Following its sabbatical last year, one of the North East's favourite festivals, Hardwick Live, made a welcome return for 2017 but with adult tickets costing £49 for the Saturday and £90 for the full weekend, did the organisers deliver value for money? It has to be said they did and then some, with a strong line up that, in the main, lived up to their reputations to keep the expectant audience entertained over the two days.
Situated in the picturesque 120 acre parklands of Hardwick Hall, a grand hotel near Sedgefield, Hardwick Live 2017 kicked off on a bright but cool Friday night. Comprising three stages, numerous assorted food and drink stalls, fairground rides as well as the hotel itself the site is relatively compact and easy to get around but, at the same time big enough to feel like a Festival rather than simply an open-air gig. Hardwick Live employed the frustrating drinks voucher system like most festivals these days but, in honesty and with a bit of nouse regarding location and timing, queuing could easily be kept down to a matter of minutes.
Although the music on the Friday was set across two stages and involved 6 acts, with more Fred Perry fans milling around than probably attended the 1936 men's Wimbledon final it was obvious that most, if not all, were there to experience the ultimate sing along band that is iconic ska outfit Madness.
After enjoying a hugely successful renaissance since reforming in the early 90's, 'The Nutty Boys' did not disappoint, rousing the crowd with a mix of instantly recognisable hits played seamlessly alongside new material due to their common blue beat foundations. These included "My Girl", "Our House" and "Baggy Trousers" but the highlight of the night was the bands rendition of "Night Boat To Cairo" when they were joined on stage by a number of kids randomly plucked from the audience who gamely skanked along to the set closing tune.
The Saturday brought with it warmer weather and a younger, more bohemian audience with pork pie hats replaced by flowers in the hair. The Bootleg Beatles played the Main Stage, marking the 50th anniversary of the release of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", the iconic album which helped reinvent the Beatles as innovative artists rather than just a floppy haired boy band from Liverpool (albeit one that had taken the world by storm).
A special mention for the RedFaces, an indie rock 4-piece straight out of Sheffield who lit up the Discovery Stage. Fresh faced and looking barely out of school, the band are musically gifted and play with a raw energy that will surely propel them on to big things - watch out for them!
A last-minute change in timings meant we disappointingly missed the first few songs from the hugely influential Buzzcocks on the Main Stage and we arrived with the band already mid flow with "What Do I Get?", a song so good even McDonalds couldn't tarnish it. Founding member and lead singer Pete Shelley can still belt out a tune and guitarist Steve Diggle provides the energy, dictating the sets fierce tempo with vigour. The crowd lapped up their crafted blend of pop and punk and the much covered "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" remains a genuine pinnacle of punk.
Although not musically to my taste, Soul II Soul's set included the hits "Back to Life" and "Get A Life" and laid back Jazzie B really engaged the crowd with his entertaining banter between tracks.
Next, we took a quick diversion back to the Discovery Stage to watch rising indie band The Sherlocks. Made up of the Crook and Davidson brothers, The Sherlocks debut album "Live For The Moment" was only released the day before the event and, on this evidence, it deserves to sell a lot of copies andreally had the audience bouncing.
With timing's still different than advertised we managed to catch a couple of songs by New York's finest three piece, the eclectic Fun Lovin' Criminals, the highlight being a rousing version of "The Fun Lovin' Criminal".
After reportedly being caught transporting some rather questionable goods through Italy recently, I wasn't sure Peter Doherty would even show up for his slot but, show up he certainly did. Any concerns that his decision to perform under the more mature sounding moniker of 'Peter' would be accompanied by a loss of edge were soon dispelled as The Libertines and Babyshambles front man in turn swaggered and staggered around the stage.
The erratic set eventually descended into chaos, over running and culminating with the organisers pulling the plug on lights and sound. This triggered a few drinks to be half-heartedly thrown from the audience and the undeniably talented but unpredictable performer upped the ante tenfold, angrily tossing back a guitar and then, somewhat less successfully, a microphone stand. Based on this evidence don't be expecting to see Peter representing Team GB at javelin any time soon.
Hardwick Live closed with Saturday's headliners Ocean Colour Scene, who opened their set with the "The Riverboat Song" and it's almost career defining opening riff. It's been more than 20 years since the band hit the big time with their second album "Moseley Shoals", and in that time they have built up a great back catalogue of anthems and they reminded the crowd of that with renditions of "You Got It Bad", "100 Mile High City" and "Profit In Peace".
Ocean Colour Scene may not be the biggest band to rise from the 90's Britpop scene (Blur and Oasis are probably still bickering about that) and these days are often labelled purveyors of Dadrock. In honesty, they probably are but why should a band that broke through in the 90's have to apologise for that? The Hardwick Live audience certainly didn't care and revelled in the 90 minutes of nostalgia they delivered.
In summary, Hardwick Live is irrefutable proof that the North East has what it takes to put on a fantastic musical festival. A stunning setting, mostly well organised, a diverse food choice and a party atmosphere. Throw a line up like Saturday's into the mix and you are on to a winner. Madness simply took it "One Step Beyond".
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