Young Fathers impress before a sell-out crowd at rescheduled Newcastle gig

With their latest album Cocoa Sugar cropping up on every end-of-year list worth its salt, a UK tour from Edinburgh’s Young Fathers ranked among the highlights of December’s live calendar.
Young Fathers.Young Fathers.
Young Fathers.

Indeed, fans in Glasgow, Leeds and London by all accounts enjoyed a pre-festive treat; yet those in Newcastle, Manchester and Bristol faced disappointment as the jaunt was cut short due to illness.

To their credit, the group wasted little time in rescheduling all three shows, and there were no grumblings to be heard as they arrived before a packed Boiler Shop.

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A view from the crowd of Young Fathers at the Boiler Shop in Newcastle.A view from the crowd of Young Fathers at the Boiler Shop in Newcastle.
A view from the crowd of Young Fathers at the Boiler Shop in Newcastle.

Some in tonight’s sold-out crowd may have anticipated a set from eclectic South African artist Petite Noir, but sadly the original opener was unable to make the rearranged date.

There was, however, an intriguing replacement in the shape of Callum Easter.

An apparently nondescript Scot sporting an accordion may seem an awkward choice to support one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary outfits – and it’s true that this up-and-comer proved a leftfield choice.

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A varied, idiosyncratic delight on record, tonight found the Edinburgh songwriter’s fiercely-DIY folk-pop stripped to its bare bones; his voice and instrument backed solely by a selection of programmed lo-fi beats.

In truth, both the sound and aesthetic felt ill-suited to such a large stage, yet he adjusted well after a shaky start, excelling in bursts thanks to numbers such as the jovial Feeling’s Gone.

For those lucky enough to have caught 2015’s appearances at the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival at The Sage and at Riverside, the fact Young Fathers suffered no such teething problems will have come as scant surprise.

An engrossing fusion of alternative hip-hop, experimental R&B and off-kilter pop, the group’s recorded output offers little indication of their striking on-stage energy, nor the chemistry between members Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and 'G' Hastings.

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At times, the trio’s vocal trade-offs are so seamless they give the illusion of spontaneity, while their power as performers belies a decidedly dour public image.

Much of this perception stems from the night back in 2014 when they received the Mercury Prize for their debut album Dead.

But while that record was represented, the bulk of tonight’s set was built around the two (frankly superior) LPs which have followed – 2015’s Black Men Are White Men Too and the aforementioned Cocoa Sugar.

Setting the tone early on, the electric one-two of Toy and Wow established a tempo and intensity which scarcely let up, while the eminently danceable Border Girl and a heavily adapted Lord proved climatic during the later stages.

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The best moments, though, came when they were at their most radical. Old Rock ‘n’ Roll, for instance, confronts issues of racial identity before an incendiary tribal beat; a sonic and lyrical standout matched only by the explosive Queen Is Dead, taken from their celebrated 2013 EP Tape Two.

The Boiler Shop isn’t always the easiest room in which to generate an atmosphere – not least on a cold Tuesday night when everyone inside is still wrapped up.

It probably wasn’t an ideal evening, venue or time of year for a Young Fathers gig, but with an all-killer-no-filler 75 minutes this effervescent, bohemian trio certainly made the best of it.