Sunderland 2015: Best gigs, shows and restaurants of the year

Front man Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters perform at the Stadium of Light Picture: DAVID WOOD
Front man Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters perform at the Stadium of Light Picture: DAVID WOOD
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From Foo Fighters rocking the stadium and Sunderland’s bid for City of Culture to James Bay serenading the crowds in a Fawcett Street shop, our entertainments editor brings you her highlights of 2015.

Top Gigs

The crowds at Sunniside Live

The crowds at Sunniside Live

•April, James Bay at Pop Recs, Fawcett Street

Despite being one of the most in demand musicians of 2015, thanks to hits such as Hold Back the River and a Number 1 album, James Bay found time to lend his support to Pop Recs Ltd. Hearing that the record shop’s original base in Fawcett Street was sold to developers, he took a break from his tour to play an intimate gig to encourage people to support the arts venture, which has now reopened in Stockton Road. It also gave him the chance to duet with local lads Hyde & Beast to a standing room only crowd.

Watch the performance here
•May, Foo Fighters, Stadium of Light

Dave Grohl and Co proved why they’re billed as one of the best live acts in the world when they played the home of the Black Cats.

Huey Morgan fronting FLC at Durham Gala. Photo by Dave Hudspeth

Huey Morgan fronting FLC at Durham Gala. Photo by Dave Hudspeth

Though the gig was to support eighth album Sonic Highways, they’ve got a 20-year back catalogue to thrash their way through, and that they did, in all its sweaty, screeching glory. The recognisable riffs came thick and fast in a howling tour-de-force of rock.

Read the review here

•July, Sunniside Live, Sunniside Gardens

This year saw the first Sunniside Live festival, which was set up to bring more footfall to an under-used quarter of the city.

Wicked flew into Sunderland Empire

Wicked flew into Sunderland Empire

Thousands turned out across the course of the day to see acts including Frankie & the Heartstrings, Hyde & Beast and The Voice finalist Olivia Lawson. It’s hoped the event will build upon its success and return this summer.

•July, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Durham Gala Theatre

Twenty years after their first ever gig in a bar in New York, Fun Lovin’ Criminals brought their slick sound to Durham’s annual Brass festival.

Led by the charismatic Huey Morgan, their tracks, a cocktail of funk, blues, jazz and soul, were given even more oomph with the addition of a horn section. Durham crowds enjoyed tracks including Love Unlimited and Scooby Snacks.

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake

•September, The Lake Poets, Sunderland Minster

Rocker Dave Stewart made a return to Sunderland to introduce The Lake Poets at the Minster. The act, led by East Herrington’s Martin Longstaff, this year released its debut album after Dave produced it at his studios in Nashville, USA. The haunting sound of tracks such as City by the Sea, inspired by Martin’s love of Sunderland, rang out around the historic church.

Top Theatre Shows

•March, The Producers, Sunderland Empire

A new tour of Mel Brooks’ The Producers shimmied its way to the city earlier this year in all its camp glory. Side-splitting satire met storm troopers in this slick revival of a modern-day stage classic, starring Jason Manford, Phill Jupitus and Louie Spence.

•April, Wicked, Sunderland Empire

Divino Pizzeria chef Alex Contini

Divino Pizzeria chef Alex Contini

Evergreen musical Wicked cast a spell over Sunderland Empire for its North East debut. A prequel to the Wizard of Oz, the show brought some West End sparkle to Wearside for a three-week run. Every shade of green imaginable features in the lavish exuberance of the Emerald City, a twirling and twinkling feast for the eyes that managed to dwarf my affection for the original Wizard of Oz. Dorothy who?

•April, Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Perhaps the most sexually-charged of choreographer extraordinaire Matthew Bourne’s creations, this was a tour-de-force of pulsating passion. Loosely based on Bizet’s Carmen, the music was instantly recognisable but the story transported you to a new world. Not the cigarette factory of the original, but a gaudy garage and diner in 1960s America where the men are grease monkeys over-flowing with matador-esque machismo and the women are sexually-confident sirens.

•October, Swan Lake, Sunderland Empire

Birmingham Royal Ballet returned to its home in the North East for this fantastical and sumptuous production of a ballet classic. The lead roles were played by married couple Nao Sakuma and Yasuo Atsuji and their chemistry added extra sizzle to the stunning choreography as they moved in perfect unison together to Tchaikovsky’s instantly-recognisable score.

Top New Restaurants

•Divino Pizzeria, Burdon Road

It’s official: Sunderland loves proper pizza. This dedicated pizzeria opened its doors in the former Cafe Roco in autumn and soon became the No 1 Sunderland restaurant on Trip Advisor thanks to its emphasis on traditional pizza bases with a wide range of toppings.

Read the review here

•Papadoms, High Street West

Italian chain Ask and a Mexican restaurant both tried and failed to make a success of this Sunniside unit. But Papadoms, which hopes to turn the restaurant into a chain, seems to have got the recipe right, thanks to its Indian tapas and retro Bollywood theme.

Read the review here
•Holy Smokes, Park Lane

There’s been mixed reviews of Holy Smokes, but it was refreshing to see a restaurant open in the city centre that’s trying something new. The old Luma bar is now unrecognisable thanks to neon graffiti and skull ornaments. Food-wise, the focus is meat in all its forms. Look out for a new, re-worked menu in the new year.

Read the review here

Culture Highlights of 2015

•February, 6Music Festival, Sage Gateshead and Ouseburn, Newcastle

A host of home-grown talent, including Ross Millard from Futureheads, David Brewis from Field Music and Whitburn’s Nadine Shah, were among those to take part in the annual celebration of alternative music. Highlights included Wearside-born DJ Lauren Laverne in conversation with Washington rock star Bryan Ferry. The festival is in Bristol in 2016.

•June to September, Canaletto’s A Regatta at the Grand Canal, Museum and Winter Gardens

Visitor numbers to the Museum and Winter Gardens rose by 20 per cent thanks to one of the world’s most famous paintings being on display. More then 92,000 people visited the venue while the Canaletto masterpiece A Regatta on the Grand Canal was on loan from the National Gallery in London.

Read more about the painting here
•July, Summer Streets, Southwick

For the second year running, Southwick came alive to the sound of music. Enthusiastic youngsters from Southwick Primary School joined a steel drum procession to take part in a street parade and kick off the weekend of festivities at Thompson Park. Highlights at the event, organised by The Cultural Spring, included performances from Hyde & Beast, blues band George Shovlin and the Radars and 30s-style big band Rob Heron and the Teapad Orchestra.

•September, launch of Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid

The new Keel Square formed the perfect backdrop as the city launched its official bid to be a future City of Culture. Highlights included music and dance performances. If the bid is successful it could stamp Sunderland firmly on the cultural map, ploughing millions into the economy and attracting investment in the arts. Winning the title would result in a year of cultural events to draw in visitors and spark creativity in Wearside communities.

•September, Lumiere, Durham City

For the fourth year running, Durham hosted the spectacular Lumiere light festival which sees the city centre taken over by inventive light installations. Tens of thousands flocked to the event over its four days.

What To Look Out For in 2016

•Old Fire Station, High Street West, Sunderland

A decision will be made in the coming weeks on the planning application to transform the Old Fire Station into a cultural hub. If plans go ahead, the building, which has stood empty for two decades, will be turned into a restaurant, dance and theatre space.

•March 26, The Suggestibles, Arts Centre Washington

If you like Whose Line is it Anyway? you’ll love the Suggestibles. Their two-hour improv-comedy joyride is made up of spontaneous scenes, stories, skits and songs all based on audience suggestions.

•April 6-30, Billy Elliot, Sunderland Empire

In another coup for the Empire, it’s the first theatre in the region to host the musical set on a Durham coalfield. Based on the hit film of the same name, the West End show’s first UK tour is set to be a real date for the calendar.

•June 18, Rihanna, Stadium of Light

The global superstar returns to the stadium stage as part of her world tour to support forthcoming album, Anti. The gig promises a mix of old and new material from one of the world’s most famous singers whose hits include Umbrella, Diamonds and Only Girl.

Ticket details here

Coun John Kelly with Canaletto's A Regatta on the Grand Canal

Coun John Kelly with Canaletto's A Regatta on the Grand Canal

Artistic Director Ross Millard leads the Summer Streets Music Festival parade towards Thompson Park Picture: DAVID WOOD

Artistic Director Ross Millard leads the Summer Streets Music Festival parade towards Thompson Park Picture: DAVID WOOD

Durham Lumiere Light Festival 2015

Durham Lumiere Light Festival 2015

Billy Elliot will head to Sunderland in 2016

Billy Elliot will head to Sunderland in 2016