Festival Review: Stockton Calling 2019

This Easter weekend, over 2000 people descended on Stockton town centre for the 10th anniversary of Stockton Calling. The day festival was fully sold out for the eighth year on the bounce, and saw over 70 artists play across nine stages over ten hours. Here’s the breakdown of our day with the long awaited return of our “H” star rating, back for the festival season!

H2N Lives: HHHHH Unreal HHHH Excellent HHH Great HH Met Expectations H Poor

The day kicked off with Darlington based four-piece Neon Waves (HH) who on first listen, impressed. The indie-alt band were technically sound and have the making of a real class circuit artist. I felt that, probably due to a lack of experience, they currently haven’t defined their own sound. Aiming to replicate successes of Catfish, VANT and similar artists, every track wasn’t too far away, musically, from another bands music. I think this band can be better than that and really work on creating their own sound. Solid effort though and I look forward to seeing what they can do next.

It was hard being stuck inside dark pubs on a warm April bank holiday so we headed over to the free festival to catch a York based act Noggy (HHH) play a tremendous solo set to a packed courtyard at the Hope and Union bar. Largely filling his 25 minute slot with alternative covers, Noggy recently released his new single Weighed Down which he chose to not play unfortunately. He has a superb tone to his voice and was exactly what was required on a nice sunny day in Stockton!S

It was going to take something special to get me inside, and luckily up next on our list was Para Alta (HHHH) a band I had heard a lot about but was yet to actually listen to. The north-east band were back at home, now based in London, and they looked right at home on the Ku Bar main stage. Jonny, Sonny, Tommy and Luke were playing to a capacity crowd at Ku, with several bands from elsewhere coming down to watch their set. It was an electric set of songs that were about as close to Manchester’s 90s scene as I’ve heard in the last five years. Stone Roses esque in style but more futuristic and indie in substance, the four-piece nailed their set and will have left the festival with many more fans than when they arrived.

I obviously missed the memo during the week that Sophie and the Giants had unfortunately had to cancel their set. So arriving at Arc we were a little shocked when three lads popped out onto the stage. The Autopilot (HHHH) three-piece (as we soon came to know their name) made us stay though, and were one of the most exciting bands we saw all day. Latest release Invincible was the highlight and I’m hoping this band really kick on and do some damage on the circuit this year – masses of potential for this pop-rock outfit.

We don’t give away 5H ratings lightly, so the fact there were two at this year’s Stockton Calling shows the calibre of artists booked this year. The first was Retro Video Club (HHHHH) who, quite simply blew us away. The Scottish band were awesome when we saw them on tour with the Hunna earlier in the month and they’ve clearly learnt a lot from their time on the road as they had stepped their set up another level since then. With “Addicted” sat firmly in our Top 40 of 2019 so far, their balance of older tracks and latest releases was perfect and for a band so early in their career, they have confidence and delivery like you’d expect from a well established act. Top set, and it was going to take some beating!

Two to go on our list, and it was two artists we were so excited to see. This is the first time we managed to catch Zuzu (HHHH) at a festival having missed her a few times previously. One of our acts you couldn’t miss at this year’s Stockton Calling, she was playing to a packed Ku crowd and nailed it beyond belief. She has a swag, a confidence, that you don’t often see nowadays – likely from her Liverpool upbringing. She is a true scouser and you can tell she’s proud of it when on stage; every lick, every note is sang with a twang that makes every track so compelling to listen to. A city that hasn’t had much success in recent times on the music stage – Zuzu, could be and may already be the artist that puts Liverpool back on the musical map.

Choosing a headliner to watch at Stockton Calling for many was, I’m sure, one of the hardest decisions of the day. The Futureheads, British Sea Power and Reverend and The Makers were all attractive options, but we were never going to choose anybody except the incredible Bang Bang Romeo (HHHHH) who have become one of my personal favourite artists in the UK in the last 12 months. Playing to a small, but rowdy crowd of about 25, this was a set I’ll struggle to forget; the intimacy, the crowd interaction, it was superb, especially considering the band will be playing in stadiums in a couple of months! From Chemical, to Bag of Bones, BBR are going from strength to strength, and in such a small venue, the sheer quality of guitarist Ross Cameron who, for perhaps the first time ever, outshone Stars (I know! that good). A stunning set that will live long in the memory for all that were there, and the perfect close to a phenomenal debut Stockton Calling for H2N.

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