Tag Archives: music

A proud return

Mike Ross. Photo White
Mike Ross. Photo White

PAUL WHITE reviews North East musician Mike Ross on a return gig to the region.

Back in the late 90s, I had the pleasure of writing about live music for The Northern Echo. While the opportunities to interview the likes of Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres, Gerry Marsden, Terrorvision, Deacon Blue and many more was fantastic, what I really loved was seeing local bands play live and be well-received by decent-sized audiences around the Darlington and Durham music scenes.

One band that I maintain to this day to be one of the best and most exciting bands to see live was Taller Than, a three-piece outfit from the Sacriston and Lanchester area.

Playing their own music as Taller Than, often coupled with covers sets as the Popular Beat Combo, they were regulars at the likes of O’Neills in both Durham and Darlington, and the Filibuster & Firkin in Darlington, along with many more venues around the region.

In 2000, they played their last gig in Darlington before moving to the Brighton area, where all three members are still active in the music industry.

Sixteen years on, singer and guitarist Mike Ross returned to Darlington on Sunday night for his first return gig in the town, playing a two-set late afternoon session at The Quakerhouse.

Normally fronting the Mike Ross Band, Mike stripped back a range of his own numbers and covers, without losing anything in his simple guitar and vocals arrangements.

Opening with a Credence Clearwater cover, he quickly got the audience onside before heading into the latest version of an old Taller Than number, Questions, and mixing his own tracks like Ran Thru Here and Statesboro Blues with his own cover of Aretha Franklin’s Baby I Love You, which appears on his latest album, Jenny’s Place.

The hugely appreciative audience in a venue I had forgotten how much I like, complete with a great selection of real ales – right up my street – were ready and waiting for a second set to follow the break.

Set two opened with a version of Stephen Stills’ Love The One You’re With and took a blues journey through Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon, before dipping into Mike’s Spindrift debut album for Don’t Worry Baby Just Call, then returning to the familiar for the audience, with Johnny cash’s Get Rhythm, Marvin Gaye’s Heard It Through The Grapevine and more.

Closing the show with his own Bamboozled, Mike left the audience happy at the close of his mini North East tour and promising a return to the region in the Spring.

It was a great way to remind myself just how good Mike Ross is and what a great venue The Quakerhouse is, as well as what a hotbed of great musical talent the North East is, whether or not you’ve heard of many of the acts.

Mike Ross Music: www.mikerossmusic.co.uk/

On Twitter: @spindriftmike

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/themikerossband

The Durham “Busk Factor” dilemma

PAUL WHITE presents his entertaining analysis of Durham’s busking auditions which aim to vet the quality of buskers in the city, but who decides?

An interesting item came up on my Facebook feed at the weekend. A couple of musician friends had both posted a link to a Change.org petition against a new way of regulating buskers that is being established by Durham Business Improvement District (BID).

Neither of my musician friends actually busk, but they were vehemently against the idea. I read the introduction to the petition, found that I, too, agreed, and duly signed up.

At the time of writing, it’s 22 names short of 1,000 signatories.

Busker Thomas Donnelly of Chester-le-Street in Durham’s Silver Street: Photo: David Simpson

The essence of the tale behind this petition is that Durham BID is bringing in auditions for people to secure six-month busking permit in Durham City. Currently, no such licence is required to do so.

Having read both the petition and reports in the Durham Times, it seems that local people attending these auditions, alongside representatives of local businesses, the police, etc, will get to vote on which buskers get a permit. It’s either a straight yes or no from the “judges”. How demoralising for someone who has a bad night, or is just starting out to face rejection like that.

It seems the business community isn’t happy with the noise and this is what has started all of this kerfuffle. (Note to certain elements of the business community, when you get a quiet moment in your shop, just listen to some of the rubbish being piped in on your speakers. Scorpio Shoes, where staff have excellent musical taste, are excluded from that last statement.)

Now, having seen who gets voted for on the X Factor, I’m horrified by this prospect. It always seems those talented artists who have worked their backsides off, busking away, playing to one man, his dog and a pool table in local pubs, and who have actually developed a skill set, far too often get voted off in favour of bland, manufactured music and “characters”.

Can you imagine Jedward or Wagner lasting five minutes if they tried busking on Gala day?

Interestingly, my England’s North East colleague, Dave Simpson, nipped down to the city centre and talked to some buskers.

Irish piper Neil Chambers told Dave he wasn’t really against the licence, but his main concern is for the increasing use of pre-recorded music by buskers and I have to agree.

Irish Piper, Neil Chambers of Newcastle on Durham's Framwellgate Bridge. Photo: David Simpson
Irish Piper, Neil Chambers of Newcastle on Framwellgate Bridge. Photo: David Simpson

Neil said: “They should do what Dublin did: ban backing tracks to take it back to what busking should be, creating a nice atmosphere instead of overloud pre-recorded music which a lot of people think is insulting.”

I can’t imagine the “X Factor” style voting panel would agree that backing tracks are a bad thing. You can just imagine Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (surname correct at time of writing – I genuinely had to Google it to check) saying: “Ok Reggie and Bollie, that’s very good, but I need you to play something called a guitar.”

Fair enough, if what this proposal does is eliminate that element of pre-packaged musical hell. Isn’t it better to put efforts into stopping those anti-social people who blast music out of their phones as they walk down the street, or as they travel on public transport? Perhaps they could legalise grabbing those phones from the offending individuals and smashing them into a million pieces. I digress.

What I like about unlicensed busking is that it is, by its nature, rather self-regulating. If buskers are good, they will earn money and return. If they are terrible, they will not, with the possible exception of a busker many of you may be familiar with, who camps himself at the Newcastle side of the Millennium Bridge and is charmingly entertaining in his own inimitable way.

It seems that the members of Durham’s business community who have created the issue by complaining about the noise must not be bothered by the actual noise itself, if the proposed resolution of the situation is for buskers to be licenced. Then it seems it may be a matter of taste and, surely, all these events are likely to do is change the style and, to some extent, quality of the performers. It’s swapping one noise for another and isn’t that just institutionalised discrimination?

Should the petition fail and this goes ahead, I urge all fans of live music, the ones who go down their local when there is a band on, the ones who go to local festivals and open mic nights, to get themselves along to these events en masse and vote for the real talent they think deserves a slot.

But then, if these acts can wow a real live crowd, do they not deserve something a little more than being sent to play outside in the Great British Weather?

*The first Live InDurham busking audition event will be held at Whisky River on Thursday, August 18, from 7pm. Details are available at www.durhambid.co.uk/live.

Views expressed by our bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of England’s North East or Truly Awesome Marketing Ltd

Live music needs…you!

PAUL WHITE speaks up on behalf of small, independently-run music festivals and the talented, hard-working bands that deserve our support

This Sunday marks one of my favourite days on the North East social calendar.

It’s not the first day of the Hoppings. I’m not talking about Sunderland Air Show. I’m not even talking about my annual Cup Final Day outing with “the lads” (none of whom usually have much concern over the result of said match, being largely Sunderland, Newcastle, Everton, cricket and F1 fans).

It’s Middlefest 2016, one of the many small, independently-run, not for profit music festivals that have sprung up in the North East over recent years. It’s small, but growing. They’re expecting up to 1,000 this year.

Middlefest
Middlefest, photo: Art of Noise Photography

Unlike some of the other festivals in the region, there is no big name headline act (though credit to those who are now drawing those names – I still can’t get over the fact that Dodgy have now headlined a show in Shildon). It’s largely local acts who, in the past, have belted out a mix of their own music and covers, performing from the back of a trailer to an audience who sip beer, while lounging on the grass and, as the day progresses, even getting up and dancing.

It’s a chilled day, just as it should be. And the music is good, very good.

Festivals like Middlefest are made possible by the coming together of two groups – those selfless individuals who just want to put on a good event for the public, and those who dare to pick up a guitar or a pair of drumsticks and dream.

We’ve always had both sets of such folk in our region. I started following the local music scene in the late 90s, as a young reporter for The Northern Echo, and found that Darlington and Durham in particular had some great bands and excellent venues. The Filibuster & Firkin in Skinnergate (sometimes running four gigs a week), and O’Neill’s in Duke Street, along with the Tap & Spile, sat at the heart of the Darlington scene, with the Quaker House also coming along as well. In Durham, again O’Neill’s was a fantastic place for a Bank Holiday marathon gig.

Bands like Taller Than, Ethan, Lucas (later Stone Coda), Alex & I, and Teesside’s Little Pink Polliwog were always good for a night’s entertainment and, occasionally, hard-working venue managers, such as the Firkin’s Craig Sharp, would pull through a gem. I recall Sex Pistols legend Glen Matlock, Toploader and Bad Manners among the bands to grace that stage at the time. Let’s not mention Rock Bitch.

I saw Nick Harper play for the first time in the Tap and have been a fan ever since.

Now, we have bands of equal value playing festivals like Middlefest, where recent years’ highlights have included The Silence, Warning! (sadly no more) and Edenthorn, while our scene also boasts the likes of Black Nevada, Twister, Fire Lady Luck, Ten Eighty Trees and amazing singer-songwriters like Hayley McKay and Beth Macari. This is just scratching the surface.

Middlefest music festival
Middlefest, photo: Art of Noise Photography

The problem is, I said earlier that this is made possible by these two groups of people, but it actually requires a third group to get involved as well, and that is the music loving public. It’s easy to sit and think “oh, that sounds nice…but I’m quite comfortable in my armchair”.

Get out and find that live music before it’s gone. These acts and these events need support to keep going. They work a damned sight harder than many of the acts (I say many, not all) who try to make a quick win on TV talent shows, and they choose the difficult route of playing in front of three drunk men and a pool table, a dog if they’re lucky, and working their way up as they slowly get better and their talent is recognised.

Middlefest* is this Sunday, July 24, at Misty Blue Farm, near Spennymoor. Tickets.
*Other festivals are available.