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gateshead international festival 2017

Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2017 review

Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2017

The Sage Gateshead opened its doors to thousands of music fans for the 13th Gateshead International Jazz Festival last weekend (Friday 31 March – Sunday 2 April).  Here at Nights Out In Newcastle we were lucky enough to be invited to sample some of the best, most innovative, challenging and exciting jazz from across the globe.  

Opening this year’s festival, award-winning singer and BBC Radio 2 presenter Clare Teal, and her 17 piece Hollywood Orchestra conducted by Guy Barker, celebrates timeless classics from the great American and British songbooks made famous by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Nancy Wilson, Peggy Lee and Lena Horne.  We sent Mandy Charlton to the opening night to see what it was all about, you can read her review here.

We had rather selfishly called dibs on the tickets to the headline event, the Double Bill of GoGo Penguin and Shobaleader One.  To be honest I had not heard of GoGo Penguin but was well aware of Shobaleader One.  Featuring Squarepusher on bass, Strobe Nazard on keys, Arg Nution on guitar, and Company Laser on drums, Shobaleader One play tunes from the Squarepusher catalogue featuring classics from albums like Hard Normal Daddy and Music Is Rotted One Note.  As a huge Squarepusher fan I was intrigued and excited to see what his latest project was all about as.  We headed down to the Sage to see some of the other acts and what the Gateshead International Jazz Festival was all about. 

The eclectic line up was alluring and slightly mystifying so I really did not know what to expect to be honest.   A self-confessed jazz novice I am more familiar with hits from cross-overs of other types of music, so I’m not a massive expert on the genre.  It has often been said that jazz more than any other music divides people’s opinions.  Most of my jazz experience has been in other cities such as Edinburgh where the music scene is pretty heathy and even mainstream at times.  My only experience of jazz in Newcastle would be the odd drunken night at the legendary Jazz Cafe on Pink Lane back in the day of the late Keith Crombie who blazed a unbendable uncompromising trail for the music he loved and lived for.  I can always remember being slightly terrified and in awe of him as I entered, a genuine character only Newcastle can create.  I would always think he would somehow sense I was a fraud like some kind of Jazz Jedi and refuse me entry but once in I always had an enjoyable, positively quirky and rememberable night.

Programme in hand we wandered around the venue taking in the event.  After sampling a little of the great atmosphere we made ourselves comfortable with a couple of beers and some delicious food from the cafe.  

jazz on the concourse line up

The BBC Radio 3 Jazz Line-Up Stage was set up in the Sage Gateshead main concourse.  They had a jam packed jazz line up from 2.00pm till midnight.  Featuring acts like Nikki Ilesm Stan Sulzmann, Guy Barker, Binker & Moses, Triptych and Alfredo Rodriguez.  We got there just as Alfredo Rodriguez finished and settled in on a table by the bar.  The event had a great laid back feel, it might sound cliché being a jazz event but it was the ideal atmosphere for an enjoyable Saturday of live music.  They had an array of stalls and activities on with things such as the Jazz. Coop with their Play Jazz! Workshop.  Perfect for those who want to play jazz but never dared?  Guided by experienced jazz musicians you will learn to improvise in an informal supportive environment.  There was a real mix of ages, styles and fashions on show in the crowd.  It was far from the stereotype of the beret wearing beatnik (though I did see more than you would on an average day in Paris!) with a blend of almost every look you could imagine.  Older more classical jazz lovers well dressed in Sunday best sat next to teenage bearded tattooed jazzophiles,  punks next to hipsters, die-hard Nu Jazz fans next to big band swing lovers.  Far from dividing jazz seemed to bring an eclectic mix of people together!  It was great to see, and it has to be said this is easily the best dressed audience I’ve ever seen for any gig!

Everyone was in full party mood and the great weather really helped with many a glass of wine being quaffed in the sun as the next band prepared to come on stage, Miles Mosley.  I have to say I was blown away by him and his band, a mix of funk, rock and jazz their love of playing together was clear for everyone to see.  Perfectly timed, seamless and uplifting this ensemble were the perfect act to get us in the mood for a packed evening of jazz.  The lyrics were poignant and powerful, they told a real story and it felt a very grand performance for the concourse stage.  The band had huge smiles on throughout as they belted out their individual solos with a real sense of euphoria, the natural and intimate setting meant it was great to watch them at work close up, the drummer Tony Austin delivering his with some style and considerable skill.

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Miles Mosley (upright bass and vocals)
Tony “two guns” Austin (drums)
Cameron Graves (piano/keys
Ryan Porter (trombone)
Dontae Winslow (trumpet)

I really enjoyed Miles and his bands performance.  I’d definitely recommend going to see them, they were on later that night at 10.45pm and I was a little jealous I was going to miss their main performance.  The audience gave then a much deserved standing ovation and definitely wanted more of this amazing band.

Miles Mosley has been praised as the “Jimi Hendrix of the upright bass” by the LA Times, and was recently named one of Vanity Fair’s Rising stars.  But such high praise had not gone to his head and they were humble and honest to their roots, after their set they sat on one of the booths and chatted and signed autographs for the fans, which was really great to see.  These super cool West Coast Get Down musicians fitted right in the North East as Tony joined in with the Geordies,  grabbing himself a pint at the bar before joining in on the festivities as the glorious sunshine blazed through the Sage Gateshead’s amazing curved glass windows.  

You can learn more about Miles at his website here, and listen to him on Souncloud below.  

As well as his new album “Uprising” Miles Mosley has also worked with film and television as a composer and accomplishments range from Sundance film indie projects to major motion picture trailers.  He is considered to be “one of the most talented composers” and “one to watch on the U.S. scene“.

Next up was a bit of a change of gear with Jazz Attack, the Sage Gateshead’s Young Musician Programme.  Set up for Aspiring Young Musicians aged 4 – 19, this was a chance for the kids to show us how it’s done!  At this point you could see the cameras coming out as proud mums and dads in the audience prepared nervously.  

While obviously no comparison to the previous act it was great to see and there may even been a few young “Miles Mosley” in the line up!  Kudos to the Sage for this as they really were quite good and it goes to show the Sage Gateshead are committed to music and development in the region.   To learn more about their Young Musicians Programme click here

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They played big band style jazz to the crowds as the sun sank down over the Tyne.  All in all they were very good and I was amazed by how professional and confident they all were, I certainly would not have been able to get up in front of such a large crowd and perform at that age!  A big shout out goes to the girl on piano as she really seemed to get into the moment and enjoy her solos and time in the limelight.  As they proud parents and bystanders alike cheered they took a bow as the next act the Stephen Wetherell Quartet came on.

This next act was a 4-piece jazz band infused with modern Hip-Hop influences.   I really enjoyed these guys performance, the drummer was really going for it and it was the perfect set up to our big double bill of jazz coming up in Sage One.  

stephen wetherell quartet

Stephen Wetherell – Bass 
Ciaran Jasper – Saxophone 
Tom Bearpark – Keys 
Daniel Butterworth – Drums

If you would like to learn more about the Stephen Wetherell Quartet check out their Facebook page here

We made our way up into our seats near the front of Sage One.  Not being familiar with GoGo Penguin I was not quite sure what to expect, the crowd again was a real mix of ages.  It was great to see parents with their kids, even whole families alongside die-hard jazz veterans who’d came alone, amongst pockets of electronic music aficionados in Squarepusher T-shirts and the odd scattered but standout colourfully attired ageing punks!  

GoGo Penguin are a Manchester trio who have been wowing audience with their acoustic electronica and their trademark mash-up of minimalist piano themes, deeply propulsive bass lines and electronica-inspired drums has seen them shortlisted for the Mercury Prize and fuelled their exhilarating live shows from Manchester to Montreal and Paris to London.

The set up for the band was a simple one, a beautiful Steinway Piano, a big Double Bass and a Drum Kit.  As the crowd settled in and got to their seats the lights dipped and GoGo Penguin came on stage, Pianist Chris Illingworth, Bassist Nick Blacka, and Drummer Rob Turner all took their places.  Nick took to the mic and introduced the band and said what a great pleasure it was to be back at the Sage and playing on the same billing as the legendary Squarepusher.

The set was a beautiful performance of their stunning latest album “Man Made Object“, kicking of with the anthemic “All Res“, with its mournful bowed bass.  It has to be said they had the crowd in the palm of their hands from the first note, taking us all with them with their simple but beautiful composition, incredibly infectious minimalist piano melodies, skittering break-beats and incredibly precise but effortless timing all synchronised as if connected by some unseen force.  GoGo Penguin has created a brave new sound that is wholly their own and I love it!  

Their second song “Unspeakable Word” was the perfect tune to get the audience twitching in their seats with its powerfully infectious piano and drums keeping up the rhythmic interest all the way through while the freestyle bass meandered purposely to its dramatic and climatic conclusion.

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Many of the songs on this album started out as electronic compositions, made on sequencing software and then the band find ways of replicating it acoustically.  I watched like the rest of the audience in silent transfixion and awe as the Drummer Rob Turner laid played with agility, control and consummate ease with even the most difficult techniques, I can safely say I’ve never seen anything like this before in 25 years of going to gigs.  It made me instantly want to dust off the drum kit and try to play again!  He did not need a huge kit as he played every inch of it with a precision and timing only reserved for robots and hummingbirds.  It is easy to see why he was voted in the 7 best jazz drummers in the world right now!

I found myself glancing from one band member to the next wondering what was possibly coming next, completely transfixed by their performance, they just keep upping the bar each time as each came in for their solos with faultless precision, ramping up the rhythm and tension with epic rock infused instrumentals and frenetic drum breaks,  as they built to each songs finales.  You really had to remind yourself at times there were just three of them as it felt like you were listening to an orchestra in these moments.  Each solo and finale was greeted by a huge applause, they really had the crowd pumped and it was almost as infectious to watch peoples reactions as they jazzed out, twitching and vibing to the beat in their seats or stomping and stamping manically in the aisles. 

As the audience marvelled at their performance I noticed Miles Mosley’s drummer Tony Austin had snook in to see what GoGo Penguin were all about.  He sat and took in a couple of their songs with the pumped up audience before his main set later on that night.  This was one of the great features of the Gateshead International Jazz Festival, the feeling of comradery, and shared love of the music, with artists just wandering around between sets and checking out what others were up to.

GoGo Penguin really blew me away, their unique style with piano, double bass and drums all equally capable of providing rhythm and bass, tearing up the classic formulas with a real sense of purpose but ultimately seamless ease.  The standard and professionalism in their craft was noticeably impressive, more the kind of performance you’d expect from a well renown orchestra.  This combined with their amazingly catchy compositions meant the audience were left rendered speechless for much of the gig, totally in awe of what they were seeing and hearing.  They really have defined a new style of jazz, it transcends audiences and strangely would be equally at home in a dance tent at a summer festival or a major Hollywood movie soundtrack.   The Sage One auditorium was the perfect venue for this gig with the outstanding world-class acoustics adding to the perfect performance from GoGo Penguin through the set.

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Their grand finale rightfully brought the house down and they received a whole hearted and much earned standing ovation.  I may have came not knowing there music but was well and truly a fan by the end of their epic set.  Safe to say I have since downloaded all their albums and will be closely watching out for their next visit to the north east.

You can learn more about GoGo Penguin at their website here.

With GoGo Penguin finished the audience filed out and made its way to the bars before the main event, Shobaleader One.  We grabbed a couple of drinks and headed back to our seat to see what was in store for us next.   The crowd was filed with a lot of the same people but there was a more noticeable dance element as people squeezed their way down to the front standing region.  The set up was about as far from the simple stripped back piano, bass and drums of GoGo Penguin, with an array of lighting rigs, synthesizers and screens that would look more in place in a mad scientists laboratory.  The lights dimmed and the crowd fell silence in anticipation.

Shobaleader One emerged, donned in black cloaks with LED masks each with its own symbol on to identify the members.  For other worldly looking beings the entrance was actually quite low key, no spaceships descending from the rafters or flashing lights like close encounters of the third kind.  They each took their place with quiet calmness and stood in silence as the lights changed.  

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They kicked it off with a barrage of lights, slap bass and drums as they began their album Elektrac.  The people at the front of the auditorium in the standing part looked both elated and disorientated by the sheer ferocity of the phat beats and lights as the powerful drumming resonated around the whole venue.  I have to be honest and say a few people in the audience looked genuinely shocked as if they had turned up to a Lorde gig only to find out it was actually Lordi.  This for me really sums up jazz, as it constantly challenges the boundaries of what people expect and tears up the rule book.   It has been said “you’re not so much enjoying Elektrac as being subjected to it“and Shobaleader One’s endearingly eccentric moments may not be to everyone’s tastes but I thoroughly enjoyed the first few songs as an intro of what was to come!

The band and the crowd really got into it when they played “Squarepusher Theme” and the venue came to life, bounding to the addictively catchy beat.  The perfectly timed and choreographed flashes of light illuminating the crowd, it was fun to watch everyone’s expressions with a strange combination of ecstatically elated fans and others looking like they were undergoing clockwork orange style aversion therapy.


Squarepusher – Bass

Strobe Nazard – Keys

Arg Nution – Guitar

Company Laser – Drums


Some of their tracks were true assaults on the senses with the combination of mind-blowing lights, effects and the cacophony of sound reverberating around the hall.  

Towards the end of the show the band showcased moments of raw hardcore punk and heavy metal style drum solos.  The schizophrenic barrage of drumming, was amazing to watch if perhaps not to every jazz fans taste.  Again the standard of drumming really blew me away, the speed of play combined with the ferocity and length of some of the solos was a truly out of this world effort.  

As the gig came to a close the band collected themselves (it must be incredibly hot to play in those outfits!) and the lashing lights changed on their LED visors to twinkling multicolours starburst effects as they began “Journey to Reedham“.  This was an instant crowd-pleaser with its super catchy Tetris like feel, the front standing area was jumping and it really made me wish I was down at the front.   Afterwards the crowd bayed for an encore as the band headed off.


For more information on Shobaleader One click here.

We headed out of the Sage Gateshead and off into Newcastle to get a drink and process what we had seen and heard, I really have to say I cannot recommend the Gateshead International Jazz Festival enough, I really was not sure what to expect but was blown away by the eclectic, eccentric and entertaining line-up and will definitely be looking forward to seeing how they can possibly top this next year!

For more information about the Sage Gateshead click here.







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