Mouth of Tyne Festival
Whitley Bay Playhouse
31st October 2022
Every year, the Mouth of Tyne festival rocks. Usually mainstream, this year Keane (remember them?), headlined. This year, at Whitley Bay Playhouse, famed for pantos and 60’s bands, the Playhouse got in on the act to host Thee legendary John Cale - Velvets, Eno collaborator, rock‘n’roll iconoclast, inspiration and survivor. He had to be seen… Given his infamous life, it's a miracle he made it this far. Rearranged from July, I was determined to catch him so close to home.
John, looking dapper, looking younger than his 80 plus years, was in form. The band - guitar, drums, and bass, were situated well back from main man; the audience was one the oldest gigster gangs I’ve seen, baldies, beardies and middle age spread - I salute you. I am a founder member of the club.
60 influential years in the industry, Cale’s career has been on the edge of so much, so often, gave the set distinct phases, modern AOR, hard rock, then a more 80’s synthy groove, all introduced in a mid-America, mid-Welsh burr, fast not punk, or 60’s styles, more post new wave of the 80’s / 90’s. Slightly dampened by a sound mix that took a couple of songs to resolve.
Once the sound was sorted, John sounded happier. The band, excellent, especially guitarist spraying notes and feedback, angry machine gun bursts, echoes of John’s past? John himself, electric and incredibly charismatic on electric piano and laptop, with some backing tracks playing - pretty standard fare these days costs being what they are. Changes in tempo, and mix brought John’s voice, vision, and messages to the fore. US politics, loneliness, abandonment, and love, are recurring themes. The tempo slowed again, and we were into darker places of John’s past.
The band, perfect for the songs, the early fast guitar licks, now eased, squeezed, wrenched notes, the drums slowed, softer, monkey skulls, and effects, the bass man, no longer posing as Phil Lynott, like, now more statuesque, and Cale himself, sometimes simple keys, more accompanying than playing, reassuring the band, kept the show together.
The final three numbers saw the bassist ‘bowing the bass’ for most of the dark, mysterious numbers, perfectly matched to the sombre mood, the messages, and meaning in the performances. These songs were rapturously received by audiences, applause and whoops rose as each ended. For me too this was the John Cale, I’d wanted to hear, and I suppose expected. I was not disappointed.
The show ended up with Cale’s version of Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel, a long deep slow shuffle into those really dark places, a spellbinding end to a set, slowed to a slow reflective wander, and ended in the blackness of fearful pain we’re just glad someone explored for us.
Walking back to the tram stop and home, reflecting on John, thinking about the ageing audience, I found myself wondering if more than a few were Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Brian Eno fans? Is that where John Cale sits in music lore now, or is he beyond all that?
Born - happy family, school great mates still see 7 / 8 in year, degreed, beer n fun, work was lazy but usually happy, retired. Learning from mum and dads travel exploits.
about Toon Traveller »»
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