VIRTUAL GIG REVIEW: Zero Tolerance + Hot Rockets + Smeekered, The Doll at The Black Bull, Gateshead, Saturday 8 August 2020

Five months to the day after I last saw bands playing live, I was able to make a tentative return to gig-going. Except it’s not like it used to be.

For a start, as the UK slowly emerges from the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re not able to enjoy gigs as we know them at grassroots level, with the band and audience in each others’ faces.

Continuing restrictions on gatherings mean that only people inside their own ‘bubbles’ are allowed to be in the room with a band when they play (with appropriate socially distancing, of course). But that doesn’t stop music lovers like Shev, mine host at Gateshead’s very own ‘punk pub’, The Doll at The Black Bull, from thinking out of the box.

Shev, mine host of The Doll at The Black Bull in Gateshead.

He’s lucky enough to have a separate gig room and bar, so, using the wonders of modern technology, the band can play in one room, while the crowd watch a live stream in the other.

There’s no entry to the gig room unless you’re in or a very close associate of one of the bands; doorman Tin Tin makes sure of that, as well as taking the temperature of everyone who comes in, and collecting names and contact numbers from everyone, just in case.

Doorman Tin Tin takes the temperature of a customer.

The Black Bull has been redecorated during lockdown by Shev and wife Maz, and it’s spotlessly clean, with plenty of hand sanitisers available, no standing at the bar, and socially-distanced tables arranged so everyone can watch the feed from next door on one of the TVs. There’s even a speaker in the room to amplify the sound, and make tonight as close to a genuine gig experience as possible.

There are first-night hiccups, of course. A delay of a few seconds on the live stream – which is also being beamed out to Facebook and YouTube – means that, confusingly, during the set by openers Smeekered, the singer is still introducing songs on the stream while you can hear the music starting from next door.

The five-piece have come all the way from Cumnock in Ayrshire for their first appearance at the Bull, and they’re happy enough with the way the show – their first since 29 February – goes. I didn’t know any of the songs, but their tough-sounding streetpunk sounds good enough for me to invest in a T-shirt and a copy of their debut album Sportland, which is out now (and available on Bandcamp here).

Next up are Hot Rockets, who have travelled from Whitby in North Yorkshire. Fittingly, their last gig before lockdown was here with Zero Tolerance, so it’s apt that they’re one of the guinea pigs for this new venture.

The tech guy is getting the hang of this live streaming lark now, and the delay is barely noticeable as the three-piece smash through some established songs like Breakdown and See You Fall, as well as some newer numbers that I didn’t recognise.

I’ve seen them a few times, they’re a cracking live band. and the good news is that they’re about to go into the studio to record their first full-length album. In the meantime, their six-track EP We Have Ignition is well worth checking out.

Onto the headliners then. It’s a band who haven’t had to travel quite as far. Zero Tolerance are from County Durham, and before the world went to shit they were preparing to make their Rebellion Festival debut, which would have introduced many more people to their gritty political punk.

Fittingly, they were one of the bands on the bills at the last gig I saw, with Gimp Fist and LoGoZ at Think Tank? in Newcastle (reviewed here), back on 8 March, just before Covid-19 changed our way of life, probably forever.

They’ve played just one gig since then, a drive-in open air show in a Newton Aycliffe car park a couple of weeks ago, and are clearly happy to be back on familiar ground. They plough through a set containing familiar tunes like Watching The TV and as-yet-unreleased ones like Fuck The Politicians and it’s good to hear them again – even if we’re not allowed to be within breathing distance while they play, but can have a socially-distanced chat in the bar afterwards.

A bucket is passed round the couple of dozen folk in the bar so the bands get something towards their petrol, and Shev’s a happy man; initial technical glitches aside, everything has gone according to plan, and the feedback on the social platforms is positive. No, it’s not perfect, but until the Government says we can mingle with strangers (and friends) at gigs in the same way we can in parks and on beaches, it’s all we have. 10/10 for trying.

Gary Welford owner