FEATURE: The Studio, Hartlepool | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Hyde & Beast at a recent gig at The Studio, by ARD Photography

We chat with Jonathan Ward, committee member and spokesman for The Studio in Hartlepool, to discover the venue’s unique ethos and community spirit.

Tell us about the origins of The Studio as a venue
The Studio has been about for a long time in Hartlepool, but in whichever guise, it’s always been much more than a performance venue – and the charitable ethos is always at the heart of what we do. It was set up in the early 80s as the Durham Street Studios, on the Headland, as a place for young musicians to get access to quality recording facilities. For a town the size of Hartlepool, that was a big deal. There was nowhere else like it in the North East and certainly nowhere for young people to afford to record and rehearse. The Durham Street Studios had quite a name in the industry as somewhere doing it a bit different. Fish from Marillion came to open the place and Andy Kershaw even made a documentary about the Durham Street Studios in the early days.

In 1997, The Studio moved to the centre of Hartlepool into an abandoned Baptist church. It was the time of new Labour and we had Mandelson as MP and Tony Blair living next door, so there was no shortage of regeneration money knocking about. The refurbishment was incredible with more than £1million put into the venue – a large performance space downstairs and incredible recording facilities upstairs. It was that era of optimism in the late 90s, and The Studio was attracting some really big names. I remember being in Australia in 2000 and watching Tommy Emmanuel perform in front of 1000 people and then six months later he was at The Studio.
But as a charitable trust, it was hard to sustain that level of funding and the last few years in particular have been very tough.

Can you tell me about the collective that are running the venue now? 
We’re just a bunch of people from Hartlepool who all share a love of live music and were determined that The Studio would not close. That’s the common thread running through the team – we’ve all got our day jobs, but we love music and we love The Studio.

Why did you come together to run the venue?
There’s no way we were willing to see The Studio close. That came pretty close a couple of times, but at the end of 2014 a call went out for volunteers to help and see what we could do. From that meeting, we formed a new team of people – musicians, gig lovers, people willing to help out in any way they could. The previous management team had been brilliant and some had been there since the beginning, but there was an opportunity to hand over the baton and see where we could take it.

What are your aims for the venue?
To get back to being a sustainable performance venue that offers more to the people of Hartlepool than just as a live music space. We’re well aware that we need to broaden the appeal and get new punters through the doors. We hear all the time people saying they love the place when they visit for the first time – but we need to turn those people into regulars. We can’t sustain The Studio with the same faces who have been coming for 10, 15, 20 years!

we’re certainly trying our hardest to provide a relevant and valued venue where people can see a more and more diverse range of performers

What challenges have you faced as a collective so far?
Just getting on an even keel has been tough over the past few months. There were a lot of financial issues to sort out and it has been frustrating with the banks and utility companies, who seem to find the fact we are a charity utterly irrelevant. Thankfully, we appear to be through that tough period and are now on phase two with essential renovations and starting to promote the place properly again. Then phase three – that’s when things get really exciting!

As a team of volunteers, it can be tough combining full time jobs with running a venue – but that’s what is incredible. Over Christmas, we had people doing 10 hour shifts in their jobs and then coming to work the bar for six hours. But no-one gets paid a penny – we do it because we love the place.

What do you feel have been the venue’s major successes since the collective took over?
Keeping The Studio open is our biggest success – there was a time at the start of last year, when it would have been so easy just to close up for good and say goodbye. But this place is instilled with so many important memories for people, that losing it is just not an option. People have met their partners here – including myself – and there’s been so many great gigs over the years. Without The Studio, Hartlepool would be almost completely irrelevant as a music town.

How do you see The Studio influencing the musical and cultural scene in Hartlepool?
I don’t think The Studio influences the scene itself – it’s the people and bands who do that. But we’re certainly trying our hardest to provide a relevant and valued venue where people can see a more and more diverse range of performers. Hartlepool’s one of those towns where everyone knows everyone and people are incredibly supportive of each other – if we can provide a hub for people to meet, get together, enjoy some great gigs and plan, rehearse and record the next big thing, then we’ve done our part.

For a long time, it was the same faces you would see at The Studio, but the town’s young bands – the likes of Plaza, Para Alta and Future Horizons – are bringing in the teens and 20s again. As someone who was just like them 20 years ago, it’s incredibly encouraging to see the venue packed out with young faces.

What impact have you seen so far, in the few months that you’ve been running the venue?
People are beginning to love The Studio again. Word is slowly rippling beyond the town’s musos that The Studio is happening again. We want to make Saturday night, music night and give people something alternative to do on a night out rather than going to the same old pubs and bars.

What plans do you have for the future?
Short term, it’s to establish The Studio as a fantastic live venue with something different every Saturday night. From there, regular nights through the week – whether that’s a metal night, Northern Soul, club DJs, comedy or even drama. We just want to provide something for everyone and for people to think ‘right, I’m going down The Studio tonight.’

What gigs do you have coming up?
The biggie is on Saturday 30th April with The Blockheads, but we’ve also got The Muffin Men on Saturday 16th April and Misty Miller on Thursday 21st April. Later in the year, there’s Nick Harper (Friday 10th June), Martin Stephenson (Saturday 16th July) and something really amazing for Christmas.

For more information on The Studio, visit their Facebook page.

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