6 Music festival brings music buzz to the north-east of England

Local musicians welcome focus on Tyneside as festival kicks off featuring local artists including Maximo Park, as well as Mercury prize winners Young Fathers

When the inaugural BBC 6 Music festival launched in Manchester last year, it didn’t make much of a ripple in a city somewhat spoiled for live music provision.

This year, the station has chosen to pitch up in the north-east, a part of England perennially underserved by touring bands.

The region may not be “desolate”, as a Tory peer so memorably misdescribed it, but venues can be a bit quiet on a week night. No wonder Tyneside is “buzzing” with anticipation of hosting such big festival, according to the Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith, who is from Billingham, down the coast in County Durham.

Smith, whose band are playing Sage Gateshead on Saturday, is looking forward to seeing Sleater-Kinney on Friday night. The all-girl American alt-rock outfit are one of the festival’s big draws, alongside Interpol, The Fall and The War on Drugs, as well as Mercury nominees Kate Tempest and Ghostpoet and this year’s winners, Young Fathers.

“A lot of bands miss out Newcastle because they know it’s a risk that they won’t sell enough tickets,” said Smith. “It’s sad, but I know how precarious the finances can be.”

Nadine Shah, a solo artist from South Shields who is appearing as part of the festival’s “By Day” programme, recalls the frustration of growing up in the north-east as a music fan. “I remember scouring the listings section of the NME and being so frustrated that we were always missed out,” she said. “When I was growing up, the Metro [Tyne and Wear’s light rail network] didn’t even link Sunderland to Newcastle, and even now, if you miss the last one it’s an extortionate £30 taxi journey home.”

Shah has also acted as an unofficial consultant for the London-based organisers, making sure they didn’t upset local rivalries. “It’s been really funny, the politics of what to call the festival,” she said. “I did the voiceover for them, and I was going to them: you can’t say it’s in Newcastle because it’s also in Gateshead. So they came up with Tyneside.”

She now lives in London, having moved south to get a record deal. The music industry is still far too London-centric, she says. “It’s a shame, but I can’t ever remember a gig in Newcastle when there were whispers going around saying ‘do you know who’s here?’ when someone spotted the A&R people.”

But Smith sees the north-east’s distance from the rest of England as a plus point. It breeds a special creativity that unifies bands from the region, he thinks. “There’s an eccentricity, if you go to the root of the word, of being outside of a circle. We’re economically, politically and geographically isolated, as well as largely ignored by national media based elsewhere, which means bands end up having an incubation period. As a result they end up stronger and more individual, before they are signed.”

Also appearing at the 6 Music festival is Sunderland resident David Brewis, who plays in Field Music and Slug as well as performing on his own as School of Language. He thinks bands from the north-east egg each other on to take risks, recalling the birth back in 2005 of what was dubbed the “new north-east sound”, spearheaded by Field Music, The Futureheads and Maximo Park. “We were always trying to impress each other and go further. I remember Futureheads gigs when they all had their faces painted silver and sounded like a barbershop quartet who couldn’t hear each other.”

Smith, who still lives in Newcastle, believes the north-east is a great place to make music precisely because “it’s outside of a scene”. In a place like Manchester, he says, bands have to carry the weight of the city’s musical heritage, the pressure of living up to The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order. Bands in Newcastle don’t bear the same burdens of their forebears, he suggests. “We don’t have that albatross.”

This article was amended on 22 February to correct a misspelling of the band, Slug.


Helen Pidd Northern editor

The GuardianTramp

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