Image by Nick Wesson
Stockton’s Georgian Theatre is due to get a new lease of life this month, thanks to a £1.4 million refurbishment of the Grade II listed building. It’s a boon for music lovers, who will see new bars and a larger venue capacity lead to bigger touring bands and a better infrastructure for local acts, but the implications of such a renovation has much wider reaching benefits.
Paul Burns, from Teesside music charity Tees Music Alliance who run the venue, explains the circumstances in which the refurb came about. “The building next door, an old hotel, became vacant and our landlord bought it and decided to combine the two buildings which will help us operate more effectively. It’s not just an investment in bricks and mortar, it’s the culture of the town.”
A three storey glass atrium will be added to the front of the building, providing access to the venue, two bars and toilets across two floors. A first floor viewing balcony in the main room will offer additional space, plus a can bar and merch area will be introduced. Using the core gig time of Friday and Saturdays at the epicentre from which to grow their trade, longer hours and a food service will add greater flexibility to the venue’s programming.
With a handful of impressive shows already lined up, including The Wedding Present (Monday 27th March), Scott Matthews (Friday 7th April), Stockton Calling (Saturday 15th April), Alabama 3 (Monday 24th April) and James Taylor Quartet (Saturday 3rd June), it’s clear that the expansion has widened the opportunities for programming. Workshops and a digital exhibition are also planned later this year, celebrating the venue’s amazing 250 year history, and folk, jazz and alternative genres are being actively sought for the new space.
It’s no accident that TMA are based in Stockton; describing it as a “fertile place”, along with strong local authority support Paul believes that other venues like Ku Bar and ARC are essential to the town’s cultural infrastructure, and he’s emphatic about the role other towns in Teesside have to play in the music scene as a whole. “Middlesbrough is still really vibrant; The Empire put on some great shows, and on the edge of town you’ve got The Kids Are Solid Gold programming at Westgarth Social Club. Darlington is starting to do well too, we work alongside Tracks and the work David, Rob and Sarah are doing to kick-start things there where the infrastructure has wobbled is amazing. In Stockton, we’re lucky having a town centre location with other venues to bounce that vibe off, whereas other towns need more of a push to get things happening, but they are happening. The disadvantage for Teesside is that everybody looks at it from the outside as a centralised blob of things happening, but in reality it’s five distinct areas.”
Paul believes that TMA and the Georgian Theatre’s role in the town is vital. “Sometimes when people see us from the outside they think we’re some kind of huge commercial operation, which brings bands in and spits them out, but that’s not the case – we genuinely come from a background of wanting to help likeminded organisations and individuals, promoters and bands; we thrive in a collective space, that’s our roots, we are a music collective. We thrive on relationships with people who care about developing music in the area.”