How a Futurehead and Levellers band member created a pioneering music college in Sunderland

It’s currently the only independent music college in the UK being run by musicians.

With one being the frontman of Sunderland indie darlings The Futureheads and the other being a band member of folk rockers Levellers, there can be few better qualified people to teach tomorrow’s music makers.

Northern Academy Of Music Education (NAME) at the Fire Station with directors Barry Hyde and Dan Donnelly.Northern Academy Of Music Education (NAME) at the Fire Station with directors Barry Hyde and Dan Donnelly.
Northern Academy Of Music Education (NAME) at the Fire Station with directors Barry Hyde and Dan Donnelly. | Sunderland Echo

Three years ago, Barry Hyde, one quarter of The Futureheads, and Dan Donnelly, who’s had a long career in bands such as Levellers, The Wonder Stuff and The Celtic Social Club, pooled their extensive knowledge in the music industry to create The Northern Academy of Music Education (NAME).

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Based across three sites - on the top floor of The Fire Station, Birdland Studios above The Peacock pub and at St Peter’s Campus - the college offers a cutting-edge modern music industries higher education programme, delivered with partners The University of Sunderland. 

NAME has struck a chord with those wanting to pursue a career in the often-challenging music industry; attracting students from across the country, fostering their music individuality which spans multiple genres and teaching them the business side of making music to help them on the path to a sustainable career.

Dan and Barry set up NAME in 2021Dan and Barry set up NAME in 2021
Dan and Barry set up NAME in 2021 | Sunderland Echo

It’s the only independent music college in the country, the largest higher music education provider in the city and, in a recent student satisfaction survey, ranked first in the North East for music.

The very first cohort of BA honours NAME students are now looking forward to graduating next month and Barry says it’s a proud moment for the college as it goes from strength to strength.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It’s a proud milestone for our year three students to be graduating. We started with 12 students and, after an exceptional intake for 24/25, we are now the leading further education provider in music in the city and have 50 students with us,” said Barry.

The business partners noticed a gap in the market for an education provider such as NAME with many of the more traditional courses being more performance-based.

The college’s three sites include the top floor of The Fire Station in Sunderland city centreThe college’s three sites include the top floor of The Fire Station in Sunderland city centre
The college’s three sites include the top floor of The Fire Station in Sunderland city centre | Sunderland Echo

Dan explained: “A lot of courses are based on telling students how and what to play. With both of us being songwriters that’s not the kind of education we would have wanted. Our students tell us what they want to play and we give them the industry knowledge to pursue their passion.

“What you don’t want is young people trained to learn the same songs to form a cover band who then go out into the industry and undercut each other.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We focus on students’ individual specialisms from DJs and techno house producers to heavy metal guitarists and composers. We really want to redefine the music industry, pushing practice as research.”

Students also have access to Birdland Music Studios on the top floor of The PeacockStudents also have access to Birdland Music Studios on the top floor of The Peacock
Students also have access to Birdland Music Studios on the top floor of The Peacock | Sunderland Echo

As well as encouraging the musical individuality of students, the college looks at the mechanics of the music industry, such as doing your own promotion, looking at revenue streams and curating your own event.

As part of their Festival Curation Module, students this year created Roulette Festival at the city’s Independent venue in Holmeside.

It sold out and proved such a hit they’re looking at making it a regular event.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The college’s tutors also have a breadth of experience in the music industry and include the likes of Peter Brewis of Mercury Prize-nominated Field Music and acclaimed guitarist and producer Nick Jennison amongst others.

Because NAME is independent, it means it has more flexibility to invest directly back into the college, with Barry and Dan recently investing £20,000 to upgrade resources for the 24/25 academic year and onwards and constantly reinvesting tuition fees back into the college.

“Because we’re independently run, we can be so reactive to students and can constantly give them individual attention. As directors of the college, we’re in the building every day,” said Dan.

Moving forward, recruitment is now live for an MA in Modern Music, the only vocational music industry postgraduate course in the North East.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The college ties in with the city’s burgeoning culture quarter, which has seen the creation of The Fire Station venue, multiple stages across the city, a wider range of acts coming to the city to perform, as well as more opportunities for young people in Sunderland, helping to retain cultural talent.

Sunderland is also aiming to make Music City status. A citywide partnership led by the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust aims to brand Sunderland a Music City, joining the worldwide Music City network, which would open even more doors of opportunity.

“One of the initial challenges we faced was students from across the country wanting to come and live in Sunderland,” said Barry. “But that’s getting easier and easier with all the developments in the city.

“We now have students from London, Cardiff and Somerset. We even have a student from Scotland who has chosen to pay for their BA because they want to do this course.

“It’s a great time to be in Sunderland.”

Anyone interested in learning more about NAME can email [email protected] or visit https://www.wearename.org.uk/

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.