Interview: Dan Donnelly | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Barry Hyde (The Futureheads) and Dan Donnelly (The Celtic Social Club, The Levellers), like a lot of musicians and music activists during the pandemic, have had a turbulent couple of years. As well as cancelling their own gigs, the pair have had to open and close their pub and venue The Peacock (situated in the cultural quarter of  Sunderland) on multiple occasions. However, despite the hardships the pair have come through and after establishing the Northern Academy of Music Education are now recruiting for the second year of their Modern Music Industries degree – a B.A. Hons programme, in partnership with The University of Sunderland, that gives young aspiring industry professionals the skills and knowledge to weather the pitfalls of the industry today.

We caught up with Dan to find out more about how their venue and course can level up the Sunderland music scene…

Can you briefly talk about how the pair of you went into business and took over The Peacock.
We didn’t really want to take over the pub. We had a premises for the Music Academy on the North Shore of the Tyne that fell through. We approached the owner of the peacock about access to the venue and using the third floor and he offered us the whole building. We figured if we were running the bar the bar wouldn’t complain about the musicians making noise upstairs. So it happened by accident but Barry has since got really into running a bar and is loving it.

What is your vision for The Peacock in terms of what it can bring to the local cultural scene?
With the venue and the recording studio plus the degree course, we see the place as more of a cultural hub than just a bar and venue. We have a monthly documentary film club, an all female theatre company putting on a play, a trans youth group that meet here, choirs and all sorts of cultural shenanigans that go on. We do put on our musician mates in a more traditional venue style way as well but we hope it is much more than just a place for old whit men to play guitar.

How did two musicians turned pub owners then get into partnership with The University of Sunderland?
I initially wanted to do the whole thing in Ouseburn but Barry is a big supporter of Sunderland and wanted us to do it there. He really loves the City! The University of Sunderland were really friendly and supportive and they have been recently shortlisted as one of the best universities in the UK so it was ideal. We liked the idea of our students being able to hang out in our venue, studios and practice rooms but also use all the facilities  at the Uni, like the library and students union, so geographically it is perfect, they are right at the end of our street. The students really get the best of both worlds.

Tell us a bit about your Modern Music Industries course. What edge would it give musicians and music activists when trying to make it in the industry?
What sets our degree apart is that if you don’t want to, you will never be marked on performing music. You can be if you want but we have students studying sound engineering, lighting, composing for computer games, songwriting. The degree is based around core modules that equip you to survive in the industry today and then you choose your own specialism and study that with an industry professional. That is where you get contacts. We have students mentored by internationally renowned DJs, producers and composers via zoom; then others by local guitar and drum teachers as well.

The course started its first year in 2021. How has the first year gone and what have been the highlights?
We are lucky that our first cohort is a truly gifted and lovely bunch. They have run a successful gig in the venue and made some money and have a lot of great plans for nights both at our place and further afield. They have created some great music and written some decent research reports so far. We are quite proud of them really. With all the mad stuff that’s been going on in the world we are just proud to be delivering in person lessons every day and having decent attendance and response.

You talk about ‘levelling up’ in regards to music in your press release. Various inequalities (gender, race, class) have been reported on in recent years. What does the industry need to do to make it a truly level playing field?
Music has always been an escape for working class kids, music and boxing are something you can do to keep you focused and possibly make you money, when you have not much else. The main thing that really needs to happen in the music industry is more females and female energy. There are more and more female industry professionals coming through all the time but the balance is still heavily skewed on the male side and as a result there are some hangovers from the hegemony that are truly surprising.

Have you got anything else in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
We may be running. stage at a larger festival later in the year and there are many exciting things going on in the new cultural quarter in Sunderland that are just great. If everything goes according to plan we will be in the middle of a very happening area of the North East!!!

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