Live Review: English Teacher / Sarah Johnsone – The Georgian Theatre, Stockton 31.01.2024

Francis Fitzgerald

By Francis Fitzgerald

The Stockton Calling festival in 2022 featured a new band by the name of English Teacher. Fast forward a couple of years to January 2024 and the band has had a single (Nearly Daffodils) listed in the top 10 of Time magazine, featured on BBC Later with Jools Holland and much more critical acclaim. The media and the band themselves are predicting that 2024 will be huge. With a major label album release (This Could be Texas) coming in March, and a slew of European festivals scheduled in the Summer, they are probably right. So it is heartening that English Teacher not only acknowledge the importance of grassroots music, but are playing an ambassadorial role throughout Independent Venue Week (IVW). Their return to Stockton to celebrate IVW was triumphant.

The Georgian theatre with a capacity of just a couple of hundred was completely sold out. The band announced themselves onto the stage and straight into ‘Nearly Daffodils’. What an opener. The song positively bounces along on the back of a gorgeous bass riff. Singer/ frontperson Lily Fontaine half speaks/half sings the clever lyrics. It’s an angular and spikey piece of music, which characterises much of their output. The band are multi-instrumentalists and took turns on each other’s kit throughout their show. The addition of a cellist was a nice touch, so not your usual indie guitar band.

There is a tradition of quirky and clever, sometimes surreal artsy rock/ pop writing that goes back to Talking Heads and maybe the Smiths. English Teacher’s lyrics are a match for those; the references are highly literate, but rooted in the working class Northern culture that the band grew up in. A fine example is ‘The World’s Biggest Paving Slab’; it was lapped up by the crowd. They finished with the new single ‘Albert Road’ that provided a slower, yet epic ending to an otherwise otherwise dancey set, that previewed a lot of material from the forthcoming album. At about 45 minutes, the set was over all too soon, but with quality like this no-one felt short changed.

It’s always worth giving credit where due to the support act, and the Stockton show was no exception. Sarah Johnsone mines a range of musical influences including some Latin vibes,  a bit of vintage 50s and 60s pop sounds, country, and much else, all chucked into a nice 21st century indie melting pot to craft a distinctive and tuneful repertoire of original songs. On stage, the songs were delivered with energy and passion by her accomplished band; and Sarah’s voice is lush. This was a hometown gig for the band and the set went down very well with the crowd. Nothing at all to complain about here.

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