nxb3 on tour – The Narc 100th edition Birthday Party

This wasn’t so much a gig as a party to celebrate the 100th issue of NARC a Newcastle based free magazine that has provided all sorts of information on the local arts scene in and around Newcastle for the last few years. The party was one of the very first events to be held in the Biscuit Room, a new annexe to the established Biscuit Factory art gallery in the Shieldfield area of Newcastle.
Doors were a little late opening at about 7:45 and there was a steady stream of people arriving from the publicised opening time of 7:30 who had to hang around the booking office until the late running sound check was finished.
After about 10 minutes or so, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour were the first band on stage to a sparse but steadily increasing crowd, they introduced themselves with “We’re really happy to be here in the biscuit room, but it’s a bit fancy innit, I feel like we should have maybe dressed up a bit” before starting a short set of tracks taken from their CD “New Skin” with the Louis Barabbas cover, ‘Scarecrow’ followed by ‘Peace’ and then ‘Ellie’. A cover of ‘Cry Me A River’ by Justin Timberlake was the only song not taken from the CD and they finished off with ‘We Talked Again’
Over to the smaller performance area now for Nathalie Stern to see her perform some startling hauntingly beautiful solo tracks, starting with deep sleep followed by 3 more unidentified songs. The lack of banter with the audience was probably due to the fact that she was “shittingly nervous” as she hadn’t played live for about two years. The set was stunning and the crowd, which were packed into and spilled out of the small space were absolutely mesmerised with only the occasional clatter of bottles being thrown into a bin at the bar opposite interrupting proceedings.
It was back to the main stage now for Lanterns on the Lake, I’d not seen them before so was interested to see their performance, in the end I wasn’t that impressed, they were Ok but I’ll not be making any special trips to see them another time. Lots of talkers in the crowd again, even down the front and by now the constant background hum of crowd chatter was becoming very loud at times.
Back over to stage 2 to see Barry Hyde who did an entertaining solo set on an electric piano which went down well with the crowd but again the music was not really my cup of tea so it was back to the main stage for the final band, School of Language, the new side project of Jaff from the Futureheads and the Brewis boys from Field Music. With such a distinguished musical pedigree I was hoping for great things from this band and they certainly went down well with the crowd but for me they were a huge anti climax, not my thing at all and with the talking in the crowd reaching an all time annoyingly high volume we called it a day and went back home eventhough the party continued afterwards with a late bar into the early hours.
After School of Language had finished playing their set (they played all the songs they had) it was speech time with a massive thank you for the girl and her team of volunteers behind NARC magazine. Claire eventually got up on stage and made a small speech but her voice didn’t carry well over the PA and most of her speech was lost amongst the general background noise.

This was a good night out, an excellent start with Bridie Jackson and Nathalie Stern being on stunning form but for me the night peaked early and tailed off towards the end.

But what of the venue itself? It was brand new, this being one of the first events to be held there. There was a large lobby which housed the box office and toilets and a glass swing door that led into the main hall itself. Directly ahead was the bar and food area, to the right was the second (small) performance area and in the distance was the main stage. The bar area was very long so there was plenty of space for people to get served, there were masses of people serving so queues were kept down. There were loads of fridges packed with a large range of wines and a selection of bottled and canned beers from the larger breweries so it was very pleasing to see two polypins of Wylam Gold Tankard perched on the end of the bar. They didn’t last very long though so choice was restricted to national brewers beers after a while. The small performance area had no stage and was used for the solo performances while the main stage at the end of the hall was for the bands. Although the main stage was a decent size, it was only a foot or so high so when the venue was filled to it’s 350 capacity it would be hard to see anything on the stage by people towards the back of the hall. The colour scheme was white and glass, the walls in the main hall having a rippled wave effect pattern and the ceiling height was fairly low at about 3 meters. The acoustics were good though, the sound was nice and clear with no overpowering bass that you sometimes get in venues, presumably the acoustics had been considered at the design stage of the venue.

The highlight for me was the set by Nathalie Stern with a seriously off the wall and inventive performance which was all the more remarkable due to the strong case of nerves she was suffering from due to not playing live for the previous two years. I’ve wanted to see her play live for a long time now and the closest I got was turning up at one of her gigs at the Fishtank, Durham which got cancelled at the last minute when a really nasty storm ravaged the north east.

The low point of the gig was the massive amount of crowd chatter over the bands music, this was especially annoying for Bridie Jackson but still bad for Lanterns on the Lake and School of Language. The people who wanted to see the bands and listen to the music were at stage front but there were still people talking right through whole sets from just in front of the stage. I know this was billed as a party and not a gig but for me and a few others the unrelenting talking detracted from the bands performances, people even resorted to saying SSSSSSHHHHHHHHH loudly to try and stop the talking but it was to no avail. Maybe the biscuit factory could commission a local artist to come up with a large mural inside the venue to get the ‘keep the noise down’ message across, something like: “Nobody paid the admission charge to listen to you talking to your mates when the bands are on, if you must talk when the band is playing then go and do it outside”
It has to be said that most of the people who attended were part of Newcastle’s artistic community in one way or another and treated the event as a big networking opportunity and the bands were unfortunately regarded as a bit of a sideline.

The biscuit factory and associated venues have built up a great reputation as being a showcase of local and national artistic talent so it was disappointing to see the range of beers available dominated by national brands from major brewers. Even the two polypins of Gold Tankard from Wylam brewery in Hexham which sold out very quickly were of an average cask beer. The area around Newcastle in general and Byker in particular is packed full of superb innovative small and micro breweries, A cask or keg could have actually been carried to the biscuit room from breweries such as Out There, Tyne Bank and Northern Alchemy (at The Cumberland Arms) with literally dozens of other breweries within a short drive radius. You would not be restricted to Cask beer either, plenty of these breweries do superb craft keg beers. Newcastle in general is awash with quality cask and craft keg beers, Byker being a particular hotspot with The Free trade Inn being one of the best pubs in the whole of the North of England, I’m sure they would be happy to advise on the beers to stock to showcase genuinely adventurous and innovative breweries from both on your very doorstep and from further afield.

Remember, Beer is art too!!



nxb3 on tour – Pauline Murray North East acoustic tour

During the course of October and November 2013 Pauline Murray did a series of acoustic gigs around her native North East. She normally fronts local punk band, Penetration on their occasional tours around the country so a series of intimate acoustic solo gigs was definitely unusual for her.

The first gig of the tour that I managed to attend was at the Old Cinema Launderette in Gilesgate, a mile or so out of Durham city centre. The venue used to be a cinema, opening in 1941 as the Crescent Cinema and later reopening under new management in 1958 as the Rex. After the cinema closed down it became a bingo hall for a few years before being converted into a launderette a couple of years ago and very soon afterwards started to have small intimate gigs which proved so popular they are on most weekends. Capacity is only about 35 as the venue is tiny but the atmosphere is wonderful and there is even a licensed bar there now with a selection of wines and beers available.

And so it was that Pauline Murray sat down with her acoustic guitar among the washing machines and driers surrounded by people sitting in a ring of chairs and a few others sitting on the floor or propping the bar up at the back. The set started with a selection of new songs, the first of which was ‘Shadow in my Mind’ about the little voice nagging away at you in the back of your mind. She had a little attack of nerves and had to compose herself before starting the next song ‘When we Were Young’ which was about teenagers having no responsibilities until they have to leave home. Next song ‘After All’ started by examining how people think before going off on a tangent about the media, It was a more upbeat track than the others and the best of the set up to now. ‘Missing’ was next, written about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann a few years ago. Another upbeat song came next, ‘Unbroken Line’ which was about Pauline’s growing interest in researching her family history and the last of the new songs was the best so far, it was about battling against depression, called ‘Dark Clouds’. Unfortunately, she forgot the words to a complete verse and had to improvise until she picked up the next chorus and then she made a mess of the finish as well.

She moved onto a selection of older songs now, taken from the various bands she had been involved in over the years. First song was ‘Don’t Give Up’ from her solo LP “Storm Clouds”. After a change of guitar the excellent ‘Sympathy’ was next, taken from the LP “Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls”; It was followed by ‘Guilty’, which was written as an acoustic song but was picked up by Penetration and became a regular part of their set. A song about the bad times in the mid 80’s called ‘Pressure Zone’ came next and the last track was the excellent ‘Dream Sequence’ of which I still have a copy of the 10″ single somewhere in the house.

After the music finished a Q&A session developed covering a wide range of subjects and she even remembered and recited the missing verse to Dark Clouds as well .

This was a brilliant gig, Pauline playing an unusually small intimate show, with the acoustic guitar which she doesn’t normally do and playing in a fabulously strange venue to top it all off.

A few days later she played at the Green Room in Stockton, another tiny venue for small intimate gigs that I had tickets for but I headed up to Newcastle instead to see Peter Hook and the Light play Power, Corruption & Lies and Movement at Digital.

The next day Pauline was at the Star and Shadow Cinema in Byker, Newcastle so after a quick zoom around Lumiere at Durham I headed up to Newcastle for the gig. It was a very late start, Pauline took to the stage around 11:15 which was to allow people to arrive from another earlier gig at the Sage. Same setup as the gig in Durham with Pauline sitting on a chair at the front of the stage, the same set as well, starting with ‘Shadow in my Mind’, ‘When we were young’ ‘After all’ ‘Missing’ ‘Unbroken Line’ and the excellent ‘Dark Clouds’ which was faultless this time around.
The last of the acoustic tracks was ‘Don’t Give Up’, half way through the other musicians started to join in one by one, first of all Rob Blamire on the Bass, John Ashton on Keyboards, then Dave Hodgson on the drums and finally Paul Harvey on guitar. A selection of songs from Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls CD followed starting with ‘Screaming in the darkness’, the excellent ‘Sympathy’, ‘Time Slipping’, ‘Shoot You Down’ and ‘Judgement Day’. Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls final single ‘Searching for Heaven’ came next and the final track of the main set was ‘Dream Sequence’. The band came back on to do a single encore of ‘This Thing Called Love’ to end another excellent set. A very good turnout tonight with the venue almost full, a few talkers in the audience whose tongues were loosened by a few beers due to the late start and the long set at just over an hour ended after midnight.

Which was the best of the two gigs? that is a difficult call but I would have to go for the Old Cinema Launderette and the full acoustic set in amazing surroundings.