6 Music Festival 2015 on Tyneside: Sunday Roundup (Part 1)

By on Monday, 2nd March 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Sunday the 22nd of February saw the final event of the weekend-long extravaganza of music that was the 6 Music Festival 2015, held on Tyneside. The venue was the usually prim and proper Sage Gateshead, which had been entirely taken over by the BBC, and, as a consequence, saw rather a transformation… of which more later.

But first, to the music. British Sea Power were the opening act in the enormous Hall One, with what amounted to an amuse bouche of a set, a bare four songs long, showcasing their art-rock sound in a the magnificent space. Coincidentally, the festival had chosen as their aesthetic theme that of foliage and trees – the stage was flanked by two towering baobabs – that perfectly matched BSP’s usual ivy-entwined microphone stands. ‘Waving Flags’ was immense as usual, and the electric-guitar-’n’-violin-combo in instrumental ‘The Great Skua’ was a gently evocative way to ease into the mood of the evening. Whilst it’s difficult to argue that BSP are capable of evincing hot-blooded passion, they are as bleakly majestic as a grey North Sea swell, and a fine live proposition.

Steve Lamacq introduced Gaz Coombes as “one of the finest songwriters of his generation”, and it’s difficult to argue with him. Not that you’d want to argue with the lovely Steve Lamacq anyway, nor leave him next to an open doorway lest his impossibly slight figure should get blown away in the breeze. Anyway, Coombes did his best to demonstrate how accurate Lamacq’s description was. He’s assembled a great band, so Coombes can stick to electric piano and acoustic guitar, which frees him up to throw some shapes and generally concentrate on being a frontman. He chooses the big hitters from his solo catalogue: the syncopated melodrama of ‘Buffalo’s allows it to be an appropriately assertive opener; ‘One of These Days’, a classic mid-tempo Coombes ballad, has lost nothing of its sheen due to familiarity and still has the capacity to move.

With his expanded band comes an ability to experiment with electronic textures and dance-influenced drum patterns, perhaps aiming to take the mantle of band-frontman-to-solo-artist-with-electronica-pretensions from Thom Yorke, of whom we’ve heard little of late. Latest single ‘20/20’ is a perfect demonstration of the Coombes method: some synthy bits, a driving acoustic guitar riff, and a complex yet accessible arrangement blended together to sound classic and novel all at once. It goes without saying that there’s an enormous, funkily noisy crescendo at the end of the song to wrap up the set. A spectacular performance from a man who is just getting better with age.

Neneh Cherry has a tough act to follow and she, astonishingly, nearly steals the show. Assisted by an Animal-inspired drummer, and just one more chap on synths ‘n’ things, her minimalist backing is all the more powerful for its sparseness, leaving plenty of room for her menacingly soulful voice. Everything she plays is taken from last year’s ‘Blank Project’, a challenging yet rewarding work. ‘Spit Three Times’ touches on depression and superstition, ‘Dossier’ is deliberately swathed in pulsating white noise and ‘Weightless’ flirts with techno in its second movement, before dropping some synthesised power chords like an android Diamond Darrell. Soulful, funky, avant-garde, whilst not herself the definition of ‘new’, her music is as cutting-edge as anything the festival would hear over the weekend.

In my preview of the festival I cautioned that, because there had been so many tickets sold, the Sage would be so packed that lots of people would miss the performance they wanted to see. I was partially correct – Hall One did reach capacity at times, with a glum queue of punters waiting patiently for someone to leave the hall so they could take their place – but overall the place was busy but not overcrowded. The main reason for this was the clever ruse of putting a stage in the main concourse between the two halls, so anyone not in an official auditorium could still see a show. Which brings us to Public Service Broadcasting, who drew a huge crowd to the concourse to hear them unveil new material from sophomore album ‘The Race For Space’ (our editor’s review of the LP is here). Last time I saw PSB they were a two-piece – Wrigglesworth on drums and J. Willgoose Esq. on laptop, synth, banjo, and, well, everything else. Tonight they’ve expanded considerably, adding another two members on “everything else”, and even a three-piece horn section on a couple of songs.

PSB are a lot of fun, and considering tonight’s BBC sponsorship, a rather apposite act to have, in their celebration of the very fabric of news coverage, in their worship of the sounds that have conveyed, and in some cases, actually created, the news. And their expanded sound is surely exactly what fans of their debut ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ wanted to hear. The low-key house beats of ‘Gagarin’ tease us into the set; newest single ‘Go!’ is the executive summary of the whole album, complete with “The Eagle has landed” sample. Where the last record dealt largely with the British perspective of World War Two and the decade following, ‘The Race For Space’ is firmly set in 1960s’ USA and USSR. Whilst they’re at it, it might have been interesting to hear PSB take a peek behind the Iron Curtain and explore the motivations for the space race – the Cold War is only obliquely referenced – but perhaps they rightly conclude that nobody ever boogied to a Joseph McCarthy speech, and stick smartly to space noises. Another good piece of work from PSB then, even if the music itself is a mere backdrop to the original fragments of dialogue and film. And, to bring us back to the Sage’s concourse, the sheer spectacle of their live performance filled the hangar-like space defined by the Sage’s exoskeleton like very few others would be capable of.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Martin’s roundup of the Sunday festivities at the Sage Gateshead at the 6 Music Festival on Tyneside, which will post tomorrow.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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