In a year when so much has gone wrong for so many there has been a beacon of hope shining like a Wilton fare stack from the Tees, the very wonderful Cattle and Cane. On Thursday night they chose to give out their Christmas presents early when they invited Teesside to a special festive party at The Empire. The grand old Victorian theatre has seen many illustrious performers over the years but the Hammill family (and friends) brought the “snow” and the house down on a night and an event that warmed the hearts and minds of an enraptured capacity crowd.
To sell out the 1100 capacity venue is no mean feat and testament to the popularity of a band that have inspired Teesside and now successfully taken their musical message out on a debut national headline tour. The home fires were burning for Cattle and Cane in the gorgeously tinsel-ated and fairy lit gilding of the old Empire. The band sparkled sumptuously themselves.
Cattle and Cane are now poised like the giant Christmas tree suspended from the ceiling of The Empire, poised to kick on nationally and internationally next year when their second album should propel them onwards and upwards. But first came the Christmas party and fellow T-T-Teessiders Cape Cub kicked things off in style and pop panache.
It is a polished sound, with exhilarating, high wire guitar, propelling the big, big choruses up beyond that Christmas tree to the gods. The marvellously christened Chas Male has a soaraway voice to cap it all off. The sound is maybe epitomised by the anthemic single All I Need and the moody, magnificent Keep Me In My Mind. The line from the latter “take me north bound back to home,” seemed to sum up the mood.
While Cattle and Cane were wired for sound up on stage, below on the totally rammed dance-floor there was a roar, flutter and flurry of anticipation and excitement. Helen Hammill was on lead vocals to start off. This is an exciting time to see a band in transition, between local and (inter)national, between first and second albums and perhaps edging from folk to more pop orientated. There was an even a different set up on stage with Fran Hammill taking over on keyboards, a new electric guitarist as well as an additional percussionist to beef out the sound and Helen to the fore on hands free vocals alongside Joe on acoustic and vocals.
The band wasted no time in serving up recent mouth watering single 7 Hours with its strident harmonies and smooth pop stylings. Joe’s awesomely crafted love song to the Cleveland Hills already sounds like it will be a highlight of next year’s second album.
Then came the first spine tingling moment as the band embarked on a gorgeous rendition of the timeless classic of White Christmas the snow came tumbling down from the heavens onto the audience. Wow.
We were all suitably festive now and no one at all held back from a massive Teesside singalong into Sold My Soul, an early standard by the band from what must be six or so years ago now. Pull Down The Moon received the same rapturous response. Fran reverted to (slide) guitar for another old favourite, The Poacher. For Come Home it felt like we were all family.
The next single Saviour was given its Teesside premier and it was very much a thumbs up from the crowd.
The audience demanded encores. What seasonal delights would they stand and deliver? Except for Fran of course still sitting on ceremony. It was a fantastically festive Feed The World with snow cascading down once again and Cape Cub up alongside them belting out the Bono high bits. More singalong, organised this time by Joe for the bouncy Fool For You. In fact the singalong continued well after the song was completed and so there was absolutely no getting away from Cattle and Cane returning again for yet another encore.
words Robert Nichols – photos Tracy Hyman