Live Review: Last Train Home Festival – Darlington 02.09.2023

All words and pictures by Steve White – All Rights Reserved.

Now in it’s sixth year Darlington’s Last Train Home Festival has built a well deserved reputation for bringing some of the best new music across various genres, as well as comedy, to this part of the North East. Organised and promoted by Tracks Darlington, a music collective that produces events and activities throughout the year for the benefit of local musicians, organisations and audiences Last Train Home has in previous years seen bands such as Pigsx7, The Lovely Eggs, Pins, She Drew The Gun and The Howl And The Hum grace it’s stages. Bands that nowadays play to often huge crowds at some major festivals.

Last Train Home, as it’s name implies, is timed to finish so that people can catch the last train back to a significant number of places. Unfortunately this year there’s a train strike meaning that this reviewer needs to drive. Thankfully the strike didn’t seem to impact the numbers attending.

Spread across six stages in five venues, three within the majestic surrounds of the Darlington Hippodrome, another next door in the Hullabaloo Theatre and the furthest away, The Forum Music Studios, just a 4 minute walk Last Train Home is not a multi-venue festival where you end up traipsing all over town.

Punk, post-punk, rock, folk, pop – whatever your musical preferences there’ll be something you like here. And if not then there’s the Hilarity Bites Comedy Stage. There’s enough here to keep this ageing lover of post-punk/punk happy throughout the day.

Maeve and The Trains open proceedings in The Forum and deliver a glorious 30 minutes of punk influenced indie pop. This ‘leftist, riot grrrl’ North East three piece full of driving guitar sounds and catchy bass rhythms switch easily between slower numbers and full on raucous noise and they’re clearly having a lot of fun as they do so.

Next door on the Noisy Daughters Stage Emily Rowan is simply captivating as she plays a set of truly beautiful songs. Just her and an acoustic guitar the audience are completely spellbound. Songs that tug at your emotions. Songs for dreaming. Absolute respect from those watching there’s not a murmur during her songs, just whoops of appreciation between them. This is raw talent from someone who has a bright future. We get no song titles until she announces there’s just a couple left and someone shouts “introduce them”.  “Thanks Mum” Rowan replies.

Back in The Forum End Credits play a cracking set of psychedelic indie rock. Songs about modern Britain and it’s ongoing problems, toxic relationships and escapism from this Teesside four piece. Packed with energy their sound encompasses everything from 60’s funk to the Britpop rock of bands like Oasis and it’s well appreciated by the decent sized crowd to see them.

The Samphires, last minute replacements for Haunted Hair, walk on the Noisy Daughters Stage and there’s just two of us there to watch. Thankfully the place begins to fill and by the time the fuzzy guitar that introduces opener ‘Papercuts’ starts there’s a crowd worth playing to. Those here will have no regrets. Pared back indie rock with the occasional Pixies influenced grungy guitars on songs such as ‘Papercuts’. Songs such as ‘Coppers’ and ‘Potential’ really set the tone bringing back good memories of bands like The Sundays and The Cranberries. Gentle vocal harmonies delivering some serious lyrics over laid back guitar and bass lines.

4pm and I witness what, to me, is the first truly great band of the day. Tucked away upstairs in The Hippodrome is the NARC Magazine Stage. A room that, at the most, probably holds 80/100 people. It’s small, hot, sweaty and the perfect setting for Fiona Liquid and The Clique. Before they even begin Liquid is pacing the floor, so much pent-up nervous energy waiting to explode. Add in a band that, amongst others, contains two members of Mally – another North East band with an explosive live show – and you know this is going to be something special. And it is. Like Iggy, Fiona Liquid paces the stage ready to explode. Eyeballing the audience, Liquid not only has a superb voice but an incredible stage presence. And the songs. This is full on, in your face, frantic punk rock reminiscent of the Stooges,  first wave punk and the dance influence of people such as LCD Soundsystem. The guitars slice through you, the drums pummel you, the keys are subtle but add wonderfully to the mix. And all the while there’s this presence completely unable to stay still. Liquid is in the crowd, leaping around, preening in front of the mirrored wall. Songs full of anger, sadness and raw feelings. There’s no holding back as they spit venom addressing attitudes towards those that refuse to conform to outdated beliefs. There’s harshness here along with darkness but there’s also joy in the way you want to join in, leap around and make the absolute most of what you’re witnessing. Fiona Liquid and The Clique say it how it needs to be said and do so over a sonic assault with a visual spectacle that no one who appreciates music with a real attitude should ignore. Brilliant.

I drop in to the beautiful surrounds of the main Hippodrome Stage, a theatre whose interior seems to have stood still since it’s inception nearly 120 years ago, to watch just a couple of the laid back, chilled out, summery vibes tracks by Hartlepool’s Mt Misery.

Back on the NARC stage The Peevie Wonders are one of those rare bands that can mix perfectly that old school punky guitar sound, with modern day post punk and a sense of humour. “We’re not perfect musicians but we are fun”. Seriously good fun they are too with references to Morrisons, Irn Bru and social media influencers. Together they produce a huge noise with an infectious beat that hits the spot with a crowd who appreciate fast paced rock n roll noise with a good time. Excellent.

On the recommendation of friends it was back to main stage to see Courtney Dixon. Drawing on everyone from Blondie to Taylor Swift and Wet Leg  Dixon delivers upbeat, immediately engaging, perfect pop-rock that, if the music industry had any fairness to it, would be drawing massive crowds at those huge family friendly festivals that seem to dominate summer.

Pit Pony’s 2022 debut album World To Me was a standout of the year. They’ve since risen from support slots with the likes of LA Witch, through small venues to headlining, and selling out, the Cluny’s main room in Newcastle. No mean feat in such a short space of time. Pit Pony were one of three absolute must sees today and they didn’t disappoint. NARC Stage is packed out and the temperature continues to rise. Full of punk attitude, anger and pent-up frustrations Pit Pony hammer out songs that yell about the real world, the things we’ve been through and that many endure every day. ‘Tide Of Doubt’, ‘Black Tar’ are insanely rapid, dripping in fuzzed out guitars that cut through you, pounding drums and rumbling bass riffs. On top of it all Jackie Purver’s vocals are  full of anger and purpose. Delivered not by screeching but more with that sense of pure assertiveness that makes you sit up and listen. Songs such as ‘Cold’ slow things just a little but with no let-up in the power before exploding into a wall of noise. The noise of the guitars is a constant as are the bass riffs and thunderous drums but there’s a ton of subtle variations going on. ‘Osaka’ is raw, in your face garage rock n roll. ‘Supermarket’ ends their set and despite having heard it countless times either live or recorded it never fails to hook you in with it’s hypnotic, haunting rhythm that builds and builds to a crescendo of massive guitar sounds. Lyrics that speak volumes about relationships, emotions, fear and the confusions of life and a sound like no-one else. The only thing wrong with Pit Pony’s set was it’s 30 minute limit. With a second album part written Pit Pony really should be on everyone’s must see list.

BigFatBig are an absolute joy to watch. Rammed with youthful energy, full of joy and the determination to have a great time this isn’t some bubble gum pop band. BigFatBig throw out a perfect punk-pop noise that mix grungy guitar riffs, a little bit of surf rock with a pop sensibility that bring a modern day attitude to the sounds of bands like The Primitives and Sleeper. Their energy is infectious. Good time tunes that still drive home the difficulties of negotiating the ups and downs of day to day existence.

And so to LIFE, The Forum main stage headliners. ‘North East Coastal Town’, their third long player and a homage to their hometown of Hull, was another of 2022’s great albums and so much more than the recent explosion in popularity of post-punk music they’re often lumped in with. As with their previous two, NECT mixes up some incendiary punk rock with some genuinely touching softer numbers. As a live act tonight LIFE surpass even the brilliance of their recorded output. Frontman Mez Sanders-Green is all over the place, pacing the stage, full of twitchy dance moves, at one point in the crowd, alternatively staring out manically before his glance, in the flick of an eyelid, changes to convey a simple, almost confused “what the fuck’s going on here?”.  Songs such as ‘Poison’, ‘Big Moon Lake’, ‘Shipping Forecast’ and ‘Half Pint Fatherhood’ are full of frenzied guitar licks, explosive bass riffs, passion and emotion. Mez’s brother Mick plucks out incredible spikey guitar sounds whilst, like bassist Lydia, is seemingly unable to remain in one position for more than a micro-second. Given the chance it’s a certainty that drummer Stew would down sticks and leap around. In fact the whole band is just so full of energy, completely engulfed in the sounds they’re producing, it’s infectious. There’s an unspoken but perceptible sense of “Wow” from those watching a show that really is nothing short of brilliant, especially from those who have probably not seen LIFE play live before. But it’s not all a frenzied attack on the senses. ‘Incomplete’ is melodic, quirky pop, ‘Our Love Is Growing’ a beautiful, calm, thoughtful piece. They’re from Hull you know, a fact Sanders-Green reiterates at least half a dozen times during their one hour set. And if you’ve ever been to Hull and wandered around you’ll quickly realise that the city – it’s rough edges, isolation and resultant community spirit amongst those involved in music – oozes from the pores of what LIFE do. Tonight was their first UK show since January. You get the feeling they’ve missed it here. Closing with ‘Friends Without Names’ a five minute dreamy, psychedelic soundscape that builds to a rousing crescendo topped with the repetitive chant of “Friends without names, They’re all the same to me”. If I’d turned up in Darlington today to see just this band then the ticket price would still have been incredible value. LIFE were, to put it simply, superb.

As with any festival such as this things can change last minute. English Teacher – Noisy Daughters Stage headliners – pulled out meaning things got shuffled around and HotWax, my third ‘must see’, clashed with LIFE. A short, but mad dash, between venues allows me to catch the last 15 minutes of their set. HotWax – a glorious three pronged attack full of grungy punky rawness. ‘Rip It Out’ the perfect high octane end to a great day of live music.

Last Train Home Festival – brilliantly organised, great staff, reasonable bar prices, full of like-minded music lovers, some incredible bands packed into 5 venues over a distance of probably just 200 metres. And the cost for all this? An absolute steal at just £20. Seriously, what’s not to like?

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1 Comment

  1. Zachary Luke
    September 6, 2023

    Sounds like some amazing acts!

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