Natasha Haws

Review of Natasha Haws at Sunderland Minster, 12th May 2012

The North East’s vibrant and collegial local music scene has found a new star – Natasha Haws – who this time last year didn’t even have any of her own songs, is now suddenly one of the most sought after tickets in town. The launch party for her debut E.P. on Saturday at the Sunderland Minster sold out and the event itself was attended by a ‘who’s who’s’ of the North East’s music press, promoters and bands. Natasha is from South Shields and has risen out of the Sunderland music scene, which has seen a number of local artists gain national and international recognition, in recent years.

If you saw the Guardian on 1st May, you may have read the article by northern blogger Allen Glen praising the City Council and its ‘Music City Initiative’ for being central to the success of Sunderland’s musical progeny in recent times. The backlash to this piece, however, led by Field Music’s David Brewis the following day, criticised the article and instead pointed to the “creative risk-taking and community spirit” of Sunderland’s promoters and artists rather than any sort of “monolithic infrastructure” as being the real catalyst for grass roots emerging talent.

If you take a look at Natasha Haws story to date, the latter of these arguments certainly seems to resonate more. ‘Discovered’ at Sleepers busker’s night in Bolden by Kittle PR’s Emma Howe, Natasha suddenly found herself having to write a couple of songs in preparation for an appearance on Spark FM Radio. Following that, she was invited to play at the Split Transmission Festival in September last year, in front of BBC 6 Music’s Tom Robinson who subsequently raised her profile dramatically stating that she has “the potential to be enormous.”

But why? Natasha is just a 17 year old girl with a couple of catchy, melancholic tunes. The answer lies, however, in her truly down to earth and no nonsense attitude which makes her seem both endearing and uncompromising at the same time. Listening to her Spark FM interview a year ago, when she was relatively unknown, it becomes immediately clear why Natasha has had such an impact. Presenter Nathan Wood starts the interview by asking “Are you nervous” to which she replies (in her best Shield’s accent) “Nervous, me!? Naaahh!” Then, “Yes, Haws… remembered as the lass who sounded like a prostitute!” Natasha (or @HawBagHaws on Twitter!) has certainly won the hearts and minds of her fellow North Easterners and hopefully will work wonders on the rest of the UK, when she embarks on her tour next month taking in Leeds, Manchester and London before returning to play at The Willowman Festival on 23rd.

I was lucky to get tickets for the sold out show at The Sunderland Minster on Saturday night. Sunderland Minster, for those who don’t know, is the church in the middle of Sunderland. It has recently become a venue for local bands following the successful Chased By Wolves / Reckoner show in back in November.  Local heroes The Futureheads will also play there next weekend. Saturday was very much Natasha’s night though. Following some brilliant warm up sets by Arbeia and Reckoner, the lights were dimmed, candles were lit and the packed out church – every pew taken and a number of others standing in the aisles and at the back – waited in bated anticipation for Natasha to appear.

This was actually (and I’m embarrassed to say) my first Natasha Haws gig. When I met her briefly before the show, I couldn’t help thinking how this tiny girl could possibly make an impactful presence under the looming church architecture. From the very start of her 45 minute set, however, she completely captivated the crowd with jokes, anecdotes and a few teary thanksyous to those who had helped her achieve so much in such a short space of time.

It was just before her third song, when the typical ‘no nonsense’ Natasha really came into her own on the night. Framed by the massive stained glass window on the east wall, which depicts the Apostles’ Creed, Natasha coolly remarked “this next song is called Satan’s wife”, written especially for the occasion back in March. Before launching into the track, Natasha explained that the inspiration for the song came when someone tried to forcibly baptise her while walking home from the Metro one day. Again, in her best Shield’s accent she noted, “I wasn’t owwa happy like!” Laughter and clapping circulated around the echoey church and I realised then that this girl has balls as well as an enormous amount of talent.

There were more treats in store for the doting audience. Following a support slot for Willy Mason at Newcastle’s Hoults Yard on Friday, then a trip to Brighton to play the Great Escape Festival on Saturday morning, The Lake Poet’s hard working front man Martin Longstaff arrived back in Sunderland just in time to join Natasha onstage for ‘Happiness’, a song they recorded together for the E.P. with harmonicist Steven Calder. Later Natasha was also joined by Crooked Hands’ Tom Booth and Joe Collins from Lilliput for ‘Stranger’ a rockier song and perhaps a glimpse into how her style will ultimately evolve.

The night finally drew to a close around 10:30pm, the grateful and emotional Natasha dishing out gifts to ‘Team Haws’ including her proud producers David Burn and Morris Ford. She then finished on the mesmerising Stepping Stone – her most well known track to date – a totally silent and mainly teary audience, hanging on to every line. A brilliant night and certainly a brilliant future ahead for Natasha.