Jim Valentine at Surf Cafe, Tynemouth on 16th May 2015

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The surf cafe is a great little venue with real character and a heart that beats to music. If I had a gripe with it it would be that occasionally the gigs begin a little early and it’s sometimes hard to arrive in time for the first band (unless you’re based at the coast) and for me this was the case on Saturday when I missed the majority of Shinobi Fantobi’s set. It clearly wasn’t a problem shared by many however as the venue was absolutely rammed and the band’s final song was enthusiastically received. From the happy smiles on faces it seems that Shinobi Fantobi are an enjoyable listen/watch so I’ll make a point of catching them soon.

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A band I was not going to miss is The Middens who despite their young age are already impressing with a mature collection of songs and a musical accomplishment that belies their relative inexperience. At the risk of repeating myself they do remind me of The Jam circa ‘In The City’ and lead singer Aaron James has some of Weller’s mannerisms and a little of his star quality too. A couple of new things stood out for me tonight about The Middens: Paul Ellis on lead guitar is excellent and a big part of what make the band stand out. Also, the band could do with a slow song to break up their set – they have changes of pace but songs tend to be mid paced or fast – to return to The Jam comparison they could use an ‘English Rose’ or ‘Fly’. I always enjoy their performance though and their growing army of supporters absolutely love their version of ‘Red Red Robin’ it seems judging from the number who joined in with loud singing and raised arms.

Before I have my say on the headliners I should note that sound engineer working under the name Guerilla PA did another great job here. It’s a small venue and the tendency is often for sound to be too loud, losing clarity. Each time I’ve been to a gig here the sound has been excellent. I mention this because during the Jim valentine set there were some issues involving an amp, a burning smell, a broken guitar string, etc etc yet throughout it all the band and sound tech retained a professional approach and overcame the difficulties to deliver a great show.

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I use the word ‘show’ deliberately because Jim Valentine for me are a hugely entertaining band with good songs but they lack authenticity. They have definitely been listening to AM by Arctic Monkeys and their look is straight out of 50’s America with lead singer James McDonald sporting a slick backed hairstyle and only the drummer breaking the dress code of all black (a white t-shirt). There’s a huge amount of posing and it tends to detract a little from the quality of the songs which in the main is consistent. In an industry where image is often as, if not more important than end product it’s forgivable that a band might err a little too far in that direction but I can’t help feeling that there’s a better band and a more original sound hidden behind the mask if they could only find their own identity.

So another in a long line of great gigs at Surf Cafe. If you’ve not ventured down to the coast to take in a gig there yet do yourself a favour and get along soon.

Reviewer and Photographer: Russell Poad

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