I’d never seen so many people packed into The Polar Bear as I did for their New Year’s special Sesh. In contrast to the icy outdoors, we were warm and comfortable, enjoying the jolly folk music of three fantastic bands.
Hillbilly Troupe, unable to play the headline spot, took over for the warm up. Performing acoustically, they stood in front of the stage; a more intimate setting which enabled the crowd to huddle around, engaging with the band. Playing tunes from their album, with one Des O’Connor track which they’ve only played a few times before, we were all able to join in, singing and dancing. I was with friends from two corners of the country, visiting for New Year celebrations, and they knew the songs well enough to join in and become one with the crowd.
A firm favourite in the city, Hillbilly Troupe performed a fun and energetic set. Never ones to let anything stop them, when facing an issue with the bass guitar Mick McGarry simply stepped to the rescue by singing ‘Luckiest Sailor’ unaccompanied by the instruments. Sadly, being in the warm up spot meant that many people were still deep in conversation, and this was the first time I had experienced anything but silence during this track: usually, the full audience is captivated by Mick’s voice and his sorrowful tale.
The Quicksilver Kings were next to take on the stage and the now swollen crowd, stood right up to the front even between performances. Their sound is blues/folk with a pulsing rock beat. More mellow than Hillbilly Troupe, I recognised that they would have suited the warm up spot; the audience swaying in reaction, where we’d been tapping our feet and bouncing to Hillbilly Troupe.
Their energy increasing throughout their set, we were moving more and more, warming the room again, and preparing ourselves for the headliner.
With Danny Landau, it’s easy to assume you’re getting the one man and his guitar experience – not something you expect for the final slot of the night. But the stage was filled with characters, playing a range of instruments. With Landau as the focal, centre stage, it was easy to compare with similar great singers as Frank Turner, who performs with equal levels of enthusiasm when acoustically solo or supported by a full band.
We were dancing again, whether we knew the songs or now – I was pleased that I did recognise more than expected – and the room was a wave of energy. The sound was powerfully upbeat, easy to enjoy and move to.
They concluded at midnight, with a loud, crashing instrumental, after having been called for en core and playing popular song ‘45’. If anyone’s enthusiasm for the night was beginning to wane, if tiredness was taking hold, this was cast out. The cheerful DJ set which followed continued to keep the room filled with merry characters.
Folk music is the true nature of storytelling, and this was a wonderful way to conclude the year, for many of us acting as preparation for the exhilarating New Year’s Eve celebrations. All singers had voices which drew you in: Mick McGarry, the Godfather of Folk, a jovial heart-breaker; Keith Hagger’s charming tones; and Danny Landau’s enigmatic charisma. It was cold outside, but in The Polar Bear, it was warm and charming: a fire lit in everyone’s hearts.
Originally written for Browse Magazine.
Photo credit goes to my good friend Heather Irwin.