Still sporting Madeleine Hyland’s bright red lippy from when she had kissed him fully on the mouth some seven or eight magnificent songs earlier, Kevin Rowland is now striding back and forth across the stage stretching that remarkable larynx of his even further than before as he introduces each individual member of his band. The band is called Dexys and they are blasting out the unforgettable refrain of ‘This Is What She’s Like’ as if it is on permanent repeat and as if their very lives depend upon it. They are bringing the final curtain down on what has been the sheer delight of this year’s Stockton Weekender and you just want this euphoric moment to last forever.
Rising from the ashes of the Stockton Riverside Fringe Festival, the Stockton Weekender is now in its third year of existence. Presented by the Tees Music Alliance, it still holds true to its predecessor’s central tenet of promoting local talent, the first of which to emerge blinking into the Saturday afternoon sunshine is Weird Shapes. Teesside’s very own sons catch the modern wind for that new progressive sound, earnest, esoteric and steeped as it is in a strange, mournful nostalgia. Those South Yorkshire heroes and recent Fierce Panda recruits Hey Sholay (pictured left) also trawl through music’s back pages, stopping at the chapters marked psychedelic and pop. Their combination of the two is played out with a huge smile on their face and much more in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere now percolating along the north bank of the River Tees and into the festival’s compact, easily accessible town centre site.
True to the key principles of Tees Music Alliance, Stockton Weekender is all about the creation of music and the sheer joy of experiencing it. Whilst the festival also hosts a Kaleidoscope Kids area, a fun fair and a cabaret tent, it is primarily about music. The two main stages are located at right angles to each other, no more than 50 yards apart, and from the first bars of Shoot The Poet early Saturday afternoon to the very last strains of Dexys late on Sunday night they provide the most wonderful of tag-teams. No sooner has one act finished on the smaller stage, then another ignites on the main stage. And so it goes, for ten consecutive hours on each day; a seamless roster of diverse, quality music drawn from both near and far.
Without even pausing for breath Hey Sholay give way to the very regal sounding King Charles, whose previous connections with those most unlikely of Glastonbury headliners Mumford and Sons not only gives a strong indication of his folk-pop bent but also the extensive reach of the promoters’ recruitment arm. The History of Apple Pie wear a solemnity on their low-fi indie sleeve which is at complete odds with their dainty little name, and their music is then even further contrasted with the full-blooded anthemic charge of those latest pretenders to the stadium crown, Kodaline. What these four Dubliners may lack in originality is clearly proving to be no obstacle in their sustained climb up to those early evening slots and beyond at many a summer festival still to come.
But as Stockton Weekender goes from strength to strength, it is this year’s headlining acts that really do capture the festival’s continuing evolution. Making only their second and what will be their final festival appearance of this English summer, the first of them to show is the revamped Spiritualized. Jason Pierce is there, naturally, as is the trusty Doggen, but this year the Spaceman has recruited Kid Millions and Brad Truax to add immediacy to what he has described as the improvised hangover of their songs. An hour spent in the swirling cadence and cascade of their woozy narcoleptic sound is never going to be enough. Given the constraints of time a compromise of sorts has to be reached between band and audience, but it is nonetheless immediacy that they deliver. When taken across the vast landscape of the Spiritualized canon, these recent changes that Pierce has introduced may be relatively small but here tonight there is undoubtedly a fresh energy and meaning about the band. Perhaps not yet fully realized, one new song ‘Let’s Dance’ is still beautifully effecting, the simplicity of its melody embodying the good place in which Pierce now finds both himself and his music. The closing ‘Come Together’ is a fitting climax.
Like Hey Sholay before them, Temples raid the psychedelic vaults, from which they produce a neo-kaleidoscope of sound which is almost pitch perfect for their twilight slot. They, in turn, provide a platform from which Primal Scream can launch their very own Saturday night special. Whereas at Glastonbury they had seemed distant and removed from their audience, tonight they are fully connected. Frontloading the set with the relentless steepling energy of ‘Movin’ On Up’, ‘Jailbird’, ‘Swastika Eyes’ and ‘Shoot Speed Kill Light’, Bobby Gillespie skitters all around the Stockton stage as if on a personal crusade to right any perceived wrongs from Worthy Farm. He is truly inspired, as are the band, affording themselves the relative luxury of easing through two songs from last album More Light – ‘River of Pain’ and ‘Goodbye Johnny’ – before careering into the home straight with a quadruple fusillade of ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Had’ (the best song that The Faces never wrote), ‘Loaded’, ‘Country Girl’ (dedicated to all the ladies in the audience) and a triumphant ‘Rocks’.
Picking the local baton back up on Sunday afternoon is Frankie & the Heartstrings. With his lantern-jawed, matinee-idol good looks and commanding stage presence, in Frankie Francis they have the ideal front man and he leads this bunch of likely Wearside lads through a most admirable collection of warm-hearted pop tunes. Even closer to home are Abel Raise The Cain and they seize their moment in the sun. A powerful atmospheric performance reveals clear and present signs of life on the Teesside music scene. The random and occasionally overwrought art-pop of Dutch Uncles is for the most part obliquely out of step with the occasion, yet their Grace Jones’ cover and Record Store Day release ‘Slave To The Atypical Rhythm’ remains a genuine tour-de-force.
Every festival requires a James Skelly. Taking what may be a permanent sabbatical from his regular duties with The Coral he hooks up with The Intenders, adds the vocal ballast of Niamh and Fiona from The Sundowners, and delivers an honest, no-nonsense appreciation of vintage blues, rock n roll and soul, of which his faithful reading of the Ray Charles’ standard ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ is a supreme example. Also staying firmly true to and fiercely proud of their musical and national roots are the brothers Reid. Often maligned but never defeated, The Proclaimers are still going strong in a twenty five year career defined by their Scottish accents, matching spectacles and a bucketful of rousing, often politicised folk songs. They play them all tonight – ‘Letter From America’, ‘Let’s Get Married’, ‘Cap In Hand’, ‘Sunshine On Leith’, and the inevitable ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ – and why wouldn’t they? And you just have to love and admire them for it.
Another man who has been no stranger to ridicule in his time is Kevin Rowland. But he stands here tonight, 28 long years after recording the great lost musical treasure that is Don’t Stand Me Down and twelve short months after the release of its belated sequel, the equally magnificent One Day I’m Going To Soar. The band credited with these landmarks may well bear different names – the words Midnight and Runners having been unceremoniously ditched somewhere along the way – but they share not only the same central musical elements of 1960’s English pop, Black Country soul and a resolute Irish heartbeat, but also the same lyrical themes of troubled identity, love, loss and lust. And for one glorious performance on the Riverside in Stockton we get it all. The opening montage of songs from One Day I’m Going To Soar sees Rowland and the glamorous femme-fatale that is Hyland acting out the twisted melodrama of their relationship against the most epic sweep of Dexys’ soulful orchestration. ‘I Love You (Listen To This)’ swirls with abandoned glee, Rowlands’ once fragile emotional state a seemingly distant memory as he punches the air in delight. And the song that was once “bigger than the band”, ‘Come On Eileen’, is finally exhumed, reincarnated and stretched out into the genuine pop classic it most surely has always been.
As Rowland and his excellent vocal and personal foil Pete Williams leave the stage to rapturous applause and the closing bars of ‘This Is What She’s Like’, the euphoria of Dexys’ performance is tinged with the sadness of knowing that the Stockton Weekender is finally over for another year. Yet amongst this regret is the firm belief that through detailed planning, clear organisation and the maintenance of a careful balance between promoting local and national artists Stockton Weekender has once more delivered the most successful of music festivals.