REVIEW: Little Comets headline O2 Academy’s 10th birthday gig

Little Comets headlining the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.
Little Comets headlining the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

It’s hard to believe it’s 10 years since a former bingo hall in Westgate Road, Newcastle, was transformed into the North East’s leading medium-sized music venue.

But that’s the very milestone which music fans young and old were invited to celebrate last night at a very special party.

Hyde & Beast performing at the O2 Academy in Newcastle at its 10th anniversary celebration gig. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Hyde & Beast performing at the O2 Academy in Newcastle at its 10th anniversary celebration gig. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

I remember the opening night on 14 October 2005, as Newcastle band Kubichek! had the honour of being the first band to grace the stage.

They were followed by two Sunderland bands, Field Music, and headliners The Futureheads, and it was a euphoric night celebrating local talent.

Sadly, two of them are no longer with us, as Kubichek! broke up in 2008, and The Futureheads are no longer a working band, with their members now pursuing other projects.

So it was over to the new breed, and one reason the Academy was a welcome addition to the region’s live music scene is that it’s a place up and coming acts can aspire to play, whether as a support band or headlining their own show.

Du Blonde in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle at the venue's 10th anniversary gig. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Du Blonde in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle at the venue's 10th anniversary gig. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

It’s a big step up from the pub circuit, and if we learnt one thing from this gig - 10 years, 10 bands, 10 quid - it’s that there’s still plenty of talent coming through.

Little Comets, featuring Jarrow brothers Rob and Michael Coles, were the headliners, and showed why their ‘kitchen-sink indie’ has gained them such a big following, not just in the North East but around the country.

They were afforded the luxury of an hour-long set, and it was peppered with songs from their third album, this year’s Hope Is Just A State Of Mind, which was their most successful yet, just missing the Top 30.

But it was the oldies which their fans wanted to hear and Joanna, One Night in October and Dancing Song were the highlights, though they surprisingly missed out another crowd favourite, Adultery.

Hazels opening the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Hazels opening the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Since the beginning, the venue has showcased new talent from the region, and the first two bands on the 10-strong bill (most of them new to me) were a good example of that.

Hazels, a five-piece from Durham, and Dalaro, another quintet, from Newcastle, were the winners of a competition for unsigned bands to play at the birthday celebration.

They played a fairly similar brand of indie-rock, and both went down well with the early arrivals, Hazels in the smaller Academy 2 room, and Dalaro on the main stage.

Tessera Skies are tipped by many as the next North East band who are most likely to break through, and their keyboard-driven indie-pop was certainly different to the rest of the line-up, where guitars ruled the roost.

Street Party in Soho at the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Street Party in Soho at the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Shields, an alt-pop band from Newcastle, are already making a name for themselves, and pulled the first big crowd of the night in the main room.

Their dancey indie-pop has won them lots of new fans at events like Hartlepool’s We Are Family festival and the Lindisfarne Festival in Northumberland.

The good news is they’re at The Sage Gateshead in on November 11, with their long-awaited album due for release in February.

Back upstairs, I caught only a couple of songs by young North Shields band Street Party in Soho, as the 380-capacity room was now full, and operating a one-in, one-out policy.

It was time to head back downstairs for the band I’d been looking forward to seeing most, Du Blonde.

Fronted by the singer formerly known as Beth Jeans Houghton, their debut album Welcome Back To Milk is one of my favourite records this year, and I couldn’t wait to hear it performed live.

Kosoti at the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Kosoti at the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

They didn’t disappoint, and songs like Black Flag sounded even better live, with Beth’s fabulous bluesy voice at the centre of it all.

Cabe Cub also filled the second room, and their atmospheric pop deserved better than a crowd seemingly full of people who wanted to talk all the way through their set. If you don’t want to listen, stay outside, or, better still, shut up and listen!

Sunderland’s Hyde & Beast is a band formed by two drummers, Neil Bassett of the much-missed Golden Virgins, and Dave Hyde of The Futureheads, who provided this gig’s link with the opening night.

Here, the core duo were fleshed out to an eight-piece by two extra guitars, bass and a three-piece brass section, and most of the crowd at least had the good manners to listen to their half-hour set.

Back upstairs one last time, where Newcastle-based Kosoti were headlining the little stage, and their folky-indie-rock was again well-received, as were all the bands on the bill.

It was left to Little Comets to close the show, and it was clear who most people had come along to see, as they pulled the biggest crowd of the night.

My main criticism of the event is the lack of female performers in the show, which featured, at a rough guess, about 50 musicians, but just one woman - Beth Jeans Houghton.

The other quibble would be the lack of variety among the acts, with only Tessera Skies offering something other than various shades of guitar-based indie rock or pop.

That aside, this was a great night for the Academy, and long may it continue bringing us the best touring acts and up and coming local ones.

Tessera Skies frontman Mark Broughton perhaps summed it up best when he said: “Thank you for 10 years of sticky floors and great music.”

I, for one, can’t wait for #20years20bands20quid.

Shields pulled a big crowd to the main stage at the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Shields pulled a big crowd to the main stage at the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Little Comets headlining the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Little Comets headlining the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Little Comets headlining the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Little Comets headlining the 10th anniversary gig at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.