FEATURE: FIRST AVENUE STUDIOS | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Heaton is a cosmic part of town where many a creative type decides to lay their hats, including the treasured First Avenue Studios. Celebrating its thirtieth birthday this year, I had a lovely trip down memory lane with studio head honcho Tim Nissen, who recalled the time when he had a revelation: “We arrived up here after watching that episode of Eastenders when Michelle or whoever announced she was going to live in Newcastle. Hmmm, we thought, that sounds cool. And so it was. We discovered tons of music going on everywhere, and at that time, not very much in the way of good quality rehearsal space.”

After looking around for a suitable building, they opted for the former stable located at number 32 First Avenue, as Tim recalls. “The thing that swung it was that it was right next to a pub. Work to carry out the re-fit commenced, and the doors eventually opened in September 1990. The very first band in was a blue-eyed soul outfit called Tantobie Row – remember them?” The aim was to provide a serviced place to rehearse that you could book by the hour, and local acts clamoured to be part of it, not least the likes of Maximo Park, The Futureheads, Lanterns on the Lake, Milky Wimpshake, Kenickie, Warm Digits and many more. “A lot of bands had or tried to get a space for themselves to practise, but the running of the space was up to them, in other words, no service, just a room with some ‘leccy sockets and a kettle if you were lucky. The plan was to supply all the gear needed so any young’uns or not-so-young’uns could get practicing, with just their instruments under their arms, and the tunes in their heads.”

After five years they decided to open up the upstairs into a little 8-track recording space, working with Dave Curle, ex-drummer of local legends HUG. Tim marvels: “Dave turned out to be an excellent recording engineer, and that side of the business really took off. These were the days when bands made demos – remember them? Recording studio time was relatively expensive.” Despite that, the studio and practice rooms were busy: “We didn’t need to borrow any money to fund the purchase of expensive equipment – we just saved up a bit here and there, and bought what we could afford when we could afford it.”

A major milestone was achieved around the turn of the millennium: “We got our first Pro-Tools rig in with help from a grant from Northern Arts – remember them? – who paid for half. That 5k grant was the only bit of funding the business ever received. In essence, First Avenue is a profitable micro-business and proud of it.” For the future, they hope to make sure the two people employed there, Dave, and another special fellow by the name of Jon O’Neill, are in a sustainable financial position: “No one is getting rich from this game, but we do it for the love…and a little bit of money.”

After nearly 30 years in the biz, they must be doing something right, and the studio more than deserves its place in the hearts of many North East musicians.

First Avenue Studios are currently running a GoFundMe page to help them out during lockdown

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