The spotlight for live music in the North East has always fallen on Newcastle and Sunderland, but Teesside is finally stepping out of the shadows. Not only are more festivals being launched and expanded on Teesside, but there are also new promoters, new organisations, new venues (TFM Soundworks has opened in Middlesbrough), saved venues (The Studio in Hartlepool will no longer close) and venues returning from the dead (Stockton’s Globe Theatre is set to return in 2016 after being awarded a £4m lottery grant, having hosted acts such as the Beatles, Cliff Richard and Status Quo in its heyday).
‘It’s great to see significant investment coming into Teesside,’ says Paul Burns, Director of Tees Music Alliance (TMA). ‘There’s also an emergence of smaller music promoters which is adding to the mix of events taking place here.’ TMA is a not-for-profit organisation which is at the heart of music on Teesside. As well as operating The Georgian Theatre and Green Room in Stockton, they host the annual Stockton Weekender Festival, which last year featured Primal Scream and Dexys Midnight Runners, attracting 10,000 people. They’re also involved with Stockton Calling, a multi-venue festival which is becoming increasingly popular with audiences from Teesside and beyond.
Promoting live music is, of course, a risky business and not a job for the faint-hearted – get a show right and it might make some money, but get it wrong and bang goes this year’s holiday. One of the longest-serving promoters on Teesside is Graham Ramsay of Middlesbrough-based promoter Ten Feet Tall, who won the Live Music Business Awards’ Regional Promoter of the Year trophy in 2010 and 2012. Graham says audiences on Teesside have an insatiable desire for the best live performers. ‘People definitely seem to like the established acts that we’ve put on at Arc in Stockton,’ says Graham. ‘The likes of Eddi Reader, Lloyd Cole, Glenn Tilbrook, those types of artists.’
Another pro-active manager on Teesside is Rob Guest of the Middlesbrough Council-owned Town Hall and The Crypt. As Business Development Manager, he believes the area has benefited from fostering closer working relations with local promoters to offer audiences something different at The Crypt, while also attracting well-known names like Saltburn’s X-Factor winner James Arthur and Jools Holland to the Town Hall. ‘Like all good towns and cities, the music scene on Teesside is supported by a number of active and passionate individuals and organisations who want to put on shows,’ says Rob, pointing to promoters such as The Kids Are Solid Gold (TKASG), another North East success story.
In addition to putting on shows across Teesside, TKASG promote gigs at Westgarth Social Club in Middlesbrough, which has developed into a popular venue for everyone from touring NME-favourites through to heritage artists. The venue is also committed to supporting local acts. ‘Alongside the headline acts, a nice touch is that support slots are given to local bands,’ explains venue manager Steve Callaghan. ‘It’s really exciting for them to support big names and it’s great for the crowd to see some brilliant local acts.’
TKASG and fellow Teesside promoter Henry Carden are looking to launch a new festival in Middlesbrough in October. The town has been without a major festival since 2012 after budgetary restraints prompted Middlesbrough Council to postpone the 20,000-capacity Intro festival, which was promoted by Ten Feet Tall. Despite the fact that Teesside’s live music scene is currently booming, Henry believes there is still huge potential to develop it further by promoters collaborating. ‘There’s a really good community spirit among promoters in the area. In a lot of other towns and cities you hear of promoters having arguments and almost wars with each other, whereas on Teesside, people are much more willing to work together.’ As an example he points to his involvement this year with Stockton Calling, where he will be running the Pay For The Piano Stage, which will be situated on a replica of HMS Endeavour. Moored on the River Tees, it can accommodate 90 people.
Another new addition to the Teesside music scene is TFM Soundworks, which opened with a Halloween Ball in 2013, and starred another local X-Factor finalist, Nunthorpe’s Amelia Lily. Events and Marketing Manager Junior Masandi explains, ‘The venue has put Middlesbrough on the map with regards to live music as there is no other place like it.’
Another Teessider offering something different is Carmel Ramsay, who promotes in her hometown Saltburn, working with bands like The Unthanks, Dodgy, China Crisis, Dr Feelgood and Kiki Dee. ‘The acts are going down really well,’ she says. ‘It’s a lot to do with the “big name in a small town” syndrome, although we do get audiences coming from Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield.’
While the Teesside music scene is predominantly centred around Stockton and Middlesbrough, towns like Billingham and Hartlepool are also making contributions. ‘We tend to have a mixture of tribute and original acts at The Forum,’ says the venue’s manager Derek Cooper. ‘October and November saw record box office takings.’
At the centre of the thriving music scene in Hartlepool is The Studio, which has weathered more storms than the town’s battered coastal defences. Only this summer it looked as if the venue would be closed after Hartlepool College and Cleveland College of Art and Design gave notice on the lease. ‘When the possible closure was announced we started a campaign,’ says Tom Cook, The Studio’s Events Manager. ‘With a group of six volunteers, we have built the place back up.’ Now a registered charity with a board of trustees, it is once again open for business.
Hartlepool-based promoter Brian Barnes uses the venue and worries that high unemployment in the town means new acts often struggle to find an audience willing to pay to see shows, but he believes it can be done. ‘It’s a harder task at this level to get an audience out of their house and through the venue doors, but if you are offering a unique night, then it can work.’
Summing up, Andy Carr of TKASG says that when an act is touring, tickets often sell better for shows in Middlesbrough than in Newcastle, and he believes Teesside has yet to reach its full potential. ‘The key to success is to ensure the integrity of each show by having quality acts running throughout the night.’