The Utopia Strong – The Cluny, Newcastle – 17th December 2019

I’m going to a gig tonight at the Cluny so rather than have to drive all the way home to just turn round and come straight back again I’m going to pop into the city centre to do the last few bits of Christmas shopping first! I actually managed to get parked in the first car park this time and from there walked into the centre. It was a nice evening with just a bit of a chill to the air. There were lots of people around but not enough to make it unpleasant!  I pretty much knew what I needed to get and had picked them up in no time at all – I had a look in HMV and Waterstones and had to remind myself not to spend money as there  was at least one CD I really wanted to get!

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I didn’t want to head back towards Ouseburn too early but it was gone 6 when I got back to the car. I drove down towards the Cluny wondering where I would park. I usually park outside the Brinkburn brewery kitchen but that road is all dug up at the moment and I didn’t fancy leaving it where I had parked when I went to but the ticket a week or so ago! So I turned up Lime Street on the off chance and was amazed to see there were several spaces quite near the venue so I went up to the top of Stepney Bank and turned around and went back and parked up! I grabbed the book I’m reading (Albion Dreaming by Andy Roberts), my glasses and my ticket and headed off to get something to eat!

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A facebook friend had posted about a pub near the Cluny ages ago and then he’d posted it again last week when he went again. It reminded me that I liked the sound of it so I did a bit of research on the internet. It turned out that the pub was in the place where I went to get the puncture in the hire car tyre fixed back when my X-trail was destroyed in the car park at work! I don’t know how long it has been open but after finding out that they also did Indian food I was keen to  give it a go! Even if that did mean that I would be in trouble for smelling like I’d “entered an onion bhaji eating competition” when I got home!

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I ordered my food and got a pint of Brown Ale (brewed on the premises) and sat down (on a table that had a reserved sign but the bar man said I’d be ok till 8pm) I started to read my book and sip  my pint as well as posting a picture on Instagram. The food arrived and I tucked in, I had just taken a mouthful of the pickle when I realised that there was a whole chilli hidden in it! At that point the barman came over and apologised that he thought the beer he’d served me wasn’t right (I hadn’t noticed) and took it away and brought me a fresh one!

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I ate my food which was delicious and sat reading and drinking my beer. At 8pm I saw a load of people coming through the door and figured they were the people the table was reserved for so I did what I had been thinking about doing for ages, went outside and sat next to the firepit! I finished off the chapter and the pint and then headed back to the car to put the book away before heading to the Cluny for the gig!

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I don’t think I’d ever seen the Cluny so empty as it was tonight, usually the bar is heaving but then all the other times I’ve been its been a weekend and there have been gigs on in both venues. Tonight there’s only Cluny 1 in operation so I hand over my ticket and go in. It did fill up by the time the main band came on which was something! I’d only been in the venue for a minute of so when I saw Steve Davis, former snooker star and tonight synth player for the Utopia Strong! I also saw Kavus from Gong wandering around but didn’t pluck up the courage to go and talk to them!

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In case you don’t know the Utopia Strong are Kavus Torabi from the current incarnation of Gong, Michael J York who has played with the like of Coil and Steve Davis, snooker legend and modular synth player! This will be the fifth time I’ve seen Kavus this year, twice with Gong and twice with the Steve Hillage Band were the other times! First up tonight is Dextro who I had been listening to on Bandcamp after I heard they were playing so I was looking forward to it! It turns out that it’s just one bloke who plays a variety of instruments setting up loops and what have you and then going over to the drums to play along. In some ways it reminded me of Colossal Squid who was at SoL last year and who I believe Dextro supported earlier in the year!

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There’s a series of projections behind him as he is playing but other than that there is barely any light on the stage. The projections run out a few seconds before the music stops and leave a huge VLC logo on the screen behind him! Very enjoyable though, apparently he recorded it and it will be available via Bandcamp early next year – can’t wait!

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After he finished there is a lot of scurrying about on stage as he tries to get his equipment off and the Utopia Strong are putting their’s on! No road crew with the band so Kavus is setting his equipment up and Steve Davis is pulling the table with his synths out from the wall so he can get behind it! The support band finished at 9:20 and the schedule says that they’re on at 9:30! in the end they’re about 5 minutes late but it was quick anyway!

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Kavus spends the evening going between his guitar which he plays normally or in a glissando style, the harmonium that is set up on a small table and a cymbal on a stand. Steve Davis sits and twiddles with his synth which, I notice, is adorned with a Gong sticker. On the far side from me Michael York switched back and forth between a synth and various wind instruments like a set of bagpipes. He also has a set of windchimes in the first number and a small electronic piano.

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The music is very laid back trippy ambient stuff which as far as I could see is mostly improvised with Kavus occasionally leaning over and telling Steve what to do! There was a great bit just before they finished when Kavus told Steve the next song would be in D

D? he replied what’s wrong with A!

Then after fiddling about with his equipment announced I don’t think it does D!

He must have found it though because he caught up with the other two!

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kavus so unanimated! With Gong and Hillage he has been very manic running round the stage and pulling guitar hero shapes! Tonight though he’s very much rooted to the spot! He does still pull some faces though!

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The band went off at the end of the show and the audience started to applaud and then it all sort of died away! There were three of four of us at the front who managed to get it going again and the band came back on for another track, which was in A again much to Steve annoyance – “I’ve just changed it to D” but at least he finally got his monitor working so he could actually hear himself!

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During the final number Kavus suddenly produced a microphone from somewhere and did the only vocals of the evening!

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After the gig I managed to get all three of them to sign my ticket stub! I told Kavus that I felt like I had been stalking him this year and when I got Mike to sign it he pointed out my t-shirt

“that’s a Current 93 t-shirt isn’t it”

“yes it is”

“I spotted it from the stage, you were down the front” he replied “did you know I’m a member of the band now?”
I had to confess that I didn’t but it didn’t surprise me! That makes me want to go and see them again even more now!

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A cracking night for the last gig of the year! I felt very blessed tonight, great beer and food in a perfect environment followed by great music in a fantastic venue. Ouseburn is a wonderful place and even after I got home there were clear skies with a fantastic moon and stars. Sigh – I love it here!

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