend was lush to see too, it got to a point if I hadn’t seen a regular for over a week I was sliding into their DMs seeing if they were cush! Highlights included Kay Greyson performing Call The Police the


night before further restrictions came into place; Shallow and Swears performing with Good Friend, as I had been worried about fuzz levels with heavier bands and Kaan nailed the sound; Many Moons with Sailmaker, Lizzie Esau, Picnic, Badmind, Tall Shaves and Sing Again Syren. I could list all 45 and still be unable to choose a clear favourite. The diversity across all of our nights was just a small taste of what the North East has to offer, there are 100s more bands and soloists we can’t wait to work with again and in some cases for the first time. Our bread and butter has been local artists and will continue to be as long as everyone keeps putting the graft in and setting the bar for the next lot. In terms of 2021, I’m hoping for more gigs at Tyne Bank and then to start filling Little Buildings’ diary from March with my old man, (hopefully) get some tours booked for my two bands (Shallow and Sing Again Syren), and overall just stay happy doing what we are daft enough to do and look forward to seeing everyone cross our doors again. We can stroll into 2021 being proud of the work we have been able to put in, and safe in the knowledge that the North East is like the Garden of Eden for talent. www.tynebankbrewery.co.uk




I met Martha when she’d just got back from busking round Europe and we played and sang together for a couple of years touring the UK and Europe. Her songs and THAT VOICE have always blown my mind but to see how she’s exploded as a songwriter and artist is really special. I love her take on alternative pop that’s both unique and authentic but incredibly catchy at the same time, which not many people can do. Her lyrics are incredible – she sings about everyday stuff and infuses it with a kind of magic. She’s going to put Newcastle and the North East firmly on the map! www.ruthpattersonmusic.com / www. marthahillmusic.com

Audio Queer artwork by Adrian Martin

CURIOUS ARTS CURIOUS ARTS’ ELLIE PUCKERING REFLECTS ON A YEAR OF ADAPTATION We’ve all felt the impact of Covid-19. Our venues having to close their doors and fellow freelancers offered little to no support. Staying safe at home has left many separated from their support systems, loved ones have been lost. Conscious that lockdown would bring many challenges for our LGBTQIA+ communities, such as isolation in unsupportive settings and reduced access to vital support services, we wanted to ensure that the opportunity to connect with each other remained despite our collective separation. Curious Arts was founded with the mission to develop and champion LGBTQIA+ arts, artists and audiences across the North East. We’re super small but often reflect that our size is a strength as it enables us to be reactive, flexible and adapt pretty quickly. Something we’ve all had to do in abundance this year. In July we were due to celebrate Curious Festival’s fifth birthday across the region until Covid had other plans! Like many others, Curious went digital, putting together our first micro-online LGBTQIA+ arts festival and exploring new projects and ways to stay connected. In summer, we teamed up with Queerious Podcast to launch Audio Queer, a podcast series showcasing LGBTQIA+ artists and creatives from across the North East. We also moved our annual young people’s project, Queer Creative Challenge, online, and collaborated in new ways with LGBTQIA+ artists, allies and supportive organisations to provide young members of our community with moments of creative escapism. We’re currently re-imagining what Curious Festival might look like in 2021, whilst feeling grateful to be planning for next year. It’s been challenging at times but the support of partners, funders and community members has allowed us to develop a series of community projects focused on well-being in areas of digital poverty. We’re looking forward to be able to queer spaces and experience art together. Just being together would be great but we’ll settle for Zoom until we get there! As DJ and Sound Artist Sayang recently reflected at a Queer Arts North event, 2020 is not a write off, too many important things have happened. We have to celebrate the little wins, the progress being made and the voices finally being heard.



I’m really like local artist Lily Brooke. She’s released some brilliant singles this year with my favourite being Stand. It’s about finding connection in a dystopian world. She’s a really interesting artist who’s constantly evolving. She reminds me at times of Tori Amos which is always a good thing! I’m always interested to see what she’s going to do next. www.laurieshepherd.co.uk / www. facebook.com/lilybrookemusic


A criminally overlooked songwriter whose work deserves recognition on a much wider scale. During the first lockdown he did a few livestream performances. I think it’s really hard to captivate people that way when there’s so many distractions, but I watched Ryan’s performances in their entirety. Not just because I sincerely enjoy the music but because I found the whole thing really enjoyable to watch. That’s why I love Bugman, because his music never fails to connect with me, his songs just seem to transcend genres, trends and time, you could put them in any context and they would always come across as great pieces of work. I’d say that’s the mark of a genuinely outstanding songwriter. www.hectorgannet.com / www. bugmanmusic.co.uk




NORTH EAST LABELS ROUND-UP ALI WELFORD TAKES A LOOK BACK OVER THE MANY AND VARIED MUSICAL DELIGHTS TO HAVE COME FROM THE REGION’S DIY LABELS Faced with an assault from nature and a government who can scarcely conceal their contempt for the arts, 2020 has been a year in which the North East’s scene has thrived amidst unprecedented obstacles. This has not merely been true of the artists themselves, but also for our fine community of DIY labels. Run by a band of fanatics (whose prospects of financial reward have sunk lower than ever), these imprints have persevered despite the absence of gigs to showcase their wares, bolstered by a groundswell of support along with initiatives such as Bandcamp Fridays, in which the platform have waived their usual cut from online sales. Having kickstarted the year in style with an eclectic and adventurous album from Nel Unlit, Butterfly Effect have enjoyed a particularly strong innings, supplementing it with another long-awaited debut from James Leonard Hewitson and this month’s collection of Christmas carols courtesy of Benjamin Amos. Much the same can be said of Treetrunk Records – a DIY pursuit in the truest sense which has reflected the creativity of founders David Turnbull and John Edgar, presenting a succession of outstanding releases from Fax Machine, Lovely Assistant and The Dawdler. Between a cluster of micro-scenes, North East hip-hop and electronica have arguably never been in ruder health. This surge over recent years has coincided with the emergence of Kaneda Records, who’ve supplied further delights from perennial favourites such as Badger, Holy Braille and Cass Lamb. Their sterling work has been boosted by contemporaries such as Soft Verse and Win Big Records, whose wares have included a fresh Real Terms outing from head honcho Lewis Thompson and gloriously DIY indie rap from Eli Hermit, respectively. Underground noise, meanwhile, has long been a North East forte, thanks in large part to a community of imprints who rank among the nation’s finest. Heading this hub are Box Records, who’ve


enhanced their burgeoning reputation with rip-roaring riffs from London’s Luminous Bodies and genre-mashing psych from Birmingham’s Dorcha, not to mention a blistering debut from Newcastle’s own radge punks Blóm. A sense of collectivism underpins much of our local noiseniks’ success, and in the case of Panurus Productions this spirit extends to their output. Heat Death Of The Sun’s new record, for instance, marries droning electronics with free jazz percussion, while Always Check Your Mirrors is a collision of the restless collective behind The Old Police House. Elsewhere, ex-Snakes Don’t Belong In Alaska man Chris ‘Jude’ Watson has used Infinity Mirror as a vehicle for lengthy improv pieces as both Forest Mourning and Black Holes Are Cannibals, and Inverted Grim-Mill Recordings have preached quality over quantity, offering a pair of stunners from cinematic ambient maser Dextro and primal sludge upstarts Lump Hammer. The latter represents a joint venture with Cruel Nature Records, who’ve enjoyed an especially busy year with a total of 26 physical releases. Their roster features a vast gambit of rowdy delights, taking in everything from New York electro-punks Lip Critic to gnarly London noise duo Modern Technology and Newcastle post-hardcore firestarters Ballpeen. If volume or variety are what you seek, however, two labels stand head-and-shoulders above the rest – namely Opal Tapes and TQN-aut, who’ve amassed a frankly ludicrous 80 releases between them. Perhaps the finest example of the pair’s shared experimental philosophies came during the former’s TUSK Virtual online takeover, which pitted owner Stephen Bishop in his Lacrima guise alongside Iranian electronic producer Sote and Swedish drone duo Thet Liturgiske Owäsendet. Through months of perpetual monotony, the enduring enthusiasm of they and folks of their ilk has proved not only laudable, but wholly indispensable.







Wambui Hardcastle by Von Fox Promotions, Sammie Clarke by Von Fox Promotions, Brandin Mccaffery by Von Fox Promotions



Northern Stage has a long-term commitment to working in Byker and is part of the Byker Children and Young People’s Partnership (BCYPP), a pioneering initiative of almost 50 organisations working together to raise aspirations, enrich lives and achieve social change. When the UK went into lockdown, the Northern Stage team quickly adapted to meet the changing needs of residents – working in partnership to help deliver food parcels and activity packs, and regularly speaking to isolated members of the local community. This led to the Doorstep Music project – 48 pop-up music performances over the summer, and Northern Stage Young Company co-creating eight brand new audio experiences for Byker and beyond made with the local community. The Team is part of Northern Stage’s Young Company – a gathering of young people aged 16–21 with a hunger to learn new things and a desire to make things happen. The Team is a place for young artists, and community activists at the core of Northern Stage Young Company Ensemble to develop their approach to community projects. The Team have invested in the people and place of their community in one of its most challenging years. This year, in unprecedented times (!) The Team pulled together to help make great things happen in Byker including Doorstep Music and with the Byker Children and Young People’s Partnership (BCYPP) Byker Best Summer Ever, Byker Audio Stories and Get Out and Move About in October half term. Wambui Hardcastle collaborated on Byker Best Summer Ever in 2019 and 2020 and was key to the support and delivery of Doorstep Music. Wambui wrote and presented her Audio Story


about working on Doorstep Music and the importance of Byker to her and her relationship to the city. “When I was growing up my Mam was sad that I didn’t have the community she had growing up in Kenya – where she could play outside with her friends, and know there were aunties on every corner keeping an eye out for you. Coming to Byker has allowed me to see what a true community is. It’s formed from trust, laughter and knowing that there are people who will always be there to catch you if you fall. Seeing everyone engaged in the activities, whether that was cooking outdoors or dancing in the rain or listening to storytellers, served as a reminder as to why we do what we do.” Founder member of The Team Sammie Clarke has brought experience, intelligence, humour and team spirit: “Before I came here I didn’t see people normally. I didn’t really like humans and wasn’t a socialised person. Now I give people a chance. I don’t judge a book by its cover.” Brandin McCafferty has supported activities from dance, to planting, to den building: “People have told me how my confidence has grown – like I’ve found my voice. We’ve done so much together and I literally never miss a session.” Associate Director Louie Ingham says: “Although it’s been the most difficult year to make things happen in, working with The Team and their collective spirit, tenacity, generosity and great humour has been the highlight of 2020. They’ve never missed an opportunity to be present, connect and bring energy and activities to their wider community and I’m enormously honoured to work alongside these people.” www.northernstage.co.uk/young-company-the-team



Still from Love Spell by Lauren Vevers

NORTH EAST FILM ROUND-UP FILMMAKER AND SUNDERLAND SHORTS FILM FESTIVAL COORDINATOR CHRIS J ALLAN ROUNDS UP THE CINEMATIC DELIGHTS FROM THE REGION THIS YEAR The film version of 2020 may end up being somewhere between a George A. Romero dystopia and a political satire to put In The Loop to shame. Although the Sunderland Shorts film festival I run may have been off the big screen as we decided to postpone to 2021 in favour of a best-of retrospective online, this year hasn’t stopped filmmakers here in the North East creating and celebrating success. Two horror shorts that have been enrapturing audiences this year include Gavin Williamson and Mark Lediard’s The Mime, which had its UK premiere this Hallowe’en at the ever fantastic Frightfest, and Lucy Rose’s atmospheric short She Lives Alone has rightly found great success with audiences at a host of screenings and events. Lucy has also been part of Candle & Bell’s Above The Line, a project that supplies aspiring filmmakers with an essential insight into the production process. Another local festival which didn’t quite have the year they originally planned was Women X, but alongside their workshops and panel discussions they still managed to digitally showcase some truly phenomenal films by female and non-binary filmmakers. Lauren Vevers was awarded best director for Love Spell, an absolutely charming 90’s nostalgia fest. Red Coats, a new documentary from Rob Kilburn, provided a harrowing look at the clashes between protestors and those who still hunt foxes. The director has also been releasing sneak peeks of the punk documentary he has been working on over at his Tyne & Weird Facebook page, which promises to be something very special. This year also saw the premiere of First Day of the Dead, a short zombie comedy/ horror-ish film which I directed and co-wrote. When we shot the film in summer 2019, about a world which had drastically changed from the one familiar to us, we didn’t know our film was going to go from fantasy to feeling like documentary realism, but its award-winning release has still been an enjoyable, albeit unusual, journey so far! As the credits begin to roll on this year, I’m hopeful for what the future holds for local filmmakers, and look forward to welcoming them to Sunderland Shorts when we can get back to the big screen in 2021.


We’ve had to cheat a little here as the list of bands and artists we wrote down was extensive. We’ve gone with Stuart Walkinshaw and Chlorine. Stu has been a close friend of the band and of course is band mate to Mark Cooper when they play as Ten Sticks. If you are unfamiliar with his work, past or present, he played in Nately’s and The Dawdler and produced Blom. If you follow him on Instagram you’d be following his journey to his first solo record, and we’re really excited to hear it in its finished state. Chlorine is our other choice for this question, a more established artist in the North East, he’s become a mainstay of the music scene here and deservedly so. His output over the last few years has been prolific and it has grown and developed as each record came out. www.winterisle.bandcamp.com www.instagram.com/strtwlkinsssh www.chlorinerecordings.bandcamp.com


Marketplace’s latest single Hard 2 Love is a winner – it’s a smooth indie pop serenade with just the right amount of groove; great chorus too. Their videos are also funny. Singer Joel also got me back into 11-a-side football this year, which was really awesome of him. www.jamesleonardhewitson.com www.facebook.com/marketplaceband


There’s nothing quite like Fax Machine. His music is crowded with sounds that don’t quite make sense. It feels like a parallel world that you don’t want to leave, all your friends are there but their limbs are too long and they always get the drinks in. www.pigsx7.com www.faxmachinemusic.bandcamp.com





Nel Unlit, the nine-piece supergroup of extremely talented North East-based musicians and storytellers released one of our favourite albums this year, Wake For The Dreaming has a constant delicate beauty and it’s a fitting soundtrack to the winter months! We were lucky enough to catch them live at Sound It Out Records for the album launch in Stockton and have seen them perform to a captivated audience a few times now. We highly recommend checking them out. We’ve also been blessed to collab on the B-sides for their latest single, True Things, with a lo-fi hip-hop remix of their song The Inn, Pt.1 and their breathtaking cover of our track The Rose. www.ceilingdemons.bandcamp.com www.nelunlit.wordpress.com


KAY GREYSON TYNESIDE RAPPER KAY GREYSON REFLECTS ON A YEAR OF AWARDS AND NEW PARTNERSHIPS 2020 was a year in which it seemed everything that could go wrong, did. I’ve always been a positive person who looks for the good in everything (as hard as it might have been!) and at the beginning of the year, back in January, I was lucky enough to win the Alan Hull Award for Song Writing. The Alan Hull Award was established in memory of Alan Hull, the Newcastle born

Five years ago I started a chef job at the waiting room in Eaglescliffe where I met co-worker/waiter Rick Dobbing; a cardigan-wearing ginger bearded articulate lad. We bonded over music and he talked about Weezer, his band and how he never writes choruses. I got his album off Bandcamp and quickly found he was a lo-fi genius! The first song I heard was Trying To Walk Off Into The Sea But It’s Too Late, which is a pretty perfect offering. They are insane live! Stuff always goes wrong and everyone laughs then gets pretty moved. They have two absolute golden albums and I regard Rick as the best lyricist I know, I’d never tell him to his face though. www.tomjoshua.com www.dressedlikewolves.bandcamp.com

songwriter and founder member of North East group Lindisfarne, who died in 1995. I was very honoured to be selected, especially as it is an award that pertains to writing. Being a great songwriter has been a dream of mine since I began listening to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, among others, as a child. To be recognised in that way really made me feel like I was taking the first steps in achieving my goals. The award came with a £1,000 bursary that I used to buy a laptop. Most days, being a musician involves lots of admin and emails. I had been doing all of that from my phone, which was less than efficient, so having a good laptop has really changed the way I work! Also, this year I was signed to a management company called Soul Kitchen. This was another massive milestone for me which led to releasing my debut EP Paris with them in July. Paris was like a reintroduction to the world for me, after not releasing music for nearly three years. It was strange to do this at such a weird time in human history, but the warm reception and the opportunities that have come to me because of it, and in spite of everything going on, have been amazing! In 2021, I hope the world heads into its new normal and live music thrives once again, and that I can start to release some of the bangers I have hidden away for people to enjoy.




Lizzie Esau is certainly an artist to shout about. When performing live she plays piano and sings and uses some backing instrumentals recorded by her band. It was a beautiful sound, she reminded me of Jorja Smith instantly. Since seeing her at Tyne Bank Brewery (when she was my support act) we have discussed working on some collaborations. Even the rough audio clip ideas she sent over were really crisp and beautifully sung; she has a wide range and a powerful voice. I was impressed to realise that Lizzie has quite a range of styles from ballad-like to gospel and pop as well as her features on electronic music as a top liner. I definitely think she’s an artist to look out for. I think she will do big things! www.georgiamay.uk www.soundcloud.com/lizzieesau



David Saunders and Chris Cobain

TEES MUSIC ALLIANCE TEES MUSIC ALLIANCE’S ARTIST DEVELOPMENT GURU DAVID SAUNDERS TALKS ABOUT THEIR DETERMINATION TO CONTINUE TO PROVIDE REGIONAL MUSICIANS WITH HOPE AND SUPPORT After a really productive 2019 we were excited about the opportunities we could bring local musicians in 2020. However, it’s no secret that this year has been a sad and frustrating one for the music industry. Despite all the uncertainty and frustration, we’ve still managed to deliver a programme of music development for artists and activists in the Tees Valley region. When the pandemic hit and lockdown started we adapted to the changes, and have still been able to do some stuff online to help artists in the Tees Valley area. The most frequent is the Chris & Dave Zoom Drop-in Sessions which take place fortnightly on Tuesday 5-5.40pm. Before the pandemic we used to hold these at The Georgian Theatre every Tuesday, and would welcome various artists of all genres to come down, have a cuppa and discuss release strategies, getting gigs, contacting press, playlisting and anything else they needed advice on. During the pandemic when advice was less accessible but probably more needed, we thought it was important to take it to Zoom so that anyone who was releasing music or unsure about what was going on in the industry could log on and chat. Some weeks it was quiet, one week we were invaded by Zoom bombers (who we befriended through diplomacy) but we found it important to be consistent and there if anyone needed us. It was really nice to see artists like alt. rockers Coral Snake (who were releasing their debut single) and J.P. Riggall (who was putting out an album) put out kind words about the help we gave them after chatting with them. Another thing we felt was important was to try and keep the profile of local artists up at a time when they were unable to perform onstage or they might be struggling to get into the studio for new releases. To do this we asked musicians to take over our Facebook page every Saturday evening from late March

to early September for The Georgian Theatre Live Stream Sessions. We had some brilliant performances from the best and brightest in the region giving us their own unique lockdown renditions of songs we were unable to enjoy live at the time. We had incredibly enjoyable sets from artists such as Shakk, Eve Conway, Dylan Cartlidge, joegarratt, Jodie Nicholson, Lost State Of Dan and many more. They’re still on our Facebook page, in the video section, so go and have a look see. Also, let’s not forget our partnership with NARC. for the excellent NARC. TV, which (once lockdown was lifted) saw us opening our doors and putting on live bands for the first time since the pandemic forced us to close. It was great to give bands the opportunity to play again and give the people watching at home that full live sound experience that we had all been missing. The other way to keep artist’s profiles up, and offer an insight into the experiences of regional musicians and music activists, was our podcast, Summat Or Other. Available via the Tees Music Alliance Facebook and Soundcloud pages, these interesting, in-depth discussions allowed music fans to establish a connection with artists and inspire those looking for a career in music. It’s very easy in these dark winter months, with more lockdowns and harsh tier systems, to feel downbeat, but all we can do is look forward and continue to offer support to local musicians and activists when they need it. Our recent Incubator Fund award from Youth Music to mentor four young music enthusiasts over the coming year shows that in these hard times, in regards to music development, there are still things to smile about.





NARBI PRICE HARTLEPOOL-BORN ARTIST NARBI PRICE WAS MOVED BY THE MELANCHOLY TAPED UP PUBLIC BENCHES WHICH POPPED UP AROUND THE WORLD DURING THE FIRST LOCKDOWN, HE EXPLAINS HOW THE LOCKDOWN PAINTINGS CAME ABOUT When the first lockdown started I think a lot of people reacted in a similarly cautious way, going outdoors religiously for their one hour of sanctioned exercise etc, and the surreal qualities of this were seemingly common across the country. I’d noticed people posting photos online of public benches taped up to prevent them being used, a subtly melancholy sight that personified the pain of enforced separation that many of us were feeling. People started sending me their pictures, telling me that they looked like something I might paint. And they were right. I started making small watercolour studies in my living room as my studio was in lockdown, and things snowballed from there. I think there’s something quite universal in seeing the usually overlooked street furniture sort of highlighted with the tape. It was an international phenomenon, I had images sent to me from all over the world. A simple act that was nevertheless almost aggressive, but in some ways quite beautiful. The Lockdown Paintings were very popular, and the work was going out immediately to collectors without ever being exhibited, which is where the idea to make a book came in. Narbi Price: The Lockdown Paintings is the only document of the work together as whole. I’d been hoping to work with Michael Smith (The Giro Playboy, Citizen Smith, Drivetime) for years and everything fell into place nicely with his excellent accompanying essay Very


Shadows. The project was funded with a successful Kickstarter campaign in August and has just culminated at the beginning of November. The book is now published and available through my website, Waterstones and Foyles. To quote The Sundays, the book is a “little souvenir, of a terrible year”. It’s been a very busy year all round even apart from The Lockdown Paintings, highlights have been successfully completing my PhD, curating Hartlepool Art Gallery’s centennial exhibition, and showing at the Royal Academy for the third time. As the year draws to a close, I’m very much looking forward to showing at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens as part of the Field Music curated show Paint The Town In Sound. This explores the links between art and music, and I’ll be showing alongside artists Peter Blake and Jeremy Deller, as well as my old MeandthetwinS, Chippewa Falls, and Big Fail bandmate Laura Lancaster, and friends like Grassi and Pauline Murray. When it comes to 2021, I hope for a quieter year, to spend more time in the studio, and who knows, even get back behind a drum kit at some point...




Faithful Johannes performing at Base Camp, Middlesbrough. Image by Keavey Gamwell

BASE CAMP MIDDLESBROUGH’S BASTION OF DIY SPIRIT KEPT MUSIC FANS ENGAGED WITH NEW INITIATIVES AND EVENTS, CARMEL RAMSEY TALKS ABOUT ADAPTING AND REACTING Base Camp’s return after lockdown saw the transformation of our vast warehouse space into a new sit-down bar that hosted weekly gigs, films, quizzes and comedy clubs throughout the summer as well as art and photography classes. The sprawling Grade 2 listed building in the heart of Middlesbrough’s historic district has always been a versatile space but we were able to make the sheer size of the place work to our advantage with an impressive socially distanced set-up. Stand out moments included the reopening event, Not Leeds Festival, which saw nine artists play over the Bank Holiday weekend. It was not only the bands’ first live shows since March, it was also the first time many of the audience had socialised in more than six months and the atmosphere was just incredible. Like every venue, we’ve had a nightmare adjusting to the constantly changing rules and regulations. The table service, the extra cleaning, the logistics involved in putting on an event have all been really challenging, but we are lucky to have the most amazing team who just took everything in their stride and made every event a massive success. There were some very special memories created at Base Camp this year and I’m very proud of the fact that we didn’t have a single case of Covid linked to the venue. The fact that we managed to keep everyone safe gives me huge hope for next year, despite the restrictions we will no doubt be operating under. As the recipients of Arts Council funding, Base Camp’s future is secured for 2021 and although things are going to take a long time to get back to normal, it’s in our nature to have big plans in the pipeline. We’re working on some really exciting events for next year that will happen both online and in a physical space once we are allowed to play out again. We’ve got some properly ground-breaking collaborators on board and one way or another 2021 is going to be our best year yet. Watch this space!”



Vandebilt are a band from Sunderland, they are electronic disco in nature with a hint of indie and pop. Their tunes are insanely catchy and upbeat. Vandebilt are Smoove & Turrell’s official support band but it won’t be long before we are supporting them when they get a record deal! www.smooveandturrell.com www.vandebilt.bandcamp.com


If 2020 is anything to go by, ZELA will have taken over the world by 2023. Five amazing singles deep since March and showing zero signs of slowing, they’re a huge talking point of the North East music scene, and rightly so. We can’t wait to see them blow up in the coming months. www.facebook.com/bigfatbig www.facebook.com/thisiszela


Yeah You are the daughter-father duo of Elvin Brandhi and Gwilly Edmondez. Improvised wild pop-dada with electronics and distorted vocals. Total anti-stasis. Must have seen them 10+ times live and every time is a new approach and sound world. www.taupe.bandcamp.com www.yeahyou.bandcamp.com





Eve Cole – Tesco

gleeful pop guitar joins to form the backdrop for Cole’s exquisite

There have been many settings romanticised in pop. Clubs, parks and rock shows have all hosted intimate tales of amorous teenagers and their budding love. Somehow, Eve Cole is successful in adding Tesco to this list, and brings an honest sincerity that will leave you feeling joyful long after you’ve left the self-service checkout. Starting with sparse synth chords, a

Goat Majesty – Brown Ale

Imagine stumbling around a foggy and poorly lit graveyard in the dead of night. Cold and alone, you are suddenly confronted by the grim spectre of Death himself. What would that sound like? Well, Brown Ale by Goat Majesty cements that idea and gallops with it for six minutes and 31 seconds. An ambient synthetic terror, the track moves from splendidly bleak to fanatically macabre, always enticing you with a mirage of haunted noises and ever piling textures that will have you anticipating the worst. Nevertheless, this tense affair has a fragile beauty hidden beneath it, which can be found in shimmering melodies and a frank whimsicality that proves if you can see past the horror, you’ll find beauty. www.goatmajesty.bandcamp.com

Back In The Dark – Obsessed

Swelling squeals lure you into Obsessed, gradually increasing in tension before finally exploding in a relentless onslaught of stabbing drums and punctuated, distorted guitars which ultimately settle in a tantalising hard rock groove. After forging some excellent face


vocals. The music is sparse but allows her unique style of vocals to stand out; her voice is a highlight and does well to draw you in to her simple yet effective songwriting. Full of hooks and infectious melodies, a meal deal has never sounded so delightful. www.soundcloud.com/wmcyoungmusiciansproject

melting manoeuvers, powerful vocals jam themselves on top of the chaos to push the track through to some impressive rhythmic shifts. A highlight of Obsessed is the instrumental build towards an anguished and relieved scream into some of the finest guitar rock riffs of 2020. Obsessed not only innovates but pays homage to past heavy hitters. The production is lavish and lush, showcasing the best of each component, melding them all into one cohesive rampage. www.facebook.com/backinthedarkofficial

Isabel Hudson – Sometimes

What is remarkable about Sometimes, is as soon as that first chord hits, you know exactly what you’re in for – a chill pop jaunt about not knowing your place in this strange and weird world. The strength of the track lies in Hudson’s vocal delivery, which is extremely accessible as it is magically pleasant. Her vocals melodies are contagious and fanciful, leading to some rather memorable moments that you will catch yourself humming. Backed by a superb and understated arrangement, only elevated by pristine backing vocals, this dazzling piece of contemporary pop meanders

along, never deviating dramatically but holding steady to deliver an outstanding and well calculated introduction to Isabel Hudson’s sound. www.soundcloud.com/ wmcyoungmusiciansproject

FAWNS – Bags And Boxes It has never occurred to me until listening to Bags And Boxes that after I’ve left this world some poor soul is going to have to organise and pack all the useless stuff that I’ve bought off eBay. While that might be a daunting trial, Bags And Boxes is certainly not. The graceful folk ballad depicts this process and ultimately tells a story of dealing with loss and retaining the memories of a deceased loved one. It’s gorgeously composed and features only a soft acoustic guitar (and a welcome harmonica solo) to distract from the frankly stunning harmonies. FAWNS accomplish making the idea of saying goodbye to someone a beautiful thing. Death may have a finality to it, however those bags and boxes are never truly packed. www.facebook.com/fawnsban


T-B, L-R: Sophia, Feed Your Wolves, Smithereen “Jesus Christ,” I hear you say, “it’s Christmas again and I haven’t a clue what to get everyone.” Fear not, for your friends at NARC. have you covered with this season’s tracks gift guide. For the lady who has everything, why not try Skin by Sophia. The simplicity of this ethereal guitar and beats number is bound to have even the fussiest of giftee blushing with delight. The warm, honest vocals combined with the neat production make this one of our top picks for this month. Tired of asking people what they want for Christmas only to hear them tell you ‘surprise me’? Then give them something unexpected with Unfolded by Nadedja. This track reminded of London Grammar and I loved the way it spun into a foot to the floor, get off your seat and dance party number. For the gentleman in your life, why not try Tear Us Apart by Smithereen? I don’t know if it was the lead singer’s beard, but this song had a shade of the Fleetwood Macs about it. Stuffed full of rock heritage vibes, I think you’ll like this one. Students can be so tricky to buy for. Leave out the guesswork this year and get them Nothing Else by The Strands. This self-produced indie number has charm in spades. The sparkle of the guitars alone just made me feel better about life. Looking to get something for that enigmatic friend who you can’t quite work out? Ceiling Demons have you covered with Soul Within A Storm. This lo-fi, alt. rap improvisation seems heartfelt enough but just didn’t do it for me. Christmas is going to be a difficult time for many people this year. Set an extra place at the table with Faithful Johannes’, It’s Alright To Be

Alone (This Christmas). I think this is honestly one of the best Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. It’s filled with so much kindness and generosity that I could gladly hear this every December for the rest of my days. Give the gift of giving this year with Conor Michael’s Home Is Where The Christmas Tree Lies. This powerful song, replete with jingle bells, evokes the hardship of Christmas on the streets. With all proceeds going to North East Homeless, you really should put your hand in your pocket for this one. While you’re at it, why not also dig deep for Andrew Bradley who is donating all the proceeds from his Monsters EP to mental health charity Mind. Bradley’s vocals just seem so reassuring and full of hope that I can’t help but recommend you give this EP a listen. Get out and support your high street by picking up Ambient Violence by Slow Decades. The Wurlitzer keys and growling guitars filled me with an odd sense of melancholy for empty stores lost to online shopping and creeping gentrification. If all you want for Christmas is the Smiths, then why not treat yourself to Danica Dares’ Giving It Away. From the artwork on the sleeve to the tone of guitars, it’s clear that Jonny Marr and co. have been a big influence on Dares’ sound. Finally, there’s always one person you forget to buy for. Don’t panic, everybody loves Hurricane by Feed Your Wolves. Guaranteed to thrill, this epic soft rock EP will get you through even the most hectic of last minute shopping trips.



3.5 / 5


Image by Marcus Wilen

Words: Ben Lowes-Smith Swedish punks Viagra Boys announced themselves as a barnstorming preposition a couple of years ago with Sports – a scuzzy, Dadaist take on bruised masculinity. Compared to 2018’s laser-guided Street Worms, Welfare Jazz is a mess. You can read that as a pejorative, but for a band whose whole modus operandi is owning their sloppy, dirtbag credentials, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Things start in familiar territory with lumbering new single Ain’t Nice, a satisfying exercise in sluggish nihilism with all of the band’s sonic markers in place. What comes next is something of a stylistic soup; there’s the cartoonish misogyny of Toad (happily, and importantly, counterbalanced by To The Country, the penultimate track on the record) and the jarringly polished Creatures (the only song I’m aware of which uses living underwater as an extended metaphor for, erm, inescapable poverty). These songs sit close to each other uncomfortably. 6 Shooter starts tremendously, but unravels into a shapeless jam. I Feel Fine dips its toes into jaunty music hall, Girls & Boys lays industrial textures to the band’s already menacing sound while Sebastian Murphy irreverently revisits his favourite concern – masculinity. Welfare Jazz is a very bottom-loaded record, and the last three songs are among the most cathartic the band have ever written. In Spite Of Ourselves and To The Country have the heart and pathos that the rest of the record skirts around. Street Worms was such a success because it was consistently very, very funny and very, very sad at the same time; Welfare Jazz is much more thematically and emotionally disjointed. I’m sure that Viagra Boys have a few great records in them, but this one ultimately feels quite rushed; a band making practice room decisions in public, which is exciting in it’s own right. This won’t be the record that Viagra Boys are remembered for, and there’s nothing that reaches the heights of Sports, for example (which, incidentally, would be a career high for most bands). It’s exciting to see a band this playful work things out in public, their scrawlings on the back of a beer mat are more exciting than what most bands commit to canvas. Released: 08.01.21 www.vboysstockholm.com

ALSO OUT THIS MONTH Rats on Rafts – Excerpts From Chapter 3: The Mind Runs A Net Of Rabbit Paths (Fire Records, 29.01) //Apifera – Overstand (Stones Throw, 15.01) // Less Than Jake – Silver Linings (Pure Noise Records, 11.12) //The Notwist – Vertigo Days (Morr Music, 29.01) // You Me At Six – Suckapunch (AWAL/Underdog Records, 15.01) // Tankus The Henge – Luna Park! (SRM Records, 04.12) // Lavender Diamond – Now Is The Time (Petaluma Records, 04.12) // Still Corners – The Last Exit (Wrecking Light Records, 22.01) //Black Honey – Written & Directed (Foxfive Records, 29.01) // Jim Ghedi – In The Furrows of Common Place (Basin Rock, 22.01) //Lonely The Brave – The Hope List (Easy Life Records, 22.01) // Bicep – Isles (Ninja Tune, 22.01) // Pom Poko – Cheater (Bella Union, 15.01) // Soho Rezanejad – Perform & Surrender (Silicone Records, 04.12) // Henrik Appel – Humanity (PNKSLM Recordings, 08.01) // Modern Hinterland – Diving Bell (Label Fandango, 29.01) // Farmer Dave & The Wizards Of The West – S/T (Big Potato Records, 22.01) // Joan of Arc – Tim Melina Theo Bobby (Joyful Noise Recordings, 04.12)


Words: Lee Fisher Perhaps the most surprising thing about this collaboration between two of the UK’s most prolific collaborators is that it didn’t happen sooner. O’Sullivan and Youngs had a strict rule when working together remotely: every song must follow an unvarying four chord sequence, ‘the glittering formula’. If that sounds a little Eno-esque, so does much of Twelve Of Hearts, in all the best ways. Part of this is down to the pair’s vocals (at times it feels like a companion piece to the Eno/Cale album) but also in the way the songs flirt with doowop (Long Joyful Dream), Fripp-esque guitar (First Throw Of The Ocean, the title track) or a dreamy, ersatz country (Fear Catches The Sky). A rare example of structured experimentation producing pure delight. Released: 01.12.20 www.ogenesisrecordings.com

4/5 RHYE HOME (LOMA VISTA RECORDINGS) Words: Ikenna Offor Buoyed by a familiarly lush synthesis of slinky grooves and orchestral flourishes, Rhye’s latest effort deftly fuses sultry ruminations with an indelibly lustrous palette that’s anything but abstemious in its appetites. Home basks luxuriantly in its pronounced departure from the stripped-down leitmotifs of 2019’s Spirit, with the pointedly austere stylings of that record swapped out here for zestier fare that’s at once inescapably propulsive and intriguingly seductive. Notwithstanding both the slinky bop of Beautiful and shimmy-inducing groover that is Black Rain, the innate effectiveness of Mike Milosh’s gossamer vocals waxes brightest during the record’s more tender moments. On the gorgeously understated duo of Need A Lover and Fire, his supple falsetto coos evince a vividly visceral sensuality with striking ease. Released: 22.01.21 www.rhyemusic.com


3.5 / 5





Words: Elodie A. Roy US alternative rock band Half Japanese was started by brothers Jad and David Fair in Uniontown, Maryland circa 1974. Though David left long ago, Jad has continued to write, paint, and declaim his falsely naïve, primary-colour songs throughout the decades. Crazy Hearts, the band’s 19th album, is full of detuned electric guitars and gloomy, irrepressible joy. Like his late friend Daniel Johnston, Fair is creating and animating his own timeless mythology – replete with supernatural creatures, lovesick debutantes, and other ‘undisputed champions’. He belongs to a long lineage of obscure yet endlessly illuminated poets – from Jonathan Richman to Calvin Johnson and Jeffrey Lewis. It is quite miraculous that Half Japanese should still exist – undefeatable, and firmly out of place in this new dark age. Released: 04.12.20 www.halfjapanese.bandcamp.com

Words: Mark Corcoran-Lettice Much of the advance word for this return to action from The Besnard Lakes has boasted of the scope and length of their latest work, sequenced as one extended suite, as a two-fingered salute to their former label. In truth, what’s notable here isn’t the extended duration of the album (largely a consequence of the extended ambient conclusion that bloats out the side-spanning closer) but how it cannily re-positions the pop moves of the preceding A Coliseum Complex Museum not as an outlier but a refinement of their space-rock modus operandi. On the Prince testimonial New Revolution, slowcore glam of Our Heads, Our Hearts on Fire Again and the astral blues of Raindrops, it’s the beating pop heartbeat beneath the grandiose arrangements that helps The Besnard Lakes take flight again. Released: 29.01.21 www.thebesnardlakes.com

Words: Lee Hammond A long awaited debut album from Bristol’s Lice proves to be an eclectic affair. With the band themselves describing it as a concept album of “satire about satire”, the spoken word lyrics are punctuated by a myriad of different musical styles, from the searing riffs of Deluge to the grooves of Persuader Wasteland, morphing itself effortlessly around genres and themes. They’ve set themselves apart in a scene that is fast becoming saturated, the concept album element propelling Wasteland above many of its counterparts. Imposter and RDC are the real stand outs on the album, the ferocious and fervent tracks bringing an extra dimension. However, there is a wonderful coherence that underpins Wasteland too, all of this makes it a truly excellent album. Released: 08.01.21 www.facebook.com/licebristol







Words: Robert Nichols It’s late winter’s night in a downtown hotel, you are sheltering in the bar. In the corner a lounge singer has started playing the piano, there is something about his fractured, off-kilter jazz and the disturbing content from his rich burring, crooning voice that tells you he is an interloper, he doesn’t belong. But you don’t call for the security because you are drawn in, mesmerised even, pulled through a wormhole into a world that is dark, disturbing, inspiring, emotionally perspiring but above all strangely, surreally beautiful. Daniel Knox’s fifth studio album is the unravelling of dreamscapes, yet starkly realistic cinematic wanderings and wonderings. As the lead piano is overpowered by synthesised drone, it becomes a descent into the labyrinth with a shattering finale. A masterpiece. Released: 15.01.21 www.danielknox.com

Words: Mark Corcoran-Lettice Having pushed their extremist take on doom metal to breaking point and beyond, Lee Buford and Chip Lee of The Body emerge from the electronic black hole of their more recent work with a suitably uneasy re-appraisal of their guitar and drums foundations on I’ve Seen All I Need To See. Rather than the dreaded ‘back to basics’ effort of a band that’s lost their way, the ultra-distorted and unnaturally decayed sound of the album (helmed by the band alongside engineer Seth Manchester) breaks down the molecules of their live sound and rebuilds it as something unrecognisable and uncanny. If it’s not the most challenging The Body album outright, it’s the one that breaks down its host genre with the greatest gusto. Released: 29.01.21 www.thebody.bandcamp.com

Words: Paul Broadhead As frontwoman of Muncie Girls, Lande knows her way around a hook and melody and this is easily evidenced on this, her sophomore solo release. There’s two sides to this record and she flits between them seamlessly. First there’s the big band choruses we’re used to on Undone and the jangly December. Yet it’s the stripped back acoustic element that is more captivating. Winter Coat is a fittingly-2020 lament for missing friends, whilst closer In the Darkness is a defiant protest song with two fingers raised firmly at the government. Whiskey brilliantly showcases a vocal that is so often hidden behind a wall of guitars and Candle is a brightly shining lullaby with touring partner and producer Ben David of the Hard Aches. Released: 22.01.21 www.landehekt.bandcamp.com








Words: Tom McLean Genre-bending duo Shanghai Restoration Project may hail from Brooklyn but the retro-dystopian soundscapes found in their latest album, Brave New World Symphony, will transport you into alien, yet familiar landscapes of wonder. A largely instrumental collection enriched by the occasional soothing vocal, Brave New World Symphony is an album produced entirely within pandemic-induced quarantine. Hence, it is as much an observational piece as it is escapism. Balcony Garden and Positive Disintegration are your ear worms, but ultimately this seamless blend of free jazz, futuristic electronica and found exterior sound is transformative throughout; you’ll be lifted out of your armchair to a brightly lit Shanghai street food stall in the year 2080…or is it 1980? Released: 11.12.20 www.shanghairestorationproject.com

Words: Robin Webb I’m about to make some lazy comparison to Leonard Cohen or Vincent Gallo as this solo debut from Alex Maas forces me to; it does appear to sit neatly between the two of them, with the awkward perfection of one and the stoned laconic meandering of the other that in no way means Luca is not of some worth: in fact quite the opposite. This relatively short album overflows with heartfelt psychedelic gentleness and introspection, contemplating a world full of confusion while still fascinating and monstrous. The LP is named after his son Luca, meaning the Bringer of Light, a glorious light that’s actually full of colour and warmth, glowingly obscured, sublimely illuminating the dust motes of Maas’s world. Released: 04.12.20 www.alexmaas.bandcamp.com

Words: Stephen Oliver Whilst there is no doubt that the local Memphis vibe has had a heavy influence on the sound of this band, it is regardless a modern sounding rock album with a fine punky edge to it. Each song is a cocktail that has country music’s ability to tell a story and bring the listener on board. There is plenty of variety here, from the reflective ballad Pull Me Close Don’t Let Go through to the urgency of those distorted guitars riffing away in the opener Have You Lost Your Way. These timeless whiskey-infused bar room musical tales translate well across the pond, especially when you consider the year that we’ve all had. This is one album I plan to play in my car on long drives. Released: 29.01.21 www.luceromusic.com







Words: Robin Webb A slew of guest artists and vocalists appear on this dreamy echoing debut long player from Yore, whose core member is Ulrika Spacek member and multi-instrumentalist Callum Brown, assisted by bandmate Syd Kemp. Skirting shoegaze, indie pop and dreamy psychedelia, it features the likes of Dream Wife’s Rakel Mjöll Leifsdóttir, Mellah, Nuha Ruby and on one of the stand out tracks, Bon Mot, Katie Drew of White Flowers nods a deft head in the direction of the Cocteau Twins. This set of tunes have been meticulously constructed and seem to serve as a temporary escape from the more driven rock impulse of Ulrika Spacek, and has allowed Callum to flourish his indulgences out into a nebulous sonic ether. Released: 04.12.20 www.facebook.com/yoreband


Words: Damian Robinson Whilst moving across a variety of musical textures can be risky within the traditional borders of an album, those that do make variance work often use a common thread to join the pieces together. Part 80’s Eurythmics in its electro pop sounds (Emerald City, Weatherbirds) and part acoustic minimalism (Dreaming, All The Pretty Scenery) perhaps the real triumph of Dreamboat is the consistent lullaby/Karen Carpenter vocal delivery of Zoe Randel and her ability to find memorable, interesting, pop melodies within each of the different sonic textures. Album highlight Dreaming, with its lovely Velvet’s Sunday Morning slice of warmth, steals the show on an album which is both varied and constant, yet always interesting and engaging. Released: 11.12.20 www.luluc.org

Words: Jason Jones Kiwi Jr. are nothing if not prolific. Were it not for the sprawling purgatory of the global pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns it might feel as if no time at all had passed since the Canadian bunch released debut album Football Money. Just 12 months later, fuelled by boredom and a hungry wit, they’re back with another splendid slice of jangly alt. goodness. Equal parts college rock ardour, dreamy Americana and metropolitan swagger, their concoction of influences proves to be a winning formula. Undoubtedly though, it’s the Torontonians’ lyrical prowess that stands tall here – a living, breathing collage of palpable anecdotes and wry observations, delivered with an almost Beatnik-esque poise. All in all, Cooler Returns is a bloody good album full of vivid charm. Released: 22.01.21 www.kiwijr.bandcamp.com








Words: Jonathan Horner Tomorrows II is the second act in an epic trilogy for Son Lux. Like all great second acts, it is darker and more conflicted than the opening. Ryan Lott’s glitching, breathy falsetto continues, as does their disoriented dance back and forth from pop hooks to experimental electronics. But the environment is sparser, it feels restless, conflicted. This is best demonstrated on Leaves; it’s not clear in the intro whether the guitar is hurrying the drums along or the drums are rushing the bass. Either way the sense of urgency continues as they tackle imbalance, disruption, collision, redefinition. In Apart, Lott cries “I’ve broken so much more than I can heal” and we feel it. Will the conclusion provide us the resolution we crave? Stay tuned for Pt. Three. Released: 04.12.20 www.sonluxmusic.com

Words: Damian Robinson In addition to being a great album, The Wide, Wide River is perhaps Yorkston’s strongest message to date in support of the adage that hard work pays off. His tenth album for Domino, The Wide sees Yorkston assemble eight lovely, intelligent, pieces of folk pop into one complete thought. Perhaps a none-too-distant cousin of an early Van Dyke Parks album, the record takes everyday, poetic narratives and blends them with a layering of multi-instrumental sounds made up from folk, strings and orchestral sounds. The moving To Soother Her Wee Bit Sorrows, with its eight-minute hypnotic loop of acoustic rhythms, and low in the mix layers of strings, steals the show on an album that is complex in its creation yet easy to access and feel at home in. Released: 22.01.21 www.jamesyorkston.co.uk

Words: Ali Welford As one of those grumps who can’t quite comprehend what makes Big Thief SO senior to just about every other decent indie folk act, I’ll confess to finding guitarist Buck Meek’s newest offering a most pleasurable surprise. The Texas-raised, New York-based songwriter’s second solo collection, Two Saviors is recorded raw yet chock-full of golden country pop hooks. Indeed, despite proving an adept conveyor of pain, the prevailing mood throughout this labour of love is one of optimism and uplift – spearheaded by nuggets such as Second Sight and Cannonball! Pt. 2 whose charms are radiated with nary a hint of self-pity. Call me what you like, but for me Two Saviors trumps his band – and bandmates’ solo output – any day of the week. Released: 15.01.21 www.buckmeekmusic.com



4.5 / 5




Words: Jonathan Horner 15 years into a fine career, CYHSY’s Alec Ounsworth is taking a breath. New Fragility is a record of reflection, wisdom and maturity. He looks in: depression, divorce, getting older; and then out, confronting what he sees around him. Musically matured, the edges are smoothed and moments of painful beauty emerge, as on ballad Mirror Song and the grand orchestral crescendo of Innocent Weight. At times his stoicism lapses; he rages in Hesitating Nation “you just don’t care, everyone gathered round the toilet bowl!” The ferocity and passion is still there but it is channelled through stomping, triumphant pop. He manages to merge all of this wonderfulness in the title track, lamenting “I can’t believe the things I do to myself” as drums pound over his piano. Released: 29.01.21 www.cyhsy.com

Words: Beverley Knight Odin’s Raven Magic has been shrouded in mystery since 2002 when it was performed only a handful of times in that year. Morphing into a Sigur Rós myth, the official release has declared that the legend is sincere. A stimulus of the orchestral and choral album is a chapter from the poem of the same title, in which two ravens fly over earth and deliver messages to the Norse god. The lengthy piece starts powerfully and classically stormy, making its way to jaunty, folk-tale percussion, found in single Dvergmál, and a heavy intense heart wraps the art composition up. They have told their rustic tale with great majestic beauty. It will not fail to take your breath away. Released: 04.12.20 www.sigurros.com

Words: Ali Welford It’s not difficult to see why Anna B Savage has counted the likes of Jenny Hval and Father John Misty among her early admirers. Produced by William Doyle (East India Youth), there’s a gloriously unfiltered edge underpinning this full-length debut; a stark yet meticulously layered song cycle which finds the Londoner confessing vulnerabilities most of us would keep from our closest confidants – never mind a potentially limitless audience. At times, these vignettes lift the curtain to an almost indecent degree, yet Savage’s deft songcraft and measured voice remain magnetic throughout – whether she’s recalling botched sexual encounters (Chelsea Hotel #3), escaping toxic relationships (A Common Tern) or confronting her own residual insecurities (One). A remarkable, stirring introduction. Released: 29.01.21 www.annabsavage.com



If I’m honest I’m not a massive fan of Christmas, I’m more of a Halloween type really, but there has been a wonderful array of eclectic and sometimes melancholic tunes created to celebrate. They go a long way to make up for the present buying hustle and socially awkward situations. My podcast Richy’s Advent Calendar has provided a happy excuse to share songs about snow, winter and the solstice. I thought the opportunity to get all my friends together would make Christmas so much better. So last year I asked friends who perform as Trunky Juno, Mushi Mushi, Faithful Johannes, CTOAN, :Zoviet*France:, Groovetrain and The Samphires if they would play a Christmas gig, they did and it was amazing! The Advent Calendar Live was a joyous, life affirming evening that raised over £1400 for Shelter and Age UK. Covid restrictions mean a mass get-together couldn’t happen this year but we’re doing it all online, with many of last year’s performance returning and being joined by the likes of Dressed Like Wolves, Cath and Phil Tyler and Nev Clay on Sunday 13th December via Zoom and YouTube, raising money for the Music Venues Trust. Check the Advent Calendar page on Facebook for more info. Each year the Advent Calendar brings a new set of tunes, and here I’m delighted to give a mention to some of the highlights from years gone by. www.facebook.com/richysadventcalendar

THE FLAMING LIPS CHRISTMAS AT THE ZOO This track was on a Christmas Mixtape CD I gave to my friends about 10 years ago when all this started. A much loved track from a much loved album. Why this isn’t on rotation in Primark from November beats me.

THE YULES THIS IS MY XMAS SONG This Christmas song has absolutely everything; it starts so sweet, with such a great accent, then a super unannounced and unexpected expletive – it’s like three songs all at once. I love it!

ANNIE HARDY THE WORST XMAS Christmas isn’t always a happy time for everyone. Annie Hardy is a wonderfully complex person with some fantastic songs and some of the best between-song gig banter ever. This is the most heart-breaking Christmas song I know.

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND CHINESE WHITE Not every song is so strictly about Christmas, but you can normally find the connection if you listen. I always play this one twice, I’m that mad for the intro.

JOSEPH SPENCE SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN A lot of the songs in the Advent Calendar are originals that have been skipped over. But some are cover versions that bring something new, this song remains utterly marvellous.

DANIEL JOHNSON CHRISTMAS IN THE LOONY BIN Sometimes sad and happy all roll into one, at the gig last year we recognised this was a goodbye to a wonderful and massively influential artist who meant so much to millions of music lovers. But leading the mass sing along with cardboard signs was a truly beautiful moment and will stay with me forever.


CASIOTONE FOR THE PAINFULLY ALONE COLD WHITE CHRISTMAS Some artists seem to specialise in Christmas records, and Sufjan Stevens has to get a mention for some fab seasonable tunes, but I want to pick out Owen Ashworth because this is spine-chillingly brilliant.

NIAGRA BALLS DON’T BE A DICK AT CHRISTMAS Not every artist is famous, but there are some important messages...

:ZOVIET*FRANCE: Misteltan This song is just incredible!

FAITHFUL JOHANNES YOU DON’T LIKE CHRISTMAS SONGS When I discovered Faithful Johannes is a Christmas song obsessive and committed to writing one each year I knew we were going to get along. This one is an absolute smasher.








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NARC. #168 December 20/January 21