Record Overplayed
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Ali Whitton and Four Day Hombre | Stone Cross Fields / Northallerton Festival | 07/07/07

Festival '07

Gig Review by Dawn / Photos by Rich

While many eyes were on Wembley and its Live Earth shenanigans, five hours further up the country the young people of North Yorkshire were being treated to a full day's entertainment thanks to the organisers of Festival '07.

For one day a year, Stone Cross Fields in Northallerton is filled with a vast array of tents, stages and stalls containing everything from acoustic acts to spit roasts, graffiti art to films.

Record Overplayed decided to brave the unreliable British weather and come along to watch our old friends Ali Whitton and Four Day Hombre on the main stage although, as you'll see from our photos, we did also venture a little further afield to see what else was going on beforehand.

The main stage attracts a healthy crowd all day and its giant video backdrop proves a worthwhile investment; when not giving members of the audience their moment or two of fame, it displays a series of recorded video clips interspersed with live footage of the onstage action from different angles. This makes for some interesting viewing and some excellent photographs - although quite how the bands feel about having a belly dancer thrusting along to slices of their set is another matter!

The last time we saw Ali Whitton, he was charming the crowd in the Leeds Cockpit with a solo slot; today, however, he has the company of the five musicians who, collectively, comprise his band The BrokeRecordPlayers. And while an Ali solo show is impressive enough, there's certainly something extra special about his songs when performed with the added accompaniment of drums, keyboard, viola, electric and lap guitars - as demonstrated here by the wonderfully folk-tinged Empty Threats and Recurring Themes.

There follows a deeply haunting performance of Waiting For Morning to Come, complete with beautiful guitar interlude, before The Boy Who Lived and Died in Vain is introduced only with the words "This is a love song". It's unlikely anyone is fooled for long, though, as Ali is soon singing possibly his most vicious song yet in a manner which is fantastically apt given the lyrics about spitting out words. And it's not only the words which are affecting; the instrumental parts are also so emotive and so frighteningly stirring that to contemplate wondering how the subject of the song managed to upset its writer is a truly terrifying prospect.

Even after several listens, Ali's brutal lyrics continue to dazzle, and ending with The Storm ensures that lines such as "every story has a twist and it's the twist we do applaud" will continue to resonate in your head long after he has left the stage - not least because he now shouts and screams the appropriate lyrics to convey his emotion above the cacophony of his band.

But not for Ali the insincere, tortured wails of manufactured chart bands; the contrast when he sings the lines "like a child pressing bruises on his knee - isn't every bruise a memory?" with his eyes closed shows exactly how intensely he feels those words.

The only bad point is that the set seems over and done with in far too short a time - but then with performances as dramatic as this, the end always comes too soon. No matter; Ali and his band have still given a performance and a half - and one which obviously entertained the two older fans who were on the barrier throughout, clutching a “Rock On Ali” banner made earlier in one of the festival's craft tents.

After Ali's set we took a trip to one of the many food and drink stalls to sample their delights (the hot chocolate comes highly recommended for next year) and to put our feet up for a short while, since we’re rather getting on in years compared to most of the people here...

Then it was back to the main stage for Four Day Hombre. Like Ali, the boys also played here last year and, as such, have quite a following – by the look of things, the Ali fans weren’t the only one who’d spent the afternoon creating banners in the craft marquee!

Opening with the rousing guitars and harmonies of Don’t Go Gently was an inspired idea and Simon’s breathy Chris Martin-esque vocals are a neat contrast to the song’s atmospheric instrumentation and crescendo climax.

“The sun is shining!” Simon announces afterwards before launching into Daylight Came, the only non-album track played today. It’s is an especially up-tempo number which begins with some eerie electronic noises courtesy of Ed – when he’s not otherwise engaged making charmingly mad faces for the aforementioned video backdrop! Ash gets a chance to shine with the song’s solid rhythm as Ed provides the organ accompaniment to Rich’s guitar.

Simon takes to the piano for an enchanting 13th of the Month before acknowledging the various band member-related banners held up in the crowd and amusing their owners with his fairly accurate statement that "Rich has got a bedsheet and Ed's got a sheet of A4".

The First Word Is The Hardest has its usual intriguing and escalating build-up before Rich takes all the plaudits for his brilliant guitar work and a dazzling performance of 1000 Bulbs is a reminder that it still remains one of the band’s finest songs to date.

Finally, Single Room makes for the perfect ending to a powerful set and leaves Four Day Hombre's songs fighting Ali Whitton's to the death for a place in everyone's head for the remainder of the evening.

Live Earth may have had the big name acts, but those of us living up North are lucky enough to have just witnessed not only a fabulous festival but some equally fabulous bands. Best of all, many of them come from just around the corner. Another big reminder that it's only a Southern myth that it's grim up North.

With thanks to Ali, Jason and Matt Burrows.

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