INTERVIEW: Pop Recs Ltd | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

In 2013, when music stores were closing and HMV went into administration, Sunderland band Frankie & The Heartstrings opened a record store in their home city. Ironically, history seems to be repeating itself – because now, while most gig venues are currently closed due to the pandemic, Dave Harper from the band is busy building a new one. “There’s definitely a timeline of stupid decision making,” he says ruefully, explaining: “We’ve been working with the Tyne & Wear Preservation Trust to bring three Grade Two listed buildings back to life down the bottom of the High Street. The five year project which everyone expected to fizzle out hasn’t, so we’ve accidentally found ourselves in a position where we’re the only people in the country building a music venue when everyone else is closing theirs. It’s right on line with our run of luck. I’m not one to complain – I’m used to it. It’s been a laugh watching how many things we’ve had to deal with – floods, rents, politicians trying to bully us – we’ve had the full spectrum.”

The original Pop Recs, created to promote the band’s second album, was only ever meant to last a fortnight yet it became so important to the local community (hosting gigs, yoga classes and craft groups) that seven years later it’s still there. ” I always had one eye on it thinking ‘there’s too much work gone into this and too much need for it to disappear’,” says Dave. “It’s not been open through this situation and we’ve spent a lot of money trying to get it to reopen.”

The Stockton Road space will be open again soon (depending on local restrictions), confirms Dave. “I owe that to the people we support who stick with us and I know there are some people who are not doing very well. Most people are not doing great [during the pandemic] so I think things like Pop Recs are increasingly coming into focus as a service. And that isn’t fair. ‘Cause I’m unqualified to do it but there’s also the thing of ‘don’t tell me I can’t do it because I know this city as well as anyone else’. I’ve got a reasonable feel for the needs of people like myself. I’m not looking like I’m gonna fall off the edge anytime soon but any of us are just a few steps away from that and if you think you’re not you’re kidding yourself, y’know?

It’s always been a sport in Sunderland. I mean, everyone’s negative about where they’re from – it’s a very British thing – but Sunderland, it’s the one thing we could be Olympic standard at. And that’s not the people of Sunderland’s fault – that’s 40 years of being smashed over the head with ‘you can’t’, ‘you shouldn’t’ and ‘you won’t have something’ and you can’t blame people for that.”

fuck everyone who tells you that you can’t – stubbornness is as good as anything else

It therefore came as a surprise to Dave to learn that Pop Recs is one of the organisations who will be receiving help from the Culture Recovery Fund. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done an Arts Council grant application by myself. There’s a culture of people saying ‘you need other people to help you’. I have very few qualifications, I’m from a pit village in East Durham, you know? I’m not supposed to be doing this, but at the same time fuck everyone who tells you that you can’t – stubbornness is as good as anything else.”

The money means that he can fit out the new venue on High Street West, which he hopes will house several other services alongside the music, including an eatery and training centre to help people in need of a second chance.

“I’ve got a new business partner,” says Dave. “Our paths crossed and we both wanted the same thing and saw the same lack of opportunities in the east end of Sunderland. It’s a huge building. We’ll have people like Washington Mind who will offer in-house counselling. We’re looking at other people that we already work with so it’s people we know, people we trust, people who we can work alongside; it’s always been the dream to have this complex of people doing creative things that can support each other. There’s places like The Warren down in Hull [a youth project providing support services to young people] which myself and Michael [McKnight] have visited and still keep in contact with that have similarities to us. The guy who runs it really took us under his wing. And that’s what we aspire to. It’s incredible what they’ve done with some space in the centre of Hull and if we can achieve half of what he did I’d be very happy.”

Pop Recs is clearly so much more than a space, it’s a community of people with common goals. “The one thing we don’t want for is goodwill and I’m grateful for that – I would take goodwill over money any day of the week. People of the North East shout about us. It’s not easy, you don’t have to support something. We get some lovely messages that keep us going.”

The Stockton Road shop is filling a much-needed gap for the city’s music and support communities, but Dave has one eye on the future. “We think the High Street West building’s going to get handed over in less than two months which means I’ve got to find some more money and buy a paintbrush because this is where phase five of me not knowing what the fuck I’m doing will start again. I went down the other day and it was the first time I’d actually been in the venue because it was so unsafe, but the concrete was going down on the toilet floors which just felt perfect. To me that’s exciting; watching concrete on a toilet floor, because that’s years of work for that. That’s excitement to me – you can keep your Las Vegas!”

Like this story? Share it!

Subscribe to our mailout