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

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Image: Jack McNeill

Finding the time to dedicate to new projects can often be a challenge, particularly when work/life/family gets in the way of being creative. This was a common theme I discovered while talking to a group of artists and musicians who will be taking part in this year’s Sage Gateshead Summer Studio, a residency programme which offers support, guidance and much-needed time to established and emerging musicians looking to expand their creative prowess.

The scheme runs at Sage Gateshead for three weeks in August, with previous alumni including Durham songwriter Harri Endersby, experimental folk-art fusion band Aeyther and indie rabble-rousers Swine Tax. As Tamsin Austin, Sage’s Director of Performance Programming (Popular & Contemporary) explains, the initiative is part of the venue’s continuing commitment to artist development. “Our relationships with artists are at the core of everything we do. Seeking out and supporting new emerging artists is the most exciting and rewarding part of our work. We have a great facility and we love to support and present artists at the early stages of their career as well as once they are established.”

A crucial part of the residency programme includes the opportunity for musicians to perform at the venue’s New Year New Artists festival in January 2019, and it’s a chance for Tamsin to spot new talent. “Summer Studios is not only a great opportunity for emerging talent from the North, but also for Sage Gateshead to discover the best new artists in the region, to showcase within the year-round programme.”

Rather than offer a series of ‘catch-all’ workshops or lectures, the Summer Studio experience is tailored by the artists themselves, who define what help or support they require. Development sessions will include advice from industry professionals from Sony Music, Prolifica Management, i-D Magazine and us here at NARC. Artists also get the opportunity to record a video session with Tyneside Cinema’s Northern Stars Documentary Academy and take part in a photoshoot with one of NARC.’s favourite photographers, Ian West.

Rather than offer a series of ‘catch-all’ workshops or lectures, the Summer Studio experience is tailored by the artists themselves, who define what help or support they require

The artists taking part in the residencies are hugely diverse and include the likes of DJ and turntablist NikNak, electro pop duo Squarms, singer-songwriter Zak Younger Banks and genre-fluid improvisation group J Frisco. Some projects are fully fledged and ready to go, with others only just taking shape.

Ross Millard (The Futureheads, Frankie & The Heartstrings) will be teaming up with Middlesbrough-born theatre maker Maria Crocker to work on a new musical set against the backdrop of the Teesside steelworks. It’s an idea in its early stages which needs that crucial element of time dedicated to it, as Ross explains. “We’ll be using the time at Sage Gateshead to develop some songs that we already have, come up with some new ideas, and see if we can push the story along whilst we’re there. It’s the time and space that Summer Studios affords that will make the difference to us. It might also be a chance for us to get a couple of other musicians in the room to try out arrangements.”

Collaboration is also key for electro pop duo Talk Like Tigers, who will be utilising their time to concentrate on working with other, mainly female, musicians. “We also plan on developing our production skills and eventually to perform stripped back versions of the new songs we write. This will allow us to explore and show a different side of Talk Like Tigers in a more raw and exposed form.”

Image: Ruth Patterson

No stranger to the region’s live music scene, Ruth Patterson from folk ‘n’ roll group Holy Moly & The Crackers will also be taking part in the residency, with the aim of taking a fresh look at her art. Having recently been part of Alphabetti Theatre’s Women Are Mint series of live shows and discussions, talking about her experiences as a disabled front woman and performing a solo show has encouraged Ruth to develop her solo credentials. “During my time at Summer Studios I would like to develop the songs that I have been working on and gain experience as a solo artist. I think in turn this will help me to develop as a front woman. It’s all about building confidence and trying out new skills. Depending on how things go during my week, I am hoping to book in some solo shows next year incorporating a discussion into the performance through the music, the lyrics and hopefully a conversation can grow out of that. Understanding other people with different experiences is really important and we only gain understanding by sharing. That’s kinda the point of this project.”

At the other end of the scale, Cumbrian musician Jack McNeill is over two years into his Propellor Ensemble project, which brings together a diverse collection of musicians to “blur the lines and expectation of genre and performance space”. After finishing a two year residency to develop the large-scale touring work, he’s now looking to move the project to the next level. “The Summer Studio comes at just the right time to help me focus on how best to reach our potential audience, to learn about managing an ensemble of this size (there are thirteen of us with a huge range of creative disciplines involved) and to look at the really exciting possibilities for future projects and collaborations.”

Jack explains that it can be a rare luxury for an artist to be given time to focus on their practice. “Everyone finds themselves being pulled in so many different directions all the time, so if your intention is to really ask your audience to focus in on whatever it is you want to say to them, I think the same focus is inherently necessary in its development.”


Propellor from Propellor Ensemble on Vimeo.

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