Newcastle. The UK’s best music venues in a city often forgotten

Today marks the end of Independent Venue Week, which usually means a week long slew of attention for the many independent venues that operate around the UK during this week. Typically, this week would be packed with live gigs every night of the week as venues partake in the celebrating the recognition of their place in the music industry.

This year, however, with lockdown rules still in place these plans have been scuppered – although some venues have been creative and have planned some livestream events. Having said this, the absence of a traditional gig is hugely noticeable – and with many venues risking closure due to a lack of government support, it is more important than ever to support independent venues by engaging with any online events they are hosting, helping with any crowd-funders, and by pressuring local, regional, and national government to actively support these crucial bastions for bands and music lovers.

With this in mind, we’d like to celebrate some of our favourite Tyneside venues: those places that continue to thrive in music lover’s hearts and minds from memories of tightly-packed venues filled with strangers whom, for a moment in time are all united in the love for one thing: live music.

When writing about Newcastle’s independent music, no list would be complete without the iconic Little Buildings in Ouseburn Valley. This small venue (and dedicated team) truly embodies the DIY spirit and grassroots ethos of being an independent venue and a champion of emerging artists. Being both a live venue and a rehearsal space, it offers artists a space to practice their craft from a project’s inception; build their confidence and setlist; and, ultimately, take their first steps on the live circuit as they hone their live show. The Little Buildings remains, as ever, a genuine advocate of independent music.

Another charmingly small venue is Bobiks. Occupying an old cinema room in the upstairs of The Punchbowl Hotel, it is full of character. This is in full defiance of many a venue owned by bigger companies or chains, which often then become soulless and dull. As such, Bobiks reignites that passion and imagination of what a venue can be: a place of eccentricity and wonder, rather than just a dark room where live music sometimes takes place.

Proudly-independent venue, Cobalt, is a wonderous hidden gem staffed by passionate people who live for art. As a venue they go to extraordinary lengths to properly pay performing artists, and take good care of the artists that they book; going so far as to even offer a cooked meal as part of the booking deal. An unassuming exterior soon dissolves like Alice entering wonderland: candles, smoke machines and fluorescent lights then greet you, making a memorable impression that stays with you forever. This is one of our favourite independent venues – attend a gig here and you’ll quickly understand why.

The Cumberland Arms sits atop the valley side of Ouseburn, but we assure you the climb is well-worth it. The actual venue is situated upstairs, accessed by a small corridor and staircase. To the uninitiated it would be easy to dismiss the idea of a gig venue even existing here, however, for those that make it through the venue door you are welcomed by a real treat. A wide stage gives artists more room than many other Newcastle venues and is also thoroughly well-lit by a multitude of lights. Further adding to the charm is the small bar nestled at the back of the venue; this matters not as the venue is such a treasure that gig-attendees become lost in the music. We’ll be rushing to attend gigs here at the earliest possible chance.

Tynebank Brewery quickly made a name for itself for being a lifeline during the easing of the first lockdown. Spacious enough to safely host socially-distanced, seated gigs, the venue offered artists the rare opportunity to once again play in front of live audiences and, crucially, gave musicians the chance to earn some honest money whilst performing their craft. Music lovers were able to whet their appetite after months of lockdown and a growing dissatisfaction with the domination of livestreams. As such, Tynebank Brewery will fondly be remembered as a saving grace of 2020.

Threatened with being overlooked, The Globe rightfully takes its place in this feature. Well-known for its DIY approach and support of grassroots artists, this is a venue for all artists to cut their teeth at on the live circuit; it’s the perfect place for artists to hone their stagecraft and test their material. During the lockdown, the venue has maintained a routine of livestreamed gigs which has helped artists remain relatively active, whilst giving music fans something to entertain themselves during these ongoing lockdowns. Again, another venue to run to at the earliest chance.

Finally, an honourable mention is necessary for NE Volume Bar in Stockton upon Tees. The team there have done admirably, balancing their time publishing their monthly NE Volume Magazine, whilst also renovating their new music venue, all against the backdrop of a debilitating pandemic. The vastly-improved venue has huge amounts of potential and, when live music does make a full return, it will be a must-attend Teesside gig venue.

Jay Landman

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