Interview with Badmind – we chat music, live streaming, Kanye West and keeping creative collaborators close…..

I’m working on a gorgeous project at the moment with Polestar Music Studios in Newcastle, spreading the word about their fantastic studio, facilities for musicians and bands to practice, develop, record and perform (in person and digitally) their music… it’s an amazing privilege to work on and I have the pleasure of chatting to and discovering new music from the hottest, upcoming talent in the region.

It’s lush because I tend to get in a total music rut – listen to the same stuff and genres, and I just don’t have the time to seek out new music. So it’s a joy to step into a project, that gets me listening to new music! One such musician is Badmind….I discovered them through Polestar Studio’s Polestar Live Sessions – a programme of live music gigs, streamed directly from their studios to Polestar Facebook page.

Upcoming Polestar Live Sessions.

Badmind is an urban duo from Newcastle, made up of singer / songwriter Dayna Leadbitter and producer / drummer Jaimie Johnson; they’ve been setting the regional music scene alight with their soulful pop sounds over the last 18months.

Last year, they released their first single out into the pandemic, making waves with their polished pop; fast forward to now and everyone wants a piece of them and the whole North East music scene is buzzing about them. And it’s not hard to see why – they’ve racked up more than 230,000+ streams, been added to Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist, named in BBC introducing’s top tips for 2021 and representing the North East at Radio 1’s Big Weekend. Their new song, Flaws & Phases marks a new chapter for Badmind and I am so along for the ride! 

Badmind are performing tonight (12th August) at 7.30pm, so feel free to check in and watch with me, but, if you miss it – the live stream gig will be pinned to the top of the Facebook page for a week, so if you’re reading this just after the 12th, you’re in luck! But before, I rush off to watch their live streamed gig, which is going to be a corker, I thought I’d share this little Culture Vulture interview I did with them so you can get a flavour of what they are all about, why you need to check them out and so much more.

So over to you Dayna…..

Right, hiyer! Let’s go…. introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

Hi, I’m Dayna and I go by the name ‘Badmind’. I write songs and sing them live when the world isn’t locked down haha!

Tell me about your adventure into music and how did you meet your producer and drummer Jaimie?

My Dad has been singing and playing guitar to me since I was young, so I knew from an early age that I wanted to sing and do music. I started off wanting to do musical theatre but as I got older, I realised I wanted to be an artist and write my own songs. I met Jaimie when I was 18 and we’ve been writing together since then.

Dayna and Jaimie

How would you describe your music?

I describe my music as somewhere between Lo-fi, R&B and Pop but tend not to be too worried about genres; I just make music I’d like to listen to.

That’s a good way to think about it! You say you take a DIY approach to your music, but what does that actually mean?

Basically, everything is made in house; I work with a small team (myself, Jaimie, Stu & Jimmy) and together we do everything from writing, production, videos, imagery, branding and live performances. I like to keep a small circle of people I trust.

Dayna in studio

I really love that and that way you keep ownership and autonomy too! Can you tell me about the 7 releases across 2020? That must have been an epic under-taking!

I had all of the singles pretty much finished before I launched Badmind. I knew 2020 was going to be a development year and a way to introduce people to what Badmind is and to carry that on into 2021. BBC Introducing (Nick Roberts & Lee Hawthorn) have been a very important part of building the project and have helped with so many important opportunities for me.

It’s a great achievement to be recognised by Nick & Lee, so quickly – you clearly have proper talent and it’s a joy to watch you perform, so I can totally see why they fell in love with Badmind. What was it like to feature as part of BBC Introducing?

It was such a surprise, Nick Roberts called me over zoom and gave me the news. It was crazy especially with it being so early into my career.

Dayna – BBC Music Introducing

Aww that’s lush! Your music is such a blend of different genres and sounds – where do you get your inspo from?

There are far too many artists to list but I think my favourite would be Kehlani, it would make my life to do a track with her.

I love Kehlani – I’m an avid unashamed Halsey fan and that’s how I got into Kehlani.  Have you done much live streaming?

I’ve done a few bits here and there during lockdown, it is great fun and looking forward to the Polestar Live Session #4. I also looking forward to playing to audiences live again.

Dayna – Badmind

What can people expect from your Polestar Live Session?

I’m going to be playing pretty much all of the songs we released in 2020 including my new single ‘Flaws & Phases’ and I’m going to give a couple of unreleased songs a test run, so it’s a bit like a world premiere for that and first chance to listen to them.

What’s the live stream vibe going to be like?

Positive and fun vibes always; I love playing with the band it’s always a vibe!

Why should folx tune in?

What can be better on a Thursday evening?? Haha.

Dayna – Badmind

Oh absolutely – Thursdays are the new Fridays! Tell us what you are listening to right now?

I’ve been going back over old Kanye West albums recently they’re soooo good. Also been enjoying Jacob Collier’s work too.

Oh Kanye – I agree, I didn’t really appreciate them like I do now, when they first came out – they kind of passed me by a little. But love them! Can you tell us about any North East musicians you recommend checking out?

To be honest I’m so out of what’s going on locally I’m not too sure what’s been going on locally. Looking to change that over the next few months with gigs starting to come back.

Dayna in studio

Thanks for your honesty! Before working with Polestar Studios, I’d fallen out the loop so I hear you! Let’s chat the future….what’s next for you folx? what you working on?

I’ve got a new single coming very soon which will be followed by a run of singles till the end of the year. I’m hoping to get 4-5 singles out by the year’s end.

Wow – woman on a music mission – love it! Do you have a vision of a moment that you’d sit and think- “wow we’ve made it!”?

When I can pay the rent / mortgage with money earned from my music.

Dayna – Badmind

Very pragmatic answer! I’ve got my eye on a Dan Cimmermann painting that is £10K + – when I can afford that, then I will know I’ve made it! (haha!) So, highlight of 2021 so far?

I’d say getting the Radio 1 Big Weekend slot; that was crazy and hope I get to play more festivals.

Miss festivals and I hope you play more too – would love to see you play a festival….Anything else you want to tell us about?

Head over to Spotify to listen to my music and give me a follow on my socials to keep up to date with what’s coming up!

BOOM – thanks Dayna! All social links below and remember, Badmind are performing tonight (12th August) at 7.30pm, so feel free to check in and watch with me, but, if you miss it – the live stream gig will be pinned to the top of their Facebook page for a week, so if you’re reading this just after the 12th, you’re in luck and you can still experience their live performance!

Connect with Badmind:

Insta: @badmindmusic

Facebook: @badmindmusicuk

Twitter: @badmindmusic

Tik Tok: @badmindmusic

SoundCloud

Spotify

Interview with North East upcoming musician Lizzie Esau; live streaming, song writing as therapy & indie pop.

I’m buzzing to currently be working with much -loved corner stone of the regional music industry, Polestar Studios on their run of live streamed Polestar Live Sessions; celebrating and showcasing North East musicians and bands and their pandemic resilience.

Polestar Studios has been supporting the North East music scene to make great music since the early 90s. Nestled on the edge of the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, this rehearsal and recording studio in Byker, was established in 1990 by Pauline Murray; singer of iconic punk band Penetration. Thousands of bands and musicians have used the facility in its long history.

I’m supporting Polestar Studios on their run of Polestar Live sessions, high production quality live streamed gig featuring the hottest grassroots’ North East music. I have the benefit of getting to know and interview all the brilliant musical talent, who are making waves regionally, Nationally and many Internationally in their niche too.

Tonight’s live stream gig is the turn of North East singer-song writer Lizzie Esau and her band, who are set to serve an alt-pop set with beautifully honest lyrics. Lizzie’s music has demanded the attention of not just regional music lovers, but also record labels, producers, DJs, festivals and BBC Introducing. Her latest single ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ got me through the most Monday of Mondays this week and came to Lizzie in a matter of minutes. With its’ Lo-Fi Bedroom pop vibe and major chords, the song juxtaposes the highs of the music with the lows of the lyrics.

Polestar Live Session – Lizzie Esau

Lizzie’s live stream will be centre “stage” at 7.30pm tonight (Thursday 15 July) on Polestar Studios Facebook page and I can’t wait. It’s free to tune in but you do have the option to donate – all donations go directly to the artist, who is of course being appropriately paid, but a donation to a musician after the year they’ve had, really means the world and supports them get back out there.

So, in my quest to champion Northern talent and brilliance, I thought I’d nab Lizzie for a little Culture Vulture interview and find out more about her career so far, ambition and her music writing inspo! Let’s get to it, here is Lizzie Esau!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Hi Lizzie, right let’s get to it – can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures? Who are you?

I’m Lizzie Esau, a singer songwriter from the North East.

Can you tell us about your journey so far into the music industry?

I’ve always written little tunes and melodies ever since I can remember, probably from the age of around five or six. It’s something I have always had as a part of my life which for many years fell into the background but across the last three years something changed, and I decided to prioritise what I love and take music seriously.

Through connecting with my manager a few years ago I have now been able to make some great contacts in the industry and had the chance to work with other artists as well as releasing my own music in the last year, which has been so fulfilling.

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t listened to it before?

My music is a fusion of everything I love and that interests me. If I had to describe the sound, I’d say it’s a hip-hop alternative/ indie pop with honest lyrics and real instrumentation.

Where do you seek inspiration? What’s your music writing process like?

I’m mostly inspired by everyday life and the stresses and joy that it can bring. My writing is very reflective and as cheesy as it sounds, I often use it as a way of therapy which I’m sure is something other creatives can relate to.

The writing process normally consists of a random idea floating around in my head for a while which comes together as a song after sitting at my piano and on logic for a while working out new melodies and parts to the track. After my demo is created the song will then be sent off to the producer I’m working with right now, Steve Grainger, who elevates the track, and then after a bit of backwards and forwards discussion, the track is ready to go out!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Who is in your band? How did you pull them together/meet them?

The drummer Alex and I got in touch via social media quite a few years ago and he became part of a band that unfortunately faded out. After connecting with my manager and doing some solo gigs to throw myself into performing, I then reached out again just before the pandemic to create a new band around the music. As soon as we were able to, we started rehearsals again around the new tracks and Alex brought along the bass player Joe who fitted into the band so well being a great friend of his. We have had a few people stand in as guitarist during the time we have been playing together, who have all been such great musicians, and hopefully one day a permanent position will be filled. I feel so lucky to be able to have such professional and dedicated musicians as part of this project and we just can’t wait to get out and play live now!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

I love your new single, ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ ; tell us a bit about it? (It’s available to listen to now on all streaming platforms)

The new single is an indie pop track about escaping from the stresses of life through the act of performing mindless activities. The idea for the track came about when I was driving (hahaha!) and all came together very quickly; form the writing process to the production.

The music is lively and upbeat which I think is a nice contrast to the honest and more downbeat lyrics describing how I was feeling at the time. The choruses are a little more positive and talk about getting help for these life stresses, putting more of an optimistic spin on things.

I love the video – where did the concept come from?

The video concept came from the director, Sel Mclean, who took into consideration so well who I was as an artist and the style of things that would work best for the track. I loved his idea to have skateboarders there and to have it by the beach at sunrise, I think the whole thing came together so well and everything for the releases seemed to really work together. The whole team were so amazing and made my first ever professional video shoot experience so enjoyable and memorable.

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

The song really speaks to me about the noise of modern life and using driving as a means to escape, self-care and freedom; this is such an important thing in the current context of the pandemic. How have you found the pandemic as a creative?

Just before the pandemic is when I really started to be proactive and get myself out playing solo shows and writing more, so when the pandemic hit it was very disheartening, as I’m sure it was for all creatives especially ones just starting off. But through this time I have connected with my wonderful band and started collaborating with many artists as well as writing more than I ever have before, so in many ways it allowed me the time to put everything into music which I really loved.

However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this pandemic has been so hard on everyone and that no one is alone in feeling like they have had low points, but I’m glad to see us coming out of it all now! (fingers crossed Haha!).

How did tonight’s live stream gig with Polestar Studios come about?

This gig came about due to the bass player, Joe, being in contact with them and therefore when an opportunity came about to play there, we were all really keen to get involved and get the songs out there for more people to hear!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

What can people expect from your Polestar Live Session tonight at 7.30pm via Polestar Facebook page and why should people tune in?

You can expect to hear lots of new unreleased music, perhaps even a sneak peek at upcoming singles as well as a cover, which I never tend to do but I couldn’t resist with this one! I will be with a full band on the night so expect big sounding tracks and lots of energy! We can’t wait for it!

Why are organisations like Polestar Studios important to the North East music scene?

I think they’re so important! They give up and coming artists a platform to share their music to a wider audience, especially since they stream the gigs via social media which enables anyone to be able to discover new music. It’s great to have such supportive organisations that enjoy promoting artists and love to watch them succeed; without this so many people would go undiscovered!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

How do you feel about live streaming gigs? Why are they important?

I think it’s so important to adapt and carry on regardless in any way that we can, so to see so many live stream events and socially distanced performances is so reassuring that music can still be shared no matter what. I think especially in the times we have had, music is so vital to keep everyone’s spirits high and keep optimistic.

How does it feel to be getting featured by BBC Introducing? (It has been ace to hear you on the radio waves!)

It feels so amazing! The support I’ve had from BBC introducing ever since putting out my first demo onto Soundcloud in 2018 has been so wonderful and everything I’ve uploaded has been shown so much love by them! I really loved doing a session for BBC introducing in the North East around my debut official release ‘Young Mind Run Blind’, this was something I have always wanted to do and to do it around my first proper release was really amazing! From then on, every single was so amazingly promoted by them with my third and most recent release being played on radio 1 introducing as Gemma Bradley’s tip of the week meaning all the local radios around the country played it also which was so crazy to hear!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

What do you think of the North East music scene?

I think the North East music scene is such a supportive space and everyone loves to see one another do well and get to where they want to be. There is so much amazing talent around right now and so many people getting National radio plays which is so amazing to see! Just looking forward to getting out and seeing all of these band and artists I have discovered in lockdown live now!

Who on the scene do you admire/should I check out?

I’m really loving so many artists form the North East right now I think everyone is really thriving! Off the top of my head I’m loving Nadedja, Jodie Nicholson, Martha Hill, Georgia May, Luke Royalty, Future Humans and so many more!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Good selection of people there! Can you share any advice for aspiring folx wanting to get into the music industry?

I think my biggest piece of advice is to connect with as many people as you can and to be good at networking, or like I did find a wonderful manager who is great at it, hahaha! I think as soon as I started reaching out to people to collaborate and venues to play at is when things started happening, so just remember to always be proactive and keep writing as much as you can!

Highlight of 2021 so far?

My 2021 highlight so far has to be hearing my new single ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ on radio 1! It was so surreal as I always have I on in my car so to hear my own music getting played on my favourite radio station was just the best feeling and has already led to some exciting conversations and interest from new listeners!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Do you have a moment in mind/visual moment, when you think – “I’ve made it!”?

I’ve always dreamed of headlining Glastonbury or playing on the main stage, I’d definitely know I’ve made it then! But to be honest just playing anywhere at Glastonbury would be such a great feeling for me, and I think the day I see a load of people I don’t know in a crowd singing my lyrics back to me will be so surreal and I’ll know I’ve made an impact on them for sure!

So, what’s next for you?

I have so many new tracks, ideas and possible collaborations happening which makes me so excited for what’s coming in my career! I think the next thing you’ll hear from me will be a bit of a surprise so keep an eye out! I’m also playing live lots and I really hope to continue that and grow the amount of people listening to my music as we move out of the pandemic!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Anything else you want to tell my readers about?

Yes! Lots of gigs happening soon! I am particularly excited for the Cluny on the 23rd of July which is an event with Urban Kingdom and Generation W where I’ll be playing alongside three other amazing female artists. I’ve also got lots of gigs lined up in September including my debut headline show on the 18th at Head of Steam in Newcastle with the band which we are so excited for! As well as this, I’ll be playing a few exciting support slots so make sure to check out my socials to find out about it all!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Well thank you Lizzie and if you can, make sure you check out her live stream tonight at 7.30pm from Polestar Studios Facebook page!

You can also connect with Lizzie via:

Instagram: @lizzieesau

Facebook: @lizzieesau.music

Tik Tok: @lizzieesau

SoundCloud

YouTube

Spotify

Interview with Mercury Prize nominated Sunderland band Field Music’s David Brewis.

I’m absolutely BUZZING with this interview – as someone who was once a bit of an indie kid, back in the day (before that I had an emo phase, before that a goth phase, before that a chav phase….); think Stonelove at Digital and Bulletproof at The Academy, obsessed with boys in skinny jeans and big hair, going to gigs every week, firmly in love with the North East music scene and listening constantly to bands like Mercury Prize nominated Sunderland band Field Music. I think about that period of my life, with such nostalgia!

I LOVE Sunderland band Field Music. Listening to them makes me think of a time in my life, that I was really super happy and was having a lot of fun! It is great to see how they’ve gone from strength to strength, continuing to release music, such a valuable asset to the music scene and I just love their twitter account.

Field Music – photography credit: Andy Martin

I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with Field Music a bit recently. I’ve been supporting Paint The Town In Sound, Sunderland Culture’s online exhibition exploring the timeless relationship between art and music and the direct links forged between musicians and artists. The exhibition is curated in collaboration with Field Music, takes their own collaborations as a starting point to explore wider themes. The artworks in Paint the Town in Sound, are drawn from the Arts Council Collection and offer a fascinating insight into the musical heritage of our region providing a route to examine our own cultural identity and its relationship to class, politics and place. You can visit the exhibition here and experience the virtual walk through here.

Paint The Town In Sound exhibition

Like the little hustler that I am, I took the opportunity of working with and connecting with Field Music and nabbed a weee Culture Vulture interview with Field Music member David Brewis. They’ve got a new album coming out and a tour in the works….we chat live music in a pod COVID world, their new album, Paint the Town in Sound, art and other musicians to check out….

Well hello David, let’s do this, let’s start with an intro!

I’m David Brewis. My brother Peter and I have been making records as Field Music since 2004 from our own studio in Sunderland. I’ve also made a much of records on my own as School of Language.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t listened to it?

I tend to avoid doing that but essentially, it’s weird pop music which doesn’t sound much like contemporary pop music but also doesn’t sound much like the pop music of any other era either.

Field Music – Photography credit: Chris Owens

Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about your journey into music? Why music?

The idea of playing music took hold of us when we were 10/11 and that was it. Mostly we were just pinching things from our parents’ record collection – Led Zeppelin, Free, Fleetwood Mac. We started playing covers in pubs in 1994 which was a great way to really learn. And we were “peer educators” helping to run the music workshops for Dave Murray’s youth project at the Bunker in Sunderland around the same time. It was there that we met Barry Hyde (later of The Futureheads), who was clearly really talented but also, because of his dad, had a knowledge of music beyond what we knew, – Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground, Wire, John Coltrane. It became a kind of trade – we showed Barry how to be in a band and he showed us how to listen to music! If anything, we became even more obsessive about music then and even more determined to make something unique.

We had applied for the very first round of National Lottery arts funding in 1997 to help set up a short-term community recording studio and after that, it felt essential to have our own studio space. That – and the fact that we could never really explain to anyone what we were trying to do – is how we ended up self-producing music right from the very beginning.

Field Music. Photography Credit: Andy Martin

You’re releasing a new album soon….tell us more! What was it inspired by?

The next Field Music album is called Flat White Moon and it’s due out in April. A lot of it was inspired by our mam passing away in 2018. I think we both felt we needed to write about it and about her and our memories of her; but we weren’t really ready until now. Our last album, Making A New World, which came out last year turned out to be a good way to use the creative parts of our brain without getting stuck in the mental fug we were in when we wrote it, because that was all based on stories and research related to the first world war. We didn’t have to deal with ourselves and I don’t think we could have at that time. The new record isn’t overly gloomy though – we were keen to make music, which was freeing and fun to play, after a couple of albums which were quite tricky to play live.

Field Music new album

And you’re touring later in the year…..are you excited to be on the road playing to actual people in real life?

Excited and anxious, but I think that’s how the audience will feel as well. Whenever live music starts happening again, I think it’s going to be a very emotional, cathartic experience all round.

Absolutely agree – speaking of live music, can you tell us about your favourite gig or festival you’ve ever played?

We played a lot of festivals in 2016 and quite a few of them were not a lot of fun. Winning over ambling crowds of people drinking Pimms is not really our forte – our music is too knotty and our sense of humour is too dry to work in that situation. But then the last festival of that summer was in the big tent at Green Man Festival. I’m not sure what I was expecting but we came out and the tent was packed and the atmosphere was really special. It was wonderful.

I truly hope so. On the plus side, the people who run and book small independent venues are some of the most resourceful, creative and bloody-minded people I know. They will find a way to make things work. But small-scale live music has never been a money-spinner so if there are restrictions on gatherings for another whole year or more, it’ll be extremely difficult for small venues to survive. As with everything else, we’re dependent on how the health crisis is handled first and after that on how businesses are supported. Also, because the whole industry is basically run by freelancers, who’ve been among the least-well-supported financially through all this, there’s an awful chance we’ll have lost thousands of skilled people who’ve been forced to find work in other sectors.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

What do you think of the music scene in Sunderland/North East? And any suggestions of folx to check out/ones to watch?

Honestly, I find it difficult to keep up. And I’m now old enough where I don’t feel guilty about it! It has been pleasing to see how active Independent have been in putting on shows that aren’t just lads in bands (though Roxy Girls are an outstanding band made up of lads). It has been interesting and exciting to do a little bit of studio work with Sunderland Young Musicians Project, who seem to have a whole production line of talented, outrageously-young songwriters, some of whom are already getting out there in a serious way like Faye Fantarrow and some of whom, like Ami McGuinness, Lottie Willis and Eve Cole, are just a step or two away from that too. There’s greatness to be mined if young people have the opportunity and the support.

Field Music. Photography credit: Chris Owens

Absolutely agree! Tell us about Paint the Town In Sound online exhibition?

When Jonathan from Sunderland Museum first got in touch with us to act as guest curators, the brief was pretty open. We knew that the majority of the works in the exhibition had to come from the Arts Council Collection but that was about it! So, we started poring through ACC catalogues and decided to use the exhibition as a way to look at how music, art and identity feed into each other and that ended up touching on fandom, pop iconography, sleeve art and punk as a community movement. We were very fortunate, to have Jonathan guiding us through the process and being so accommodating to our ideas.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

Why should folx check out the exhibition and what can they expect?

The hope is that if you go to the exhibition you’ll see some reflection of yourself in there. We all use pop culture as a way to self-identify and while we can’t represent EVERY pop tribe, we hope it’ll show a bit of how that self-identification happens and why it’s so interesting and important. I’m over the moon that we have some great work from NE-based artists – the likes of Narbi Price, Laura Lancaster and Graeme Hopper in there – alongside Peter Blake and Anthea Hamilton. I think people will find the items from the Bunker archive really interesting – handwritten letters, posters and newsletters from the first flourish of punk organising in Sunderland. And I personally really enjoyed putting together the display of NE-linked record sleeves and researching the artists and designers who created them – it’s like an alternative history of music and design. And it took AGES.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

What I love about the exhibition is that it really showcases how music and art can blend together and create something quite magical….. how has art affected your music? What type of art are you into?

One of the things that became really apparent in compiling the sleeve art display is that the styles of art and design used always say something about the artist, even if it’s the artist deliberately trying to steer you away from a particular interpretation of their music. So with us, the art we tend to like and tend to use is a lot like our music – we want it to be comprehensible without a lot of explanation but we want it to hold details and references which you’ll hopefully discover the more time you spend with it. We often want it to have an element of humour or self-deprecation. We like things which cast a bit of wry eye at luxury and commerce and we like to subvert symbolism. I also like things where it feels like the artist is struggling a bit to communicate something just out of reach. And conversely, with both visual art and music, I tend to glaze over a bit if it feels like making it or conceiving it was too easy.

Field Music new album

One of the things, I love about being The Culture Vulture, is that I have the privilege of going behind the scenes and getting my mits on things before everyone else (which is mad because it’s just Horts from Gateshead!) – you had that experience a bit seeing the Arts Council Collection stuff? What was that like?

Sadly, because everything was done under some level of covid restrictions we didn’t get to see anything for real before the installation. We were entirely dependent on the ACC catalogues. Which did mean, for instance, that we didn’t release quite how risqué Anthea Hamilton’s Leg Chair was until it was in situ!

What else are you working on? Anything else you want to share?

In between the frustrations of homeschooling, we’re having to spend a lot of time thinking about how we promote a record when we can’t go out and play; it’s difficult to rehearse and we can’t go anywhere. I never thought I’d be the kind of person who used the phrase “visual content” but here we are. We’ve also been working on songs for a commission for next year which has involved some fascinating historical research. More on that soon!

Very exciting! Thank you so much David!

Field Music. Photography credit: Chris Owens

Keep an eye out on Field Music social media for the album drop on 23rd April.

To view Paint The Town In Sound visit HERE.

To experience the virtual walk through of Paint The Town In Sound visit HERE.

And finally, keep an eye out for Paint The Town In Sound Podcast series, as it will be launching soon!

Coming soon – Field Music PtTiS Podcast series

Interview with sound designer & artist Matthew Tuckey; unexplored possibilities & bringing stories to life through sound.

“You can’t be, what you can’t see”

This was my starting point for a creative discussion the other day – we were talking about creative industries and lack of diversity, lack of representation in some areas, empowered freelancers and I broadened the conversation on to creative skill set and roles. There are SO many roles and extremely talented folks that go relatively unnoticed and unseen. It’s not to do with their lack of importance or skill set – it’s because what they do happens behind closed doors or “backstage”. Ironically, some of these roles (especially the digital and tech ones) in the current climate – have never been more important. These are the folks that will drive and help shape the innovation and reinvention of creative projects because they have the skill and ability to do so! Therefore, we should be shouting about them and celebrating them!

As The Culture Vulture, my mission has always been to empower artists and showcase the creative and cultural sector in its entirety. So, in my blog over the next few months, I’m going to be featuring talented creative people who have interesting roles in creative projects but often, don’t get mentioned or celebrated in the way they should do! I want to remove the “mysterious” element of what they do and hopefully, make them feel seen with the hope that others may follow in their footsteps. I want to illuminate the creative industries in their entirety.

There are so many roles that could sit within the “unseen” and “mysterious” category – but the one I’m going to explore today is a sound designer! If you don’t know what one is – well don’t flap – I didn’t know until a couple of years ago! I’ve personally worked with them on films, animations, theatre productions and public art commissions exhibited as part of an event. They do weird and wonderful things to sound usually as part of a wider whole (e.g. a theatre production). Their skills lay in making people feel, think, experience things via sounds. In an immersive performance context, if we think about humans having 5 senses – the perfect blending of the performance including sight and sound, can trigger the audience to feel, smell, and even taste things. What you hear can be equally as important as what you see!

A sound designer that I’ve had the total pleasure of meeting and working with recently, as part of Mortal Fools – is Matthew Tuckey, he’s very talented but also really canny human (I’ve enjoyed surrounding myself with canny folks of late). So I thought, I’d jump at the chance to interview him to showcase what a sound design is, what they do and to celebrate Matthew’s work, to make it more “seen”. So here we go and over to Matthew!

Hiyer Matthew – right, let’s start at the beginning – please introduce yourself to my fellow Culture Vultures?

Matthew – I am a Sound Designer and Sound Artist. I work mainly in theatre but have more recently been taking private and public art commissions. I’m based in North East England but take my work further afield when I get the opportunity. I am currently craving a long escape to the Highlands (when it is safe to do so) and I really like cooking. So, if you want to talk at length about interesting sounds or how to make an excellent stir-fry – hit me up!

Laughing at Hadrians Wall 2017

Matthew Tuckey

As a forever hungry human, yes please! Can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Matthew – It’s a convoluted one… I started off with a very committed drama teacher who encouraged me to pursue directing. I was involved in music, art and drama at school but unfortunately we were limited to only one option at GCSE level, so I ended up going for Drama and took this all the way to A Level. I tried studying a four year MA in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow but after the first two months decided this was a waste of time and somehow landed an internship in a recording studio back in Newcastle. I was still writing and directing theatre here and there, but the studio offered me an exciting new creative outlet. Without planning it, these two worlds merged quite naturally in sound design.

Fast forward to now and I’m exploring the exciting and diverse world of sound design for theatre, and more lately, sound art. This was quite a natural progression from my creative work in recording studios and theatre sound technician work, alongside participation in directing and writing workshops. The surprising thing I found was when I was doing the more technical work, some people were asking me questions like “have you given up on creating theatre then?” which really fuelled my desire to demonstrate how technical and creative meet harmoniously in the designer’s role.

The Culture Vulture – As a non-planner – I find the magic happens in the freedom and I’m delighted to hear you talk about the connection between technical and creative, as absolutely and actually, I think where they meet is exactly where the innovation is, that will  take us into the next sector creative phase for reinvent post (or during) pandemic!

So tell me, what do you do as a sound designer? What is a sound designer?

Matthew – I get asked this a lot, and often at the start of a project with a new collaborator funnily enough! Also, a lot of people keep asking me how I differentiate between my sound design and sound art practice, and to be fair most aren’t aware that a “sound artist” is a thing. So to clarify, briefly, I am a sound designer when I am serving a client or collaborators creative vision – they present a problem and I plan and execute a design solution. Sound Art is what I do when I am realising my own creative vision – but the line can be quite blurry.

So, a sound designer means a lot of things across film, music, theatre, UI, AR, etc. Even in the theatre industry, where I do most of my work, it can mean many things to many people depending on the show, the genre, the theatre, etc. Broadly speaking though, the sound designer for a theatre production is responsible for all audible aspects of a performance.

It’s a broad role that can involve any combination of the following: sound effects recording, sound effects design, Foley (live or pre-recorded), sound system design, live sound reinforcement, recording and playback of music, programming the show control software, and room acoustics. So if you get the right one, they can be very good value for money!

I describe this approach as a wholistic sound design and this is what I aim to achieve in my work. Depending on the show and the company, this can either be all on me or with a team of maybe one other sound designer or composer and the technicians in the sound department.

The Culture Vulture – I think it’s an important question for folks to keep asking as, the more they ask and get comfortable with what a sound designer can do – the more ambitious they will get with their use of sound during a performance or project. Lack of technical knowledge and understanding of specialist roles like yours, can be so self-limiting! Through increased awareness, the seemingly impossible transforms into possible.

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Matthew Tuckey – photo credit Von Fox

What types of folks require your services?

Matthew – Anyone wanting to tell a story with sound! Whether that’s theatre companies, film makers, podcasters, visual artists, museum curators, or marketing teams. For example, I’ve never worked with an organisation on creating a sonic brand (think Windows or Mac start up. Or Netflix “da-dum”!) but would love to hear from anyone interested in developing that side of their marketing strategy. My clientele is only limited by imagination – it’s fairly niche at the moment but more and more organisations are offering immersive audio experiences (see Land Rover marketing or Formula 1 teams or Bastille album launches).

The Culture Vulture – holy moly, the Bastille album launch was truly amazing (google it folks)! So innovative. And as someone, who had kind of forgotten about them and their music, it worked in getting me to notice them and reconnect.  

Matthew – There’s a range of technical proficiency out there already when it comes to things like recording a podcast or sound for video, not forgetting musicians with home studios. But my skills really lie in marrying specialist technical knowledge and creative expression. When I was working in recording studios, one of the most important lessons I learnt was how to create a workflow that allowed natural movement between ‘left brain’ activities (setting levels, patching signal chains, organising your space) and ‘right brain’ activities (creative ideation, abstraction thinking, meditative listening) – I think that’s one of the biggest offerings on a project.

I also offer consultancy and training for organisations looking to improve their sound infrastructure and skills. Whether that’s theatre and cinema workshops exploring sonic creativity or venues looking to improve their sound system. I’m yet to work with a restaurant that want to improve the sonic side of the dining experience (I’ve been lucky enough to go to some nice restaurants and notice how uncomfortable they are sonically!) – maybe one day!

The Culture Vulture – I really love what you’re talking about there. 1. The brand sound – as someone who works in marcomms, this would interest me greatly. We often talk about how colours and visuals feed into branding- but sound isn’t something explored in the mainstream and I think, it has such potential. 2. Enhancing audience experience through sound – I would love to visit a restaurant or bar that has invested into this area.

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Matthew Tuckey

Tell me about some recent project highlights?

Matthew – Just before lockdown I was nearing the end of an exciting new show with Mortal Fools called ‘Relentless’. This was the first time they had worked with a sound designer and we had/have a really ambitious vision for using sound in this production (Relentless was cancelled just before touring and is set to tour in 2021). I couldn’t help feel a touch of nostalgia with this project as it reminded me of similar devising processes I was part of as a teenager. We’re all determined that this show WILL have a life beyond lockdown!

Another recent highlight is ‘Wolf’ a winter story by Kitchen Zoo in association with Northern Stage which was performed in Stage 3 over Christmas 2019. Kitchen Zoo are a fantastic team making brilliant shows for little people and their grown-ups. It was my first time collaborating with the talented Katie Doherty who was the composer, we both found this collaborative effort very rewarding.

WOLF by Kitchen Zoo – photo credit Von Fox

What makes a “good” sound designer? What skills do they need?

Matthew – I think the main thing that is relevant for all types of sound designers, and sounds a bit obvious but I really do mean it, is you need to LOVE sound and really experience the world through a strong awareness of sound. Whether it’s noticing an interesting acoustic effect, experiencing new music (live and recorded), or being drawn into a film through the sound design and score. I’m pretty evangelical about people watching/listening to collaborations between Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan (current personal favourites – Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Trilogy – both making awesome use of Shepard tones which is one to ‘Google’!) And also, Joe Wright’s Atonement and Darkest Hour are great examples of sonic repetition and punctuation. But I’ll stop short of some of the more obscure ones…

The Culture Vulture – As a real film fan, I love sound in film and really appreciate its usage; 1917 had a fantastic use of sound and Ryan Murphy productions use sound (and populist music) fantastically; American Horror Story, Pose, Versace!

Matthew – Another important skill is developing a language alongside your awareness of sound. Being able to describe sound in a way that communicates clearly with a range of clients/collaborators – whether that’s a producer, a director, a performer, or videographer or painter. Having a common language is really important and is the first challenge in every new collaboration.

There are other skills that are really more specific to individual practice. Such as live sound reinforcement, microphone techniques for live and recorded sound, field recording, effects design, music composition, QLab programming etc. The depth that you go into these more practical skills really depends on what type of work you are designing.

The Culture Vulture – It’s interesting that you brought up commonality of language. I think it’s a real barrier to lots of collaboration where technology and more technical roles could come together. It’s the same with technological solutions and innovation that could make creative businesses function better – we (I class myself in that) often don’t have the words to describe effectively what we want or to do the research to understand what we need and the ones with the technological solution aren’t able to communicate to people who don’t understand tech speak! It can be overwhelming and disempowering!

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Matthew Tuckey

What kit do you use? What kit would you recommend to folks wanting to invest in sound for their work?

Matthew – So I use a combination of field recording, studio equipment, and electronic instruments.

For field recording I have a multitrack recorder with a vast range of microphones, from ambisonics (useful for VR and surround work) to contact microphones (useful for acousmatic compositions). I also have a handy mini field recorder with built-in and external mic’s which I use to grab interesting sounds that I come across day-to-day (this pretty much goes everywhere with me, and it’s not uncommon to spend the first 30mins in a new Airbnb recording another extractor fan or boiler!).

I have yet more microphones for studio recording (such as voiceovers and acoustic instruments) as well as a few acoustic instruments and Foley props that make great source material for designing effects. I recently got hold of a mini Roland synthesiser based on the classic Juno 60 and 106 which is very fun and versatile – I like being able to get hands on with this, as a lot of my work happens in audio editing software, and if all else fails you can just entertain yourself trying to make things sound a bit more Stranger Things!

It’s important to say though that you can buy the best equipment in the world but use it terribly! So the best resource straight away is either investing time and money into learning the skills to optimise what equipment you can lay your hands on, or bringing in a collaborator like me who already has not just those skills and equipment resources, but thinks and creates in a heavily sound orientated way.

The Culture Vulture – When learning something new or feeling out of your depth, there is an impulse that can lead to buying ALL the kit possible as a solution or assuming the best kid will compensate for the lack of skills. I’ve been guilty of that for visual stuff and learnt the hard way!

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Matthew Tuckey

You worked on an Enchanted Parks’ piece – I didn’t know you back then,  but I worked on EP that year and remember your name, it was a wonderful piece– can you tell me about the piece?

Matthew – That was a lot of fun collaborating with Molly Barrett on her sculpture piece ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ in 2018. I got to play around with some new ways of manipulating the voiceover that was part of the wider Enchanted Parks story and working with some theme music from the wonderful Roma Yagnik.

I’m really hoping that Enchanted Parks makes a come-back after their hiatus. It’s a fantastic event and my involvement in 2018 left me with big ideas for a parkwide sound installation.

The Culture Vulture – Me too – both as someone who visited every year as a punter and lived along the top of Saltwell Park, it’s a proper visitor gem! AND as someone who worked on the event for a couple of years – it’s a big miss to my yearly calendar.

Can you tell me a career project highlight so far?

Matthew – That’s a tough one!

I really enjoyed working with Selma Dimitrijevic on ‘joey’. It was a preview tour and Selma’s first point in the brief was ‘very lo-fi’ – we were literally touring to venues that had the most basic of sound systems. The piece was performed as a monologue by two performers simultaneously, one in English the other in BSL (the very talented Scott Turnbull and Faye Alvi respectively), and so we decided to make the soundscape quite low-frequency heavy in order to maximise the effect for our D/deaf audience members. These very strict parameters helped me to focus my attention on the source material inspired by the script and manipulate these in a really creative way that supported and scored the performances on stage.

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Joey – Photo credit – Bish

I also have to mention working as Associate Sound Designer for Northern Stage’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and working alongside sound designer Nick John Williams. That show was a lot of fun, not least because of the sheer scale of the production. Nick brought me onto that project to help with some particular tasks, which included recording various sound effects such as church bells – a first for me! I was also responsible for creating vocal effects chains for the different types of ghosts and narrators in the show. Both of these challenges were a lot of fun and we were very happy with the outcome.

The Culture Vulture – Great answer and it gives a real overview of how broad and diverse your work can be!

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A Christmas Carol – Northern Stage – photo credit Pamel

Can you tell me how COVID-19 has affected your work/practice?

Matthew – As soon as the PM suggested people stay away from theatres (prior to ordering them to close) the theatre industry pretty much shut down over night. My diary for the foreseeable cleared overnight simultaneously. Which was a shock to the system to say the least!

I had already been developing my practice in the digital art scene and making commission applications and funding bids in this area. Now with social distancing in place, a lot more people are contributing to digital art galleries which is great but also means the competition for funding and commissioning has jumped up!

The Culture Vulture – I hear ya! But from knowing you and chatting briefly to you about what you’ve got in store, I’m extremely excited to see your ideas and work unfold!

What challenges have you faced and how have you responded to them?

Matthew – The most immediate issues for me were the worries of financial loss and losing momentum in my practice. As a freelancer, I struggle with this mentality that if I stop for too long and lose momentum then it’s game over – I’ll lose clients, I’ll miss opportunities and I’ll forget how to do what I do.

I dealt with the financial worries by taking a few days just to gather my thoughts and assess the situation – fortunately I wasn’t in any immediate trouble and since then I’ve been successful in securing an individual ACE emergency support grant. I’ve also got some online workshop facilitation work for the lovely Mortal Fools and some online tutoring for Newcastle College’s FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre students, which is also a lot of fun.

In terms of my practice – I started off by setting myself small, short term goals. I created a mini series of daily-ish ‘Mystery Sounds’ giving people 24 hours to guess the sound from a short recording clip. This helped me feel productive while I adjusted to the new circumstances. I’m still finding it difficult not being able to go very far with my recording equipment and to see people, but the cacophony of birds in our garden are more than obliging recording subjects for the time being. Listen here!

The Culture Vulture   – I loved your mystery sounds and I think it is a testament to your creativity with sound. In a busy digital space where everyone was suddenly pushing out content – I genuinely found yours fun and interesting! It also drove me insane trying to guess!

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Matthew Tuckey

You’ve been successful in receiving ACE emergency support funding – so firstly, BLIDDY WELL DONE PAL! Can you tell me what was the application process like? How did it feel to find out you were successful?

Matthew– It was a fairly simple process and I had some great advice from people who have a good track record with securing ACE funding. I’ve also been through a few bids over the past year, that were all unsuccessful in this ever increasingly competitive sphere of funding, so it was a real relief to find out I was successful. I was having a bad day when I got the email so just dismissed it without reading it in a moment of negativity and pessimism – thankfully I went back and read the email properly!

It was also very encouraging – I’ve basically spent lockdown juggling what little work is done remotely, applying to commissions for digital art, and trying to maintain some sort of routine! Now this help from ACE can give me some structure and purpose for a brief period of time.

YAS!  Proud of you pal! What will the funding enable you to do? What can we hook into?

Matthew – It’s buying me time really. The Arts Council asked how I would use this time to plan and stabilise for the future. And my answer was two things: take some sections of my original sound library and create collections to be bought online, and also to host webinars and discussions for collaborators who want to find out more about the sound design process and how they can collaborate with a sound designer in their work.

The webinars and discussions are largely going to be promoted through my existing networks with the help of regional theatre companies, but if anyone would like to get in touch to hear more about these events then they can find my contact details on my website.

Count me in for the webinars and discussions! So, I know it’s hard to plan during the uncertainty right now – but what’s next for Matthew on the horizon? What projects/happenings/things should my fellow Culture Vultures look out for?

Matthew – I am currently working on a mini album of sound art made during lockdown. It’s largely inspired by sounds I’ve noticed more since social distancing measures and sounds I am missing too. This will be available on my Soundcloud page (and other platforms that I will announce via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

As soon as I can safely do so, I will be recording more pieces or ‘episodes’ for my Sound Portrait ‘Podcast’. This is a long-term project that I am running through a Patreon page that is all about hearing someone unfold their thoughts in a type of one-sided conversation. For me, it’s the sound artists portrait photograph of an individual. I’m steadily growing a following and patronage for this project, and I’ve recently created a new lower tier (just £1 per month) on my Patreon in order to try and encourage new followers to support the life of the project. It’s a slow burner, but my hope is that we can create a series of portraits that collectively amount to a sonic time-capsule of people, a kind of living oral history if you like.

Other than that, things are fairly uncertain during lock down unfortunately, particular with regards to theatre work – who knows when this will pick up again.

The Culture Vulture – a sound portrait of an individual…..I really love that. Just reading that has got me excited and I would love to be involved in some way!

Matthew – The other project I have continually running in the background is called The Rime and is my personal response to the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and combines influences of field recording, acousmatic composition, and sound poetry. I am constantly applying to commissioning opportunities to take this work further and hope I’ll be able to share more about this in the coming months!

The Culture Vulture – Thank you Matthew; you can find out more about Matthew on his website or via his socials; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

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Matthew Tuckey

One of the things I love about working in the cultural sector, is the rich tapestry of people, vocations and skill sets that exist within it; it truly is unrivalled. I am unsure if people outside of the sector, truly understand its richness or skill diversity. I often sit back during a project team meeting and look around thinking…..”bliddy heck – what a talented bunch of people we have here!?” Matthew is one of those people!

And I am truly excited to see the opportunities as I predict tech and digital will creatively collide due to the pandemic, connect and from that, exciting collaborations will unfold.

Until next time Culture Vulture.

(#AD) Does Culture Matter? – a mass participation research project from Crystallised.

I’ve found myself really missing cultural experiences whilst on lock down. Even as The Culture Vulture, I didn’t realise how much “culture” mattered to me on a day to day personal level and how intrinsically linked going to the theatre, cinema, wandering around a gallery, is to my sense of self and well-being. I miss it and I miss feeling a part of a creative community in person. Attending things and supporting cultural venues gives me a real sense of positive purpose and now their doors are closed, I’ve spent a little while feeling lost. I am going to go on the BIGGEST cultural binge when this is all over – I want to attend, see, visit, experience e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. all the time.

I’ve been trying to replace this sense of loss in my life with cultural streaming – watching theatre, live performance poetry, launching a Silent Book Club (and about to launch a Culture Vulture film club) alongside heading down a rabbit hole on Insta discovering new artists and creative lushness. It’s helping ease that loss….but it’s not the same!

A project that is helping me tackle some of the above and making me feel useful to the cultural sector – is Crystallised’s project Does Culture Matter?  You might have seen me plugging it on my social…. Does Culture matter? explores that question thematically by collating the opinions and insights of the Nation, during COVID-19 and beyond. Through a series of weekly questions sent direct to your inbox on a Sunday, you get to explore and reflect on what culturally matters to you, what you’re missing and what you’d normally be out and about doing.

Lead DCM

Crystallised are collecting all this data, to make it available to arts and cultural venues and sector when locked down measures are lifted. Your insights and data will directly help organisations recover, pivot, be more resilient, stronger through the power of knowledge and shape their activities by enabling them to identify what is actually important culturally to you!

So do I think my fellow Culture Vultures should get involved…..

  • It’s something a little lush to do, to get you thinking and reflecting. The questions asked are interesting and in the moment – I mean there was a question about Tiger King last week!
  • It’s something to look forward to each week; I really look forward to the questions dropping in my inbox, grabbing a cup of tea/Sunday gin and sitting answering them. Only takes a few minutes but it’s a little lush brain exercise.
  • You are a part of a cultural community who are united in sharing their insights – it’s lush to feel useful and to be a part of something happening across the UK. #peoplepower
  • It’s helping the creative and cultural sector at a time of need – the organisations that will have free access to this data need a helping hand to recover post-COVID – this is that helping hand. Knowledge is power. At a time when you can’t attend these venues, support their cancelled projects or donate to every single cultural organisation and venue – this is something you can do to help that they will all have access to.
  • The data produced could form part of regional and National government lobbying – fingers crossed – it could form the foundation to justify increased spending in culture and creative projects by evidencing what is important to the Nation; what they want, need, love.

To get involved and to sign up – follow this link to take part – takes seconds and you can do it HERE

I had the pleasure of catching up with Laura Rothwell, Managing Director of Crystallised to find out more about why they launched this ‘Does Culture Matter’ project, why it is important and what they hope to achieve through it!

Hiyer you – right first things first, tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Crystallised?  

Crystallised is a marketing, PR and events agency for ethically, socially or culturally motivated organisations.

That’s the spiel.

What that means is we work with a range of organisations. All of them with a cause or purpose at their heart. We help them promote themselves, or their initiatives, we help them reach new audiences, market their work or make some kind of change. Invariably that means we work with a lot of arts and culture organisations, but we also work with charities, NGOs, ethically minded brands and foundations.

We’ve been doing this for seven years; we’ve helped organisations reach audiences of over 30 million people from all over the world.

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Team Crystallised

Impressive stuff – has has your organisation been personally impacted by COVID-19?

Yes, big time. A lot of our work is about getting people to a place. Arts, culture or destination marketing. So, jobs have been cancelled, or indefinitely postponed. We’re seeing many of our clients putting their plans on hold until at least October.

In January, I started looking at pitching for work which was less event-focussed, because of COVID-19. I have anxiety, and actually that has come in handy here, because I was worrying about this very early on.

Snap and snap! It’s been full of devastation and an opportunity to re-imagine in equal measure. What was is about the cultural and creative sector that drew you in?

It took a while to be honest. As a kid, things like ‘culture’ (museums, galleries) weren’t ‘for us’. Sometimes we went to castles which I loved, other times we went to National Trust properties which I hated, my main motivator for tolerating those was the Kendal Mint Cake at the gift shops.

It’s marketing that got me here, it’s where I started at 17, as a Marketing Administrator. And it’s what I’ve done for the past 19 years. The first eight years or so was retail and destination marketing, very commercial environments which are incredible places to learn and to train as a marketer.

I eventually took a role which connected me to ‘art’ for the first time, albeit in a commercial art organisation. There I ended up working on projects in the museum sector, at Great North Museum; Hancock, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Magna Science Centre (Sheffield).

That’s what drew me in. I saw – for the first time really – what art meant, what culture could do for people when/if it wasn’t about commercial gain, how essential it was. I very quickly felt as though I had to use my marketing experience to allow more people (everyone, ideally) to a) know what was out there b) feel like it was ‘for them’ and c) contribute to it, own it, be part of it and d) benefit from it.

I started Crystallised, and seven years on I still feel those things acutely.

We are crazily similar #kendalmintcake Let’s move on to Does Culture Matter? What was the inspiration behind Does Culture Matter? – why did you start the project?

The idea came from an Instagram group convo with a collection of excellent women I know who work in the creative sectors. We were talking about what this all (COVID-19) meant for us, for our jobs, for the sector.

I was in the middle of what I suspect was coronavirus, I felt truly awful in the mind and the body. We’d had a recent, sudden family bereavement, and my brain was just not up for anything at all.

Anyway, as is the way, during this chit-chat back and forth, inspiration struck. I just thought, now is the perfect time to listen to audiences, to learn, without an agenda. No-one is paying us to do this, we aren’t trying to meet a brief, we are simply listening.

You almost never get an opportunity like this.

Can you describe what it is and how people can get involved?

Does Culture Matter? is a mass participation research project. We want to understand how our relationship with culture is changing because of COVID-19, what it was like before, perhaps if our own definitions of what culture means are changing and what we might want it to look like after COVID-19.

We want EVERYONE to give their opinions, even if – no, especially if, like me back in the day, you don’t think ‘culture’ is for you.

All you need to do is follow and input your email address.

You’ll receive an intro questionnaire via email and then one every Sunday for the rest of the year.

Why is it important that people share their insights with you?

It’s important because culture belongs to us all. There should not be someone ‘in charge’ of culture, there should not be someone gatekeeping, or deciding what is or isn’t culture. It belongs to us all. We own it.

I believe every single human being should be able to be involved with and relate to the cultural offer of their cities or communities.

The sector talks about ‘hard to reach’ audiences, that is infuriating bullshit. Audiences aren’t hard to reach, it’s the organisation that is hard to reach, because for whatever reason, intentional or not, they have made themselves inaccessible.

So, it’s important for you all to join up and share, because when your voice gets heard, change can be made.

We have an opportunity to come out of this and shape the next chapter. I felt as though the best way Crystallised could contribute to that change, was to use our skills and expertise.

Listen to people, advise organisations. It’s what we do every day.

Have there been any interesting insights you wish to share?

Our North East participants told us their favourite places to visit in the city, at the moment, the list looks like this – the data changes the more people who join, so that’s another reason why everyone should get involved.

Tyneside Cinema

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Sage Gateshead

Northern Stage

Laing Art Gallery

But, if you look at our North East respondents under the age of 25, the list changes:

Cineworld, Newcastle

Tyneside Cinema

Riverside Newcastle

O2 Newcastle

Utilita Arena

Three music venues, two cinemas. I find this fascinating, there’s much that can be explored from this data alone.

2 April Stat North East

What do you hope to get out of it after the research period?

I’d like the data to have organisations start asking their own questions. I’d like this to be the starting point for organisations to look at how they can better serve their communities.

I’d love to work with the braver organisations who want to do something bold and radical as a result of seeing the data, perhaps homing in on something specific, collaborating with audiences, flipping the narrative and to some extent taking a back seat, so that others can shine.

In your opinion, do you think Culture Matters more during this period?

Yes.

This is a horrible, terrifying time, we’re all going to lose someone or something. There are many many people, organisations, institutions that desperately need support. I’m not suggesting that an “art gallery is more important than the NHS” – which I’ve been accused of on social media of late.

No argument is that black and white.

I think culture has the power to uplift, to teach, to heal, to connect, nourish and to be fun. I think it’s essential for us to support and protect the sector if we don’t want to see a desolate, cultural wasteland post COVID-19. Our lives and societies will be much poorer if we don’t act.

Has the lock down changed your cultural consumption personally? Have you been watching any streams/online happenings?

Yes, I’ve been watching National Theatre, stand-up comedy, a film discussion and some DJ sets all online.

A theatre performance feels special even when it’s on the small screen, you can still sense the atmosphere between the audience and the cast.

How do you feel about the movement to digital culture and events through streaming platforms and social media?

I think it’s amazing and fantastic that so much has suddenly become available, the speed at which organisations have been able to adapt to the changing circumstances I think is impressive.

However, I can’t help but find it problematic that it’s taken a global pandemic for organisations to make their content accessible. It has long been the case that parts of the arts sector are inaccessible to disabled people. To now see all this readily available content filling our timelines because their able-bodied audience members are no longer allowed to attend a venue, is shameful.

The future must be radically different. We cannot live through this, witness all the change that has been enacted and then revert. That would be a tragedy.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do post lockdown?

Oh Christ! I’d like to go to Riley’s Fish Shack, sit on the beach and listen to my pals chatter, feel the sunshine on my face and be able to lie down on the sand, let my dog make friends with a Bichon Frisse, and just take my sweet sweet time outside.

What would be success for you as Crystallised for 2020?

Crystallised still existing would be success. I’m fearful of how much harder the year is going to get for business. This is going to be a slog. If we still have our full team and are on the way to some semblance of stability at the end of this year, I’ll be thrilled and relieved.

Anything other projects or happenings you think my fellow Culture Vultures should know about?

Right now, we’re working with one of our long-term clients Family Arts Campaign, who exist to make the arts accessible for families. Our focus is supporting their ambition to be the go-to national database of all arts and culture events happening online for families to join. We’ll be working on PR and influencer campaigns to get as many families as possible trying something new. Find that here: fantasticforfamilies.com

We’re also deep into New Creatives, a two-year project with BBC Arts and Arts Council England which looks to find undiscovered talent to make work for the BBC – could be a film, or something for radio. No prior experience is necessary, we’re trying to find northern creative folk under-30 who have something to say. Find that here: newcreatives.com

Other than that, we’ll be staying at home.

DCM. Share your thoughts.

Thank you Laura….so does culture matter? Well it does to me, it does to Crystallised and I think it matters to my fellow culture vultures, followers and readers. I’d love you to support Crystallised on their mission by signing up to participate in ‘Does Culture Matter?”

Remember – signing up is LUSH and is contributing to a project that could support your favourite arts and culture organisations to learn, pivot, recover, restart and fingers crossed – GROW.

Signing up takes seconds and participating in the project takes approx. 5mins a week.

You can sign up by HERE and feel free to share the project with your friends and networks – spread the word! #ganon

Takeover Festival 2020 : What is it, how to get involved & meet #teamtakeover Harrison & James

I had the pleasure of attending the Takeover 2020 launch event and hearing about the plots & plans for this year’s festival – you know when you leave somewhere and feel buzzing with ideas and can’t wait to get home and write about it – well here I am!

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The Takeover is an annual week-long arts festival at The Customs House that is produced by, with and for young people to develop and showcase their leadership skills. The festival is led, planned, marketed, delivered and evaluated by the Takeover Team, a group of 12-18 year olds who are recruited from diverse backgrounds and have varying leadership and arts experiences.

I am working on Takeover 2020 advising & supporting with audience development and marketing. I will also be working with the Takeover Team supporting them with marketing, PR, social media & supporting their skills development. I’m buzzing.

The Takeover is authentically a festival by & for young people – the Takeover Team have full control. In a similar ethos to Mortal Fools’ approach with young people – they treat & support young people as creative practitioners & professionals from day one, investing into them and their learning journey as the future generation of creatives, freelancers, entrepreneurs, innovators, writers, performers, artists, facilitators, business professionals etc. And they have an amazing time too!

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Young people may get involved with a specific ambition of realising an event, others may want to learn more about an art form or professional element of practice, others it’s about meeting & connecting with young people and for others, it’s to develop the transferrable skills for their future career or education choice.

This year’s Takeover dates are 25th-29th May (get them in your diary!) & a five-day festival awaits for young people; each day into evening. Lots of the programme is unknown (at this stage) because it’s worked up with young people – but there will be a visual arts exhibition displaying young people’s work, a poetry evening, a new theatre show, film awards, music, workshops and who knows what else!? I’m excited for what the team comes up with!

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Recruitment for the Takeover Team is currently open – they will meet every Monday from 24th February, 5pm-7pm at The Customs House. This is open to ALL young people aged 12-18yrs old. You don’t have to be able to attend every session (great if you can though!), you can dip in and out and if you can’t make the first session, you can get involved at a later Monday. To get involved & find out more all you have to do is email Izzy@customshouse.co.uk

I was blown away at the Launch and it was great to hear and see from last year’s young people about why they got involved, their REAL experience, what they learnt and what they are excited about doing & making happen for this year’s festival. Now I could wax lyrical about what a brilliant opportunity this is for young people and why other young people should get involved…. Or I could share mini interview profiles with two of last year’s team, who are also part of Take Over Team 2020 as Team Assistants. I had the pleasure of meeting them at the launch and what BRILLIANT humans. It’s young people like this, that make me feel a bit better about the future of the world….

Over to James & Harrison

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Takeover Assistant James

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m an 18 year old college student currently studying for my A levels in Maths, Chemistry and physics. I enjoy going out to gigs especially locally.

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

I joined last year as I have always been interested in the running of different venues and always wanted to organise such events for myself so when I heard about takeover festival it was an opportunity I simply couldn’t miss.

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

For me my personal favourite part of the festival was The Lake Poets gig as it was the main thing that I helped in organising and seeing it go as well as it did felt really rewarding after putting in all the effort in the build up to prepare.

What did you learn from being part of the team last year?

Last year, I feel like I learned a lot about the inner running of a venue; as well as learning a lot about other communities that were involved in the festival – the different theatre groups, dance groups and LGBTQ+ artists that aided us with the festival.

As Takeover Assistant this year what will you be focusing on?

This year I will be concentrating on developing my leadership skills as I’ve never been in any kind of leadership role, so this is a whole new experience and challenge that I’m excited to undertake.

Why do you think being part of The Takeover 2020 team is a good opportunity?

For me, it gave me an opportunity that will help me in the future showing me the ins and outs of organising a festival. It also is really rewarding when you have put in weeks of work building up to one event and seeing it go brilliantly is a great feeling you rarely get the opportunity to achieve at our age.

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Takeover Assistant Harrison

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I am an 18 year old sixth form student currently studying A level Maths, Computer Science and BTEC Business. During my spare time I enjoy playing football and have a particular interest in business finance. In the future, I would like to complete an apprenticeship in this field.

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

Last year I joined The Takeover Team as I felt it was a unique opportunity to gain real-life work experience as it’s something not easy to come by. When Natasha approached me, at first, I was hesitant as I was unsure of what my role would be in the team but I was not disappointed.

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

My favourite part of Takeover 2019 festival was the North East Young Filmmaker’s Award as some of the talent on display was immense. However, I really enjoyed leading the finances of the festival as that is where my aspirations lie and the experience was invaluable.

What did you learn from being part of the team?

Last year, I learnt all the different entities needed to run a successful festival and how every member of the team has value and brings their own skill sets. I also gained leadership qualities as I was team leader on 2 of the days.

As Takeover Assistant this year what will you be focusing on?

This year, I will be focusing on the finances of the festival again but I also hope to develop my public speaking skills as well as furthering my leadership qualities with being in a more senior role.

Why do you think being part of The Takeover 2020 team is a good opportunity?

The Takeover Festival is an opportunity for any young person to express themselves in whichever way they want. No matter what your interests are, there is a place for any young person wanting to gain work experience and a place for you to aid with your own festival. For me, my interests were in finance but many of the team had backgrounds in the arts and each team member was valued equally bringing different qualities to the table.

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Well how cracking is that – I wish there had been opportunities like that when I was a young person instead of spending time learning about biscuit making (long and strange story!).

Take Over team recruitment is open – email Izzy@customshouse.co.uk for more info. Sessions are Mondays – 5pm-7pm at The Customs House in South Shields.

There are also LOADS of other ways for young people to get involved & call outs open too! Let me take you through them…..

Other opportunities:

Visual Arts Call Out for the exhibition part of the Festival.

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Poetry Call out for Young Poets

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Young Film Maker Call Out

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Writer in Residence Call out – (Future Culture Vulture blog coming with last year’s writer Elijah Young.)

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That’s all for now Culture Vultures – I’ve got a back log of blog posts to publish – so expect them coming in thick & fast from now!

(#AD) Festival of Thrift 2019 – let’s get thrifty!

It’s September….it’s Autumnal and this is my favourite time of year…. It’s also time for Festival of Thrift!

There are some events and festivals that go on every year in the North East and you can mention them to folks and you’ll see a glint in their eye and their face lights up because they love them so much. In the North East, it doesn’t take too long if you put on a really lush festival/event that’s all about the people attending and connects with folks with a lush offer, that suddenly, it’s like the event is a North East tradition and we embrace it as one of our diamonds.

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(All photos belong to Festival of Thrift in this post)

Festival of Thrift is one of those events…..and this year it returns 14th & 15th September 10am-5pm in lush village of Kirkleatham – it’s a MUST do for everyone.  This annual award-winning festival is in its 7th year and is a proper celebration of sustainable living, positive change and protecting our planet….which has never been more necessary! Whilst there are lots of lessons and things to take away from the festival, it’s also a lush event and around every corner of the magical festival site is something different for you to discover and enjoy. And lots of my fave artists and creatives work on it…so I’m a bit (a lot) biased!

Each year, Festival of Thrift brings fresh themes and #thriftfest 2019 highlights clean air and celebrating the anniversary of the moon landing. Expect new journeys of discovery, thought provoking performances and a special mix of hands-on fun, food, music, dance and song. There are over 160 stalls selling all manner of thrifty, upcycled and recycled goods, delicious food and drink as well as a few surprises along the way….

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Since it started 7 years ago, I’ve never been able to fully enjoy it as it’s always clashed with Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, the day itself or the event prep, so my mind has been elsewhere and had to rush back. So this year, I’m excited…I’m going for the full Saturday, my mind will be all about enjoying the event and yes, I will be charting my full Thrift experience over on my Instagram……

There is loads to do and take part in across the two days…..drop in and pre-bookable workshops, storytelling, performances, lush live music, installations, thrifty stalls, advice pop-ups, talks, thing to make, see, do and experience….things for adults and families alike…..

Download Festival of Thrift programme to get plotting and planning your festival experience and for those who are just hearing about Thrift or haven’t quite decided if you’re going to go….well, by the end of this blog post, I hope you will!

I recently caught up with the wonderful  Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall for an interview; Stella is the visionary behind the festival and has been at the helm since its birth seven years ago! I met Stella at Make & Mend Festival 2019 and her passion for culture and events, across Teesside, in my opinion is largely responsible for lots of the excited happenings that are going on now and are set to come……

Interview with Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall

For those who are unsure, never been or curious, what is Festival of Thrift?

Festival of Thrift is the UK’s first large-scale festival promoting sustainable, socially responsible living, and creative, resilient communities.  Each September since 2013,  it has provided  a free weekend event  presenting  a mix of professional and emerging artists, community driven projects, skills and learning activities – with a focus on upcycling, recycling, making, growing, volunteering, skills building, learning and saving money.

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Let’s go back to the beginning…..How did it all start? What was the inspiration?

Festival of Thrift was launched in Darlington in 2012 at Lingfield Point business park inspired by the creative reuse of the buildings there, together with the UKs growing DIY and reuse, recycle, upcycle  culture.

Over the last seven years, the Festival has attracted 200,000 visitors, and is now recognised as playing a pivotal role in the social, cultural and economic regeneration of Tees Valley. It won the Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture and the North East Tourism Event of the Year 2015 and was shortlisted for Best Event North East for 2018.

In 2015, after the closure of the steelworks in Redcar, we moved the Festival to our beautiful Kirkleatham site and established as a Community Interest Company.

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For those who this will be their first year, what can they expect? Any pre-festival advice to get the most out of the weekend?

A beautiful , wooded green site  in a lovely village with play areas, fields  a museum absolutely packed with activities, stalls, performances, stages, demonstrations, food and drink .

Advice wise…

  • Bring walking shoes, dress for the UK weather, a picnic blanket and reusable cup and water bottle.
  • Bring your surplus fruit and veg and we will make soup and jam.
  • Bring things you don’t need – and swap them for things you do at the swapshop.
  • Bring stuff that doesn’t work and we will help you fix it at the Fix It café.
  • Dress in your finest remade clothing and get picked for the catwalk.
  • Book in advance if you fancy any of the workshops – but there will be plenty to see and do if you don’t!
  • Download the festival programme to plan your day(s).

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The theme changes every year, so tell me about the theme for this year?

Clean Air is one of our big themes his year – being in the Great Outdoors in the Tees Valley – we just don’t deserve the name “Smoggies” anymore, we’ve moved beyond that and Art is an invaluable way to help people to understand serious issues, as tapping into people’s emotional responses is far more powerful than simply presenting bald facts.

The other artworks in this year’s Viewpoints by Festival of Thrift will also respond to the Festival of Thrift’s clean air theme for 2019…. View Points is a series of pieces with a clean air focus curated by the Festival of Thrift for its second Viewpoints project, which sees sculptures, installations and artworks displayed across the Tees Valley from 12 -19 September to prompt discussions about sustainability issues.

The works include a lung cleaning experience at its railway station, a giant drawing using ink recycled from exhaust fumes, a series of enormous painted canaries using a dazzle camouflage technique, an extraordinary green house, a free-standing observation platform and Human Sensors consisting of wearable costumes that respond to air pollution levels.

The works we have selected for Viewpoints are effective ways to explain and help people to experience and explore the clean air crisis that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

You can find out more about ViewPoints HERE!

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Your marking the anniversary of the moon landing this year too, how has that influenced your festival programme?

It’s a great theme for celebrating what we can do if we really try – and boldly go! The theme also reminds us that we only really have one planet to live on – so let’s make the most of it and look after it well.

Plus we will be

  • Taking off with Whippet Up’s – Mission (out of) Control – an interactive re-imagining of the 1969 Moon Landing. Whippet Up’s vision will bring the excitement and optimism of space travel in the 1960’s to the Festival of Thrift.
  • Putting girls in charge with Space Rebel princess theatre show – a fearless young princess raised for royalty but not for rocketry, dreams of becoming an astronaut. Outsmarting the confines of her palace upbringing, she must boldly go where no princess has gone before!
  • Building your own rockets with Woodshed – this year they are building rockets out of reclaimed wood, hammers and nails, once the building is complete we will ask you to get creative with paint to personalise your invention.

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Now this is a toughie question….what are your programme highlights for 2019…your top picks?

I love all of it of course!

If I were a teenager (or adult!) it would be brilliant to be part of

  • Manic Chord’s search for an alien  in The unknown – Amber, a tech savvy teen and her rather more traditional grandmother, Dawn are onto something supernatural. With fellow members of the Society for Speculation, can the daring duo get to the bottom of these gravitational goings on? This show is free but prebookable HERE!
  • Urban Playground in the parkour show looking into the future, Zoo Humans. It’s a brilliant visual fast paced spectacle.

If I were under eleven I would go and be a Little Inventor…. Little Inventors is a creative initiative that takes children’s amazing ideas seriously and brings them to life working with local makers. From food waste to space travel, Little Inventors have tapped into children’s creative powers to engage them with the issues of today. At Thrift…

  • Dominic head inventor at Little Inventors (and Sunderland-born designer) will launch the new Pioneers Energy Challenge right at Festival of Thrift, a new project for children aged 8 – 12 to invent better ways to make, use, store and stop wasting energy.
  • Work with Little Inventors to create your own invention from ideas that help generate, save or use energy better. Come and draw your idea and have a go at making a simple prototype model using recycled materials, helped by the Little Inventors team. Your idea could help to save the planet!

If I were under five I would want a go on…  

  • The hand-carved wooden roundabout – The Bewonderment Machine. A visually stunning cycle-powered carousel creating a magical journey for small children-This handmade, human-powered merry-go-round combines hand carved animals, puppetry, and music. This is a miniature theatrical flight of the imagination, empowering the very young to care and to be curious. Climb on and embark on joyful journey. For times visit HERE!

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For adults – there is literally loads to do see, do, eat, listen to but this year….

  • I can’t wait to taste this year’s menu in our community meal – The Town is the Menu, inspired by the town Guisborough – The Town is the Menu is created by Simon Preston with Menu by Jess Miller and Sammy Coxell, the Ugly Duckling team. It’s £7 for 3 courses and there are limited slots left….you can see the whole menu HERE!
  • I always love the ingenuity of the Oxglam fashion show; it’s moon inspired this year! The Oxglam fashion show, features stunning creations using recycled clothing donations, is one of the highlights of the Festival weekend.
  • I am fascinated by the WRAS show – The Best of All Possible Worlds.. The story of a trio of innocents continuously buffeted by fate – 3 characters torn out of the pages of a book, Candide, and placed in an unfamiliar, unstable world. There’s a wilderness, the growth of civilisation, territorial disputes, war, a flood, a miraculous get-away, bad weather, hell and a happy ending that isn’t what it seems This puppet/object theatre show  will be presented with all the visual panache and wit expected from the Whalley Range All Star. For times visit HERE!
  • And all festivals are about their live music and we’ve got a great outdoor live music programme….

These highlights are just a fraction of what we have lined up this year. There’s plenty more to come and, as ever, people can expect the unexpected at the Festival of Thrift…..

Tell me about the Friday community parade launching this year’s festival?

We began the Parade last year to join the town to the village – it was a hit so we have created another one…. This year’s Thrifty parade will launch the seventh Festival of Thrift in joyful style, championing creativity and community in Redcar and helping to spread the Thrifty message of good living in sustainable ways.

Led by Stellar Projects, the procession will include a combination of local community groups, professional performers and musicians, including last year’s popular CowCar (has to be seen to be believed), to restate the highly topical warning of the dangers of methane emissions, and dancers wearing Kasia Molga’s extraordinary Human Sensor costumes, which measure and reflect  diesel emissions in the atmosphere!

Setting off from Kirkleatham Museum with a cohort of bikes which will make their way to Redcar town centre where they will meet the walking parade participants which will include school and community groups, performance groups and structures. The parade will take Thrift through the heart of the town centre and along the sea front to finish Bandstand.

It starts at 6.30pm at from Kirkleatham Museum and it’s going to be ‘Breath of Fresh Air’!

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Festival of Thrift is a jewel in the North east events and festival programme…..rightly so! Why do you think Thrift is SO popular and much loved?

We take huge pride in being a one-of-a-kind event with our packed celebration of sustainable living and we are promising another riot of ways to have fun at the festival this year.

It’s just a joyful weekend packed with sustainable arts, crafts, music, fashion, food, entertainment, shopping, demos, workshops and upcycling inspiration, our hugely popular Festival offers a weekend of free eco-friendly fun and attracted over 35,000 visitors last year.  A true weekend to remember!

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Whilst the festival is a lush weekend, there is a really strong environmental and sustainability message – what could the eco-curious take away from Thrift?

That each of us has a responsibility and each of us can make a difference but altogether, we can make a big difference.

Do you think events like Thrift has positive change making effects for the everyday?

Certainly – our audiences tell us this every year. But we also need to get active, join campaigns, make our voices heard. It’s a 365 day a year project – not just a weekend! Festival of Thrift is a great starting point for the rest of the year and an excellent way to discover new ideas….

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What’s one bit of Thrifty advice you have for my readers?

To ask ourselves questions in the moment….

  • How much do we really need?
  • What can we share?
  • What would we want our grandchildren to think about how we have contributed to creating the world they will live in?

We have those answers ourselves.

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Well thank you Stella – I’m totally in the mood for Festival of Thrift right now and I hope my fellow Culture Vultures are too.

Click here for 10 Festival of Thrift 2019 highlights and get planning your visit and happenings. The official Thrift website is a fountain of EVERYTHING happening across the weekend….or be like me, plan nothing and just discover as you go…..

Until next time Culture Vultures…. xx

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#AD – Interview with musician Anthony Vacher ahead of his Lindsfarne Fest main stage shenanigans…..

I’m off to Lindisfarne Festival next weekend, 29th August – 1st September for the ultimate end of Summer party on the Northumberland coast; born out of the desire to create something special for the North East, Lindisfarne Festival came to life in early September 2015, when a 2000 strong crowd descended onto the glorious fields at Beal Farm to experience a weekend like no other. Now into 2019…this lush independent festival is growing year on year – there are still tickets left (less than 400) so you can still join the party.

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Being the Culture Vulture means I get to meet and interview absolutely amazing creative folks – it gives me a total buzz. Folks who are passionate, doing exciting lush things and full of ambition to make a creative mark on the world. For 2019 Lindisfarne Festival ran a Musicians Against Homelessness Unsigned band competition – those who follow social might remember a post, I did about the final short list encouraging votes. Check out the short list, as all of the folks are mega and that’s what festivals are truly about to me…. Discovering new music and shaking myself out of my usual Spotify playlist comfort zone.

MAH put on 100s of gigs & festivals across the UK, creating opportunities and spaces for up-coming talent to play and raise money for homelessness services. Now that’s a double bubble of Culture Vulture love right here, as I’m all about champion independent new talent alongside advocating for positive social change through using my voice. Homelessness is a real issue – I was totally humbled by the recent exhibition across Newcastle “History of Homelessness” – especially when moving from venue to venue, homeless folks were in doors all over the city being ignored and their stories unheard so projects like MAH are imperative.

The winner of the MAH competition secured the opportunity to perform at Lindisfarne Festival 2019 on the bliddy main stage……which for an up and coming musician/band is an amazing opportunity to play to thousands! I was super excited when I heard the winner – he was one of my short list faves and I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him this week, before his Lindisfarne main stage shenanigans….

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So let’s get this interview started…. Step right up ANTHONY VACHER & THE SILHOUETTES; you can catch Anthony on Friday at the main stage at 1.30pm. Look out for me fan girling at the front, thrashing my elbows around and stomping my feet (a.k.a. “dancing”)……

Singer-songwriter Anthony Vacher has been a familiar name on the North East music scene for some time. Often accompanied by his trademark ukulele and accompanied by his band The Silhouettes; his songs are as beautiful as they are honest but with a real zest for life that fills the heart with joy. He’s also got a LOYAL social media and fan following which have surely helped him to win this competition….

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So hi you, who are you?

I’m Anthony Vacher, hi!

Tell me about your journey into the music scene – when did it all start?

I launched my solo music roughly 2 years ago when I released my first single I Don’t Wanna Wake Up. The legends at Punch-Drunk Comedy who are also at Lindisfarne gave me my first stage to perform on, opening before the comedians play, and it wasn’t long after that I won a competition to play at the O2 and I knew I needed the band behind me to make the shows a much better experience. They’re more just my good mates as opposed to my band because I make nowhere near enough to pay them – hahaha. Chris has been with me from the start but Dom and Gary have just recently joined me.

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So they do it for the love! Sum up your music in three words?

Really tough one cause there’s quite a lot of variety between the full band and acoustic stuff! I think I’ll go, energetic, fun but emotional.

Sounds like you’ve described my life so far…. Can we listen to your music pre-fest to get in the mood? 

Of course! You can find me on all streaming services, Spotify, Apple Music etc, or just head over to my facebook/twitter/insta/whatever your preference is and you can find stuff there too!

facebook.com/anthonyvachermusic

Twitter @anthonyvacheruk

Instagram @anthonyvacher

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What made you enter the Musicians Against Homelessness Comp?

I’ve followed MAH on social media for a while and I only saw the competition on the final night! But a chance to play at Lindisfarne and work with Musicians Against Homelessness was something I couldn’t not apply for.

Aha a last minute larry, a man after my own heart! Why are projects like MAH important?

Homelessness is a huge and growing issue at the moment, and what MAH are doing is incredible. Simultaneously helping homeless people whilst giving upcoming artists huge opportunities to grow, it’s quite simply amazing.

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How did it feel being shortlisted and then seeing the love for you on social media?

It was crazy really, but if I’m honest I had totally forgotten about it! I was just sat at home at the time and saw that MAH had tagged me in a post, and I was like, huh? Then when I looked at it and saw we’d been shortlisted, and it was to play on the main stage, It felt mad! I instantly messaged the lads and we all got hyped up and knew we had to win this.

I’ve actually been away from playing music for a few months due to illness, but seeing that I still had so much support after all that time out was a feeling I simply can’t explain. The amount of shares, comments and people passing the link around was something I’m so grateful for.

Well I was one of the folks championing you – I hadn’t heard of you before the competition shortlist and now you’ve got a firm fan! What did you do when you found out you won and you’re playing the main stage? What went through your mind?

The first thing I did was ring my Mam hahaha! There was a day between the competition ending and them announcing the winner so I actually thought we didn’t get it as we’d heard nothing. I woke up the next day, opened my laptop and the first thing I saw was a picture of my face saying we had won and I went crazy. Great way to start a day!

Happy dances a hoy! What can festival goers expect from your set?

This is a massive opportunity to play in front of a lot of people who have highly likely never heard of me before so we have to put absolutely everything into it. We’ll be playing a mixture of full band & acoustic tunes, so something for everyone!

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Well I’m really looking forward to it and your set. Festivals are all about discovering new music and stepping outside of your comfort zone – is there anything on the festival line up that you think “I might go see/do that!”?

Lindisfarne has a tonne going on. Comedy, street art, even fire walking! I’m planning on making the most of it and catching as much of everything I can!

Who are your top three fellow musician ‘must sees’ at the festival…the line-up is a cracker this year so I know it’s hard to choose?!

The line-up really is amazing this year, so I’m going to avoid the obvious ones and plug some smaller musicians/friends haha!

  1. HATi. I’ve worked with HATi in the past and played alongside her, and she is an incredible songwriter and an amazing musician.
  2. C-Collective. C-Collective are so much fun and they put on an incredible show. You cannot miss them.
  3. Can I name a stage? Cause the MAH Stage has an incredible line up with some amazing local musicians, Sarah Connolly and Sleeptape to name a couple. It’s a stage everyone should 100% go and check out!

Have you played a festival before and/or are you a festival goer?

I’ve only ever played more local festivals which are a tonne of fun, but Lindisfarne will be my biggest to date. I used to work at music festivals too so I’ve been to most!

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Do you have any advice for fellow festival goers?

Yeah, come see us play! But really, just enjoy yourself. There’s so much going on at Lindisfarne so try to catch a bit of everything. Head over to the smaller stages every now and again, go see a bit of comedy, try something new like fire walking or yoga.

Forget what the weather may be, relax or get drunk, whichever you prefer, but pretty much just forget real life for the weekend and enjoy yourself.

Festivals are a total escape from life “good time2 bubble” – Festival drink of choice?

If its sunny get yourself a fruity cider, goes down perfectly!

Are you staying the full weekend? If so I hope you’re embracing the Viking theme and expect mega outfit! 

Sadly due to other commitments the band and I can’t stay the full weekend but we’re staying the full Friday! To be honest I wouldn’t make a very convincing Viking, I have a total baby face and I have tried but can’t grow a beard to save my life!

What’s next for you after Lindisfarne fest? Where can people keep in touch with you post Lindisfarne?

I only have one show lined up following Lindisfarne which sadly I cannot talk about yet! If you follow me on all my social media links then you’ll hear about it very soon:

facebook.com/anthonyvachermusic

Twitter @anthonyvacheruk

Instagram @anthonyvacher

Mainly though, I recently released an acoustic EP, and now we’re planning on recording a lot more music in the very near future so keep your eyes peeled for that too!

𝘽𝙞𝙩𝙚 𝙢𝙮 𝙏𝙤𝙣𝙜𝙪𝙚 is out NOW on all streaming services.

Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2KiMq9o

Apple: https://apple.co/2YSydba

Physical edition: http://bit.ly/2YQxNSB

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Well thank you Anthony, you’re totally mega! Absolute pleasure to see and meet an upcoming musician – I’m excited to see what he does next!

Tickets for Lindisfarne down to the final few hundred so nab them quickly….. http://www.lindisfarnefestival.com

(#AD) Sundown Social -the new mini festival on the block.

So one of the wonderful things about being the Culture Vulture is that I have my ear to ground and seek out all the lush new happenings and stumbling across or finding a new event is one of my favourite things – I have a serious constant case of FOMO.

And if this was a superhero movie, I’d class this chapter as “the rise of the independents!” The event and festival sector is extremely dominated in the region by big corporates or same old same old and I don’t know about you lot, but I’m hungry for more, things that are a bit special and new. Independent event organisers and commissioners are nailing it at the moment –putting on lush events, with a community heart that focuses on audiences having a great time and are able to experiment, take risks, be bold with their programming. I’m loving watching independents thrive.

I’ve had my eye on Saltwell Park for some time….. I’ve lived at the top of it for 30 years and it just screams potential.. I’ve had three ambitions for Saltwell Park as The Culture Vulture – I wanted festivals, I wanted outdoor theatre and I wanted a Silent Disco. My silent disco ambition has become a bit of a joke across my networks as I’m always banging on about it – but going off Beccy Owen’s success and their beach silent disco – I’m happy that other folks are finally buying into how mint it is! So how excited was I when I heard Third Space events (an amazing independent events company) was building on the smash hit successes of their Gateshead food markets and launching Sundown Social on 27th July – an outdoor event with a festival vibe AND a silent disco. And to use Meatloaf’s song title…. two out of three ain’t bad!

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Thirdspace are doing fantastic things and they are certainly ones to watch – their food markets are full of folks who really “get” their events, food traders who love being a part of them (this is not an easy task believe me!), audiences who return month after month and people just having a bliddy good time. It takes a long time to establish an event and A LOT of hard work has gone into things – so hats off to them…..they were on my list for some Culture Vulture love!

Visit their Low Fell Food Market facebook page to see other events they’ve run!

A head of the launch of Sundown Social THIS Saturday in Saltwell Park (Tickets and more info available HERE) – I thought I’d sit down with them for a weeee interview to find out more about the event, what to expect, why tickets are must have and what’s next!

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Of course, sitting down with me a few days before a new event…perfect Culture Vulture timing (haha!). So tell my readers who you are and what you do?

We are Liz and Sally from Third Space Events; a 3 year old events company which specialises in pairing up interesting, beautiful or underused spaces with high quality events. We each have an MA in Event Management along with a total of 15 years’ experience in events, exhibitions and hospitality between us. So it’s fair to say we LOVE events and creating memorable experiences. We are also friends who go way back and share a passion for good food, the outdoors and making the most the time we have with our nearest and dearest.

Well I can’t think of a more underused space than Saltwell Park’s Grove and all the best friendships are formed over food…..What is Sundown social?

A chilled out gathering in beautiful surroundings with a fun, festival vibe – that’s it in a nutshell! The first one is on Saturday 27th July – this weekend. We like to think of it as an exclusive party in the park where you can sip a craft gin or beer under the trees, be entertained by a host of pop up performances and have a bite to eat from some of the regions’ best street food stalls.

We’ve got two slots – one is 4.30pm – 7pm and is family friendly (adults £4.50 & Children £3) and then a more adult session 7.30pm -10pm (Adults £4.50 & Children £4.50). Babies under two are free but need a ticket.

Who should go to Sundown social?

For all! We’ve split the event into two and packed a lot into both. The afternoon session has more of a family vibe with activities such as a play bus and free kids yoga, dance and storytelling sessions. When the kids have run off enough steam the adults can sit back and enjoy a summer tipple along with the finest regional street food. The evening session is more for adults, so people can take full advantage of the food, wine tasting, holistic treatments, amazing local ales and fizz whilst enjoy amazing live musicians, comedians and of course our silent disco.

Why did you pick Saltwell Park for this event?

Because we love it! It’s leafy, lush and green. Add some live entertainment, street food and folk kicking back and relaxing whilst enjoying a cool drink – well you’ve got the best beer garden in the North East!

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As you know, I’m allllll about the food. My Buddha belly is a testament to that….so come on, what food traders have you got?

Well – not only will we be delighting the senses with live music and performances we’ll also have your foodie favourites to feast on. Folk can choose from freshly cooked wood fired pizzas from Noshbox Pizza, Catalinas Newcastle with their flavoursome topdog kebabs and bruschetta, loaded fries and tasty wraps from Hatch76, Acropolis Street Food with the best gyros in the North East, delicious rolled naan with your choice of tasty curry from CurryRolls and Churros Barcelona will be serving up their dangerously delicious fried treats drizzled in chocolate!

Mama Horts LOVES Churros… I shall alert her. I’ve got friends with minis who want to come…what’s there for families?

We’ve got this covered in the afternoon session. As well as the street food and free live entertainment, there is free activities with yoga, dance and storytelling. We also have a play bus and for just £1.50 for your child to climb, slide and play in the ball pool! We also have the amazing Kay Ella who’ll be adding a bit of extra sparkle to the event with her glitter creations.

I’ve got a troop of my child free pals coming…. What is there for them? I’ve heard rumours of a Silent Disco (literally screamed with excitement and hope Britney is on repeat) and my pal Si Beckwith providing some funnies!

If you’re pals are planning to come to sessions 2 then we’d fully expect to see them dancing the evening away with our Silent Disco. We’ll be keeping it old school with hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s – so we recommend your pals to wear these dancing shoes!

The evening will also feature amazing live acts with Duke – Duo – acoustic music, Matt Grant and comedians Si Beckwith and Andrew Flood from Off The Wall Comedy.

They won’t be going thirsty either with regional ales from Black Storm Brewery, fizz on tap with Fizz On The Tyne and a great selection of gins, lagers and wine with The Tipsy Trailer.

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Mama Horts is coming with me and she loves all your events – which is high praise indeed…. What is there for Mama Horts and her pals?

We know Mama Horts is a lady of refinement so a spot of wine tasting with Laneberg Wine Ltd would be right up her street – you can book onto a slot via this link or at the event. Gateshead’s first and only Urban Winery, Laneberg Wine Ltd invites you to a night of wine tasting like no other! Head Winemaker Elise Lane will guide you through their very first vintage made here in the North East, sampling four fantastic 2018 English wines, explaining how each wine was made and giving you the chance to taste.

Or if Mama Horts is after a bit of pampering then she should head over the our Holistic Treatment tent which includes Indian Head Massage and Organic Facial Treatment with Neal’s Yard.

I’m obsessed at outdoor events – at being head to toe covered in glitter….my boyfriend has embraced this by getting involved too….i need glitter deets?

Who isn’t?! We love a bit of sparkle! Expert in all that shines and glimmers Kay’Ella will be at Sundown Social creating that glasto vibe with glitter face and body creators.  We love Kay’Ella because all her products are water based, biodegradable and alcohol free so everyone can be part of her fabulous festival services.

Why are you so passionate about championing and supporting North East (and often Gateshead based) independents?

As we’ve said, we both live in Gateshead so what can be better than supporting your home town by hosting a range of events. Keeping it local is always part of how we operate. From the food, to the drink, to the live entertainment – Sundown Social, like all our events, showcases the melting pot of creativity and hard-working small independent businesses we have here in the North East.

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Blackstorm Brewery

Why do you think people are really buzzing about Sundown social and that tickets have been flying?

Hopefully we’re adding something different into the mix of fabulous events that are offered in Gateshead and the region already. For us the setting of Saltwell Park for this kind of event could not be any better. We can’t wait to welcome everyone in the event on Saturday 27 July and to have a well earned drink (or two) when it’s finished.

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Sum up the event in 3 words

Chilled, feel-good, fun

Is there going to be more Sundown socials?

The next Sundown Social lined up is Friday 23rd August. Stay tuned for announcements about that! Next year, as well as Saltwell Park, you will be able to find us at some new exciting venues and locations across the region.

P.S. For any of you festival loving couples who are looking for an alternative wedding, give us a shout as we offer individually curated Sundown Socials for your special day. How exciting!

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If I was going to get married, I’d want an outdoor festival vibe! You’ve certainly tapped into something there….and we’ve got some collaborating to do in 2020 haven’t we!? I’m super excited for Saturday and to see how this grows and grows.

Well you will find me down at Sundown Social on Saturday as The Culture Vulture with my gal Marion in tow – so if you’re around and coming along– make sure to say hello!

Tickets for Sundown social are available here!

Disclosure : I have not been paid to write this post but I have been given comp tickets to the event and doing a social media take over on the second second.

(#AD) GemArts Masala Festival 2019: strutting into Summer like a Bengal Tiger….

We are so blessed in the North East for wonderful events and festivals all year round – there are often total gems in the event/festival calendar that due to you all being busy bees that you might not know about or discovered yet. I see my role as Culture Vulture to tell you about them and champion them!

Well let me tell you about a PROPER Culture Vulture festival gem – GemArts’ Masala Festival….

This award winning, multi venue festival has been running for several years and has been growing each time. It’s back for 2019 across 15th – 21st July 2019 with a mix and blend of the finest South Asian Arts and Culture. They’ve got an incredible line up of film screenings, theatre, music, yoga on the beach, Bollywood dancing, crafts, spoken word, poetry and free family fun!

I sat down with Vikas Kumar MBE, GemArts Director recently for a catch up (I’ve been a GemArts supporter for many years now and he’s been a Culture Vulture champion since the beginning!) and to interview him about this year’s festival. But before I get into our interview, I thought I’d walk you through this year’s Masala Festival programme…because it’s a corker!

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GemArts in The Crack Magazine

Masala Festival launches on 15th July, at Sage Gateshead, with an incredible collaboration and special evening of music composed and performed by the internationally renowned Sarod maestro Ustad Wajahat Khan with a String Quintet from our region’s fantastic chamber orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia. And if you’re like me, and have to be the first at everything, then you’ll be joining me at this feast of music. I’ve seen RNS quite a few times and they are quite something, so I’m excited for this collaboration.

This is followed by, on the 16th July at the Lit & Phil, two of the most prominent women on the contemporary jazz scene, pianist Zoe Rahman performs alongside saxophonist Laura Macdonald. These two ladies are at the top of their music game and so accomplished…. I will be fan girling from the audience. And after the show, why not continue the Jazz theme and swing Prohibition Bar…that’s why I will be headed!

For spoken word and poetry, look no further than Luck and Hope: an evening of poetry with two of the best poets writing today Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharkar at Culture Lab on 16th July. I know those in the poetry scene are extremely excited about that one! They also have a a stellar line up of regional spoken word talent in Strictly Spoken with at Arch16 on18th July which is now sold out. Spoken Word largely thanks to Button Pottery and the likes of McNish has jumped in popularity and the fast, Strictly Spoken has sold out highlights that – but good news is, that I’ve nabbed tickets just in time, so I will let you know what it’s like!

Masala Festival has a fantastic line up of films and this is music to my ears as since turning 30, I’ve really got back into my independent films and visiting the cinema at least once a week. At Masala Festival they’ve got the heartwarming, ‘feel good’ comedy of the year Eaten by Lions on 15th July; half-brothers Omar and Pete are on a journey of discovery via Blackpool, featuring Jonny Vegas, Jack Carroll and rising star Antonio Aakeel. At Tyneside Cinema on 17th July, they’ve got The Sweet Requiem with stunning cinematography and subdued tension highlights the ongoing and often forgotten Tibetan refugee crisis. This film, feels extremely timely and I’m sure will provoke a lot of reflections.  At BALTIC on 19th July, GemArts are screening Woman.; a specially curated evening of  contemporary South Asian film shorts about freedom, desire, resistance and the indomitable spiriot of women.

Writer, performer and professional wrestling manager (natural combo!), Pariah Khan brings his ‘shrewd and bitingly funny’ An Indian Abroad to Northern Stage on 20th July; we follow the story of Krishnan, who is stifled by life in middle class India and decides to visit the exotic island of Great Britain. This is a hilarious journey of self-discovery especially when he falls in love with one of the “natives”.

If you want to get yourself moving, why not try out Bollywood dance on 20th July,  yoga on the beach  on 21st July or if you are in need of a little TLC before your summer holidays try out an introduction to Meditation on 15th July.

Masala Festival is back at Dabbawal Street Food Kitchen. Over seven days, you can sample a specially crafted and delicious menu created by Dabbawal’s talented chefs. I’m a HUGE fan of Dabbawal’s food – as soon as I found out they did gluten free onion bhajis and lush spicy curries, I’ve been visiting lots ever since. I’m planning on going a few times to work my way through the menu…..

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GemArts Masala  Festival ends on a total high on Sunday 21st July at Live Theatre’ Garden with a spectacular FREE fun packed Mini Mela finale, with South Asian arts, craft, music and dance workshops for all of the family to enjoy! This year enter a seafront arcade in a caravan with ….. Elvis’ Bingo Balls, neon, sounds of the slots and an Indian Elvis as your bingo caller! Not to mention Circus Raj, a circus troupe from India performing throughout the day, with stilt walkers, extreme juggling, sword swallowing and acrobatics, plus dancing marionettes, Dabbawal serving up delicious Indian street food, and much, much more…..

Visit www.gemarts.org to find out more and book tickets.

Look out for GemArts Masala Festival beautiful brochure around Newcastle and Gateshead or download your full brochure here GemArts Masala Festival 2019 Brochure

And if that hasn’t convinced you to come along to Masala Festival starting on Monday, well…. Let’s hand over to Vikas Kumar MBE, GemArts Director to find out more!

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So I know how important GemArts is to our region but for those who haven’t heard of GemArts, tell us what GemArts is?

GemArts is an arts organisation and charity based in the North East of England.  We are a nationally recognised leader in the South Asian and diversity arts sector, and we create, produce and programmes high quality concerts, events, festivals, workshops and commissions with regional, national and international artists across all art forms. GemArts is committed to excellence in our participatory arts practice, particularly supporting artists working in the diversity sector, and we specialise in delivering arts projects with schools and community groups across all age ranges, to provide creative and enjoyable learning experiences, and to promote a greater understanding of people and their respective cultures.

Why and When did GemArts start?

GemArts started in 1992, working in Gateshead primarily and then across the North East.  We now work Nationally and Internationally through our commissioning and touring programme.  We passionately believe the arts enrich the lives of individuals and communities through celebrating our shared cultural diversity – Raising aspirations, building stronger communities and breaking down barriers.

We know that inequalities exist, and many communities and artists face social, economic and cultural barriers, so are excluded from taking part; this is disproportionately more so if you are from a Black, Asian, minority ethnic, asylum seeker or refugee background.  GemArts mission and focus is to increase equality of opportunity for everyone to engage with culturally diverse arts – as artists, producers, participants and audiences.

I’ve told everyone about what Masala Festival is in the present (top of this blog) – but can you tell us what was the inspiration behind starting it?

The festival is a mass of GemArts yearlong programme condensed into one colourful and creativity fuelled week in July.  We wanted to really show the breadth of incredible artists and art forms from the Indian subcontinent and diaspora, and celebrate the fantastic contribution that South Asian communities and culture has made to the region, UK and the world.  Masala itself is a mix of spices that goes in a curry or tea; we’ve taken that concept and replaced the spices with amazing arts and culture!

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Oh I like that Vikas! Masala festival is award winning (in fact I can remember “whooping” for you in the audience) which is just fantastic as I know you are such a small but perfectly formed team who work so hard, so to get that recognition is lush; can you tell us about the award? 

GemArts Masala Festival won the coveted Arts Council Award at The Journal Culture Awards in 2017, which was brilliant for everyone involved!  And we were runner up for Best Event Tyneside in 2018, which again is great recognition…..hopefully more in the future!

How would you describe Masala Festival to someone who hasn’t been before?

Since its launch in 2016, the weeklong festival has become a yearly celebration of South Asian arts and culture, bringing thousands of people to experience the best music, dance, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, performances, workshops, pop, ups, talks, family fun days, food events and much more.

The programme presents a diverse mix of contemporary and traditional South Asian artists, art forms and identities, produced and curated by GemArts, working with artists from the UK and Indian sub-continent.

This year the festival is across even more venues than ever before and the programme feels jam packed – is the intention to keep growing it year after year?

We’ve always had aspirations and ambitions to grow and develop the festival, and it has year on year.  We are very lucky in Newcastle and Gateshead to have so many amazing flagship venues who we work in partnership to present work.  Accessibility and ownership is something which is fundamentally important to GemArts, and we are absolutely committed to working with independent and community venues to programme arts and cultural experiences by, with and for communities, so we always want to build on our current work.  It would be great to expand the festival further South of the region……..watch this space!

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Last year’s GemArts festival launch as part of Gateshead Council’sGreat Exhibition of The North programme

Why are independent festivals like this important in the North East? 

Independent festivals are massively important because they shine a light on artists and art forms which might not get a look in otherwise.  They are culturally relevant and enable communities to celebrate their identities; people see their traditional and contemporary lives and stories reflected in venues and spaces.  Independent festivals, like Masala Festival, absolutely demonstrate that in the North East creativity and diversity is thriving and championed, and that we can connect on so many levels across so many experiences  whether that’s food, music, dance, etc .  We need more of this now than ever.

We absolutely do Vik!Tell me a bit about this year’s festival programme?

The design of this year’s Masala Festival brochure is just brilliant, if I do say so myself….you need to see it to believe it!

GemArts is (literally and visually) strutting into summer like a Bengal tiger as we bring the region another magnificent Masala Festival!  Over 7 days, from 15th to 17th July we are thrilled to present another  incredible line up of classical, traditional and contemporary artists from the UK and Indian sub-continent exploring themes of home, belonging, freedom, resistance, luck and hope.  We have music, dance, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, performances, workshops, pop, ups, talks, family fun days, food events and much much more.

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I’m excited! You always start the festival with a big of a bang with a launch event, what’s in store this year for the launch? 

Launching Masala Festival on 15th July, at Sage Gateshead, we have an incredible collaboration and special evening of music composed and performed by the internationally renowned Sarod maestro Ustad Wajahat Khan with a String Quintet from our region’s fantastic chamber orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia.  It’s going to be epic!

I’m really looking forward to attending Woman at BALTIC – feels like a very pertinent time to be showing film shorts about women in the current climate; have you seen any of the shorts? Is there one that you are most looking forward to seeing?

Curated by Bobby Tiwana, this year’s shorts programme on 19th July at BALTIC is inspired by the political act of being a woman; exploring themes of freedom, desire and resistance. You can read about Bobby’s film choices in his blog post here and why as a man he has curated a programme about women.  I have seen all the films, and ‘The Field’ is a beautifully crafted short set in rural Punjab in India.  I’m from Punjabi heritage, and go see family in Punjab whenever I visit, so it particularly resonated with me, especially the scenery.  I’m looking forward to seeing War-ia again as it was written and directed by Bobby. We also have a post-screen discussion with filmmakers Sandhya Suri and Riffy Ahmed which will give a great insight into their creative process.

Don’t forget your complimentary glass of wine or juice on arrival!

I’ve fallen in love with poetry – both written and spoken word performance – I literally hit 30 and it just happened. You’ve got quite a few poetry related events as part of the event programme, can you tell me a bit about them?

We are working in collaboration with curator Dr John Challis and NCLA to present Luck and Hope on Tuesday 16th July at Culture Lab, an evening of poetry with two of the best poets writing today, Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharkar, whose poetry explores the nuances of luck, grief and hope within our often violent and unsettling contemporary world.

Then on Thursday 18th July we have a stellar line up of North East talent in Strictly Spoken (it’s sold out!) at Arch16.  We have Tahmina Begum, Prerana Kumar and Wajid Hussain presenting spoken word and poetry on identity, South Asian heritage and inspiration.

It’s really exciting that you’ve taken some of the festival out to Whitley Bay – WB is having a real evolution as an independent cultural hub of the region – what made you take some of Masala out there? 

GemArts has been working with Jam Jar cinema for a while now, and they are always up for working with us and programming films with a South Asian flavour during Masala Festival.  It enables us to expand our cultural offer and engage new audiences up in Whitley Bay.  We’ve got heart-warming, ‘feel good’ comedy of the year Eaten by Lions, which follows half-brothers Omar and Pete on a journey of discovery via Blackpool, featuring Jonny Vegas, Jack Carroll and rising star Antonio Aakeel.

For those who attend Masala Festival every year/have attended before, what would be your recommendation as a “must experience”?

I’d recommend two things:

If you’re looking for a night out and a good laugh – Definitely recommend An Indian Abroad, as writer, performer and professional wrestling manager, Pariah Khan brings his shrewd and bitingly funny show to Northern Stage on Saturday 20th July.  It’s getting great reviews as it tours the UK, and we are delighted to be presenting at Masala Festival this year.  It follows the story of Krishnan, who is stifled by life in middle class India and decides to visit the exotic island of Great Britain.

I’d also recommend The Sweet Requiem at Tyneside Cinema on 17th July with stunning cinematography and subdued tension it highlights the ongoing and often forgotten Tibetan refugee crisis

For those who haven’t been to Masala Festival before, what would you recommend them checking out to introduce them to the Masala vibe?

The true Masala vibe will be at the Lit & Phil on the 16th July; we have two of the most prominent women on the contemporary jazz scene, pianist Zoe Rahman performs alongside saxophonist Laura Macdonald. This will be a powerhouse of a performance, and guaranteed to sell out so get your tickets quick!

What about for those, who prefer to have a go at something….what do you suggest?

We’ve got a whole host of workshops that people can take part in Bollywood dance, yoga on the beach, or an introduction to Meditation.

Also check out the Chai & Chat exhibition at Gateshead Central Library, beautiful textile artwork inspired by traditional chai recipes.  You can also take part in paper tea cup making.

Full details to book on workshops see www.gemarts.org

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GemArts Bollywood Dance workshops as part of Late Shows 2019

Through-out the festival, you’ve got a bespoke special menu at Dabbawal, which is my favourite place to get a curry, so i’m excited for the Masala menu! Can you tell me a bit about the (commissioned!?) art work, you have on the walls at one of Dabbawal’s restaurants?

Dabbawal are the original authentic street food restaurant in the region, and it’s always a pleasure to work with them – their food is simply outstanding!  Each year their talented chefs craft a special menu which is available during the festival, and we can’t wait to sample it!

Our artist Kate Hunter Parker will be creating art work inspired by this year’s Masala Festival brochure design, as well as elements from the programme and the menu, so expect to see vibrant, luscious and colourful work at both High Bridge and Jesmond restaurants.

So the finale…. any yearly Masala Festival goer knows that you round off the festival in style with a mini Mela at Live Theatre courtyard for families and adults alike. Can you tell me about this year’s Mela programme, what can attendees expect?

GemArts Masala  Festival ends on Sunday 21st July at Live Theatre’ Garden with a spectacular fun packed Mini Mela finale, with FREE South Asian arts, craft, storytelling, music and dance workshops for all of the family to enjoy! If you love caravans, bingo and Elvis, then look no further as this year’s finale brings you…….. Elvis’ Bingo Balls –  enter a seafront arcade in a caravan with neon, sounds of the slots and an Indian Elvis as your bingo caller! We’ve also got Circus Raj, a circus troupe from India performing throughout the day, with stilt walkers, dhol drummers, extreme juggling, sword swallowing and acrobatics, plus dancing marionettes, Dabbawal serving up delicious Indian street food, and much, much more…..

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How on earth, did you stumble across the Indian Elvis bingo caller? He sounds brilliant and fellow Culture Vultures who love things a bit out there and different will be all over this! ?

This is going to be so special!  We really wanted to introduce something new and exciting to this year’s mini mela which will connect with young and older audiences alike, and Elvis’ Bingo Balls absolutely will.  The theatre piece has been produced by Black Country Touring and it’s great that we can bring it up here for the finale.

It’s perfect, as it’s the start of the summer holidays and you’ve got a bingo caller clad in his Elvis outfit, telling stories of moving to this town ‘so every day can be a holiday’……what’s not to love!?

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And finally, if you could sum up Masala Festival 2019 in three words, what would they be?

  1. Epic

2.Vibrant.

  1. Fun

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Mini Mela 2018 as part of Masala Festival 2018

Well thanks Vikas and I just can’t wait! I’m taking over GemArts social media during the launch on Monday AND during Mini Mela, AND I will be attending lots of Masala events so you can follow my journey on my Facebook & Insta.

Visit www.gemarts.org to find out more and book tickets.

Look out for GemArts Masala Festival beautiful brochure around Newcastle and Gateshead or download your full brochure here GemArts Masala Festival 2019 Brochure

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Circus Raj Puppets which are set to be at Mini Mela

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – until next time!

P.s. I’ve had the exclusive opportunity to interview several Masala festival artists and performers – so look over for those interviews coming out in the next week or so!

(Full disclosure: I am not being paid to write this post but I have received complimentary tickets to the full GemArts Masala Festival 2019 programme and I am working with them on the festival’s audience development).