Red hot The Firestarters Revue will officially open Sunderland's Fire Station auditorium

Performers at the official opening of Sunderland’s new £18million venue are counting down the days to a defining date in the city’s cultural history.

The Fire Station Auditorium will officially open on Friday, December 17, when Mercury Music Prize nominees Field Music will present The Firestarters Revue.

The gig has a sensational line-up of guests including rising stars Martha Hill, Reali-T, Faye Fantarrow alongside popular Sunderland musicians Barry Hyde, Ross Millard and Frankie Francis.

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Other performers include Rachel Unthank from folk group The Unthanks, and other artists will be announced closer to the gig.

The Fire Station revue takes place on December 17The Fire Station revue takes place on December 17
The Fire Station revue takes place on December 17

Ross Millard has been heavily involved in the development of The Fire Station. He is a trustee at Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, the organisation responsible for The Fire Station development.

The Futureheads and Frankie & The Heartstrings guitarist and vocalist is proud of his involvement and is excited at the prospect of the auditorium opening and playing at the Revue:

“I just can’t wait for it open – because I’ve been involved for several years it’s felt like a long time in coming!

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“I think anyone from the city, or the region, who loves to play or listen to music has a sense of anticipation. Everyone just wants to hear a band play there.

Martha HillMartha Hill
Martha Hill

“It’s a perfect mid-scale venue and just what Sunderland wants and needs. Its opening will be a cultural shift, the city has been crying out for this sort of venue for a long time. It will also be a mind shift for audiences, and we’re lucky to have Tamsin Austin (The Fire Station Director) who I know will do a brilliant job in programming the venue.

“It’s been a privilege to be part of the MAC Trust and support Paul Callaghan (MAC Trust Chair) who has been the driving force behind the development. I hope we’ve been a supportive sounding board for him.

“I’m delighted to be involved in the Firestarters Revue and Sunderland should be excited at the impact The Fire Station is about to make on the city.”

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Charismatic Martha Hill is also excited to be playing the auditorium’s official opening gig: “I’ve played a few Sunderland venues before and have heard so much about The Fire Station. I was delighted to have been asked to perform by Tamsin Austin and I’m really looking forward to the gig.

Ross MillardRoss Millard
Ross Millard

“I’m hoping to play a couple of songs from my EP that was released in June – it was weird to release it without the opportunity to back it up with live performances then, and it’s great to be playing live again.”

Newcastle-based singer songwriter Martha left home at 17 and busked locally, nationally and across Europe. After returning to her native north east Martha joining gypsy folk and roll band Holy Moly and the Crackers. She then launched her own solo project and tours the UK and Europe with her band.

“I learned so much during my years busking, about how to perform and about how to develop my music. I love being in the studio recording, but nothing beats playing live.”

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Her music has been played on Radio1 and she has had several sell-out shows in Newcastle – as well as supporting Maximo Park at a Sage gig.

Sunderland Fire Station Auditorium  new sign as works continue.Sunderland Fire Station Auditorium  new sign as works continue.
Sunderland Fire Station Auditorium new sign as works continue.

Rapper Reali-T is a performer who knows Sunderland and its venues well. Reali-T (aka Tomilola Ayilara) moved from his native Hackney to the city to study pharmacy at University of Sunderland.

“I moved up here and have stayed – London is just too expensive and too busy, too many people which just adds stress to your life. I like the tranquillity here. London’s too much hustle and bustle,” said Reali-T, one of the best up and coming MCs in the region.

“The rap scene down there is much bigger, but it’s growing here. Up here rappers tend to play alongside other performers on a mixed bill, but down south it will just be an evening of rappers.”

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Reali-T released his second album, Commercial Break, earlier this year and lists his hip-hop influences as Biggie Smalls, Tupac and Eminem.

“I’m not a serious guy and I don’t take myself too seriously, so there’s a lot of humour in my music. I’m really looking forward to The Fire Station gig, there haven’t been too many opportunities to perform recently and it looks like it will be a massive night.”

Dave Brewis, singer songwriter with Field Music, explained the band’s role in the Revue: “We’re the hosts and the house band. We made a list of guest singers along with Tamsin at The Fire Station, and we decided on the themes together and then we put forward song ideas to the singers.


"Hopefully, the audience will hear the styles and characters of the different guests and will also hear what we’re all about, all wrapped up together in a bow of good humour and celebration.

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“All of the guests will play with us as their band and we’ll keep our fingers crossed we can fit in a bit of cross-pollination here and there. And even if we don’t have time to rehearse with every combination of guests, there should be enough surprises in the set list to keep the audience on their toes.

“We’re over the moon to be part of the opening programme, especially with this particular show which is such a one-off. Sometimes I feel that we’re so self-contained we’ve kind-of written ourselves out of Sunderland’s music history, so to play a show like this, which is a real landmark for music in the city, is quite special.”

The Fire Station Auditorium’s first live performance is a week before (Friday, December 10) the Revue when Northumbrian musician and composer Kathryn Tickell and her band The Darkening – and hugely popular Sunderland singer songwriter Marty Longstaff, and his band The Lake Poets, will perform.

:: There is limited availability for Revue tickets, but there will be a second release of tickets later next week on

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Mercury Prize nominated art rock band Field MusicMercury Prize nominated art rock band Field Music
Mercury Prize nominated art rock band Field Music