Sunderland Empire launches free gigs as landmark venue prepares to finally open its doors

On its 114th birthday, the iconic Sunderland Empire has launched a series of virtual gigs starring a host of homegrown talent.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 1:28 pm

The Grade II-listed theatre, one of the finest of its kind, has faced the most difficult chapter in its century in the city after closing its doors in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

Since then a Ghostlight has been left on, a theatrical tradition of leaving a single bulb lit on stage when a theatre is closed and unoccupied.

But, as plans are made to finally turn the Ghostlight off, for the first time in 16 months, a series of online gigs has been launched, called Ghostlight Sessions.

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The Futureheads performing for the Ghostlight Sessions

The sessions run throughout July and features some of Sunderland’s best musical talents, including Futureheads, Big Fat Big, Faye Fantarrow, Picnic, Field Music and The Lake Poets streaming at 8pm on Mondays and Thursdays across the Sunderland Empire social channels.

Sunderland Empire has seen some of the biggest names in entertainment take centre stage over the years from Charlie Chaplin to Laurel and Hardy, and from Kate Bush to The Beatles.

Music was on the programme from day one when the theatre was officially opened on July 1, 1907 by music hall star Vesta Tilley, and thanks to funding received from the Cultural Recovery Fund music will finally make a triumphant return.

Anthony Hope, creative learning and community partnerships manager at Sunderland Empire, said: “The funding received from the Cultural Recovery Fund has given us a unique opportunity to work closely with an array of highly talented Sunderland musicians.

Field Music performing in the foyer

"Usually, visiting productions would take to the stage only for performances but we are delighted to be able to utilise our breath-taking spaces within the theatre and to be able to stream across our social channels, enabling all to experience the power of music and tune into the Ghostlight Sessions for free.

“The locally significant and highly engaging creative project would not have been possible without the funding received and we would like to extend our thanks to Arts Council England and DCMS for supporting this event through the Cultural Recovery Fund.”

The theatre may currently be dark, but the funding from the Cultural Recovery Fund has supported an array of collaborative community projects which are coming to fruition in the coming weeks to support Sunderland Empire’s reopening plans.

The Ghostlight Sessions, which have been recorded by Sunderland recording producers Motorhouse Studios, will see Faye Fantarrow perform in the unused Opera Box, Field Music takeover the iconic domed Tower entrance and Big Fat Big will rock the Dress Circle Bar.

Picnic are also on the bill

Post punk four-piece The Futureheads will be the first set to be released on Thursday, July 8 at 8pm across Sunderland Empire’s social pages, further sets from all bands will be streamed weekly thereafter and will be free to view.

Ross Millard, The Futureheads, said: “The Sunderland Empire is one of very few venues in the region that we haven’t performed in over the years, so we’re really looking forward to being involved in the Ghostlight Sessions.

"The Empire has been a formative part of all of our childhoods, our cultural upbringings, and is a legendary Sunderland venue. We’ll be performing an acoustic / a cappella set on the stage inside the auditorium, which feels very special for us.”

Marie Nixon, theatre director at Sunderland Empire, added: “We’re so pleased to have such incredible Sunderland artists at all stages of their careers playing live from our beautiful theatre. It’s so important to us to support the creative community in Sunderland and every artist who has worked on this project be they musicians or illustrators, filmmakers or technicians makes a huge contribution to our city’s creative life. We’re delighted to be sharing their work with all of our wonderful audiences this summer.”

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