Gig Review: The Rookery Take On Castle Keep
After all these years, how is it that the masterminds behind the Rookery still manage to surprise us?
I remember previewing their Newcastle launch event at The Cluny waaay back in February 2017 and attending their jamming sessions and gigs at the legendary Little Buildings the following October and December, during which I managed to interview one of its founders Joey Swindells.
You can read the full article here for the lowdown on the project’s history and its aims but its safe to say they exploded onto our local scene with a unique sense of creativity and energy that quickly cemented them as one of the most successful and beloved members of our community.
But that was two years ago…since then they have been anything but quiet, hosting their events at venues across the North East and beyond. We’ve been following them closely on their journey featuring them in countless Monthly Gig Guides and reviewing their gigs at every opportunity, so its safe to say we thought we knew everything there was to know about the project…we were wrong…
Turns out the masterminds behind The Rookery are also miracle workers. Robert Nugent and Joey Swindells are purveyors of the impossible and I defy anyone to tell me otherwise.
The miracle in question? a gig at Newcastle’s iconic Castle Keep, a Grade I listed building dating back as far as the occupation by ancient Roman general Hadrian and beloved monument of the city’s population.
No one saw this coming and no one knew what to expect, but we knew if anyone could pull it off it would be the charismatic and charm laden geniuses Joey and Robert.
So what was the result?
As if the unorthodox choice of venue wasn’t a big enough departure from the Rookery’s usual intimate DIY style, the event also featured a smart dress code and BYOB policy.
This ended up being a good call as it added a sense of celebration and made everyone aware from the beginning that they were in for a treat.
Beginning with a trek up a considerable number of steps into the castle’s visitor entrance, we were greeted to a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere in a room filled with visibly enthusiastic music lovers (not at all stuffy despite the smart attire).
What followed was a warm up from laid back psychedelic artists Mr. Comfortable.
Grooving us nicely into the evening, the duo were relaxed and not at all intimidated by their unconventional surroundings, even managing to rock a medieval helmet much to the delight of the crowd.
While it wasn’t an explosive performance it did its job perfectly, setting the tone for the night ahead and letting everyone know they were in for a chilled out but fun time.
Next on the cards for us was a descent into the castle’s dungeons for the next two performances of the evening.
Anything but dingy, the setting was quickly packed with the eager and the intrigued as we were greeted by a familiar and friendly face.
Those who frequent the streets of Newcastle Town Centre and have taken the time to take in its vibrant community of buskers and performers will recognise the now legendary figure that is Ojay and his trusty bass guitar.
A master of his chosen musical tool, Ojay now holds a special place in the hearts of us Geordies who have witnessed him over the years performing on our streets and in our venues, so we were very excited to see what he had in store for us.
Clearly a very modest individual despite his local fame, Ojay slowly but surely conjured up a storm of improvised jamming and undeniable grooves. Loops and effects carried us along, mesmerizing us into a state of motion as the musician built up and knocked down tune after tune.
Occasionally our trance was broken by entertaining anecdotes and poignant thoughts, before dropping us right back in with his bass driven melodies.
Eliciting unprompted clap-alongs and dancing, Ojay was a welcome addition to those who already recognised him and his new followers alike.
Now well and truly warmed up and raring to go, I couldn't wait to see what the rest of the evening held. And it turns out there were still some surprises in store for us.
Turning a whole 360 degrees revealed the penultimate act of the night who had set up just behind us in the dungeon room.
Luna Rosa were unlike anything that had come before and would follow.
Bristling with energy, the rock and rollers from Northamptonshire delivered an upbeat set of bangers that filled the room and set fire to the atmosphere.
A varied set of upbeat and slower tracks ensued before the ride was over and we were granted a short and welcome break before the final event.
The long climb up the stone spiral staircase added an extra sense of theater as we rose further and further together, wondering the whole journey what would be in store for us…
The final surprise up the Rookery's sleeve was a sight i doubt I will ever forget.
We entered a gorgeous, spacious room with an impossibly high ceiling and massive embroidered sigils adorning the walls.
This breathtaking architecture turned out to be the perfect backdrop for the closing event, a full band performance by Afnan Prince.
Looking suitably regal and dashing in his choice of attire, Afnan’s calming nature and unquestionable charisma eased us into a set that was almost as epic as his surroundings. He has gathered a well earned reputation for his soulful delivery and deft lyricism, but you really have to witness it yourself to fully understand the scope of his abilities.
What’s more, his ethereal and awe inspiring vocals were complimented by a fantastic set of musicians who Afnan was keen to introduce us to and show his gratitude.
As the set drew to a close there was a sense that we'd all been part of something special and, while I’m sure it must have been a logistical nightmare to plan, the Rookery lads were proud to share it with us.
What’s next? who knows but we’ll certainly be keeping a very close eye out for the next event…
Photography: Harry Dargavel