INTERVIEW: THE LUBBER FIEND | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Skyrocketing living costs. Brexit. The cultural industries’ precarious position. Oh, and the little matter of a worldwide pandemic. Any of these challenges alone might be enough to dampen the spirits of the most ardent entrepreneur, but all four together…there can only be one kind of fool big enough to set up a brand new community-based, not-for-profit and totally independently financed music venue in such circumstances, and that fool is The Lubber Fiend.

OK, not the Fiend himself – that’s actually a creature from English folklore, “a large hairy man with a tail who will perform household chores and threshing duties in exchange for a saucer of milk and a place to kip by the fire”. As far as we know, Sam Booth, Tom Hopkin and Stephen ‘Bish’ Bishop don’t have tails (we’ll not speculate on their hirsute nature), but together the trio are behind Newcastle’s newest music venue, located on Blandford Street near the Discovery Museum.

The trio have a long history in the region’s music community, and are part of the various noisy/punky/electro DIY scenes. Tom even has a PhD around how difficult the last 10 years have been for cultural spaces, so they have their eyes wide open when it comes to the potential pitfalls around opening a new venue. “I’ve spent the past four years or so researching, reading and writing about how crap things are,” Tom says, “but also seeing the benefit of being uncompromising in your ideals and remaining as independent as possible. The Lubber Fiend is a way of putting some of this into action.”

Having kicked off with a crowdfunder in mid-2021, the venue’s doors are finally open, and Bish explains it’s all down to the mountain of help they’ve received. “Together the three of us have so much thanks to offer to those folks assisting in electrics, digital networking, audio installation, lighting, art and design and general labour and fundraising.”

Tom continues: “It’s the result of real community action and mobilisation. We’ve had an incredibly positive response from first floating the idea – people have contributed their skills, knowledge, time, equipment and money to get us to this point. It’s validated our perceived need for a space like this in Newcastle but it’s also brought us into contact with a whole range of people who care deeply about music and DIY culture.”

There’s no great agenda here except to try to offer a space to those who might otherwise struggle to find somewhere for their work with an active audience of supportive people

The idea behind the venue is to provide a welcoming and affordable space for audiences, promoters and bands alike, with high quality equipment and a professional outlook. “There’s no great agenda here except to try to offer a space to those who might otherwise struggle to find somewhere for their work with an active audience of supportive people. There’s no point in delivering another night club which is immediately monopolised or an ‘alternative’ venue which never explores real alternatives.” Says Bish.

As well as operating as a music venue, finances dictate that The Lubber Fiend will also operate as a bar too, but the venue is firmly a priority. “It is important to our functioning that people feel welcome to come down and have a coffee or a pint or whatever, as the balance between gigs and us being a licenced venue is going to be important to our continuation and hopefully our success.” Bish explains. “I know that increasingly there is a real care shown by many customers to where their drinks are coming from and who they are supporting with their purchase. We will absolutely be representing the wealth of independent producers and wish to collaborate on things in the future. We aim to keep prices fair for all.”

When it comes to the music policy, The Lubber Fiend will be eclectic. “We are open to any music and promoter who wants to use the space.” Sam says. “My background is in punk/hardcore/metal etc., and there will be a fair bit of that, but it’s a space for anyone who wants to use it and gets what we are trying to do. As for our own bookings, we will be putting on a whole range of stuff and putting on some adventurous and ambitious gigs.”

With Bish’s background in electronic music (he runs the indie label Opal Tapes), there will be a healthy smattering of underground electro sounds coming from the venue too. “There will certainly be electronics ranging from underground techno and industrial to quiet improvised work to dub, ambient and beyond.”

Tom’s love for 60s garage rock (“the snottier the better”), punk and Italo disco adds to the melting pot of influences, but their own tastes by no means limit the scope of what the venue might provide music lovers.

Lined up for June are some tasty shows including a cracking line-up on Sunday 12th includes Richard Dawson and Sally Pilkington’s Bulbils, plus performance artist Liberty Hodes and Summer; and a noisy bill on Saturday 18th featuring Mortsafe, Coax, Kamikaze and Diall.

So, while the general outlook for the arts may be ominous, there is a relentless optimism in The Lubber Fiend camp that can only contribute to the venture’s success, and Sam, Bish and Tom are more excited than daunted. “You read about stuff all the time that will affect us and it would be easy to say we can’t do it.” Sam admits. “One moment where I really thought this was possible though was the support we got once we went public. The money people have donated is unbelievably generous, but the time and effort people have already put in to help us and have offered going forward means that it is possible. It just means we have to deliver a great venue back to them, that is worth it!”

Things are shaky, there is hostility and there’s not any indication that things will get better anytime soon.” Tom concludes. “So, it seems like the perfect time to stick our necks out and do something risky!”

Foolish? Perhaps. Passionate, brave and vital? Absolutely.

The Lubber Fiend is located on Blandford Street, Newcastle.

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