Live at Stockton Weekender, Stockton-on-Tees
It may be a surprise to some people, but there are good things happening in Stockton-on-Tees. They have the best record shop in the world (Sound It Out), they have SIRF, they have the Georgian Theatre and at the end of July they have Stockton Weekender. Rising from the ashes of the free, council funded Stockton Fringe, the new festival has managed to survive for 4 years now against the odds, where many similar ventures have sadly crumbled away. The odds have been lowered partly due to their knack of bringing in a good mix of popular acts, critical darlings and upcoming local talent. Over the past few years they've had Seasick Steve, The Pogues, James, Primal Scream, Spiritualized, Dexys, We Are Scientists, Willy Mason, Frankie and The Heartstrings, The Chapman Family and loads of other in between. I should also add that my weekend ticket cost £35. A snip! This year Stockton was punching above its weight yet again. Public Enemy? In Teesside? Who could resist. First off though, Saturday. Hyde and Beast came down the road from Sunderland and eased the crowd in with their usual laid back stomp, it was blisteringly hot on the riverside at this point and the band were a perfect fit. Playing songs from their soon to be unleashed second album, Keep Moving, they proved that they are much more than just the sum of their parts. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas was another surprising inclusion on the bill, the Motown legends came on suitably to "Heatwave" and never really let their foot off the gas, which is testament to their 73 year old singer. This was no James Brown or Brian Wilson scenario where their talented backing bands do most of the work, Martha was energetic, if understandably breathless, throughout. When you've got "Jimmy Mac", "Nowhere To Run" and "Dancing In The Street" in your cannon you can't really go wrong. Chris Helme came on and gave the crowd a further sing-along session, warming them up for his mates Shed Seven who rattled through their hits with their usual youthful aplomb. I liked the fact that they'd employed a 3 piece brass section for the show, perhaps proving that they aren't simply going through the motions. "On Standby" and "The Devil In Your Shoes" still sound great and there was a surprise rendition of "High Hopes" which included a guest spot from Chris Helme. I'm not quite sure why they felt the need to include a cover of "Born To Run" though...maybe they were just getting their money's worth from the brass dudes. Happy Mondays topped the bill on a nostalgic day, and they were in top form. Ryder constantly ribbing Bez over his political ambitions, and the inclusion of obscurities like "Performance" alongside the tried and tested hits of "Loose Fit", "Hallelujah" and "24 Hour Party People" gave the crowd not choice but to dance. The dancing carried on for everyone who went to the festival's amazing silent disco (outside and inside) The Georgian Theatre. Then it pissed down. Sunday was a little more subdued, but that was probably for the best. The wonderful By Toutatis stole the afternoon which their dark but playful tales of death, hangings and general intellectual historical things. I still see this band as kind of folksy, but with baritone vocals, ominous thumping drums, rackety guitar and a ghostly sweeping violin, I'm not quite sure why. The ominous feelings continued for me as I awaited Peter Hook and The Light. I love Joy Division and I love New Order but I just can't see the point of this project (except for the obvious "make a bit of cash for Peter" theory), isn't it just a glorified tribute band? Turns out it was actually OK. Hooky's voice (a bit like Tom Waits) certainly suits the Joy Division stuff best, but with a raw and talented backing band it made for a decent afternoon soundtrack. Another blast from the not too distant past, Reverend and The Makers drew a surprisingly huge and appreciative crowd. Their front man Jon McClure is obviously a born ring master, whipping the crowd up into a bit of an early evening frenzy. It seems there's still life in the relatively youthful dogs yet. After a frantic and energising warm-up courtesy of The Amazing Snakeheads the stage was set for the main event of the night, Public Enemy. Chuck D, Flavor Flav, DJ Lord et al were a cut above the rest of the bill, bringing the cool to Stockton Weekender. The hits were plentiful, "911 Is A Joke" was a personal highlight and recent single "Harder Than You Think" eclipses much of their classic output in terms of sheer joyfulness. Towards the end of the set Flavor Flav himself wondered all the way into the middle of the crowd, "clocked" my 11 month old daughter and gave her a kiss on the cheek. It would be hard to think of a better or more unexpected end to the festival. Top marks Stockton. Top marks Public Enemy.