REVIEW: Day 2, Home Gathering, Hoults Yard, Newcastle

The Unthanks were the curators of Home Gathering and performed at the event at Hoults Yard. Pic: Gary Welford.
The Unthanks were the curators of Home Gathering and performed at the event at Hoults Yard. Pic: Gary Welford.

Local hero Richard Dawson stole the show on the second day of Home Gathering festival, rounding off the weekend with a truly remarkable closing performance.

Organised by The Unthanks, the two-day event showcased premier folk talent from the North East and beyond, with Friday night featuring impressive sets from Sheffield's Richard Hawley and Stockton's The Young 'Uns.

Saturday saw appearances from Hyde & Beast, The Furrow Collective, The Unthanks themselves and many more - though all were made to look secondary by Dawson, who, even by his own standards, delivered a showing of truly astonishing visceral and emotional power..

Whereas the previous evening was to all intents and purposes a single, well-catered gig, today had far more of a traditional festival feel, with music commencing from mid-afternoon and spread across two stages.

Originally slated to take place at The Mining Institute, the busy schedule saw replacement venue Hoults Yard come into its own, adding food stalls and activities to the significantly increased capacity.

One of the early highlights came on the smaller Out Of The Blue Stage, where husband and wife duo Cath & Phil Tyler showcased their stripped blend of British folk and primitive Americana.

From the US herself, Cath's raw voice provided the duo's driving force, and as ever came amply backed by Newcastle-based Phil's mix of banjo, guitar and dulcet vocal tones.

They were followed onstage by Marry Waterson - part of the celebrated Waterson-Knight-Carthy family - who performed alongside collaborator David Jaycock.

Although Marry's singing and credentials have long spoken for themselves, the standout was arguably The Honey & The Seaweed from the pair's 2015 album Two Wolves, which incorporates lyrics penned by her mother, Lal Waterson.

Over on the far larger Magpie Stage, The Unthanks' de-facto headline performance drew a huge crowd, filling the 1,000-capacity warehouse from front to back.

Marrying traditional interpretations with their own acclaimed originals, the group were, as always, magnificent in their elegance, with Rachel and Becky Unthank forming part of a fully-fledged 10-piece band.

Given its huge, far from silent audience, this was one set which didn't benefit from the change of venue, but even so it was difficult not to be swept away by the core duo's sublime singing and lushly orchestrated backing.

It was an 80 minutes loaded with high points, yet perhaps the best came early on in a note-perfect rendition of the title track of from last year's Mount The Air - which deservedly saw them leave the BBC Folk Awards with the gong for Best Album.

Back over at Out Of the Blue, the festival delivered, for me, its most pleasant surprise in the shape of Londoner Raevennan Husbandes.

Acoustic singer-songwriters aren't exactly thin on the ground, and it takes far more than plaintive, heartfelt lyrics for one to stand out from the crowd.

Nevertheless, the sheer sincerity of Husbandes' songs proved hugely endearing - and I was by no means alone in being won over by her crystal clear voice and clean finger-picked guitar.

Nothing, though, could prepare the audience for the mercurial genius of Richard Dawson, whose appearance on the same stage had the air of a special one right from the booming, reverberating notes sent out during soundcheck

Formerly Newcastle's best-kept secret, Dawson is now winning fans and playing at festivals across Europe, thanks in no small part to the acclaim surrounding 2014's Nothing Important.

Even for seasoned observers he looks like an artist at his peak; yet tonight saw his thrilling and genuinely unique show hit an entirely new level.

There's no satisfactory means of describing his voice, capable of supreme tenderness, but also of completely and utterly dominating any room in which he plays - often without the need for amplification.

Equally extraordinary is his sheer stamina, even whilst straining every last sinew of his vocal chords and pushing his body to and beyond its safe physical limit.

This phenomenal commitment drew gasps of astonishment throughout, particuilarly during the agonising peaks and troughs of Poor Old Horse and a ferocious Vile Stuff, which bore shades of heavy metal such was the feral, unhinged force of its delivery.

Truly, his was a performance which defied belief, superlatives and categorisation - and one which gave The Unthanks a near-impossible task to follow at next year's event!