Hosted in the beautiful grounds of Hardwick Hall, situated deep in the heart of County Durham, this year’s festival – an event which seems to get better and better each year – was perfect for those that thrive on nostalgia; with the eclectic line-up consisting of Britpop bands that were in their heydays in the 80s and 90s besides soul, punk and pop icons and a number of up-and-coming artists.
The day didn’t get off to a great start as I was accused by a member of staff of smoking cannabis (I have never even smoked a cigarette in my life) and was dragged to the side of the main stage by a security officer and told to take everything out of my pockets. And with no grounds to charge me, of course, I was left feeling embarrassed and filled with anxiety (I suffer heavily from this) without receiving even a simple apology for such a strong allegation.
Feeling anxious, self-conscious and aggrieved, I tried to pull myself together and allowed the music to take over me in order to forget such a harrowing experience.
Heather Small, best known for being the lead singer in M People, performed a stunning set filled with energy, panache and awe-inspiring soulful vocals, with an enthralling rendition of hit ‘Proud’ certainly the highlight of her passion-filled set.
But Hardwick Live isn’t focused solely on icons as the organisers also thrive on giving young, local bands a chance too – and Baltic certainly relished the occasion today, with the faster-paced indie-pop track ‘Unknown’ a personal favourite of mine from their energy-filled set.
Public Image Limited (Pil), fronted by ex-Sex Pistols’ John Lydon (some of you may have seen him in those infamous butter adverts), played a theatrical, mystical, and intense set with John on fine form throughout – aggressive, cynical and ranting from start to finish in a set that challenged societal beliefs of authority, politics, diversity, and even music.
The first real singalong of the day – which could be heard from the smaller Discovery Stage – came during Feeder’s adrenaline-filled set, with ‘Feeling a Moment’, ‘Just the Way I’m Feeling’ and the iconic ‘Buck Rogers’ sung back to the rock icons so powerfully that the sound reverberated right across the grounds of Hardwick Hall.
Echo and the Bunnymen – remember them? Well, they’re celebrating their 40th-anniversary this year and they showed that they still have the talent, the sharpness, and the swagger that comes with a band that has produced post-punk confections like ‘The Killing Moon ‘ and ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’.
Mel C – yes, the Mel C from Spice Girls – drew the largest crowd of the day to the smaller Discovery Stage. Now, let’s be honest – her vocals were average at best and she played a number of soul-destroying covers, but this was also a partly nostalgic set that included Spice Girls hits such as ‘Say You’ll Be There’ and ‘2 Become 1’ – and it was hard not to sing along with a huge smile on your face.
“Does everybody remember the 90s? I ****ing don’t”, pronounces Shed Seven frontman, Rick Witter, before sending the crowd on a sentimental journey with a set packed with hits from the 90s including ‘Going for Gold’, ‘She Left Me on Friday’ and, of course, ending on ‘Chasing Rainbows’ – with the crowd clapping in unison.
One of the surprises of the day, and one of my highlights, was the eccentric The Cuban Brothers. This wasn’t a set simply filled with music, but included break dancing, jokes about penis reduction, “mind bumming” and lots of lycra – with outrageous frontman Miguel Mantovan baring almost all at one point.
Happy Mondays brought Hardwick Live 2018 to a close with a set-list that frontman Shaun Ryder kept complaining to their ‘musical director’ about – in a humourous way, of course. “There’s a man in his 50s bouncing over there”, proclaims Shaun as Bez, with his iconic maracas, jumps across the stage to ensure the crowd are: “up for it”. Hits such as ’24-Hour Party People’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Kinky Afro’ and ‘Step On’ created a real party atmosphere and ensured that those that had remained left the stunning grounds of Hardwick Hall in high spirits (pardon the cannabis-related pun).