Sensational night of music officially opens Sunderland's new £11million Fire Station Auditorium as city showcases artistic pedigree and sparkling new talent

Top musicians who helped put Sunderland’s name on the musical map gave a sensational performance to officially open Sunderland’s new £11million venue.

Saturday, 18th December 2021, 3:57 pm

Mercury Music Prize nominees Field Music were the houseband for The Firestarters Revue, which officially opened The Fire Station Auditorium in High Street West.

Guest singers included Frankie Francis of Frankie & The Heartstrings, Rachel Unthank, Martha Hill, Ross Millard and Barry Hyde, both of The Futureheads, Faye Fantarrow, rapper Reali-T and Martin Brammer, vocalist from The Kane Gang.

Organisers said the line-up showcased not only Sunderland’s musical pedigree, but also its fresh, young talent.

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Artists at the opening of the Fire Station Auditorium. All pictures from Von Fox.

Artists covered hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s as well as performing their own numbers.

Highlights included Ross Millard and Barry Hyde singing Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire and Frankie Francis’s cover of The Doors’ Light My Fire and his duet of Closest Thing to Heaven with Martin Brammer.

The audience was also treated to a spectacular show from Flame Oz and local aerial artists Uncaged Aerial Theatre.

Earlier in the day the auditorium hosted a reception for funders, supporters, MPs, the city’s Mayor and Mayoress, and other key figures.

Martha Hill

Businessman Paul Callaghan, who is chairman of the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust and driving force behind the development of The Fire Station and the city’s cultural quarter received a standing ovation as he delivered a moving and powerful speech, thanking backers including The Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, the DCMS Recovery Fund, several trusts and foundations and the Leighton Group.

He also thanked architect Jason Flanagan from Flanagan Lawrence and Sunderland construction company Brims who built the venue.

Paul told how his dad Jack had been a fire watcher during a Luftwaffe raid on Sunderland in May 1943.

Then 19, Jack stood on the site of the now-vacated Civic Centre and watched in horror as a huge bomb landed on a site between Sunderland Empire and the old Fire Station.

Ross Millard and Barry Hyde

Jack later told his son he had assumed the Empire had been lost. In fact, it had survived, but a warehouse which stood on the Garden Place site was completely destroyed.

The bomb site became a car park, and is now the site of The Fire Station Auditorium.

Paul said: “When we decided to restore, regenerate, and create in this area we recognised we needed buildings that have a purpose and utility, but also that in 100 years’ time our grandchildren's grandchildren will cherish as we cherish the Empire. I want them to remark in awe about the ambition and the vision of the people who delivered them. Let’s not settle for the ordinary, the mundane, the unimaginative and the uninspiring.

“So here sit these magnificent buildings, some restored and some new built, but all done with care and respect. And what is even more important than the building itself is what will happen here on this stage, in the studios next door and in the hearts and minds and souls of those who come here to watch, to listen and to perform.

Frankie Francis channels Jim Morrison.

“Music, drama, and dance can stir the soul and this place will give them experiences that they will never forget, that will change the way they think, the way they act and that may fundamentally alter the direction of their lives. It will open their eyes, open their minds and it will let them shine.

“It is for those who work and study and play and live here. Those who have despaired of Sunderland ever being a 'great place' again and those who have kept the faith - whether with town or team through those difficult decades.

“We will engage and excite them, and restore and renew their belief in this place.

“And the younger generation and generations to come whose lives still have a long way to run. Who have yet to decide whether their future lies here or elsewhere - what they see and hear and do might make them want to stay.

“This place, as the Futureheads would say will host so many Decent Days and Nights: from Mozart to Motown, from folk to funk, from rock to baroque, and from Emily Dickinson to Emili Sande and in so doing we will honour the generations of the past and inspire the generations to come.”

The Christmas season at The Fire Station will come to a close with North East funk icons Smoove & Turrell whose show on Sunday, December 19 will also feature special guests Voices of

Virtue choir and Kay Greyson.

Firestarters is commissioned by the MAC Trust and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

The team at the The Fire Station is implementing Covid security checks on entry and the auditorium also has a state of the art, laminar flow fresh air ventilation system.

The Fire Station Auditorium will programme up to 300 events a year in music, theatre, comedy and dance. It can host up to 550 people seated or up to 800 people standing and is operated by Sunderland Culture on behalf of the MAC Trust.

For more information about events and to buy tickets head to www.thefirestation.org.uk or follow @FireStationSun.

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