tue 26/01/2021

PBS6: launch of Geordie supergroup | reviews, news & interviews

PBS6: launch of Geordie supergroup

PBS6: launch of Geordie supergroup

North-eastern inauguration of a mixed marriage of folk sounds

Common assumptions about the folk scene in Newcastle would conjure up images of regulars at busker’s night in the pubs around Ouseburn valley. Not so far from the truth, perhaps. But a new project started by Will Lang, who happens to be a tutor at Newcastle Universit, is revitalising the North-East’s traditional association with the genre. PBS6, a supergroup - if you will - of young, exuberant musicians from backgrounds varying from jazz to Irish accordion mastery, are launching their new tour at the Sage in Gateshead tomorrow. Building on the likes of The Unthanks’ modern take on Geordie folk, PBS6 twist any connections with smog, collieries and misery to create a “genre-ignoring” sound.

Originating out of Lang’s former folk band, The Park Bench Social Club, PBS6 is the product of funding from the Performing Rights Society and the Arts Council, as well as trips to Australia, where their four-track EP Pilot: Going Down was recorded. Research into folk’s ancestry was responsible for the choice of country.

“I was going over there to show that England and Australia share the same laws, traditions and music,” explains Lang. “They’re like two identical twins that have been brought up in different environments”. The link surfaces throughout their music, not least the twin tracks “21:00 GMT Southern Hemisphere” and “21:00 GMT Northern Hemisphere” in which the Glaswegian poet David Lister Cuthbertson’s "Australia Sunrise" is recited. The closeness of the links is in some cases uncanny. The tracks included sampled interviews, one of them with an elderly woman known as Auntie Pat Riley, who moved from Ashington outside Newcastle to Newcastle in New South Wales in the 1950s. After saving a small fortune to ship herself, her husband and son, the journey took five weeks and five days. “Her son was a toddler”, explains Will, “and people said he’d walked to Australia the amount of times he ran around deck.”

This gives some indication of the depth of the research behind the band’s music. Local folk star Shona Kipling alludes to her Irish background in her accordion playing. Manchester MC Crystallize reflects on today’s binge-drinking culture through the prism of history. “I found out about this gin law from James I, in 1604,” he explains. “It seems binge-drinking isn’t just a modern thing, but it’s been part of our heritage.” Not that they want their work, in the folk tradition, to be predominantly about looking backwards. VJs play an important part here. Again sticking with the local roots, the visual element of their work is in the hands of by Andrew Nixon whose work was first seen in Ouseburn valley’s Biscuit Factory.

The multiple components of the six-strong PBS6 makes rehearsals fairly interesting too. In the bowels of the ship-like Sage, they cram into a room heaving with wires, computers, bongos, accordions and i-Phones (necessary, apparently, for Crystallize to recite his rhymes). Newcastle producer Tom Wright is in charge. Also present is jazz singer Tessa Smith, Kipling and internationally renowned beatboxer Jason Singh, whilst Will plays guitar in the corner.

Despite never having all recorded or worked together at once – the largest number of them who have ever gathering in one place to record is just half the line-up - the result sounds totally organic. As the band repeatedly tell me, they’re not folk musicians or hip hop musicians, merely musicians doing what they do best via a chaotic kind of alchemy. The thing that unites them, the common link, is their skill as social narrators, heard to compelling effect in their version of the traditional “Byker Hill”, in which Crystallize brings his attention to bear on the communities of Newcastle’s most economically deprived area.

The reception so far has been good. Last summer at Sellindge Music Festival, crowds abandoned Idlewild’s set to watch PBS6. “We had five encores,” says Lang. “The festival organiser was trying to shut the tent because it became a health and safety issue”. And that was in Kent: a long way from the Geordie headland of the pubs of the banks of the Tyne.

PBS6 play at the Sage Gateshead tomorrow at 8pm. Tour details on the PBS6 website.

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Ah, I did a wee piece on this for the Evening Chron a few months back...sounds interesting!

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