Interview: Festival 75 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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This year, Peterlee celebrates its 75th anniversary and is inviting everyone to FESTIVAL 75, a birthday party event featuring a range of exceptional artists, both established and emerging.

The fun kicks off on Wednesday 17th January and highlights from the January programme include Paul Smith (Maximo Park), The Futureheads, Smoove and Turrell, and Kathryn Williams. Some of the artists performing will also be helping showcase local artists who have written some songs about Peterlee.

The event is partnered by Durham County Council, No More Nowt, The Story, East Durham College, Peterlee Town Council, Apollo Pavilion Projects CiC and Praxis (owners of Castle Dene Shopping centre. All performances are at the Lubetkin Theatre, East Durham College, Peterlee and tickets for each evening are only £5.00 each and available online.

We speak to event coordinator Alison Lister to find out more…

How did the idea of a festival to celebrate Peterlee’s 75th year come about?
It really evolved over a couple of years. Colin Robson, the County Council’s Cultural Engagement Officer in East Durham, is obviously in close contact with most of Peterlee’s community groups and other agencies in Peterlee. He’s also something of an authority on the history of the town and on the Apollo Pavilion, still something of a contentious monument. So a group of people and agencies led by DCC finally came together to work out what was appropriate, what would work and to raise the necessary funds. (which came from National Heritage Fund, County Durham Community Fund, Durham County Council)

 It seemed right to concentrate on the people of Peterlee, in their lives and experiences, to put the building of a “New Town” in historic perspective. We also wanted to engage with young people. So we started with a project called Living Memory that set out to capture the stories of the people who first moved to Peterlee. The real-life experiences that are largely missing from the official records of Peterlee Development Corporation

How important is a festival like this to towns like Peterlee?
I think understanding your environment both socially and in terms of landscape, where you came from – your cultural heritage, is fundamentally important to everyone. Towns have personalities, distinctive flavours. Peterlee is no exception – it was intended as a “capital for the miners” and was built on this great post-war wave of optimism and ambition that wasn’t sustained.

The festival is a celebration of the history and heritage of the town since its inception. How important has music been to the town since it was established?
Music has been at the heart of the community from its earliest days with concerts in early community centres and schools. And then there were of course the jazz bands! The Peterlee Emeralds always played at the Peterlee Carnival and other outdoor events and are remembered fondly by the participants.

But honestly, I think the most important musical heritage of the town was The Argus Butterfly. 

It was a pub that hosted the Peterlee Folk and Jazz Club that took on the booking bands on Sunday nights. What they booked were among the best-remembered rock bands of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Led Zeppelin, Free, Jethro Tull, Julie Driscoll, Deep Purple, Fairport Convention all came to Peterlee to name just a few. The sessions were packed and I’ve heard stories from some very respectable citizens about climbing in through toilet windows to get in when they couldn’t afford a ticket. Not to mention those whose parents were blissfully aware of where their darlings had gone! They crammed into what was really a small venue and had a great time.

Apparently, the club were offered a young up-and-coming rock pianist. But they felt he had no future and no one would be interested. So Peterlee missed out on Elton John.

How have you found organising the event?
I’m not responsible for the programme, that’s Colin’s role. I pull the elements together and make sure we don’t overspend or lose sight of our objectives. It’s exhausting and rewarding. I love it.

Who is performing at the festival?
Where do I start? Headliners are The Futureheads, Paul Smith from Maximo Park and Kathryn Williams, a brilliant singer-songwriter who’s just been on tour with Paul Weller. 

Then There’s Smoove and Turrell, The Lake Poets, Steve Pledger, Brick, Martha. There’s Mick Arnell and the Kets, Vice Killer from Peterlee, Big Fat Big, Primaveras, Emma Fisk’s Club du Nord, Elaine Palmer, The Alice Grace Quartet, Vandebilt.

There are two young singer-songwriters Isabel Maria and Grace Stott. Isabel is a graduate of East Durham College and Grace is studying there. They are both immensely talented.

Have I forgotten anyone? If so, you can check out the full lineup here.

Artists will be partnering students at East Durham College to showcase talented young musicians. Can you tell us more about that?
Underpinning the concert series has been Celebrating in Song, a series of workshops with pupils at Peterlee’s primary and secondary schools who have written a new suite of songs about Peterlee working with some of the singer-songwriters performing in FESTIVAL 75. 

Most recent workshops were at Acre Rigg Academy, Dene House Primary, Dene Academy, The Academy at Shotton Hall, St Bedes RC Comprehensive, Howletch Lane Primary, Seascape Primary and students drawn from Durham Music Service. The musicians leading the workshop sessions include Emma Fisk, Kathryn Williams, Steve Pledger, Elaine Palmer, Jordon Miller, Martin Longstaff and Bridie Jackson.

East Durham College is hosting the concerts and their students have been involved in a variety of ways, helping at previous concerts, recording artists and performance with video artist Alan Fentiman and photographing events, with mentoring from professional photographer Mark Pinder.

What do you hope audiences take away from the performances?
That feeling that they’ve had a bloody good evening and want us to do it all again.

What are you hoping the legacy of the festival will be?
I would like to think the programme as a whole could help ignite some of the optimism of the early years and that the young people we’ve worked with have gained skills and confidence. That people generally have learnt more about the town’s history and heritage and can take pride in it.

What are your expectations for Peterlee from now until its 100th anniversary?
A hard question. It would be good if the town started planning the festivities now.

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