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Live Report - NARC Fest '13

Posted on Monday, 8 July 2013 | 1 Comment

Inevitably, with an event like NARC Fest - a free for all, free entry occurrence with eight venues running simultaneously - there's no dominant narrative or easy guidelines on what to experience and how. Even more so that usual for this site then, this is a purely individual account of what I saw during NARC Fest '13, concerning the acts I saw, the impressions I received and the confirmation that even in this age of corporate sponsorship and synergy, live music at a local level remains an anarchic and uncontrollable force.
For me, the festival starts at half six, as I emerge past Byker Metro into the kind of glorious British sunshine unmistakeably at odds with what one has come to expect from the British summer. As such, the whole of the Ouseburn is even more crowded that would normally be expected on either a) a Saturday evening or b) a gig. In fact, the only remotely quiet spot is in front of the trailer parked up by the Quayside for the Airsteam Sessions, where Agerskow is running through a brief unamplified set for recording. Given the hushed, intimate nature of her work, hearing without any amplification can be a bit of a struggle, and even for self-un-facilitating media nodes like myself (ha), the emphasis placed on recording the set for later over the enjoyment of those watching live - at an event designed to promote live music in the region no less - is surreal. Nevertheless, a concluding run through of her single This Train Terminates is a richly melodic treat for those who made the effort.
After this, it was time to head into the festival line-up proper, starting of at The Tyne Bar to take in the recently revived punk fun of The Second Prize. Leaping about the stage at seven in the evening, they're a suitable shot of adrenalin for the evening ahead, and it's all done with an emphasis on great big sweaty, angry, daft fun. It's not the music that made the gig so memorable though as the actions of one of the crowd members, as a portly middle-aged man takes the opportunity to strip bare (aside from his socks - makes you proud to British, doesn't it?) and start his own one man mosh-pit...while everyone else around burst out in shocked laughter as this large bellied, small dicked madman, henceforth known as Radgy McSmallnob proceeded to take over the gig. So much for 'family friendly festival' then. The band take it in their stride as a not-exactly-welcome addition to their set, with frontman Jack getting the world's most discomforting piggyback ride from him at the set's finale. Be warned reader: this was not to be the only appearance of Radgy McSmallnob either.
Escpaing from unwelcome public nudity, we take refuge in the Cycle Hub by the quayside (and yes, dear reader, this is just a bicycle shop they've taken over the night). Performance poetry organisation Apples & Snakes curated a welcoming, low-key line-up of spoken word and acoustic music here for the evening filled with some of the region's best poets, and we arrive in time to catch one of the final sets before settling down to the warm sounds of Nev Clay. Interrupting himself constantly to comment on the songs, the occasion and even break down his songwriting formula ("right, you've had the instrumental bit...the next two verses are quite fun, but the last one's the kicker, isn't it?"), it's impossible not to warm to his kind-hearted songwriting and generous manner. The Bard of Benton, he's done it again.
The Free Trade Inn. Drink booze here.
Scaling the steps to the rustic delights of The Free Trade Inn - unquestionably one of the finest of Newcastle's numerous boozing establishments, and the finest view in the city - your fearless, thirsty correspondant is forced to squeeze his way through the horder queueing at the bar to get himself a good spot for Our Imaginary Friends. As an indie fan who spends most of his time these days getting frustrated with the complacency and smugness of many indie bands and fans, I'm happy to report than Our Imaginary Friends's powerful and punchy songs more than make the grade. Having spent the time waiting for the completion of their debut album working on new material, they're evolving into an increasingly strident and confident live act. More recent tracks suggest a lean to a fuzzy, blown-out take on Britpop with moments like Graham Coxon at his most tired and emotional, while older material such as The Chaos is now sped up and delivered with a fresh urgency. The five-piece (completed tonight with Marc Bird, frontman of the rather fantastic Yellow Creatures, on bass duties) have still retained their talent for sweet melodies and arrangements, but live they're definetely hitting new form.
For the main event though, it's back to the Tyne Bar for their stage headliner, local doom juggernaut Khuunt (to be pronounced as you would expect), premiering new material with the assistance of new collaborator Richard Dawson. Taking their template of grinding bass riffs and shrieked vocals but expanding it and pushing it further into the avant-garde with alternate swarks of ferocious, trebly guitar noise, the relentless thirty-five minute free-metal monolith they unveil demonstrates Khuunt's remarkable potency and stands far away from Richard Dawson's own recent work). The loyal crowd is loving the chaos of this loud pummeling, only guess who's come back to join the fray again? Why, it's only the dance craze of the season that absolutely none of the kids want to ever have within a hundred miles of them, let alone join in with, the one and only Radgy McSmallnob! Again, in fairness, his deranged antics do lend an extra level of filth to the grimy proceedings, but it's still an unwelcome repeat, even if the Tyne staff do shout him into putting his jeans back on (although he does still wander around with his underwear on his head, mind). That aside though: it's an exceptional performance that left me ecstatic and dazed: just what you want mind?
Even with that ringing in my ears though, I brave the Free Trade once more to experience the soothing harmonies of The Cornshed Sisters. A mixture of the truly packed crowd gathered to soak in their performance (although the noise of the bar did still render them hard to hear) and the extreme musical whiplash experienced in jmping from Khuunt to this polar opposite did result in me taking my leave before the end of the set, but from the songs I stuck around from, let me assure you: their harmonies remain as pristine and delightful as ever, and Tell Tales highlight Dance At My Wedding remains utterly heart-melting - as well as the only use of a ukelele that Endless Window is prepared to allow.
While there were a few options left available, a combination of chasing friends, band fatigue and the need to catch the Metro left my night curtailed after this point. But in my experience of NARC Fest '13, what was proven is that despite the increasing hurdles in putting on such events and the continuing dumbing-down of the usual gig circuit, there's still space for exciting-despite-themselves occasions and wild, unexpected performances. All it takes are the acts worth hearing, the promotors willing to take a chance and for the world to turn its head and listen for a change.


  1. Nice write up. I only had time to catch a little bit of the festival but what I did see was excellent. I agree with what you say about the Airstream Sessions, though. They could have at least closed The Cycle Hub's front door!


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