LOCAL INTERVIEW: Georgian Theatre, Stockton | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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They are the small, independent venues, that make up the core of the British music scene. Offering up and coming artists the chance to perform live and kick start their career and fans the chance to experience and support new acts who may one day be gracing festival main stages and stadiums. They are the backbone of live music in the UK and a vital lifeline for many artists, but each year more and more of these music venues find themselves struggling to make ends meet, and even forced to close. Independent Venue Week is a seven day celebration of these small music venues – and of course, the people who keep them going – highlighting the important role that they play when it comes to live music. This year, with singer Frank Turner taking on the role of ambassador, Independent Venue Week brings together all aspects of the music industry, including, venues, artists, promoters, labels and bloggers to create a nationwide series of gigs, taking place at the end of January.

Of the 85 different venues taking part across the UK, just three of those are from the North East. On 30th January, The Cluny in Newcastle, will see local band Shields give fans a taster of their new material ahead of their debut album release in the spring, and London-based trio Yak will perform at Sunderland’s Independent as part of their UK tour.

Meanwhile on January 31st, Georgian Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees is staging a special gig to celebrate, with Hartlepool’s The Jar Family supported by James Kruman and Violet Deep. I caught up with Russell Gray, events co-ordinator at the Georgian Theatre, to ask about the venue’s involvement in Independent Venue Week and what it’s like to help run the Stockton institution on a day to day basis.

How are you feeling about the up and coming Independent Venue Week?

We’re really excited! We heard about it last year and saw some of the excellent stuff that was going on and knew we wanted to be part of it.

What is the overall purpose of the  seven day celebration?

It’s to raise awareness of the contribution that independent music venues collectively make not just to live music in the UK, but also the thriving music industry overall. Showcasing what a committed, diverse collection of people these venues create and nurture and it’s also a good opportunity to shine a light on some of the battles that independent music venues have to face such as noise complaints or landlords converting them to flats.

Can you give an overview of how the venue will be celebrating?

We thought that there was no better way to celebrate the contribution that Teesside makes to the music scene than have a big bash on Saturday 31st with some of the most loved and impressive bands from our area; The Jar Family, Violet Deep and James Kruman.

Can you tell us about the line-up?

The Jar Family are almost of legendary proportions in the Teesside area for their live performances. They’re a raucous group of lads from Hartlepool and play what they dub ‘industrial-folk’ music and it seems to be infectious to the area! They’ve got some real die-hard fans and we know they’ll have the audience in the palm of their hands, which is what you want for any big celebration.

Violet Deep are young indie upstarts from Stockton, who show talent beyond their years trailblazing the local gig circuit as well as performances at local festivals like Stockton Calling and recently supporting seminal Britpop band Cast at Middlesbrough Town Hall.

And opening up the show will be local folk troubadour James Kruman from Middlesbrough, who combination of lyrically nuanced dark pop and alternative folk as well as his charismatic stage presence has been captivating audiences throughout the region throughout the previous year.

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“It’s not a new building which is a small room with a stage in the corner, it’s got brilliant high ceilings and old stone walls that really give it a character”

Are you honoured to be one of the few venues in the region taking part?

Yes we are very pleased to have gotten on board with, but if anything we wish there were more NE venues taking part. The North East has tons of amazing venues throughout it which easily stack up to those in larger cities and they should definitely be included.

What is about the Georgian Theatre that makes it a unique venue?

The Georgian Theatre is just an entirely unique entity itself; such an old grand building (it genuinely was a Georgian theatre) has a real atmosphere and it’s often commented upon by bands coming through that the place has a great energy and I think it’s true. It’s not a new building which is a small room with a stage in the corner, it’s got brilliant high ceilings and old stone walls that really give it a character. I think the fact that it’s in Stockton helps too. You might expect a place like this in an older city, but the fact it’s in Stockton catches people off guard.

What is it like to be a part of running a venue like this?

It’s in parts brilliant and hard. The working in the venue itself, the staff, volunteers, the extended group of promoters, bands and customers you meet make it an exciting vibrant place, but it can be hard too. The live music industry can be a tumultuous place, especially in a smaller, less well off town, so it can come with all the fears any business can have- but luckily we’ve got the love of putting on gigs that pulls you through the tough bits and makes it all worthwhile.

In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of running an independent music venue?

Best aspect – the level of control you can have on your own venue. We don’t have any corporate bigwigs from another city telling us who to put on and what beer to sell. It’s very empowering and fills you with pride when it all goes right because you really feel part of the cause.

Worst aspect – we don’t have any corporate big wigs giving us cash to fall back on! Simple math about our size means we can’t compete as easily as bigger venues in a city- but we’ll get by though, we’ve been at it for 21 years without them now!

What do you feel are your biggest successes as a venue?

That’s an interesting question, often your biggest successes aren’t your favourite shows! However, albeit sounding cheesy – it literally is worth it when you’re at a gig and you go outside and someone is over the moon they’ve just seen their new favourite band- that’s when you know you’ve done something right. It’s also cool when you see a band you had on their first tour as an unknown come through and years later they’re doing well. You feel like you helped them on their way.

Do you feel this venue, and other venues like it, have struggled due to a lack of funding?

It’s quite a complicated question to get into, of course there are lots of ways venues could be helped more with funding- more money is great, but I think what’s a greater issue at the moment is that venues need protecting from external forces not allowing themselves to be successful. There are lot of landlords at the moment popping up housing around venues, which results in tenants forging noise complaints, and other shooting up rent prices so venues can’t run any longer. Lots of well respected venues got shut down last year (and some more even already this year) and the loss of a venue has a bigger ripple effect than some people would realize.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate independent music venues?

Independent venues are the places that most gig-goers go to catch bands, hear new live music and are essential for bands when they’re first cutting their teeth and generating that initial loyal fanbase to help them reach to the next level – or just happily staying at that level! It’s a completely different experience than when you go to an arena.  Independent Venues are much more personal places than larger venues, just because it’s easier as they’re smaller. These venues are sites of creatively and community and it’s really important they continue.

What does it mean to the venue to be involved with Independent Venue Week?

It’s great to be considered alongside loads of the other fantastic, hardworking venues throughout the U.K and seeing all our hard work and the commitment of our loyal audience being recognized at the same level as those in the big city.

The Georgian Theatre’s Independent Venue Week Party, featuring The Jar Family, will take place at the Stockton venue on Saturday 31st January.

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