Yeah, for some that will be heresy, how dare a past-it Toon Traveller utter those words, what does he know about ‘owt anyway. Well, here’s what I KNOW, up in the North East we’ve had a local punk festival, a local folk festival, Mouth of Tyne and Kubix festival, and the month’s only half passed.
Last Sunday 17th July it was one of FOUR FREE FESTIVALS South Tyneside Council funds annually, previous concerts have seen me grooving to KT Tunstall, wowed by Tony Hadley, and amazed by Rick Astley, he’s a great singer, tons better than my ‘up myself’ memory recalled. And before that The Proclaimers, and back in the mists of time, Sister Sledge were still ‘Lost in Music’ in Bents Park, I missed Billy Ocean amongst others. This year’s headliners, were a mixed bag, and it was The South and then Ella Henderson. That got me out of the house onto the Metro and into the park.
Arriving, the queues looked horrendous, but it’s the North East, its sun-kissed, it’s a cooling breeze, and as Bowie sang, in ‘Memory of a Free Festival’, “...the sun machine is coming out, and we’re gonna have a party”. Not that this part of the world needs an excuse, as weekend Tourists will attest. Chitter, chatter, accented banter in the queue, “Ya come a long way - like?” (my southern voice always gets that reaction), “...nawh just over the water, here for the sun, music banter an beer”, the conversation drifts
Shuffle through the Free Gate, click, click, click crowd management, "...how many in?" A yellow hi-vizzed face looks up, “ 3, 300”, a smile “should be a good crowd,” I glance around, good mix, families, music and events for all. There’s a DJ, Temptations, Gil Scott Heron, The Crusaders. Sounds for a lazy, hazy afternoon, park sitting, beer sipping, meandering mind chatting, nothing, and everything and all that there is between. Mobile txt, and meet, pint in hand, space on the grass, at the back. We’re pensionistas, mosh-pit, teenage rampage, days are long past, no more dance ‘til you drop.
Aroma’s waft, street food, burgers, Indian, crepes, all compete, for the kids, and their grandparents, Ice Cream and Candy Floss, for the grown-ups, well oldies, it’s beer and larger, Ella fans sip, Prosecco, or Cider, perhaps it was mixers, no matter. The records wafted across the 3,000 plus, excited and delighted to be back in the sun, dancing in the park, waiting for The South, in England’s very North, North, must be an irony there.
The sounds dimmed a rise of expectant Geordies. “Good afternoon South Shields”, ( Tip for visitors, THIS IS SOUTH SHIELDS, not Newcastle, do not piss folks off by confusing the two). A roar back. “...great to be back after covid years” and it bloody was, and it bloody showed. Roars of approval, some beer-fuelled, most not.
“We were supposed to be here two years ago, - anyway that’s enough from me, - come on out there, a big huge humongous South Shields welcome for The South, let’s make sure this roar is heard over the water” ( North Shields, small town local rivalry) a roar, a roar, “ The South, so many hits, and you’re gonna hear them all South Shields”
“Hi Ya South Shields, suns out and we’re out, and – let's get on with it” and there they were. Stage, not the Pyramid, but a great size, that held The South and their horn section with ease. The great thing about the crowd, some there for Ella Henderson, the boots and bikinis crew. Some for The South, bikini crews’ mums and dads and maybe grandparents, and the rest along for the banter, the beer, the blather, a bitta sing along a song drunkenly, or worse kara-croakily, recalled from a bar in Alicante. All there for good music, good food, good feeling, great sunshine, and crap beer, in the park. Pretty standard festival experience when you think about, but the band were tight. Sound,even at 100 yards,bell-clear, and the performances peerless.
I was not a huge fan of The South, and always thought of their songs as a bit lightweight, sorta ‘student easy listening’, inoffensive, no bite, think korma curry music, no bite or passion. Sprawled, sat, propped up, bone dry, sun burnt grass, ants, and beetles scurrying for crumbs and crisps. Drops of coke, tastes of beer, spilt on the ground. The songs perfectly matched the weather, ‘A Little Time,’ ‘Old Red Eyes is Back’, ‘Dream a Little Dream’. ‘Rotterdam’ , ‘Don’t Marry Her’ and my favourite ‘Perfect Ten '.Wit and irony in a delightful 4 mins of pure perfect, very English, very powered, very, very, popular pop at its pure pop best.
How impressed was I? Very, so impressed that to take Victor Kyam’s lesson, who “bought the company”, an early bus into town, a couple of charity shop stop offs, there it was, tightly held in by now heat wave wrapped hand, ‘The Best of The Beautiful South’. Yeah they won me over with crafted, delightful, ironic sounds and songs. That’s the delight of festivals, they open ears, and hearts to new sounds, and I was won over by the band's song and performance.
Walking away from the gig, Ella Henderson’s songs were different, youth were up dancing and singing along, cheering and roaring approval, Ella like, The South, inspired by the raucous crowd that clearly loved Ella and her songs. But she’s a youngsters’ sound, and great for them and Ella, AND YOU KNOW? That's how it should be. Generations need their own sounds, sounds that reflect their lives, loves, hopes, and fears, and the last thing Ella needs is crusties ( that’s me) dancing in the park, shouting my approval, letting the kids have their own sounds, and remember - we may THINK we’re able to “get down wiv’ d’ Kidzzz”, but can we get up again without our Zimmer frames. Take them to Glasto, that’s our crusties, festival, that’s our fun in the sun.
Main image: Alison Wheeler, vocalist in The South, YouTube screengrab