Stockton Calling is one of the finest days in the North East’s music calendar for showcasing local and up-and-coming artists from across the UK, with a few headline acts thrown in for good measure (We Are Scientists and Lightning Seeds this time around), and it’s the perfect formula for creating an event to excite music lovers from right across the North East.
Not only does the inner-town festival help to give the rising stars of today a platform to showcase their talent, but it also helps independent music venues in the heart of Stockton to obtain a better profile, to raise some much-needed funds, and to show music lovers who don’t visit the venues often just what they’re missing.
Now in its 9th year, Stockton Calling is simply going from strength to strength, with this year’s event including over 70 artists and 9 venues. Of course, there’s simply no way of seeing all 70 artists in one day so, as always, I picked out a scrappy piece of paper the night before and wrote down who I wanted to see and where so that I had my day fully planned – it’s not just me who does that, right?
On the morning of the event, with the rain pouring down, I also, for some unknown reason, decided that I’d take part in this year’s Gung-Ho event at Wynyard Hall (for those who don’t know, Gung-Ho is a 5km inflatable obstacle course – sounds fun, right?) and let’s just say it wasn’t as fun as it sounds as I found myself caked in mud from head to toe and so cold that my hands had turned blue – it wasn’t the best start to the day.
With my spirits slightly dampened, and after I’d scrubbed mud out of my ears, I made my short 5-minute walk to Stockton to pick up my wristband and off I went, straight to The Storytellers to catch Newcastle/Durham outfit, FEVA. The band, with their hard-edged indie sound and echoing vocals, played a rip-roaring set to a jam-packed crowd with their heaviest track ‘Love Sick’ and fan-favourite ‘Waiting Room’ certainly highlights for me with their catchy choruses and foot-tapping beats – I was feeling better already.
Next, I made my way over to the Vault to catch Echo Town, a band I’ll admit I’d never heard of before, and I was simply blown away. Playing a mix of world music, reggae, Americana and blues, the frontman played the guitar on his lap while performing on a didgeridoo to create a fascinating spectacle and sound.
Now there was no time to rest as I headed across the road to Ku Bar to see Hull’s Fire (The Unstoppable Force) and I think the best way to describe them is like The Killers on speed – this was high-tempo stuff. Wearing red and black suits and shades, they stormed through an in-your-face set, even hanging off the lighting rig and one point. I left the venue with chants of ‘Psycho Killers’ ringing in my ears.
Next up I headed to Musiclounge to catch Joel Clayton’s slightly new project, Swears. With screeching guitars and reverb-drenched vocals, this is a project full of attitude. This was grungy, bluesy, and adrenaline-fuelled and the set was filled with head-banging songs including my personal favourite, ‘Faith in the Nation’.
Where to next then? I got my piece of almost torn up scrappy paper out of my pocket and off I went to ARC, the town’s largest venue, to see Marsicans. The Leeds outfit has a touch of Newcastle’s Little Comets about them and their sun-kissed indie-pop sound is utterly infectious. It was also fantastic to see just how much they loved their set, with all four members barely removing the smile from their faces throughout their 30-minute set.
Right then, off to Ku Bar I went once again to witness a simply stunning performance from one of my favourite Teesside outfits, Cape Cub. And I have to admit, bass player Simon Shaw has added a lot of energy to the atmospheric and emotive indie synth-pop project put together by Chad Male. Fan-favourites ‘Keep Me in Mind’, ‘Closer’ and ‘Flowers’ were all given an airing and they showed just how far Chad’s songwriting has come over the last few years – stunning.
I fancied a bit more synth-pop at this stage so I made my way to Stockton’s newest music venue, Whole Latte Love, to see Newcastle-based two-piece, Twist Helix. With strong female vocals from lead singer Bea Garcia, with her fantastic Spanish-meets-Northern accent, this was another atmospheric set, with one audience member non-stop dancing throughout their performance and even joining the duo on stage at one point as she got a little bit carried away (in a good way).
And what can I say about The Spitfires’ set at Room 21 – I was once again blown away. This was a set put together by a band that means business as it was an invigorating and fast-paced set-list that included the likes of ‘Tell Me’, ‘Move On’ and ‘Disciples’. Teesside promoters, Into Tomorrow, who decided to take a year off from hosting a stage this year, joined me at one point and I was given a warm embrace, showing just how passionate and fantastic the local music community is – I have to admit, I was moved.
For the last set of the day I made my way back to Ku Bar to catch US rockers, We Are Scientists. Well, this was a huge coup for the tiny town of Stockton (my hometown no less) and it was evident that it wasn’t just me who was excited about catching them on Teesside as the venue was full. Those lucky enough to make it inside the venue weren’t to be disappointed, as the Brooklyn boys delivered a blistering set littered with a mixture of new and old material. Indie anthems such as ‘Great Idea’ and ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ led the packed-out venue to burst into brilliant chaos, as revellers soaked up the last of the day’s electric atmosphere.
It was another incredible day at Stockton Calling – here’s to its 10th year!