Review: The Lake Poets and Stanhope Silver Band, Durham Gala
What an introduction to brass music. Like some other people of my generation, my experience with this art form had, up until now, been limited to enjoying the film Brassed Off and the Coronation Street theme tune.
However, with one of my favourite Sunderland acts on the bill – The Lake Poets – I was intrigued to see what a special collaboration with this Mackem minstrel and the Stanhope Silver Band would entail.
New folk/indie music and traditional musicianship collided with spectacular effect to make this a gig, staged as part of Durham Brass Festival, which exceeded my expectations – and then some.
It got off to a flying start with an acoustic set from young musician, Sam Fender from North Shields.
Early nerves, no doubt due to a slight sound hiccup, soon faded into oblivion as he put in a powerful performance that belied his 19 years.
I’d never heard of Sam before this gig, but his voice blew me away. Gravelly and emotion-fuelled with impeccable control, his vocals and music is something I’ll be making an effort to look out for in the future.
After winning over the crowd with his cheeky teenage charm, Sam left the stage to make way for one of the country’s oldest brass bands.
An act that can trace their roots back to 1823, the suited and booted-band and their blindingly shiny instruments were certainly a sight to behold on stage at Durham Gala.
Despite being fiercely traditional, the band recognise that they need to include new music in their set to appeal to a mixed audience and their set was a blend of tracks old and new.
Some worked better than others with a version of the Pirates of the Caribbean proving particularly powerful. Hearing this type of music on a film sound track just can’t compete with when it’s performed live, booming through your body.
The dozens of musicians were replaced on stage by a solo set from The Lake Poets for the second half.
Since first hearing of this act two years ago, I never tire of its melancholy music.
Clad in his trademark head-to-toe black, Martin Longstaff, who performs solo and with his band as The Lake Poets, opened with my personal favourite Windowsill.
Haunting, captivating, romantic and with an honesty that’s rarely found in the charts, Martin’s music has a knack of sticking you to the spot and plucking at your heartstrings.
Often penned at his home in East Herrington and inspired by his beloved hometown, friends and family, Martin’s sombre tracks may be, as he confesses “miserable”, but they are beautifully miserable.
Some are more rousing though and single April – though still achingly miserable – upped the tempo as the songwriter was joined on stage by his band, who sounded tighter than ever I’ve heard them before.
The track, which recently received airplay on Radio 1, is one of their best yet. It reminds me of Bluegrass laments to lost loves and is a poetic piece of music which touches your soul thanks to Martin’s sweet, yet punchy, tones.
Individually, The Lake Poets and Stanhope Silver Band are excellent, but, together, they were magical as they performed the two final songs.
In a touching tribute to our region’s heritage, and indeed that of brass music, the musicians were joined on stage by the Aged Miners’ Banner.
Martin, proud of his local roots, penned a touchingly-tender track for the night, Vane Tempest, which was brought to life by both acts.
It was an utterly brilliant, magnetic fusion of contemporary meets classical musicians, who paid a magnificent tribute to the region’s industrial past with lines such as: “They don’t care for you and me, we don’t live in London, do we.”
It earned them a much-deserved standing ovation before they’d even finished the set.
However, there was more to come and City by the Sea, an ode to Sunderland, was simply superb.
No doubt, it took some effort bringing these two different-sounding acts together for one gig, but it’s a melting pot of music I could listen to over and over again.