Within minutes of arriving, the fourth year of Darlington’s Music Box festival reinforces pretty much every positive comment made about it on Social Media; it’s friendly, it’s easy to get around, and it’s hosted by incredibly helpful organisers. And it’s an immediate relief. Especially when comparing the event with other local urban festivals; often spread so far apart that you miss half of the band’s you’ve come to see. Someone giving you a map of the venues, and a timetable which is stuck to throughout the day, is both heart-warming and, sadly disappointing, when thinking about this year’s local inner city festivals and the standards they set.
Starting gently in Hash’s Roofbox Bar & Kitchen, the day is warmed up courtesy of gentle acoustica from Caitlin Morrow and her blend of soulful pop. Showcasing a set full of originals, Morrow’s set is made up of, to use her own phrase, ‘first person sad songs’ with Headache and Rainbow stealing a set with their folksy, plucked guitar, style and lovely melancholic deliveries. It’s an interesting tune-up for the downstairs Beatbox stage which moves us from gentle acoustica to full out grime with a showcase from local label Legitimate Anarchy. Metaphorically blowing the doors off, the Legitimate crew set the afternoon on fire with bangers from a combination of usual culprits including the hungover Endem and an out of retirement Rex Regis; though it’s debutant Spekz who may well steal the showcase with his confident debut and lyrics about mental health and search for a future in broken Britain. Turning up on mass, and providing a huge sense of community to each other, The Legitimate crew, who stay at the venue all day supporting themselves and other MC’s, provide a truly inspiring culture of support, DIY and attitude and would be worth the price of the ticket alone.
It being so hot, it’s time to sit outside and enjoy the Outbox stage which starts with soulful acoustic pop courtesy of Marty Allenby and his Neil Finn sounding wistfulness and is then followed by local female duo Komparrison with their gorgeous double harmony sounds and gentle cover of Radiohead’s creep. Jamie Farrell closes my time in the Outbox with a powerful finish and a sound which clearly sees the volume being turned up. Belting out his soulful vocals as if this was the last set he’d ever do, Farrell brings his part Rod Stewart, part James Morrison show to the fullest including covers of My hero and an incredibly soulful version of Saturday Nights alright for fighting. It’s a brilliant 30 minute set delivered with genuine passion.
Heading back to the Beatbox I arrive just in time for more of the local hip hop talent with an absolute storming set from Legitimate Anarchy stalwart E-Mence & his partner in crime Claymore. Driven, antagonistic, and delivered with exceptional precision, theirs is potentially the set of the day, with it’s encouragement for crowd-interaction and ending in a full-on bounce which also shows off more community love from the Legitimate gang as they join in, rap along, and welcoming those who are new. There’s something special about the Legitimate collective and their ways of doing things.
It’s fair play to next act, Freddy, and final act Rick Fury for following up E-Mence & Claymore, as well as to the MC’s themselves for sticking around, with both Freddy and Rick maintaining the positive energy of the venue and it’s quest to entertain: Freddy’s ‘Move in the shadows’ standing out as one of the tracks of the day.
A quick bop across town for Avalon’s Soapbox Stage headliners, Twist Helix, provides a fine end to an upbeat, diverse, day. Firing off electro pop bangers, and centred around a superb performance by frontwoman Bea Garcia, the Twisters prove that their current round of attention is well deserved, and their confidence is at an all-time high. They just keep getting better.
Well done to Music Box and it’s organisers for a great day and a great line-up. This may well be the friendliest, most inclusive, festival in the North East.