Four Musicians from Hartlepool
Here are four micro-stories introducing the different members of Hartlepool-based band Lost State of Dance. These 'vignettes' are meant to capture the band's essence: that certain spirit that defines them without necessarily describing their music in great detail. They're also meant as a close-up of often unmentioned or overlooked aspects of being a musician and an artist in today's society.
An optimist is a person who is fully aware of reality but refuses to acknowledge its full extent.
We all have our contradictions, but none of us embody them as optimistically as Dan. A poetic footballer, a romantic swimmer, a born sportsman who realised he was a musician at heart. He started learning the piano at the age of thirteen under the sceptical gaze of his parents and was soon writing his own music. If it weren’t for cautionary parental advice urging him to have “a skill he could fall back on”, he would probably have thrown himself, body and soul, into a musical career — an unpremeditated dive into the deepest pool he could imagine…. Instead he studied electrical engineering, worked for a company, hated it, taught himself graphic design, and now works for a company, living each minute of his life thinking about music.
A Chopinic-Byronic figure, Dan is one of the founding members of Lost State of Dance. Over the course of the last ten years, he has seen it through its many transformations, member rearrangements and sound makeovers. These transformations — and the chasing and chasing after a dream — are what most acutely shaped Dan’s life. From the early years of getting horribly drunk before jamming a couple of short, fast-paced songs to a simple ‘loosening’ up drink before performing more lyrical, still energetic compositions that capture the songwriter’s contradictory optimism and a touch of nostalgia for a bygone age.
Dan might have a house, a job, a girlfriend, friends, a mum with a house in France, but if you were to talk to him long enough, then you will realise that there are two things for which he would sacrifice everything else: his dog and music. And a last chance to feel the fine sands of his dreams sticking to his fingers.
For anyone meeting Stevie for the first time, it is near impossible to tell what he is thinking.
The regulatory (and unpredictable) side of travelling holds part of the key to who Stevie is. Especially important is the route between Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, a route which became a defining part of his life early on. He has lived in Hartlepool all his life (interrupted only by occasional trips of unpredictability to unlikely parts of the world like South-East Asia). He works at a school and travels from Hartlepool to Middlesbrough twice a week to pursue a degree in History at Teesside University. If there is one thing he believes in it is the value of dedication and hard work in making almost anything possible (a fact that confirmed itself during his travels to unlikely parts of the world).
It was this same journey from Hartlepool to Middlesbrough that formed part of an earlier career. Stevie had never been into music until he accompanied his uncle, a well-respected sound engineer, to a Leeds Festival at the age of fifteen. It was there, watching from the sidelines, that he felt for the first time that this type of lifestyle might be for him. This idea of either being able to set it all up — the production of concerts and festivals — or being on-stage, the performer, the one everyone came to see, appealed to him.
He wanted to learn the drums but had to do it in secret. His self-bought drum kit had to be hidden in a wardrobe. Pillows were used most often to practise on and improve coordination and muscle memory. A couple of minutes were stolen here and there to practise on the actual kit. Once a week he took the train to Middlesbrough to get drum lessons from Graeme Hare. His musical idols were the people around him, his uncle and his teacher who spurred him on to pursue a career in music. Exposure to great drummers, like John Blackwell, and musicians like James Brown, however also encouraged him to gather steam, to get better, quicker, to understand more and be able to do what he wasn’t able to do before.
In 2007 he joined Lost State of Dance and hasn’t left since. In his weekly routine regulated between work and family in Hartlepool and university studies in Middlesbrough, band practice and gigs were perhaps the least predictable of it all. It was the one thing that could change a bad day into a good day, a terrible week into a great week.
There are three places in Hartlepool where you are likely to meet Sam McKenna.
During the day, you might find him in the coolest tan shop in Hartlepool. Not as a client — although his perfect golden skin-tone might make you wonder — but as an assistant. Or you might find him in one of Hartlepool’s skateparks — if it is sunny outside — doing unbelievable feats with the board on wheels.
If he is not in either place. He might just be at Grizzo’s, or a live music venue somewhere else in the North East, being a bass player in Lost State of Dance. Self-taught from the age of fifteen, he would rather describe himself as the most “fully unqualified bass player”. And yet he would speak of the effort of practising regularly with the band and by himself and of the disappoint of “dead” gigs.
But you will probably struggle to imagine anything disappointing this tattooed master of street style and nonchalance, who has almost no harsh words for anyone. Who describes his band members as his best friends, has no complaints about the local music scene (except that more could be happening in his hometown) and believes that the promoters are great.
Sam is just about one of the nicest people you can meet, a talented bass player and skateboarder and more knowledgeable about sunbeds than most women in Teesside.
The Causeway Inn is a pub next to the Stranton church in Hartlepool. Built back in the 1820s, it is loved by the locals, who describe it as a “great little pub”, a “proper pub”, the “best pub in Hartlepool”, with top class beers and frequent live entertainment.
A warm stillness envelopes it on the Sunday afternoon I go there to meet Daniel D’Arcy. Only the most regular regulars are hanging about the bar, staring into their pints or the stained glass window panels, bottles of liquor melting into the bright red and yellow glass. In between the rise and fall of nicotine-stained voices, faint flattened thirds and fifths hang in the air — skeletal fragments of the blues music that was played earlier that week.
D’Arcy can often be found at The Causeway (or so everyone says). Not necessarily because he likes Cameron’s Strongarm and Banks Bitter or because he enjoys games of drunken pool. Or getting drunk. Or watching a silent TV while getting drunk. But because he was probably part of the blues band that played there during the week.
It was at The Causeway that D’Arcy learned about blues, funk and soul music. Young, multi-talented and self-assured, it was his exposure to this music and performing with much older blues artists that shaped his sparky spontaneous guitar style. These days he is probably regarded as an equal by his mentors: a respected musician in his own right.
There is more to D’Arcy than his bluesy swagger and artistic aloofness. Having studied film and media, he describes himself as working all the time, doing either photography jobs, film projects or sound design and foley. A career path that seems to please him as he proudly speaks about his busy schedule and his willingness to move country to work on bigger, better film projects. But, nevertheless, mentions that nine times out of ten, his days end by playing music somewhere in the North East. Sometimes in a blues band, sometimes in a band called Lost State of Dance. Sometimes experimenting with innovative soundscapes and new musical ideas.
You won’t easily meet another avant-gardist quite like D’Arcy living in Hartlepool.