Like several others, my buddy Aaron and I travelled north from Live @ Leeds Festival on the Saturday to attend our second multi-venue festival of the weekend on the Sunday; Hit the North in Newcastle.
Once again the organisers did a brilliant job supplying my photo pass, this time SSD Concerts, and were in our first venue, The Town Wall, in no time. First act of the weekend were the duo 'The Noise & the Naive', kicking things off with gusto. The 'venue' is the downstairs basement of the pub, and the thirty or so people in attendance packed the room out, enjoying the bands raw punk sound. An top, top start to the day.
Straight after that we dived into 'Think Tank' perfectly timing the start of Pip Blom's set. It's a proper music venue with walls and low ceiling covered in black and white pop-art posters. Even though it's meant to look worn and grubby, it was also clean, and perfectly suited for this upbeat indie-pop band fronted by Pip Blom. I'd heard quite a bit of her music already, and despite being relatively new, she is armed with several catchy tunes. A bright future beckons.
We also took the time to check out the neighbouring venues 'Digital' and 'Underground' catching segments of Jamie Lee Harrison's and Planet's sets. 'Digital' is usually a techno venue and boasts a gargantuan Funktion One sound system, more used to the likes of Sven Vath and Peggy Gou pounding out sets, so it was weird to see bands playing a makeshift stage opposite the DJ booth which didn't quite work in there. Also somebody needs to sort out the horrible vinegar smell near the bar. The smaller 'Underground' seemed more suited to live music and is simply a no-frills room with a bar and a stage.
Soon after we arrived at our fifth venue of the day already; the O2 Academy 2 for Sam Tompkins. He's a totally new name to me, but came highly recommended by Aaron. Musically I'd compare him to Maverick Sabre, and you can't help but like him and the cheeky chap he is. Quite a few girls at the front were looking starry eyed. The upstairs room is really well suited for music too, with a nice raised balcony to one side, slightly above stage level and a nice floor space below giving uninterrupted views.
Next up was The Forth, venue number six, to catch the young Irish duo Hawke. As a straight up gastro-pub it is a strange place to watch the artists perform mid-afternoon while people are eating their Sunday lunch, but there seemed a positive atmosphere and Hawke played a good set. There wasn't much time to hang around though as we headed straight back to the O2 for one of my top picks for the entire weekend.....
.....the brilliant Kawala. I absolutely love their sound with the harmonisation of the two lead singers and their brilliant song writing. I've seen their name on quite a few festival line-ups this summer, and it's no surprise. If I were to recommend any artist to you over the weekend, it is Kawala. Their genuinely funny and good natured between song banter adds another layer. Folk-ey indie rock at its very best.
Then onto venue number seven and the long hike down to 'Riverside' in the shadow of the famous Tyne bridges, for the highly rated 'Sports Team'. They're a remarkable band, full of energy, in particular from front man Alex Rice, who I am struggling not to compare to a certain rubber faced rock'n'roll star from the 60's, and my favourite band member, stone faced Ben Mac, in unanimated juxtaposition to the lead singer as he stands prodding his Korg midi-controller and occasionally hitting a tambourine, staring into middle distance. Musically they are straight up indie-rock, and amazingly have only released one EP so far. I have a feeling they will explode when they get round to dropping their debut album.
The venue itself is decent, with a nice high ceiling and balcony providing an excellent view of the stage from way above. Yeah, it's a total arse having to climb the steep hills back to the main strip, but it is worth it as this venue seems to have nailed its bookings better than any other venue.
Regaining our breath after the tough walk uphill back to the O2 it was time for Doncastrian trio The Blinders to play the main stage infront an expectant crowd. They have risen through the ranks admirably since I discovered them last summer on the BBC Introducing Stage at Leeds Festival playing to a remarkably decent crowd. I caught them later in the year playing a rammed and highly rambunctious Liquor venue at 2Q Festival in Lincoln so I was very interested to see how they took to this vast stage. The room wasn't heaving, but it was very rowdy and a vicious looking mosh pit soon formed. The Geordie crowd were loving the heavy bass-driven punk sound consisting of front man Thomas Haywood's vocals, Charlie McGough's bass and Matty Nealy’s drumming.
Aaron and I took a much needed breather in the balcony after The Blinder's raucous set before catching most of Lauren Aquilina's set upstairs. She has a great voice and huge talent, but the set seemed empty given she sang solo over an electronic piano, then a guitarist. I was fairly bored after twenty minutes so we went back downstairs for 'The Academic'. I knew nothing about these guys and as much as they sounded a decent indie band, the room seemed to have deflated and their set was forgettable. Who could save Hit the North Festival up here in The Toon?
Tom Grennan, that's who. He ran onto the stage, instantly took control of the ram-packed room and played an absolute blinder. With his arsenal of top quality and recognisable radio friendly anthems he was brilliant from start to finish. Tom is a highly likeable young lad, he's got a great voice, and the girls at the front of the crowd are totally in love with him. I first saw him back in 2017 at Leeds Festival when he was breaking through and played an afternoon set in a minor tent, then again at Sundown Festival 2017 where he played early doors on the main stage, and for a third time at Leeds Festival 2018 where he had progressed to headline the third stage to a lively crowd. It is fantastic to see him now grown into a fully fledged, main stage festival headliner.
Next up was the excellent Ten Tonnes (a.k.a. Ethan Barnett) upstairs in room 2 for a set I had been looking forward to. He's another artist who's come from nowhere recently and taken music by storm, armed with an array of anthemic indie-pop. Again, the room was bouncing and he completely nailed it. More top marks.
And then, back down the stairs for a third young lad in a row; the festival headliner Jake Bugg. He's been away for a while, but you wouldn't know it as he launched into his set, dropping his huge anthem 'Lightening Bolt' early on. The crowd were loving it and he showed he fully deserved his slot at the top of the bill. Hats off to the O2 for providing an excellent show, although I'd like to have seen more variety in the artists. The only female on the main stage all day was Tom Grennan's bassist, otherwise they were all young, white males? The line-up was definitely not representative of modern music in the UK.
Also I have to criticise the lacklustre security over the day as a whole. I was not patted down once, nor was my bag checked at any venue. Inside the venues security was mostly visible and doing a great job, with the exception of Riverside where I only saw one guard inside flitting between the smoking area and the main room (there was nobody checking photo passes before we entered the photo pit), which given the more raucous nature of a few of the bands there, was a surprise. Several times we saw crowd surfing, which I love, but there is meant to be security in the stage pit to keep the crowd safe. Luckily they were self-governed and looked after each other, especially after a couple of lads fell to the floor and were helped up. But how many times have you seen things turn ugly at a gig requiring security to step in? I'm glad things stayed good natured.
But I don't want to end the review on a negative note, despite the fact Riverside was running around 45 minutes over (I don't know how they managed this where most sets were around 30 minutes long), because the delay lead to a major positive. Aaron and I got to witness the entire set of my favourite band of last year; Shame!
These guys are the real deal. A post-punk band who have reached the top of the game by rising through the ranks because they are quality, and give every gig 100%. I saw them at The Waterfront in my home city of Norwich last autumn where they gave my favourite performance of 2018 (and I saw a LOT of performances in 2018). Front man Charlie Steen spits and shouts his lyrics whilst bassist Josh Finerty launches himself across the stage like a mad man. They're both fantastic to watch and get all the attention, but I want to shout out the two guitarists Sean Coyle-Smith and Eddie Green, and drummer Charlie Forbes who make the whole show sound fantastic from the edges and back of the stage. The venue was a giant mosh-pit for the whole set and I got some great photos, so thank you once again lads.
For me, Hit the North won the 'battle of the early May metropolitan festivals' this weekend over Live @ Leeds, given the better lineups and a more up-for-it Geordie crowd. 8/10
Published on 08 May 2019 by Paul M. Jones