What better way to spend a sunny bank holiday Sunday in Stockton than at an all-day music festival?! Actually, when it’s 25 bands/musicians across three venues for a fiver I wouldn’t have given a toss if it was hail, snow, and thunder all at the same time! I’d been looking forward to this gigasm for weeks, especially with there being four of my Top Ten Favourites playing too.
Before I go on about how damn good the live music was though, let me tell you about the interview I managed to get with the founder of Regent Live, Matt Speight. He was kind enough to find time amongst running up and down Regent Street checking on everything and everyone to sit down with me in the cool micro-pub DR.INKS and chat. I tell you what, this guy LOVES doing this; his eyes lit up brighter than those huge fluorescent street lamps in Stockton High Street whilst we talked, and his answers to my questions were full of passion and pride.
I started by asking him why he chose the three venues (The Vault, Thirsty Souls, The Looking Glass), especially when there’s already established music venues all around Stockton: “Well that’s easy. I work for the company that runs them, so I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to go to my boss with the idea for this and get given three venues all within a hundred yards of each other. I really wanted this to happen for Stockton because I feel there’s definitely a gap for it. Stockton Calling is amazing, but apart from that we don’t have anything similar happening for the rest of the year. There’s loads of gigs around Stockton every week, of course, but in terms of one-day festivals with loads of original music bands I felt we needed at least one more.”
And he’s right, of course. There’s soooo many music venues around Stockton now, which is a great thing, so there should be more music festivals.
Matt was in full flow at this point, so I wanted to see if his enthusiasm could be dented by asking him what his biggest challenges were in organising Regent Live. It couldn’t. “Having two main bands drop out, after being booked for months, would have been a big setback. Luckily we have a wealth of talent on Teesside so I was able to fill those slots easily with world class bands Be Quiet. Shout Loud! and Serinette.” I quickly pointed out that the replacements are far better than those replaced, which of course shall remain nameless. Having failed to dent his enthusiasm, thankfully, I asked him what plans he has for Regent Live next year.
“Actually, we’re planning on the next one being this coming December! I’m talking to other venues and promoters within Regent Street about hosting bands and everyone is really positive. There’s definitely that kind of atmosphere around all of Stockton these days. Everyone wants to work together to put Stockton on the map in a huge way.” Matt then points out, literally, the new developments happening just in Regent Street alone that will provide even more venues for live music. We finish the interview just in time for one of his team to come along and ask him something technical which I don’t understand, but he finds a second to shake my hand and leave with that huge infectious grin. This is a man who will definitely succeed at organising live music and not because he’s doing it for the money or notoriety but because he’s doing it for the bigger picture; for the sake of the town, for established and new bands, and most importantly for the people. We need more Matt Speights if Teesside is ever going to be noticed as a top music destination in the country.
Armed with my pad and pen, I made my way to The Vault for the first act of the day, Christian Darby. I was in good company, too. The legendary producer and musician Jamie Donnelly joined me on The Vault’s all too comfortable sofa. We had time to talk about how Regent Live is unofficially The Jamie Donnelly Festival, because he either has produced or is playing guitar in at least six of the acts on show today, including the one I’m there to see, Christian Darby. I’d not seen Christian perform before, but I wish I had. He has a superb, clear tone to his voice which I enjoyed. He played a couple of songs from his upcoming EP, which will be good because as well as his talent the man sat next to me is putting his golden touches on it too. Christian’s stage presence is somewhat timid though, which I’m sure will naturally improve with time and experience.
After his set I made my way out of The Vault and made the very short trip to Thirsty Souls for Steve McCormick’s set. It was my first time in this micro-pub and I found it very strange. The decor is a mish-mash of corrugated metal, red pipes and wood, and they have a wall of self-serve taps. Basically, the idea is that you get a plastic card from the bar, top it up with money and insert the card in the slot above the desired drink. The selection available was okay, and I like the idea of self-serve, but in practice it was a nightmare trying to get a pint without it being 90% froth. I thought it was just me, but a lovely friend of mine who’s an experienced barmaid assured me it wasn’t just my ineptness. On the plus side, the sound in Thirsty Souls was brilliant. I could hear Steve’s superb set from right at the back of the room and it sounded like he was next to me. Steve is the most consistent performer around right now and he gives the same energy and care to his set now as he did when I first saw him nearly ten years ago.
Speaking of time-served solo acts, I saw that Johnny Phage was playing twenty yards away in The Looking Glass so I hopped in there just in time to hear him start my favourite Phage song, Nothing Is Quite What It Seems. Johnny has been performing solo alongside his fine band work for some years now, and his songs are unrepentant in taking multiple jibes at corrupt governments and society failings. When they’re delivered in Johnny’s angst-like voice and confident electro-acoustic guitar picking they seem more relevant now in these troubled times than they were when he first started.
I loved the decor in The Looking Glass; a whole wall dedicated to mirrors of all shapes and sizes, mounted animal skulls, and old road signs makes it interesting to look at. I couldn’t find anything remotely appealing in the drinks selection though, which seems to be the common denominator in micro-pubs, for me at least.
By this point I already felt I’d seen more than my money’s worth of musicians I already love, so I thought I’d gamble on seeing an act I’d not seen before. Punk Buddha had just started in Thirsty Souls so I positioned myself among the ever-growing crowd to get a good look. This band consists of a lead vocalist with acoustic guitar alongside a percussion duo playing a tiny keyboard and a huge djembe drum. Their songs were mostly lo-fi atmospheric folk songs. Very enjoyable and perfect for that size of venue.
I made my way out of there quickly after though, not just because I didn’t want to make a twat of myself at the self-serve, but also The Dale Husband Band were just about to start at The Vault. I’ve seen Dale play quite a few times both on his own and with various players added on and his music is always good so I’d been looking forward to this set-up. On the stage I found Dale with his guitar and a lady called Paz with a violin. This worried me because Dale’s voice is delicately quiet when he delivers the powerful songs he’s written and I didn’t want to not be able to hear him. Very quickly into the set I had to shove my worries up my bum because the combination was brilliant!! She made playing the violin look easy and her timing with Dale’s lyrics and guitar work was perfect. I didn’t think Dale’s songs could have any more “wow factor” to them, but this pairing upgrades it to the point where there were songs that I don’t think I breathed out when listening to them. Easily my favourite new act of the day, The Dale Husband Band should be on every venue’s bill right now, if not in my front room!
If the day had stopped there, I would’ve been a happy man. Thankfully there were a few more treats to come. Stu Blackburn playing in Thirsty Souls was definitely not one to miss, and I wasn’t the only one that thought so. The place was heaving as I wedged myself through the door, anyone would think The Purnells were playing!
Stu admitted to me just before playing that he was nervous, but as the entire crowd of Thirsty Souls sang along and danced to each song I thought that apprehension was either total bollocks or he’s the master of performing onstage and making it look easy. I’ll go with the latter. His own take on cover songs was a treat, and he even managed to fit in a brand new original song he’s working on. Whether Stu decides to carry on solo or form another band, he’s proved that enjoying yourself onstage is paramount to fans enjoying the set.
On the theme of performers enjoying themselves onstage, few bands do this better than Head Of Light Entertainment. These masters of the alternative pop genre were far and away the best band to grace the Thirsty Souls stage. They played songs from their excellent new album, Drool, as well as the delightful ditties we all know and love. Their music might not appeal to an Oasis-worshipping audience (not that the band care) but thankfully those people weren’t present. Instead each HOLE song was met with a cacophony of cheering and applause, and rightly so.
Onto The Vault next, where I would spend the remainder of the festival because we had Sam Durnan Band, Serinette, and Be Quiet, Shout Loud! playing consecutively, which is a perfect way to round off any festival!
The Sam Durnan Band seemed to fly through their set with unrivalled gracefulness. They’re so tight playing together it feels like they’ve been together for years. Sam herself is living proof that a solo artiste making the decision to form a band around themselves is a great decision, especially with songs like my favourite, Heartbeat. They’re surely destined for great things, so if you haven’t seen them yet look them up on Facebook and get to their next gig!
Serinette up next, and they once again showed everyone how pop-rock should be done. Because they enjoyed themselves so much on The Vault stage, it wasn’t long before I found myself jumping around with the best of them at the front. If I genuinely had three wishes one of them would be that my dear Serinette never ever call it a day. You can rely on this band to at least put a smile on your face every single time, if not sharpen your dance skills.
Our headliners for tonight were Be Quiet Shout Loud! (there’s a sentence that isn’t seen enough!!) and it’s a good job no bands were playing after them, because they completely owned the stage and blew the roof off with their poptastic energy. They opened with one of my favourites, Jesus Is Coming, and it just got better from there. Their new songs are the same but better than the golden oldies. Seeing them tonight made it feel like I was on a computer and had just been prompted with the message “Would you like to upgrade to BQSL 2.0?” and I’ve slammed the YES button with glee! The fairly recent addition of Jamie Donnelly on lead guitar is perfect, both in terms of skills and presentation. When you see BQSL live, it’s not a case of whether or not you fall in love with them, because you’re already there in the first song. Instead it’s a case of how you’re going to explain to your other half at home!
It was as they finished their set that I realised how sweaty, exhausted, and happy I was. Which is how I think everyone should be after a gig, whether you’re in the crowd or onstage. I headed home with a grin that will take a long time to clear, so a massive THANK YOU to Matt Speight and all the crew, to every single performer on every stage, and especially to everyone that bought a ticket because these gigasms cant happen without you!