From Beyoncé to Billy Elliot - 6 of the best moments from 2016

From one of the world's biggest stars to the revival of a Madchester institution - it's been a big year for entertainment in Sunderland.

Saturday, 31st December 2016, 8:00 am
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 12:02 pm
Beyonce on the Formation World tour

We take a look back at six of the best highlights of the year.

1. Beyoncé at the Stadium of Light, June

Billy Elliot the musical in Sunderland, the four Billys - Haydn May, Matthew Lyons, Lewis Smallman and Adam Abbou

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Queen Bey reigned supreme as the only gig at the Stadium of Light this year - but boy was it a good one. She put on a fierce performance on the opening night of the European leg of her Formation World tour at the home of the Black Cats.

A sell-out crowd of 52,000 came to see her strut her stuff through a mixture of tracks from latest album Lemonade sprinkled with some old classics.

The singer may have been 45 minutes later than estimated - and there was no Single Ladies tracks for us to waggle our hands to - but she compensated for this with an energetic stomp through Crazy in Love, performed as a medley with Destiny’s Child throwback Bootyliscious and solo track Naughty Girl.

Tracks from Lemonade bought a darker edge with gothic costumes that hark back to the Deep South, merged with Malcolm X-infused dance moves.

Hacienda Classical at Herrington Country Park, Penshaw.

2. Billy Elliot, Sunderland Empire, April

Billy came home back in spring, well as close as the fictional dancer’s going to get to his home turf of Easington, when the Billy Elliot tour made its North East debut in Sunderland.

Miners and musicals aren’t natural bedfellows - but in Billy Elliot the two worlds came together beautifully.

In keeping with its subject matter, this was a musical with grit and soul, and a spin off that actually managed to strike a louder chord than the original film.

The City of Culture bid launch at Keel Square

The performance was made all the more moving by the fact that many former miners from East Durham came along to the show to see how their memories of this tumultuous chapter in the region’s industrial history were brought to life in musical form.

3. Haçienda Classical, Herrington Country Park, August

The hedonistic days of Manchester’s long-gone iconic nightclub came to Penshaw when Haçienda Classical took over Herrington Country Park.

Ravers danced in the rain to sounds that shaped the Haçienda nightclub, which spun its last track in the late 90s.

The Brand New Heavies In Sunniside Live

With original Haçienda DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering at the helm, the thousands who attended the gig were taken on a nostalgic trip back to the 80s and early 90s when the dance revolution took clubs by storm, with the added twist of an accompaniment by Manchester Camerata orchestra and the AMC Gospel choir.

There was even a surprise turn from Happy Mondays’ legend Bez who threw some shapes on stage.

4. City of Culture 2021 Bid Launch, Keel Square, September

September saw the official launch of Sunderland’s bid to become City of Culture 2021. If successful, the bid could plough millions into the economy whilst also acting as a springboard for cultural activity in the city.

Among those who showed their support with performances on the night were Sunderland University students; a newly commissioned piece from Theatre Space NE; Futureheads frontman Barry Hyde, bands including Frankie and the Heartstrings and the cast of Shrek The Musical.

It also featured the premiere City of Culture Film showing community groups and Wearsiders talking about what Sunderland means to them.

Dark Angel

The Sunderland bid is being written by a team from Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, the University of Sunderland and Sunderland City Council. The bid will be submitted in spring next year, a shortlist is then drawn up with four cities invited to submit second round bids in autumn 2017, with a winner declared shortly after. Other cities who have said they will be submitting bids include Coventry, Perth, Paisley, Stoke, Hereford and Warrington. Sunderland is currently among the front runners, sitting in second position with bookies.

5. Sunniside Live, Sunniside Gardens, July

A capacity crowd of 4,000 flocked to the second year of this home-grown music festival to see headliners Brand New Heavies and Shola Ama. Earlier in the day, crowds danced in the street to North East acts including Smoove & Turrell and Dennis.

The event is the brainchild of Bar Justice owners Helen Davies and Sean Maddison and has proved a great way of driving footfall to an oft-forgotten corner of the city.

It returns in July 2017 with a two-day line-up headlined by M People’s Heather Small and Happy Mondays.

6. Dark Angel, ITV, December

This two-part dramatisation of Sunderland serial killer Mary Ann Cotton deserves a mention purely for the line “good girls eat their stotties.” Seaham may have been swapped for Saltburn by the makers of the show and some of the Mackem / Durham accents were a little iffy, but it was an entertaining portrayal of an incident which shocked the nation. Though I doubt anyone will be accepting a cuppa from leading lady Joanne Froggatt anytime soon.

Billy Elliot the musical in Sunderland, the four Billys - Haydn May, Matthew Lyons, Lewis Smallman and Adam Abbou
Hacienda Classical at Herrington Country Park, Penshaw.
The City of Culture bid launch at Keel Square
The Brand New Heavies In Sunniside Live
Dark Angel