Venue which shaped Sunderland’s music scene marks milestone anniversary

Singer Billy Bragg pictured at The Bunker with Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin during a benefit gig for the venue in March 1988.
Singer Billy Bragg pictured at The Bunker with Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin during a benefit gig for the venue in March 1988.
0
Have your say

This year marks the 35th anniversary of a venue which has helped shape Wearside’s music scene – The Bunker.

A small notice pinned to the door of Durham Book Centre in 1980, announcing the idea of a self-help group for musicians, morphed into the life-changing enterprise.

Musicians outside The Bunker in July 1985.

Musicians outside The Bunker in July 1985.

The Futureheads, Field Music, Frankie and the Heartstrings and Hyde & Beast are just some of the home-grown talents to have benefitted from support from The Bunker.

And today, three decades on from that little shop notice, the Stockton Road venue continues to make a difference to the city – using the power of music to transform lives.

“If you think about the best-known bands to be born out of Sunderland, the chances are that The Bunker has played a part in their evolution,” said project manager Liam Huitson.

“It uses music to build confidence and self-esteem. It is a community of music lovers, who come here, create songs and, in some cases, take their music to the world.”

Sunderland is a city with a story and soul. People come to us with their own tales to tell. The Bunker gives them a space to translate that into music – the confidence to perform. The result is a city with a powerful voice that it is not afraid to use.

The Bunker project manager Liam Huitson

The notice at Durham Book Centre attracted a dedicated band of mostly jobless musicians back in 1980 – all obsessed with playing, but unable to afford anywhere to practice. Together, as Sunderland Musicians Collective, they secured a rehearsal room above a garage in Hendon. Although it boasted just a plug socket and a couple of light bulbs, they were happy.

Their neighbours, however, were not. A lack of sound-proofing led to the venue being closed within months. Down, but not out, the musicians looked elsewhere for a place to practice.

A happy stint at Green Terrace School then followed; rented for just £1 a year from the council. The group built a stage and decorated the place in camouflage colours of grey and brown. When someone said it looked like a bunker, the name stuck.

Gigs were held at the dilapidated building from September 1982 and The Bunker went from strength to strength, even featuring in a short documentary made for BBC2, as well as a promotional video with the Community Arts Project.

But a gale in 1983 put an end to the venue, after part of Crowtree Leisure Centre’s roof was blown off and landed on the school, leaving councillors with no option but to close it.

The first Bunker was later pulled down to make way for The Bridges, while the musicians moved on to Stockton Road, where the venue now employs 30 people to help make music.

“For many years secret gigs, attracting some of the most high profile punk rockers, were held at The Bunker, putting it at the heart of the underground music movement,” said Liam.

“It had moved on by the time I started coming here, in 2009. I was – and still am – into house music, and coming here and doing my own thing became a way of expressing myself.

“That’s what I think The Bunker is for so many other people too.

“To be part of that was something I couldn’t walk away from.

“So I am still here – in a paid role now though.

“In all there are 16 rooms in the building, and as a company, we employ 30 people, so we are not a small enterprise by any means.”

Today The Bunker is a community interest company supported by studio rental from professional bands, low-cost rehearsal space fees for aspiring musicians and funding for projects with schools, older people and local communities.

“Sunderland is a city with a story, and with soul.

“People come to us with things they want to express, their own tales to tell,” said Liam.

“The Bunker gives them a space to translate that into music – we give people the confidence to perform.

“The result is a city with a powerful voice that it is not afraid to use.

“The fact that we have been here for 35 years this year means that different generations are being touched by our work, and that’s quite special.”

l For more information about The Bunker visit www.bunkeruk.com, call 567 1777 or find out more on Twitter or Facebook.