Bearded’s Guide To… Newcastle

Coming in thick and fast, we have Pete Clark to tell us what's going down in his neck of the woods...

Posted on Feb 16th, 2011 in Features and Interviews, Lavotchkin, Shark City / By Peter Clark
Lavotchkin The Geordie land has a rich tapestry of musical heritage that is often overlooked for the likes of the heavily put-upon-regional-accentuations of Ant & Dec or that Cheryl lass off that telly program. Whether you start back with the beginning with the UK Black Metal scene with the band Venom, the early rock pedigree of The Animals, the MOR rock stylings of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, or the self-deluded-once-great-now-unfathomable Sting. While the greatly underrated Wildhearts, rock icon Brian Johnson, and “Where are they now?” Maximo Park, have all managed to create a page on Wikipedia for a Newcastle music scene, it’s important to see how the region is making positive steps towards the future.

When Yourcodenameis:milo were every music luvee’s wet dream in their all too short existence, it seemed to set a spark off with a huge number of rock bands from in and around the city, many of whom’s talent is finally coming into fruition. Topping this list is We Are Knuckledragger (featuring former YCNI:M drummer Shaun Abbot). While guitarist/vocalist Aran Glover and bassist Pete Currie are from Northern Ireland, being based in the region is important to the guys and has heavily influenced their music. Recently released ep Doors To Rooms has received widespread critical acclaim and has lead to the band recording their debut record with Steve Albini. If you like your music ferocious, jaggered, loud, and exciting, then this is the band for you.

Also currently making waves are Boy Jumps Ship with their second EP Engines having recently been warmly received. Much like an early Idlewild or Young Guns, they’re a young band with a punk rock spirit that carries a sound which has the possibility to become a mainstream success. Also packing a punch in the rock stakes are Laconia. Having originally formed back in ’01, and disbanding two years ago, the guys have returned with a new line up, though retaining founding members Scott Michael Cavagan and Martin Collingwood, and are once again beginning to find the market which saw them so highly praised just a few years ago. With an April release scheduled for their new EP, the band could soon be spreading their wings and hitting the roads around the country.

Hardcore mobsters Lavotchkin are finally beginning to fulfil their early promise with a series of brutal releases leading up to the recording of their debut record. Ensue faces shredding. Moving slightly away from the rock side of things, with numerous dance filled shows, and with a healthy slice of Electro, comes the synth-tastic Suzi:Won. Having parted ways with the mainstream monster at Columbia records, Little Comets have regained their freedom back working with independent label Dirty Hit Ltd and are soon to be releasing their debut record.

Like many of the major cities across the country, Newcastle showcases the arenas and that mobile phone sponsored building, but the heart of the city’s music lies in those venues where you walk down the beer spilled steps, into the hand stamped venue, where the beer comes from a dozen countries you’ve never heard of, the stage is on the same level as yourself and an inch in front of your face, and the toilets are, well, questionable. The established venues are highlighted down by the river by the excellent Cluny which has also expanded next door to the Cluny 2. The Cluny is probably the hottest box hole Bearded has ever gone nuts in, but the old brick walling and funny named beer has made it all that more special. Also of note is the Head Of Steam where many a band have crouched their heads to show their early promise. Trillians bar offer a gloriously heavy cacophony of noise, and more often than not it’s free, while newly established Pumphrey’s Cellar Bar has a ceiling filled with fairy lights that are powered by the noise coming from the amps, so it’s important to go see loud and fast music from their so that you can see what’s going on.

One of the many things that Newcastle promotes and supports is independent music, and this can be seen in the number of independent music outlets still doing a good trade in the heart of the city. The ever expanding Beatdown Records (formerly Steal Wheels) has two sites across the city, one focusing on rock/pop, the other on dance/R&B, RPM Music is small and hidden away near the vintage shops, but is a delightful find that often showcases live music, and recently took part in last year’s Record Store Day project. The other successes include Reflex in the midst of the tattoo studios, and JG Windows in the Central Arcade, where Mark Knopfler used to lurk about as a boy.

Distraction Records is one of the greatest labels in the city. You can read all about it in our interview with label boss Darren Hubbard here.

Each year, either side of the River Tyne, the Evolution Festival is held, mixing established acts alongside local talent in a month long music festival in venues throughout the city, as well as the main two day event on the embankments.

It would be remiss not to briefly mention the neighbouring cities of Durham and Sunderland.

Durham holds an incredible emerging punk scene thanks to label Discount Horse Records, promoting music from the likes of The Casual Terrorist, Fashanu, and Onsind. While independent music stores have all but disappeared, new venues such as Durham Live Lounge and Head Of Steam show a positive slant to the area’s musical progression.

Sunderland boasts a slightly greater musical calibre with heavy rockers Ashes Of Iron exciting many with the recording of their debut record. They’ve played many gigs at the city’s greatest live venue, Independent, which is the big attraction for bands passing through the region to play in. If you’re ever in Sunderland, make sure to check out the second hand record store Hot Rats. While there, amongst the walls of vinyl, strange smells, and copies of Mojo from 1992, you’ll find a lot of heart, and a vast array of knowledge from the one old rocker that works there. That is something you can’t mass produce!