INTERVIEW: Bobik’s | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Tom Bright by Julian Richard Peters

Although a route back to normality feels no nearer now than it did eight months ago, North East venues did receive small crumbs of comfort last month in the shape of grants from Arts Council England, as part of the government’s £1.5 billion cultural rescue package. It won’t hush an industry decrying the neglect and condescension its faced amidst the crisis, and with no end in sight there’s little doubt more will be needed, but it should at least provide some solace for scores of beleaguered institutions enduring this toughest of winters.

Among the beneficiaries is Jesmond live music hub Bobik’s, who’re using the funds to curate a series of Splendid Isolation gigs from November through to January. Having already trialled a handful of well-received COVID-secure shows, the announcement sees a welcome return to a fuller calendar, though for events manager Russell Poad the prevailing mood remains one of caution: “We’re not out of the woods yet – we may still have harsher restrictions imposed upon us at any time,” he acknowledges. “Obviously if [sister pub] The Punch Bowl is forced to close then Bobik’s will be too, and it’s still not clear how that would affect the funding. It covers a three-month period through to January and some of it is going towards paying our staff – but what happens if we close and they’re paid through the furlough scheme? Everything’s still a bit up in the air.”

Artists have struggled more than most this year, and we’ve seen how keen they are to get out and play, but it’s important their enthusiasm isn’t taken advantage of

While uncertainty persists, gig-goers need have no misgivings over the safety of Bobik’s events. All shows will be fully seated and socially distanced, with drinks ordered via table service, face coverings mandatory and track-and-trace details logged during the booking process. With capacity capped at 20, the grant has allowed Russell to cast his net wider, booking the likes of Edinburgh’s Roseanne Reid (Saturday 5th December), Tom Bright from London (Wednesday 9th December) and York’s Fawn (Saturday 16th January) alongside local favourites such as Kay Greyson (Wednesday 25th November), Me Lost Me (Wednesday 11th November) and Jodie Nicholson (Saturday 9th January).
“It allows us to pay appropriate rates. I’d like to think that in 12 years of promoting gigs – both independently and now at Bobik’s – I’ve built a reputation for paying acts properly. You can’t expect somebody to travel from Scotland or Leeds and take a percentage of your door takings when the capacity is 20 and you’re charging £5 per head.
Artists have struggled more than most this year, and we’ve seen how keen they are to get out and play, but it’s important their enthusiasm isn’t taken advantage of.

“I wouldn’t attempt to persuade anybody still feeling uneasy about coming to gigs – everyone’s situation is different,” he continues, turning his focus towards audiences. “What I can say is that the feedback we’ve received so far has been positive; that it’s felt safe, but not too weird – almost like a normal gig. Also, while I understand from a financial perspective why some venues are only offering tables for twos, fours and sixes, a lot of people – myself included – enjoy going to gigs alone, and I don’t want those people to feel excluded. Our setup allows us to be quite flexible in that regard. Some of our regulars who were cautious at first are beginning to come back too, so tickets are selling quickly!”
With multiple events already sold out, these scarce winter delights aren’t to be dithered over!

For a full list of Bobik’s Splendid Isolation events, head to their website

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