Last Friday night we sent Newcastle Live’s Dan Beazley off to the Stag & Hunter Hotel in Mayfield to check out Justin Ngariki & the Dastardly Bastards.
I’ve been a fan of Justin Ngariki since my mates used to sneak me into The Beaches to see his band, Extreme Blues. These underage trips ‘into town’ were a pilgrimage for me, a pilgrimage to see a master working his craft. I learnt so much from watching Justin; The way he made a vocal phrase his own, the way delivered a song with a passion that ebbed and flowed to create dynamic moments, but most of all, the way he conveyed his love for playing music to the audience.
For me, Justin Ngariki was, and remains the best unsigned talent in Newcastle.
I haven’t seen Justin in ‘band mode’ for a few years. Too many years to be honest. So it was that I found myself lucky enough to be in the front bar of the Stag & Hunter in Mayfield last Friday night watching Justin work his magic with the Dastardly Bastards. I was ready for another lesson, and my god did he deliver.
The conditions were perfect. A packed room of live music lovers, an in house PA lovingly installed and operated, Justin Ngariki, and a band made up of some of Newcastle’s most talented musicians. And what a show! I could go on for paragraphs about this show, but instead I’ve decided to break it down into three reasons why this is the best gig I’ve seen this year.
The three sets that Justin Ngariki & the Dastardly Bastards played that night were made up of covers and originals. Never having seen the band before, I was unable to tell the difference between the original numbers and songs I just hadn’t heard before. But it didn’t matter, every song was aurally painted with master strokes. The cover of LA Woman by the Doors was a real highlight for me, as was the band’s version of the Neil Diamond classic, Crunchy Granola Suite. Song after song of grooves, gutsy vocal lines and blistering guitar solos.
I don’t think I saw Marty Paget without a smile on his face that night. And why wouldn’t he be smiling? This bloke is playing drums in one of the best bands in town. Justin is no slouch behind the skins himself, so it must be a daunting task to play the stick man in one of his bands, but Marty delivered song after song… A smile never far from his face.
Locked into the grooves that Marty provided, Rob Banks’ bass playing was both solid and smooth. It can’t be easy providing the foundation to a band with three lead guitarists, but somehow Marty didn’t blink an eye as he kept everything together and chugging along. What a player!
I had a chat to Jason Bone before the gig, and gave him a few of our Newcastle Live guitar picks to use and share around. I think you’d be hard up to find an instrument that Jason couldn’t play, or at least make sound like he could. You could hear the passion he has for music in the tone coming out of his saxophone. He’s spot on with the harmony lines too and no wimp behind the axe. The addition of his sax lines just takes the whole sound of the band to a different place, and he’s a fun performer to watch on stage.
I’m a big fan of Robbie Long’s work both in the studio and as a player. My experiences of seeing Robbie live are (ashamedly) limited to the times I’ve seen him with Bob Corbett and Gleny Rea. But my god, give this man a distorted guitar and something different happens, something wild, something insane! And I loved it. His whole body moves in a different way, and the licks are blistering. Every time he stepped up to play another solo I was blown away. Rob’s playing was definitely the highlight of the night for me, and that’s saying something!
There’s not much I can write about Justin Ngariki without sounding like a teenage girl gushing over her high school crush. I’ma big fan. There’s just something so effortless about Justin’s playing. That’s not to say that it’s not delivered with energy and showmanship, he just remains humble about it. For me, I think Justin’s voice has gotten better with age. It’s powerful and commanding, yet remains soulful and full of tone. You could swim around it the sound he makes with his voice. He’s a master on the guitar too. He played with all the magic I enjoyed as a young bloke watching Extreme Blues, yet it was perhaps what he didn’t play that taught me the most that night. It’s like he’s got a sixth sense that tells him to stop just at the right moment. A true master craftsmen.
The Stag & Hunter are doing live music right. That was the general consensus from the punters who hadn’t been into the venue since it’s refurbishment. It’s a rarity to see a venue with a focus on how to present live music right, but these guys are doing it. They’ve spent money on a good PA and monitor system, they pay an engineer who cares about getting a great sound for the room, and they treat live music lovers with respect.
Overall I give the Justin Ngariki & the Dastardly Bastards gig at the Stag & Hunter hotel 9.5 Dastardly Bastards out of 10.