After holding its breath since the last festival back in 2019, the humble Northern town of Stockton-On-Tees plays its part in something greater than itself on Saturday, April 16th 2022 – amongst the hustle and bustle of a hot Easter weekend, the rising talent of the British music scene joins together once more to show off an overwhelming number of sets, catch up with some missed friends and grab a pint or two.
The moody, gritty tones of Pave The Jungle stir awake an audience in The Georgian Theatre, with a sheltered stage matching the grungy atmosphere the band summon with ease. Although raw and rough around some edges, strong instrumental craftsmanship shines through a solid intro to fans of new music, with sharp jokes amidst the inevitable promotion alluding to a longstanding band companionship that we hope to see continue to thrive.
A similar set-up over at Sticky’s delivers some cutting vocal melodies from Sarah Johnsone. Filling in a slot for Heidi Curtis, one of a few unfortunate and sorely missed drop-outs, she nonetheless makes her own mark with a sweetly distinctive vocal showing and a skilfully adaptable trio backing her up. The set includes a few covers as well as her debut single ‘Tonight’, which is both soothing and elevating in equal measure. Filling up a bar that proves as hot and busy as the name implies, Sarah utilises every minute of the opportunity presented, pulling on some real grove by the time she performs her upcoming track ‘Down By The River’.
Over at Stockton Arts Centre (ARC), Joe Ramsey whips out an acoustic guitar to render a soaring sonic bolstered further by his 5-piece accompaniment. “I’m very warm, I’m very excited, and I’m very scared,” he confesses, summarising the day for most up and comers, although the latter mood proves unnecessary for an indie talent who has clearly built up a vocal audience. The positive vibe and crowd only builds for a celebratory chorus of “should I be as happy as I am right now?” If you’re Joe Ramsey, the answer is a definitive yes.
The limited capacity of The Green Room is quickly overwhelmed by the abrasive rhythm of Pit Pony. A whirring guitar-led pulse is immediately established, soon joined by deftly delivered vocal hooks that drift towards but never quite intersect spoken word. The Geordie outfit certainly aren’t shoegaze either despite all three string-wielding members tending to lay low – it’s later advised that a tour-related injury has led to some new advice being adhered to: bend your knees while lifting, and wear earplugs. We emphasise the latter for these simple but effective punk rockers who close with a dedication to your favourite ambiguous grocery supplier on the unreleased ‘Supermarket’.
Hot off the heels of a support run with Jake Bugg, indie-popper Luke Royalty returns to the festival stage in with a whole new EP since a showing at last year’s Twisterlla. Maintaining the same vibrancy but expanding into a more fleshed-out release format, the Darlington native is quickly cultivating a live and loud following, although not all songs follow such energy; for example, recent drop ‘blue peter’ follows a rattling but sombre reflection on the unshakable connection between hometown friends. While his journey has deepened since then, especially in the last year, his applauded set here shows there’s much more to tap into.
Ramping up the energy as the afternoon passes, the self-enforced motto of ‘Let’s Dance To The Real Thing’ is taken very literally by Liverpudlian thrashers STONE, with frontman Fin Power crowd surfing through KU Stockton to said track just a few minutes into their set. Spoken word segments detailing life in the working-class interludes a sweaty mess that mostly occurs in the crowd, including the decant of a Red Stripe can that leaves the band covered in more than just their own sweat. Moshpits need no encouragement here as the band load each word with intent and offer every ounce of energy they can muster. Promise of a world tour to follow is answered with rapturous applause.
As fiery as ever, Swim School immerse listeners in ARC 2 with a moody stage intro that shows further lessons in showmanship possibly picked up from their many artist friends whom they’ve followed on tour recently. The explosive screech and yet nimble delicacy of ‘anyway’ makes for a strong start, and the dominating riff of ‘outside’ continues a relentless rendition of ‘making sense of it all’, their impeccable debut EP which shows a magic blend of power and empathy. A melancholic sense of longing permeates through frontwoman Alice Johnson’s ever delicate and higher-reaching-than-ever vocal on a new track too, instilling great hope for the rest of the Edinburgh-based quartet’s 2022.
Fellow Scot Brooke Combe brings a classic groove to the room vertically adjacent, flexing her rich and soulful voice for a jazzy rendition of ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ – a friendship with Miles Kane is bound to leave its traces. Her original talent on ‘Impress You’ preaches the need to please yourself and not others, wrapping this sweet message in an empowering swagger that is truly hard to ignore; Brooke certainly forces some energy into the swaying palms of a now fairly intoxicated Stockton audience. Her art bleeds with evidence of personal growth and her journey manifests audibly. When she poses the chorus line ‘Are You With Me?’, the response is obvious.
The Mysterines meet disco in The Social Room where a neon-lit dance floor serves as one of tonight’s headliner locations. Unfortunately, a slew of technical issues plagues the band throughout and a disregard for audience interaction seems to transpire as a result, meaning this highly-anticipated show is one of confusion. The Scouse rockers deliver their slew of undeniable bangers regardless, and the appeal of these songs from their excellent debut LP ‘Reeling’ is evident, but the delivery results in a set akin to rock’n’roll karaoke rather than the intense emotional rush that the 13 tracks could have delivered. Oh well, at least their bassist seemed to be having a good time.
Following this headline slot which saw Self Esteem, The Pigeon Detectives and Bob Vylan offer alternative shows to cater to varied tastes, The Reytons have the streets lining for entry while HYYTS present a lowkey dance-pop alternative. The latter act sings that, “a bad tattoo may leave a mark on you,” and unfortunately so does a disappointing climax to an otherwise exceptional evening. Northern talent admires the fruits of its early achievements in an understated but surprisingly hospital host town, and Stockton Calling more than proves it’s worth as a festival not to be dismissed.