FEATURE: Independent Venue Week | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Swim School by Victoria Wai

A popular nationwide initiative that’s grown year-on-year, 2023 sees Independent Venue Week celebrate its 10th anniversary with its most extensive programme yet. Established to spotlight these essential spaces during a traditionally quiet period in their diaries, IVW has in many ways exceeded its mandate, providing a priceless boost amidst existential crises like the Covid pandemic and ongoing energy and cost of living crises. Running from Monday 30th January through to Sunday 5th February, this year’s edition encompasses over 200 participating venues and countless affiliated events – and for all the challenges they face, the North East’s programme proves just how healthy an ecosystem is thriving on our doorsteps.

Much of the region’s musical gravity centres around Newcastle, and as ever the city boasts a jam-packed IVW schedule. A long-time hub at the heart of the Ouseburn, The Cluny’s dual spaces offer an especially loaded calendar, with appearances from Hamish Hawk, Francis of Delirium (both Wednesday), Lizzie Esau and George Hanlon (Friday), Renegade Brass Band (Saturday) and ex-Quireboys vocalist Spike (Sunday) – plus, perhaps most excitingly of all, a Friday night show from local fuzz rock marvels Pit Pony; their biggest headliner to date following a breakout year in 2022.

A short walk up Stepney Bank, Little Buildings has its own IVW extravaganza. Belying its tiny floor space, this up-and-comer’s paradise hosts sets from Wise Up, Devils Grip and PH People (Monday), Swim School (Tuesday), Hivemind, HCK9 and Blame Yourself (Thursday), Badger, Amplified Man and Ducks (Friday) and Ten Eighty Trees (Saturday). Expect to see NARC. photographer and IVW rep Victoria Wai snapping away down the front at Swim School, having handpicked the Edinburgh indie-popper’s visit as her most anticipated event!

There’s plenty afoot elsewhere in Newcastle too. Cobalt Studios welcomes Dutch experimental pop marvel Amber Arcades alongside Swedish indie outfit Hater (Saturday); The Lubber Fiend hosts the second of its SF: Make Noise Silence Fascism events (Wednesday); ZEROX presents local singer-songwriter Hannah Robinson (Thursday) and Canadian rapper Myst Milano (Saturday); Bobik’s offers headliners from Avalanche Party (Thursday), Dilutey Juice (Friday) and Vandebilt (Saturday); while Anarchy Brewery joins festivities over the weekend with Ashes of Iron (Friday), Dean Parker and Polyvinyl (Saturday) and a packed Tyne and Queer bill featuring Shallow, Ceramic, Plagiarist, Pink Poison and The Spines (Sunday).

for all the challenges they face, the North East’s programme proves just how healthy an ecosystem is thriving on our doorsteps

Not to be outdone, the North East’s other cities serve up their own enticing platters, each with an emphasis on quality over quantity. Sunderland institution Independent, for instance, sees performances from London rockers False Heads (Monday), hotly-tipped indie outfit Overpass with fast-rising local star Tom A. Smith (Thursday) and Hartlepool songwriter Michael Gallagher (Saturday), while Pop Recs Ltd. welcomes Hull favourites and long-time pals LIFE – as well as running a pre-gig Soundcheck Session for 14 to 18-year-olds as part of the concurrent Independent Venue Community scheme (Wednesday). Durham, meanwhile, boasts one of the region’s – and indeed country’s – most idiosyncratic venues in the Old Cinema Launderette. This delightful oddity presents two cracking midweek pools of local talent, with Me Lost Me, Faithful Johannes and Madeleine Smyth (Wednesday) and Hector Gannett and Callum Pitt (Thursday) all poised to take their places before the washing machines.

Of course, Independent Venue Week is about so much more than the established haunts located in the nation’s big cities. Indeed, the week is equally dedicated to highlighting the work done by venues lying off the beaten track – the kinds of places which rarely get a look-in when acclaimed artists plot their tours, yet harbour equally dedicated and enthusiastic communities of their own. Middlesbrough Empire, for instance, celebrates the most hyped and incendiary act to emerge from Teesside in many a year with a headliner from politi-noise firebrands Benefits (Friday), whose upcoming debut album surely ranks among 2023’s most hotly anticipated releases. Elsewhere, The Engine Room in North Shields presents a trio of cracking bills, with Go Go Midgets and Breadcrumbs (Thursday) followed by Dubinski and Uncanny Valley (Friday) plus another date for Overpass and Tom A. Smith (Saturday); while over in Darlington The Forum Music Centre offers the delicate yet expansive sounds of local treasure sonderminds (Tuesday), as well as a Hilarity Bites Comedy Club evening featuring Mark Nelson, Aaron Twitchen and Sully O’Sullivan (Saturday).

Finally, some of this year’s finest IVW’s action takes place in Stockton – just recognition for what’s surely one of the UK’s best under-the-radar mini-scenes. Indeed, one of the week’s flagship events takes place at KU, which has been chosen by the BBC to host Steve Lamacq’s roadshow. The 6Music DJ will be rocking up in his tour bus on Thursday alongside Irish post-punk sensations The Murder Capital, who come red hot off January’s sophomore album Gigi’s Recovery, with support from rising local indie star Trunky Juno. Lower key, but equally notable is the visit of indie pop/folk songwriter Finn Forster, with openers We Tibetans and Shakk (Saturday).
Just down the street,
The Georgian Theatre has pulled off a coup of its own by attracting Philip Selway. One of this year’s official IVW ambassadors, the Radiohead sticksman plays an eagerly awaited solo set on Thursday night, with the venue backing it the following evening with performances from local brat-pop siblings ZELA, groove poppers The Lulas and bedroom pop artist Cosial.

TL;DR? If you enjoy live music, there’ll almost certainly be something for you – and that’s without even delving into the clutch of affiliated pre- and post-IVW events, or listings at brilliant North East spaces not participating. Whether you’re visiting a venue for the first time, attending one of the big shows or simply turning up to support your friend in one of the bands, the scheme’s true value lies in its legacy, and in reinforcing one of music’s abiding truths… that every week is Independent Venue Week.

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