Festival Review: Hit The North 2019

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Festival season is well and truly upon us, beginning in the inner cities across the country, with the party moving further north from Live At Leeds to Hit The North. The festival took over Newcastle upon Tyne for another year and again bringing a bolstered line up of excellent musicians from an assortment of genres. 

Spread across the northern city, the all-day festival has become prominent over the last few years and each time it has grown in both audience popularity and in the quality of artists, and I was in for quite the experience across the next 9 or so hours. 

The day began early at Think Tank? with the cobwebs well and truly blown away by the energy of Pip Blom. The Dutch indie group managed to amass quite the crowd despite being one of the first acts, and they were rewarded with a high octane stage presence and catchy tunes the likes of ‘I Think I’m In Love’ giving us the best start to the day. 

My first trip down by the River Tyne was to witness one of North East’s biggest prospects as PLAZA took to the Riverside stage. Despite being one of the earlier slots, quite a crowd ascended on the Riverside, many among them making the short pilgrimage from Hartlepool to support the four-piece. 

Will Hamilton’s humorous domineer certainly had fans chuckling, but when the time came to be serious they hammered down with heavy guitar-driven sounds. The highlight was PLAZA’s latest single ‘Hold’ with Bradley Lennard giving it his all in terms of his vocals to shake the rafters of the old venue. 

The reason behind Hit The North is to showcase the brightest musical acts to the masses, which was taking place across Newcastle on Sunday and Hawke were one of those acts showcasing their talent to the masses. 

The Forth was the location for their stripped back acoustic set, and despite travelling from their native Dublin that morning it certainly didn’t dampen the atmosphere as a large crowd amassed into the small corner of the city centre pub. 

After some original music, the duo of Eoghan Mac Mahon and Richard Power dived right into a medley of ‘Let it Be’ and ‘Don’t Look Back At Anger’ which had every punter in The Forth mouthing the words in some way. 

Funk was at the forefront as I entered the Boiler Shop for Sophie and the Giants, a group that is being highly lauded having recently returned to these shores having played the coveted SXSW Festival. 

It wasn’t hard to see why, as songs like ‘Wild Child’, ‘Space Girl’ and ‘Monster’ had toes tapping all over place as they freshen my palette with sounds similar to that of Fickle Friends and new Florence and the Machine. 

Next was Sports Team, lauded by the likes of The Guardian as being at the forefront of the ‘indie revival’ descended on Riverside to deliver an electric half hour set. 

On appearance, this six-piece shouldn’t be a fit with each individual offering their own personality, but strangely it is the thing that makes this band work, combining to bring a performance that had you short of breath from the off. 

The energy comes from frontman Alex Rice, who takes no time to even stand still, flying across the stage as Sports Team rattled through their set including personal favourite ‘M5’. Just when you thought it couldn’t be taken to another level, Rice takes it there as he climbs the amp to the side of the stage to play out ‘Kutcher’ much to the large crowd’s delight. 

It was then time to travel back to Think Tank? to see The Dunts, one of a handful of Scottish bands that arrived in Newcastle for the city-wide festival. They came to Tyneside with high praise for their politically charged anthems, brilliant interchanging lead vocals, and a lively stage presence which gave a certain energy to a bumper crowd inside the 250 capacity venue. 

The Dunts personally reminded me of the fellow hot prospect Fontaines D.C., rattling off hits including ‘Dimitri’ and ‘Witch Hunt’. The four-piece took it up another level as their set came to an end, bypassing minor technical difficulties to round out with standout hit ‘Birds and the Beez’ and  Rab Smith even getting amongst the punters on one occasion, much to their approval as mosh pits began to pop up around Think Tank? 

The underground bunker at Head of Steam was filled to rafters for Teesside’s very own Dylan Cartlidge, who has been wowing more and more individuals since his appearance on the documentary ‘The Mighty Redcar’ last year. 

It’s not hard to recognise Dylan Cartlidge as an artist, with his distinctive afro making him stand out in a sea of faces. Once Cartlidge’s signature sunglasses were on his face, you know it was time to begin and from the off, we were delighted with tracks that are clearly influenced by a number of genres but difficult to tie down to a specific one. A true breath of fresh air. 

My first trip to Hit The North’s headline venue, the O2 Academy was for the return of a band from last year’s bill, with The Academic making a triumphant return to Newcastle in front of one of largest crowds at the whole event. 

The quartet powered through all of their fan favourites in a blitzing set, with the likes of ‘Mixtape 2003’, ‘Bear Claws’, and ‘Feel it Too’ appeasing the bumper audience. ‘Different’ closed out the excellent set too much crowd approval, and with the confirmation of new music on the way, it’s a delight to say we will be seeing more of The Academic. 

Next on stage was one of the UK’s biggest acts and despite being at Live At Leeds the night before, Tom Grennan was more than energised to entertain the amassing Geordies. The soloist started slow, playing ‘Sweet Hallelujah’ on acoustic guitar before bringing on the rest of his band to really get the party started. 

The hits came thick and fast, with ‘Royal Highness’ and ‘Barbed Wire’ in quick succession much to the delight of the crowd. 

 One of the darlings of the indie scene and another Hit The North alumni were chosen as the headliners for the Boiler Shop, and it was a welcome return to a live setting for Blaenavon. The four-piece have been away for some time, but were welcomed warmly as they opened their set with the latest single ‘Catatonic Skinbag’. 

The mutual rapport between the band and fans was clear to see, with fan favourites such as ‘Pray’ and ‘Orthodox Man’ ensured fans were flying all over the place. Blaenavon hinted towards their future with new single ‘Fucking Up My Friends’, but more importantly, it was excellent to see the Ben Gregory healthy and happy to be back on the stage. 

And just like that, an excellent day of live music was nearing its end, but there was still time for more one act, that being the headliner Jake Bugg

Bugg has been ever popular since his self-titled debut in 2012, taking to the 02 Academy stage with four albums under his belt. It was electric from the start with ‘Two Fingers’ being a personal highlight before slowing the set right on down for an acoustic segment. 

The tempo was ramped right back up as Bugg closed out the festival, with the breakout single ‘Lightning Bolt’ proving the perfect anthem to end Hit The North festival for another year.

Words by Danial Kennedy
Photography by Lauren Stewart