INTERVIEW: Brave Exhibitions | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs by Janina Sabaliauskaite

Although they spring up left right and centre, the harsh reality is that few start-up festivals make it beyond that initial year. Some, of course, are envisaged as one-offs from the get-go, yet many with grander designs fall by the wayside – while some collapse before a note is even played, succumbing to disappointing sales or logistical catastrophes. None of these dispositions, however, apply to Brave Exhibitions, an inspired creation which is showing every sign of lasting the long haul.

Held across two stages at The Cluny, the inaugural event last November went down a storm with both local gig goers and many from further afield, hosting knockout performances from the likes of Part Chimp, Terminal Cheesecake and Free Love, among many others. With demand rife for a follow-up, this month sees the festival return for its second round, taking over the venue from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th November. Boasting an additional day and a total of 34 acts, it’s another ambitious, front-loaded programme, but according to Cluny venue manager Joel Thomson any hint of second year syndrome is yet to raise its head:

“The most challenging thing so far has been to not oversell the Saturday, which is obviously a nice one to face!” he says. “Everything went surprisingly without a hitch in 2018, which was nice… There’s a lot to do behind the scenes in the months running up to this sort of event – logistical, scheduling, technical, organisational, 30-odd acts who all have a specific set of requirements – though I actually enjoy that side of the job, strangely enough. It’s a nice feeling on the day when all the planning pays off.”

Whereas similar gatherings often sport bills curated by committee or convenience, Brave Exhibitions carries the unmistakable air of a personal passion project – something Thomson has made little secret of, having described 2018’s event as “a weekend festival based on the theme of my taste in music.”

“It had sort of been in the back of my mind for a while, but for a number of boring personal reasons I didn’t really feel ready to put my plans into action until last year,” he explains. “The Cluny is the perfect place for this sort of an event – two great venue spaces, and plenty of room in the bar area for customers to make themselves at home when eardrums inevitably need a bit of a rest.

“I’d like to think that all the gigs I promote are passion projects of sorts, as well as being my day job,” he continues. “With it being the first, last year was at least partially a bit of a test for myself – to see if I was capable of pulling off this sort of event – and it worked, which was great. There’s been a bit more to do behind the scenes this year to try to build upon last year’s success, but I’m definitely still extremely passionate about the whole project.”

I genuinely feel that the North East is producing some of the most interesting music it has in many years

The result of that labour is a veritable treasure trove, spanning a broad stylistic spectrum from noise, punk and psych and to electronic, folk and drone. Crucially, there’s also a heavy emphasis on showcasing the North East’s vast well of talents, with a virtual 50/50 split between local and travelling performers. “I’ve made a real conscious effort to include a decent percentage of local artists without repeating myself from last year,” Thomson confirms. “I genuinely feel that the North East is producing some of the most interesting music it has in many years; arguably the best to come out of the region since I started promoting gigs in the mid-2000s. I’m especially pleased to have a local headliner this year.”

The band he refers to are of course the mighty Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, who return to The Cluny after two years of unprecedented acclaim and transmitting their thundering riff worship across sold out nationwide tours. They top the bill on Saturday, but before that there’s the stirring prospect of an opening night topped by Dylan Carlson’s drone metal icons Earth, while Saturday’s proceedings are rounded off by London’s electrifying, discordant black feminist punk trio Big Joanie. Sunday meanwhile is a co-headliner, with honours shared between Glaswegian space rock titans The Cosmic Dead and thrilling Greek/Australian duo Xylouris White.

Of course, these are merely the names atop the poster. Indeed, with a bill this stacked, picking potential highlights is a hiding to nothing – are there, however, any performances that the man behind it all is particularly excited for? “Everyone, pretty much,” he replies, somewhat inevitably. “There are a number of turns I’ve not seen before who I’m really looking forward to: Thor & Friends, Big Joanie, AJA, Helen Money, Mésange. I also haven’t seen The Unit Ama for a long time so I’m looking forward to that, and to Nathalie Stern performing with a full band to launch her new album. Xylouris White were a late addition to the bill and are always a pleasure to work with and a joy to watch… And everyone else really!”

Brave Exhibitions takes place at The Cluny from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th November


Thursday (Cluny 2)
Helen Money

Big Joanie
Snakes Don’t Belong In Alaska

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Big Lad
Luminous Bodies
Melting Hand
Casual Nun
Grave Goods
The Dawdler

The Cosmic Dead
Xylouris White
Nathalie Stern
Thor & Friends
Acid Cannibals
The Unit Ama
Me Lost Me
Pentecostal Party
Penance Stare
Dropping Finger


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