When your eldest daughter (who is a Classics undergraduate) mentions something about being excited to be going to an amphitheatre and seeing Arbeia, your first thoughts are that she is planning to do some field work at the end of term in Roman South Shields.
I say first thoughts, because that word “excited” should really have given the game away. There was another explanation. Her friend Neil who she works with when home from Uni and his band; Wood & Wire were playing a gig in South Shields in an open performance space naturally called The Amphitheatre. They were sharing the bill with another band called Arbeia. Which is why I found myself on a windy seafront with camera in hand.
I wondered initially how much company I would have, but the place soon filled up, and being a free gig attracted a pretty mixed audience; kids with bikes and ice creams contrasting with those who’ve seen it all before; grey men in grey clothes mixing with those who were more overtly rock n roll.
Now this was never going to be top drawer concert photography. An open air gig in full daylight, with large windows behind the band that at times needed a full two stops of exposure adjustment, and no electric lighting. Consequently as the musicians moved backwards and forwards under the raised promenade that they were using for shelter in case of rain, so they moved from intermittent sunshine to flat shade. Thus the fading light of the day, and what to me seemed like a strange piece of programming, meant that for me it was a show of decreasing returns.
Arbeia are a talented bunch of passionate musicians, but as headlining act didn’t really grab my attention. For me there’s a difference between listening to a band’s music and then going to see them live. You want some degree of spectacle, and Arbeia’s appearance at the end, when the light had dulled and they had nothing to compensate with, meant that for me they dulled too.
Wood & Wire were the sandwich filler, and played an interesting set including the Beatles‘ Helter Skelter, a song seen by many as a precursor to Heavy Metal, and by Charles Manson as a coded prophecy of race war! An interesting contrast to their own song Protector of Man. I enjoyed their set, but their inexperience showed. Regular guitar changes from semi acoustic to SG copy, necessitated retuning after virtually every song, which meant that every time they built momentum, it was swiftly lost again. You can get away with this if you have a front man who can entertain the crowd while your guitarist makes these changes, but when that front man is the one concentrating on retuning someone else must take the mic; I know, I have played in a band that suffered in the same way. (Where are you now Primary Colours?!) Peter Gabriel‘s stories are loved by audiences, but they also serve a purpose to distract from more mundane activities.
What made this more noticeable was that Wood & Wire were preceded on stage by a guy who wasn’t even billed to appear. A solo singer songwriter with stage presence, immediately likeable songs, and who of course benefited from the early evening sunshine. Jonny Boyle should have been topping the bill. When you look at his history, it becomes obvious why. And visually he looked the part; Ray-Bans, black T-shirt, and a battered acoustic with pin-up decal that could tell some stories of its own no doubt.
Maybe I just appreciated an artist who was like me a little older than the kids.