Making a musical case for Sunderland City of Culture
As a Geordie studying in Sunderland it's easy to see the city being overshadowed by Newcastle (except maybe when it comes to football).
For a start, the 02 Academy in Newcastle dominates the mainstream gigging scene with international artists showcasing their wares to audiences who'll travel from all over the North East. Likewise the Metro Radio Arena has proven to be the go-to venue for musicians looking to, let’s be honest, charge a lot more as well as play to a much larger audience.
On a smaller indie level too Newcastle features some heavy hitters, a lot of whom featured on our 'top venues' list, who constantly have their fingers on the pulse of the emerging talent pool in the region.
But as much as I love doing it, I'm not here to gush about Newcastle this time...
Sunderland is making its bid for City of Culture 2021 and I want you to hear them out.
A little context: Sunderland began as a city defined by its heavy industry, particularly ship building, however like much of the region it has had to evolve and diversify with time and now more than ever it is arts and culture that define its modern identity.
If Sunderland won it would not only establish itself as a national centre for arts, heritage and culture but also attract some much needed investment into the city.
This money would likely be in the millions and would help offset some of the government cuts that have affected our arts sector, as well as help build on the number of impressive features we already have.
And when it comes to success stories, Sunderland is far from slacking, with an extensive list of musicians who have made it to national and even international stages.
Established and emerging artists such as The Futureheads, Frankie & The Heartstrings, The Lake Poets, Hyde & Beast, Toy Dolls, Paul Liddell, This Little Bird, Field Music, YUMA and Lilliput (to name but a few) all began in and around this humble city and I have no doubt there will be many more to come.
Rebecca Young (This Little Bird) recently popped down to London to represent Sunderland's bid and had this to say: "The trip to London was a great experience and getting to represent our city in the capital was amazing. Being surrounded by people who have reached the height of their careers having been born in Sunderland was very inspiring for me."
"The focus was really on what Sunderland has achieved and what we can achieve in the future. For myself, I never expected to be performing a song about a place I love so much in the Houses of Parliament and that was a massive achievement for me!"
Check out some of her wonderful music below:
Rebecca went on to say that: "I think what's great about Sunderland is that there are lots of bands and artists that vary in genre. So instead of competing with each other, we support each other and I think scenes in other cities are too saturated with the same kind of bands playing the same style of music."
In addition to it's storied history of amazing artists, the city also houses several excellent and diverse venues.
A coffee shop by day, but venue and best damn indie nightclub in the region by night, the Independent is nothing if not diverse.
In addition to having an impressive history of artists playing within its walls, the Independent is also at the heart of the city's student culture and works closely with the Student Union on awesome initiatives, such as its 'Sanctuary International Party' which aimed to show support for Sunderland's Asylum Seeker and Refugee community.
The Independent also took part in 'Independent Venue Week 2017' in January, an initiative which showcased the very best independent, grassroots music venues across the UK.
During this celebration, they hosted a ‘Feedback: Music + Business panel’ with industry experts which allowed local artists to hear valuable advice on how to generate income and learn about their rights as artists.
Meanwhile Pop Recs LTD may seem small in comparison, but don't let that fool you.
This hugely influential coffee/vinyl shop also doubles as a intimate and friendly gigging space which supports both musicians and great charitable causes alike.
Run by Frankie & The Heartstrings, you'd be hard pressed to find a more accommodating bunch of music lovers who champion their city's culture while adding to it exponentially.
On the subject, Rebecca Young said: "I sometimes help mentor teens at the Cuckoo Writers Songwriting group at Pop Recs and the talent coming out of there is amazing. I can't wait for more of the group members to be confident enough to gig!"
Right next door you have The Bunker, another organisation which has always aimed to develop Sunderland's music and arts industry.
For more than 30 years The Bunker has acted as a platform for many local bands and artists who have gone on the achieve national and international acclaim.
Providing recording and rehearsal facilities for hundreds of musicians while also providing them with training and guidance, this organisation is immensely important to the city and its budding artists looking to spread their wings without becoming bankrupt in the process.
Over in the music, arts and culture (MAC) quarter of the city, the new and improved Dun Cow resides.
Seen as a key part of Sunderland’s cultural regeneration, the pub is a fantastic culmination of great food, drink and music. Perhaps most importantly though, it provides a great intimate space for the local talent to showcase their tunes and for us to enjoy them (over an excellent pint).
Another great feature worth shouting about is the YUMA Presents...Sunday Sessions at The Tipsy Cow.
Run by the band YUMA, these gigs feature a changing roster showing off some of the best emerging artists the region has to offer.
These performances are also recorded and shared on YUMA's YouTube channel:
Shannon Powell of YUMA said Sunderland was far more than just a city to her: "I'm very proud to be a citizen of Sunderland as I, unlike many others in my generation, do not take the past and my heritage for granted."
"What with our university where I studied to get my music degree, and the many wonderful tourist attractions such as the winter gardens and museum, night life and our beautiful coast there's lots to do here if you only take the time to explore and appreciate it for what it is!"
"I know that Sunderland was forged in the fires of working class bellies and that even though our industries of by gone eras leave only traces along our river and shore lines. I know that to this day the pride and spirit of the people remain. We have much to offer newcomers to the city!"
And there's still more development being done...
The council just recently approved planning permission for a new £8.2m venue for music, dance and drama.
Featuring seating for 450 people and 700 standing, the building will also have an outdoor stage and open area music and performance space.
Clearly this new development will be beneficial, and a brand new venue of such significant size will make an excellent addition to Sunderland's roster as well as attract some larger artists who might normally pass the city by.
Shannon is keen to say that: "with venues and people being so welcoming (and new venues and cultural hubs opening soon) people are so supportive and open to new ideas I'm sure Sunderland will continue to thrive as a cultural hot spot in the future! So that's why, WE VOTE SUNDERLAND 2021!"
Rebecca Young also said that: "Sunderland deserves to be the City of Culture because of its rich cultural history. It has inspired writers and painters, cultivated numerous musicians and we have a strong history of production, be it glass, pottery, ships and coal!"
With the proper nurturing and funding Sunderland will no doubt continue to emerge as one of the North East's champions of culture, particularly music.
A successful bid for City of Culture would certainly provide that boost to bring new projects in as well as give even more attention to the dedicated and passionate players that it already houses.
Good luck Sunderland!