“There’s plenty more where that came from!” comes the battle cry from Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie. It’s headliner hour at the Stockton Weekender and the U-turning psych-heads have just dropped ‘Screamadelica’’s gospel-seasoned ‘Movin’ On Up’ as song number two. It’s Saturday night, and thousands of knees concurrently bend to facilitate a group baggy waddle: the Primals are having a “good one”.
Watching the band live has always been a little like punting on a beleaguered horse, so with a “good” gig comes a “bad” one in parallel. But Gillespie – for he is a frontman in the truest sense – has found sobriety and shed his snarling scales to reveal the best of his hippy swag, and so the band follow in brilliant rejuvenation.
‘Screamadelica’ is their drug-tinged magnum opus, but beyond the Primals’ hedonistic beginnings 2000’s ‘XTRMNTR’ and 2013’s ‘More Light’ showcase the oscillating nature of a band that lunges from political to kaleidoscopic. Tonight, the still-snarling ‘Swastika Eyes’ provides kinetic angst, ‘Rocks’ stadium air punches and ‘Country Girl’ a hoedown. Buoyed by Glastonbury and their rather good recent LP, mellow jazz segues, guitar maelstroms and genuine mirth make for a fine return to form.
Earlier in the day, this budding town festival is all about showcasing the area’s admirable live music scene (anyone questioning Teesside’s musical stripes should pay a visit to Sound It Out records, recently documented on film and represented by an appropriately modest stall at the Weekender).
Bluesy two-piece The Approved open a deftly-curated stage at the historic Georgian Theatre. It sounds like several extra guitars are accompanying their raw swaggering strums, one most certainly channelling Dan Auerbach, but open your eyes and yes, it is two men in rockabilly shirt and ties making an incredible noise from a PA atop two 1970s Holsten crates.
The DIY flag flies even higher with Manchester’s Brown Brogues, another duo but this time peddlers of extreme garage. Scuzzy distorted vocals crackle alongside MBV-worthy feedback and rapid drumming drawn from a hardcore archetype. Visible splinters fly from Ben Mather’s drumsticks as he and Mark Vernon create a magnificent din in perfect synergy.
Spiritualized provide the big-name support to Primal Scream, playing an eclectic set. Songs from 2012’s ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ sound gruffer live, but even when delivered with Jason Pierce’s characteristic languidness, ‘Hey Jane’ lifts a balanced set a little higher.
Sunday afternoon sees Tusk take to the second stage with their glitchy guitar picks inspired by Foals but veering slightly towards Battles; complex percussion piques interest and maintains momentum throughout. The shimmering cymbals and anthemic bass beats from Abel Raise The Cain are drawn from Arcade Fire, but the Teessiders carry a distinct celestial sound.
Glasgow’s Sparrow And The Workshop close the second stage with their skittish sound; Chicagoan Jill O’Sullivan has a strong and soaring folk-based vocal, but the three-piece’s sound leaps from gothic to pop-rock. Material from 2013’s ‘Murderopolis’ plays it a little safer than that from the band’s previous two albums, but their sound maintains drama throughout.
Image-conscious and newly labelled, Dexys remain etched in the memory of many as a dungareed tribe of rag-tag Celts, but tonight Kevin Rowland plays pantomime horse. With 2012’s ‘One Day I’m Going To Soar’ came a new vocalist, Madeleine Hyland, the object for pencil-moustachioed Rowland’s affection in the album’s storytelling stage show. Rowland flails, Hyland mock-sobs, a three decade-wide liplock ensues and you can fill in the gaps.
Dexys appeal to a niche crowd, and you can’t help feeling their new material, though romantic and breezy, is smoke-screened by the boy-girl play-acting. The band hauls ‘Geno’ from the back catalogue, but replace its distinctive rhythm with sashaying samba beats. ‘Come On Eileen’ is eked out to around the 12-minute mark and wedding can-cans abound.
For all the novelty of the vintage headliners, the remaining 90 percent of the festival is perfectly tailored thanks to an intrinsic knowledge of the locality: big names drawn in crowds, but the unknown acts prick their interest. This assured approach to programming makes for perfect blend of talent both old and new and a budding festival with more promise each year.
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Words: Natalie Hardwick
Photos: Dean Coyle
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