EXCLUSIVE: Free music festival aims to kickstart Sunniside revival

Launching Sunniside Live, Michael McKnight and Olivia Lawson.
Launching Sunniside Live, Michael McKnight and Olivia Lawson.
  • Battle of the Bands will give local act chance to open the event
  • Local bands Frankie & The Heartstrings and Hyde & Beast will perform
  • The Voice finalist Olivia Lawson is also on the bill
  • Organisers hope to pull crowd of 2,500 to Sunniside
  • Businesses could benefit in under-used part of Sunderland
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A host of top musicians will take to the stage to breathe new life into an under-used area of the city centre.

Frankie & the Heartstrings, Hyde & Beast and The Voice finalist Olivia Lawson headline the bill at Sunniside Live, a day of free entertainment taking place in the area next month.

Sunniside, once a wealthy district thanks to Sunderland’s ship-building industry, re-opened eight years ago to much fanfare after around £3million was ploughed into Sunniside Gardens.

At the time it was hailed as Sunderland’s new “cultural quarter”, but businesses say it hasn’t taken off in the way everyone had hoped.

Bar Justice has been in the area since its rebirth and bosses at the bar hope the music event will make people realise what’s on their doorstep.

Owner Sean Maddison, who is at the helm of the event with Helen Davies, said: “We have capacity for 2,500 people for Sunniside Live, which will bring great footfall to the area, and hopefully those people will see what’s on offer here and come back.

Hyde & Beast are among the acts performing at Sunniside Live.

Hyde & Beast are among the acts performing at Sunniside Live.

“We have people coming in every week to the bar who still don’t realise we’re here.

“The event has been eight months in the planning and we’ve had great support from the BID, who are sponsoring the event, Anne Tye at the council, and local businesses.

“Everyone wants to see this work and hopefully it will become an annual event.”

Sunniside Live will take place on Saturday, July 11, from noon until 10pm and will also feature performances from Yellowstone, Motown singer Joe Harriett, The Source Unplugged and Northern soul DJ Craig Hope, as well as a host of food and drink stalls.

The Voice finalist, Olivia Lawson

There’s lots of things happening and I’m in talks with record labels in London, but it’s great that my family and friends can come and see me perform at home.

A Battle of the Bands contest, held next month at Bar Justice, will also give a local, emerging band the chance to open the festival.

Michael McKnight from Frankie & the Heartstrings said: “It’s the most beautiful part of the city centre, but it just doesn’t get used enough.

“To have a free event here is terrific for the community as it’s so inclusive. Everyone can come down and enjoy a day and evening of entertainment. It’s great for families.”

Speaking of the local line-up, he said: “There’s so much good stuff in the North East that you don’t need to look beyond the region for anyone else.

“It’s great that we have these artists here. We don’t have Split Festival anymore, but we do this, and it’s terrific.”

Olivia Lawson, a finalist in this year’s The Voice show under the tutelage of Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson, says the festival has given her a chance to perform on her home stage.

“It’s been crazy since The Voice,” said the 18-year-old from Grindon, who is in the process of writing her debut EP.

Her blind audition for The Voice, in which she sang a haunting rendition of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, has racked up more than 3million views on YouTube.

“Although I’ve been doing shows elsewhere and a festival in Gloucestershire, this is the first big thing I will have done in Sunderland since The Voice,” she said.

“There’s lots of things happening and I’m in talks with record labels in London, but it’s great that my family and friends can come and see me perform at home.”

n Sunniside Live is open to wristband holders. For details on how to obtain your free wristband search Sunniside Live on Facebook or follow the festival on Twitter @SunnisideLive.

Or reserve your wristbands here