Every year I look forward to this gig. You probably know the drill by now but just in case you’re still uninitiated, it works like this; A core group or world class celtic and american folk musicians, led by Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain, make up the ‘house band’, whilst internationally renowned guests take turns in the spotlight, playing their own material but accompanied by the full band. In between slots, the guests remain on stage to either lounge on a sofa, or to supply backing vocals to other performers. It’s always a great show and the team spirit engendered by the group of musicians touring together is always evident and always contagious.
I’ve been to four Transatlantic Session gigs at Sage, Gateshead and usually one person stands out from the crowd. Previous years brought Darryl Scott to my attention whilst last year was truly exceptional one with Rhiannon Giddens somehow managing to outshine a stellar line up that included The Milk Carton Kids and Cara Dillon. This year there was no real stand-out, though the first half of the gig was to some extent owned by former The Civil Wars frontman John Paul White, whose brooding persona belied a surprisingly strong yet delicate and versatile vocal.
Peter Stringfellow look-a-like Jim Lauderdale impressed more with his songwriting (excellent) and name-dropping (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and The Grateful Dead all got mentions) than with his performance which was solid but unremarkable. Tift Merritt brought a soulful brand of country music and a delightful energy to proceedings, whilst Dirk Powell got all political on us (it was unavoidable) with a rousing song dedicated to refugees, a sentiment that seemed to go down well with the full Hall One crowd.
The absolute highlight of the first half was a rousing rendition of the much covered and Guy Clark penned ‘Desperados Waiting For A Train’, performed by the full ensemble, which brought us to the interval on a high.
After the break, from the line up of guests it was Eddi Reader who stole the show with a fantastically joyous ‘Hummingbird’ and a cover of the Willie Nelson song ‘Back To Earth’. But special mention has to go to the house band who this year featured Phil Cunningham, John Doyle, Danny Thompson, Michael McGoldrick, Russ Barenberg, Donald Shaw, James Mackintosh and, for me, the real star of the night, John McCusker, whose fiddle playing was sometimes achingly romantic and sometimes ecstatically exuberant.
If Transatlantic Sessions were a Champagne it would be Veuve Clicquot. 2017 may not have been a vintage year like 2016, but nonetheless it was never less than a very fine tipple.
Photographer – Russell Poad
I started NE:MM as a magazine back in August 2013 and took it online in March 2014. I have always had a passion for music, and a desire to help popularise music of the type I loved. That led me to promote as 'The Outsider' and 'Common People' until recently and who knows, the promoter bug may bite again soon. As I age I find my own tastes developing and so my enthusiasm now extends to classical, jazz/funk and metal, whereas it used to sit squarely in the pop/indie/folk box. I hope it's infectious and through the efforts of the many volunteer contributors to NE:MM I hope it helps you find new music that you can feel passionate about too.