Sunday, 4 March 2012

REVIEW: One Night In Gateshead


The Mighty Doonans, The Unthanks, The Wilson Family and The Elliott Family at The Sage, Gateshead, Friday March 2nd 2012.

This was the sold-out culmination of the “One Night in Gateshead” series of events and, after taking our seats in the impressive “Hall One” of the imposing Sage building, we were treated to a brief history of the Birtley Folk Club, the Elliott family and eighty years of song by the endearing Doreen Elliott.

With all four musical families together onstage for the duration, the performance began with the whole compliment belting out Jack Elliott’s “Rap Her To Bank”. A fine demonstration of the acoustics of the hall and the feeling behind the event. 

The Elliotts continued proceedings with a solid performance, including a lovely rendition of “Blackleg Miner”, with the highlight being some masterful mandolin work.

And so the torch passed to The Mighty Doonans, with a marked increase in volume the intense wall of sound did nothing to disguise the individual contributions from these accomplished performers. A particular pleasure to hear one of my personal favourites “Banks Of The Nile” delivered with more gusto than I’ve ever heard before.

With no regional favouritism, the Wilson family from my own glorious Teesside, showed how intensity does not necessarily require instrumentation. Following some top-class craic, an incredible honesty came across in “Byker Hill” and Graham Miles’ “Sea Coal”, once more demonstrating the hall’s well designed acoustics.

The Unthanks then offered fitting tribute to the Elliotts and Birtley Folk Club before a delightful performance, with a bitter sweet highlight being “The Testimony Of Patience Kershaw”, possibly the saddest song I’ve ever heard.

After a swift jar of Farne Island Best and wade in the Tyne to locate my socks, somewhere near to where the roof landed during “Rap Her to Bank”, the second half of the performance began with a beautiful duet by Doreen Elliott and partner Bryan Henderson. The Elliotts’ second performance featured American song “Which Side Are You On?” being met with possibly the most intense applause of the night.

The modest George Unthank took the lead to begin their second stint in the spotlight which subsequently demonstrated the harmonies and backing vocals that have been integral to bringing this group such acclaim in recent years. More jokes and powerful vocal performances followed from the Wilsons and concluded with Alex Glasgow’s moving “Close The Coalhouse Door” being delivered with sincerity to an approving audience.

Ed Pickford’s “Ee, Aye, Ah Cud Hew” brought the tight Mighty Doonans back into the limelight with another powerful start. Strong flavours of the 1970’s folk-rock with which the band is synonymous with were driven forward by the strong guitar of arranger Stu Luckley. Rosie Doonan then took the lead with one of her own compositions (her album “Pot Of Gold” is certainly worth a listen) featuring a well-delivered guitar solo from Ian “Walter” Fairbairn. Finishing with a nod to Ray Davies, a lively rendition of The Kinks’ “Dead End Street” was recognisable from the very first bars.

To finish as the show began, all four families/groups fittingly sang “A Miners Life” together below the banner featuring a portrait of the late Jack Elliott which oversaw the whole performance. Interjected by a lively dance performance this final piece received a deserved standing ovation. A night to do every performer, and a whole region proud.

Jack Harper

(With thanks to FolkCast listener Jack Harper who stepped into the breach to review the show at very short notice).








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