CHART-TOPPING James Bay urged Wearside to support its own home-grown cultural hub at a sold-out gig at Pop Recs.
Donning what’s fast become his trademark black hat, James took a break from his tour to perform an intimate set at the Fawcett Street record shop.
Despite a whirlwind schedule, thanks to his current No 1 album, and battling a sore throat, he was determined to stop off at the venue, which has become a thriving hive of cultural activity in Sunderland city centre.
The shop, which was transformed from a derelict Tourist Information Office, into a gig venue, art gallery and record shop by Frankie & the Heartstrings, has been sold to developers who will make it into student accommodation.
The Heartstrings are in the process of finding new premises, and the band, backed by James, say they need the support of Sunderland to make it happen.
James, who himself worked in a record shop in his hometown of Hitchin, Hertfordshire, said: “I’ve known about Pop Recs for about a year, and as soon as I was in the North East and had the chance I was never going to not come here.
“A record shop is more than just a business, it’s a community, it’s where relationships are born.
“I really don’t want the day to come when no record shops are left. I will always fly the flag for independent stores.
“What’s great here is that it’s also a venue, it’s great for the community, and I think the people who are closing it down should recognise that.”
James took to the stage to perform tracks Clocks Go Forward, Incomplete and If You Ever Want To Be in Love before breaking into the anthemic Hold Back The River.
The track, which reached Number 2 in the UK, had the full house singing along in tune and James’ rousing performance proved just why his album, Chaos and the Calm, is the most popular in Britain at the moment.
“As much as I want to save my voice I wasn’t going to come here and not play this,” he said to the crowd who sold out the gig in under 10 minutes when it went on sale on Saturday morning.
An unexpected collaboration came when he was joined by Sunderland band Hyde & Beast, who James has long been a fan of.
Both bands wedged themselves onto the small Pop Recs stage to perform tracks including a cover of Roxy Music’s Jealous Guy.
“What if we lived in a world where this happened all the time at Pop Recs?,” said the man of the moment as he encouraged people to use or lose the record shop.
Speaking to the Echo about the band earlier in the night, he said: “Hyde & Beast are my kind of band, they’re a proper band who play real music. Seeing them live and performing with them is a dream come true for me.
“There’s some great music in Sunderland, bands like Field Music, I just can’t help listening to them, their structures are so different.”
Dave Harper, who books the acts at Pop Recs, said: “If we don’t get another premises we don’t get people like James Bay coming to Sunderland. He doesn’t have to do this, but he clearly cares about people being able to come here and have a great time.”