Top Time at Twisterella
By Robert Nichols
Wednesday 17 Oct 2018 15:49:00
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What a mind-blowingly brilliant festival. On one Saturday a year the football takes a break to allow music to take centre stage in downtown Middlesbrough. It is always special but this year the atmosphere at the sold out Twisterella was quite wonderful. I am on superlative overkill as I begin the write up of the annual multi venue music event. I make no apologies. Such a top time was had by all.

Saturday lunchtime and the venue at Teesside Students Union is absolutely heaving. There is only really room for one in and one out. Boy Azooga are the early headliners and it seems everyone that has bought a ticket for this sell out day is desperate to experience the band. What a start to a fantastic festival.

BSFDExcept it wasn't the start, Black Sheep Frederick Dickens have already blitzed Westgarth 2. The tallest two piece in the Tees Valley trample all over the sleepy Saturday morning snooze in. While Rob Irish studiously serenades us with his orchestrated sounds, the ghost of Frederick Dickens forays deep into the audience reaching out in his Victoriana attire, projecting booming vocals and tempestuous presence. The ghost with a death wish in the bottom of a beer bottle blames everyone else for his ills. The man in the crop coat hides secret messages for bands playing in the same venue over the ensuing hours. He also leaves a memory behind of a full on performance. What an incendiary start to the festival.

For one day a year the Southfield Road district of town becomes the site of a musical pilgrimage. Music fans from across Teeesside are joined by those from further afield, Newcastle, Leeds, Norwich and even Scandinavia this year. We tramp back and forth between the five venues, all only a few minutes apart. We are exploring; discovering new sounds, uncovering new favourite bands.

Fast forward to Saturday evening in Teesside Uni Students Union and a crowd of folk of all ages and genders are singing loudly along with a band from York. Howl and The Hum have only been touring for a year and already they are firm favourites. Their final song Godmanchester Chinese Bridge is greeted like an old friend. This is the very essence of Twisterella, a quality new act that has struck a chord and become the talk of the town.

The same can be said with knobs on it for Dylan Cartlidge. Last year at Twisterella he was a minor sensation. This year he is a Mighty Redcar big hair, big shades, BIG personality. They have probably never seen anything like it at TSOne. I can't get in but from outside I can hear the football style “Dylan, Dylan, Dylan,” chants . He has been mentioned as one to look out for in the New York Times this morning he expounds from the stage. Wow!

I did get in TSOne to see the all girl and very punky Venus. I love their spiky lo fi sound and the way the synth wraps itself around the screech and wail of lead guitar for frantic finales. Later on in the same corner pub venue, Dead Naked Hippies coaxed us in from outside. A Banshee horror show holds us spellbound in the former bank building, as the three piece-build a formidable wall of sound. The vocalist is flinching like a sinister automaton, surfing the layers of guitar and drums.

Talking of layers, at the same venue I would later take in a song or two from You Tell Me, a very worthy side project of Field Music's Peter Brewis. That of course doesn't do justice to the rest of the band as everyone plays an equal part in the interchanges and intricacies of the melodic music.

You might guess I am not doing this in order. Chronology goes out of the window at Twisterella where the organisers advice is if at first you don't succeed in getting in a full venue try someone else on another stage.

My Middlesbrough neighbour Leddie MC was very wondrous on the Uni stage. Her second album, Raise a Glass, will be coming our way soon and judging by this afternoon's live rendering it will be another winner. The Middlesbrough MC was performing with her musical co-hort Alex Bailey, it sounded so good as a partnership. Alex accompanied on guitar and backing voice, allowing Leddie's iconic Teesside scattergun delivery to hit all the targets. We hear her rising, rising from retail drudgery, no more weighed down by dietary goals. Never a quiet storm, Leddie is the next sonic sensation.

Be Quiet Shout Loud are cover stars of this month's NARC magazine. The tinsel-ated Teessiders pump out high octane and outwardly mobile outrageous glam tastic indie disco with all the glittering trimmings. I last saw Big Dave taking deep gulps of air at the finish line of Albert Park parkrun but now he is right at the heart of the bass action. A sparkly jacket Mr Jake Radio is wowing the crowd.

And now for one of those delightful Twisterella contrasts, singer songwriter Harri Endersby opens the upstairs room at the Westgarth with a set that delights and enchants. The crowd gives absolute respectful silence for the delicate renditions of Harri and her husband on backing guitar or percussion. We hear about being beside the sea, the brightest stars above her Durham village. She stops to thank Bob Fischer of BBC Introducing for nominating her for inclusion on the festival band list. He shouts back, he wasn't to miss the opportunity to see Harri play live.

We go downstairs for Crystal, the Glasgow band tell us they are playing their first ever English show. It won't be their last, judging by the reception given to the grungy punk riffers. The recent single, Heaven, soon has the room rocking. Craggy guitar from the giant guitarist, stylish stripe down the bass players trews and crystalline voice from the bubbly doc-shoed singer. Crystal look and sound set to join a long line of Scottish imports that Teessiders have taken to their hearts.

I am struck by just how many bands have female vocalists and or musicians today. Even Mi Mye with their vocals, violin and lyrics tuned straight from Jamie's upbringing in the Outer Hebrides have Wakefield girlfriend Emily on lead for the final song. The main Westgarth room is transported to the Isle of Harris and the Highlands as we experience different weathers and moods descending from over the mountain peaks. A song about oystercatchers, or two mountains that loom large for all that live in their shadow. A captivating experience.

Childcare have their name up in neon lights amongst the chrome and pulsing disco floor of the Townhouse. They look very much at home. Put Down Your Pen (their new single) and focus on this highly inventive four piece. Pop tones abound, anthemic singalong choruses but there is a twist around each corner, like the guitarists blonde helmet hair cut and scene-shredding guitar sound. Strikingly different, there is no doubt about that.

So we reach towards the final acts. Howl and the Hum's emotional pull rings a real reaction. The build up from the tentative and vulnerable into full blown, soaring, shattering, steepling epic finales is actually quite humbling. There is spine tingling beauty here. No wonder some in the audience are off to see them in Leeds the next night. We have all become hooked.

Now for the headliners. I go way, way back with the lads from Avalanche Party and they never give anything less than everything. They not only blow the doors off but the windows, roof and everything else. They are a real force of human nature and nurture and thoroughly deserving of being at the very top end of this brilliant bill.

BrydeI decide to swerve back to the University and take in an act I first witnessed two years ago on a side stage at Hit The North festival in Newcastle. Bryde's show in the Mining Institute was only watched by a handful of people but all of us were completely and utterly blown away. This year I saw her three piece opening up a stage on a sleepy Sunday morning at Deer Shed. It is no surprise to see the Welsh singer topping the bill. My mate Karen is reminded of Patti Smith and there is no doubt Bryde packs a real punch. Sarah Howell, has a gorgeous voice, from tender, folky to full-throated Patti Smith power rocking. Her guitar playing is an exciting, white knuckle fairground ride with that big voice ripping and riffing over the tumbling, thundering cataracts of bass and drums. I cannot wait to hear the new album, Like An Island.

Sarah had an unfortunate time of it early on; struggling with a lost voice, a lost earring and a few lost chords on the guitar. But the way she and the Bryde trio triumphed against adversary made this a festival finale to behold.

That's it for another year. Thanks to all the brilliant bands that I did and didn't see. So much breadth and diversity but so much unbridled talent. Hats off to the brilliant organisers, The Kids Are Solid Gold (Andy Carr and Phil Carey) and Henry Carden. A round of applause for everyone that worked so hard to make the venues just so spot on. And last but not least the audience for being the most receptive, open minded, respectful but so, so supporting. All these ingredients and more go together to making sure that Twisterella is the very best musical festival to take root in any town. That it is in my town makes me so very, very thankful and not a little bit proud.

Is it wrong to wish away 12 months until Twisterella 2019?

Up The Boro

Robert Nichols

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