Venue: Independent, Sunderland

Remember that awesome gig you saw in that really small venue with like 50 other people around? Would it have been the same in a 10,000 capacity seating arena? Of course not, and that's why Bearded are inviting you round the country to unearth the hidden, sweaty, back-room venues in the areas you live. It doesn't get better than live music afterall.

Posted on Aug 4th, 2010 in Features and Interviews / By Peter Clark
Venue: Independent, Sunderland Bearded are in the *ahem* sunny North East of England, and deciding to shun the front page headliners of Newcastle for the city's slightly uglier brother Sunderland, we're off to hunt down where all those Mackem (Sunderland folk) lads and lasses go to dance the night away to a bit of live music and the odd DJ.

After rumaging around in Hot Rats record store for some slightly scuffed vinyl and hard-to-find cds, we stroll down Holmeside street, passed the clubs and pubs, until we duck into a doorway of a building adorned with flyers and posters, to have a chat with Ben Walls who programs shows at Independent, as well as promoting in-house shows. That and collecting glasses, shouting at staff, cleaning lines etc etc..

For those based around the country, and indeed the world, can you tell us about what Independent is and what you guys do.

Independent's a small live-music venue/nightclub with a capacity of 400. We have two rooms, the aptly named The Little Room and the main room, both of which are used for live and DJ stuff. We run club nights every Monday, Friday and Saturday and cater for the alternative, non-pop-liking crowd whether they be into D&B, Techno or old fashioned Rock n Roll. I suppose you could say our music policy is No-Cheese. Sunderland has enough of that.
Live-wise we run monthly(ish) Indie-Folk nights, and have a good number of external promoters who regualrly bring in Punk, Metal and Goth shows, with us promoting in-house most of the popular/chart Indie.

We're approaching your 4th year in business. Any regrets? How are you planning on celebrating?

Yes B-day #4 in August. We've booked Jaguar Skills for our actual birthday night, i'm sure he'll keep the punters entertained, whilst i'll be swinging on my chair with a bottle of Aspalls in hand. We've never been very good at celebrating our birthdays so i'm hoping (and fairly confident) that this one could and should be a cracker.

What's an average day for you entail?

Always starts with coffee and smoking, then onto my e-mails, social networking stuff and generally working at a PC screen for 10-12 hours every day, with lots of smoking breaks. I reckon i must do 95% of my work online, and although I work out of the office at Independent, I could easily fulfil my job role in the house, or in a Starbucks or anywhere with a wireless connection. My work really never ends, there's always another e-mail to tend, or update to update, or contract to chase, and the rest. Perhaps if i stopped smoking so much I'd get more done, but until then.....

How has your job/role changed over the past few years with the recession and economic climate and the resulting closures of many music venues?

We've been lucky in having a very loyal crowd at Independent, and the fact that we're the main student club in the city means we don't get the dips in trade that most clubs get (after New Year etc). But the recession has affected us, and we've had to re-think certain strategies, and ultimately, have had to use financial incentives in some instances to compete with the rest of Sunderland.
There's actually more music venues in the North East than in any time in the past 10 years, with almost every pub in the city centre of Sunderland now having 'band nights'. So really, the recession has created about 25 new music venues (term used very lightly) for us to compete with. Obviously, we're a step above the rest ( wink ) but it's meant we've had to have a full re-think of a lot of the smaller shows, and we barley touch local showcases anymore. Once upon a time they were the staple of live programming but local shows are so watered down they aren't really viable. You can probably see the same band playing 5 times a week.

Why did you choose to set up base in Sunderland? Do you think Sunderland has a stigma attached to it and it's harder to attract bands there as apposed to somewhere else in the country? Why is it important for Sunderland to have a venue like Independent?

I'm from Sunderland, and had opened a bar called The White Room about 8 years ago, so Independent was a natural progression for me, and it had to be in Sunderland as there was no music venue in the city, and hadn't been for 2 years.
You probably know better than me whether Sunderland has a stigma attached to it, but yes, being so close to Newcastle (20 minutes by car), means that we're often overlooked for the major city that is The Toon. That isn't, however, going to stop me from doing my up-most to secure Sunderland-instead-of-Newcastle shows.
It's incredibly important for any city like Sunderland (but especially Sunderland) to have an independent live music venue. We bring to the city not only the bigger shows; The Klaxons, Futureheads, Zutons etc, but the smaller bands and acts that will always struggle to get gigs at your O2s and the like.
Also, being an independent venue means that promoters, bands, artists have direct contact with us, the venue operators. We try and help the local scene out as best we can - with many bands using the venue out-of-hours to record, practise, videos and photo shoots etc tc

Do you have an ethos to what you do at Independent or the acts you book?

No ethos as such - no promo shows from your didn't-quite-win X-factor types but apart from that we'll try owt!

What's been the highlight of your time in charge of Independent?

Opening the doors 4 years ago, and still being open 4 years later

What would your ideal show include?

A piano and a cello in The Little Room,

What's the best thing and worst thing about running a live music venue?

Seeing some wonderful bands, but never being able to enjoy watching these wonderful bands

What does the future hold for Independent?

Demolition! Independent 2 should hopefully be ready before then

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to run their own club night or live music venue in the future?


With Independent's solid work thus far, and Independent 2 not far off, it's fair to say that Bearded shall be back up in this neck of the woods again rather soon, making ourselves some new live music memories.