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News: Sunderland Empire: Shining Bright for Ghostlight Sessions


Sunderland Empire:

Shining Bright for Ghostlight Sessions


Thursday 1st July marks the 114th Birthday for Sunderland Empire and as the venue prepares to turn off the ghost light, the theatre will play host to a special series of virtual gigs which will play homage to the iconic and spectacular spaces within the Grade 2 listed theatre. 

The Ghostlight Sessions throughout July will showcase a hotbed of musical talent from Sunderland with the Futureheads, Big Fat Big, Faye Fantarrow, Picnic, Field Music and The Lake Poets streaming at 8pm on Mondays and Thursdays across the Sunderland Empire social channels. 

Futureheads - Photo: David Wood

Sunderland Empire has seen some of the biggest names in entertainment take centre stage over the years from Charlie Chaplin to Laurel and Hardy, and from Kate Bush to The Beatles. Music was on the programme from day one when the theatre was officially opened on 1 July 1907 by music hall star Vesta Tilley, and thanks to funding received from the Cultural Recovery Fund music will finally make a triumphant return. 

Big Fat Big - Photo: David Wood

Anthony Hope, Creative Learning and Community Partnerships Manager, Sunderland Empire said The funding received from the Cultural Recovery Fund has given us a unique opportunity to work closely with an array of highly talented Sunderland musicians. Usually, visiting productions would take to the stage only for performances but we are delighted to be able to utilise our breath-taking spaces within the theatre and to be able to stream across our social channels, enabling all to experience the power of music and tune into the Ghostlight Sessions for free. 

Faye Fantarrow - Photo: David Wood

The locally significant and highly engaging creative project would not have been possible without the funding received and we would like to extend our thanks to Arts Council England and DCMS for supporting this event through the Cultural Recovery Fund.” 

Picnic - Photo: David Wood

A ghost light is a small, single bulbed light, usually a floor lamp,  that shines on the dark stage throughout the night when the theatre is closed and unoccupied, hence the poignancy of the Ghostlight Sessions. Theatre lore is unclear on if the light is to encourage spirits of performers past or to ward them away. The theatre may currently be dark, but the funding from the Cultural Recovery Fund has supported an array of exciting and collaborative community projects which are coming to fruition in the coming weeks to support Sunderland Empire’s reopening plans. 

Field Music - Photo: David Wood

The Ghostlight Sessions, which have been recorded by Sunderland recording producers Motorhouse Studios, will see Faye Fantarrow perform in the unused Opera Box, Field Music takeover the iconic domed Tower entrance and Big Fat Big will rock the Dress Circle Bar. A trailer will be released on Thursday 1st July, and popular post punk four-piece, The Futureheads will be the first set to be released on Thursday 8 July at 8pm across Sunderland Empire’s social pages, further sets from all bands will be streamed weekly thereafter and will be free to view. 

Futureheads - Photo:David Wood

Ross Millard, The Futureheads added “The Sunderland Empire is one of very few venues in the region that we haven’t performed in over the years, so we’re really looking forward to being involved in the Ghostlight Sessions.  

The Empire has been a formative part of all of our childhoods, our cultural upbringings, and is a legendary Sunderland venue. We’ll be performing an acoustic / a cappella set on the stage inside the auditorium, which feels very special for us.”

Marie Nixon, Theatre Director, Sunderland Empire, explained “We’re so pleased to have such incredible Sunderland artists at all stages of their careers playing live from our beautiful theatre. It’s so important to us to support the creative community in Sunderland and every artist who has worked on this project be they musicians or illustrators, filmmakers or technicians makes a huge contribution to our city’s creative life. We’re delighted to be sharing their work with all of our wonderful audiences this summer.”

Six-piece band Picnic, who were selected by Sunderland born Eurythmics star Dave Stewart to play his 65th birthday gig in 2017 will showcase their sound that blends indie with jazz, funk and pop. Indie rock trio Big Fat Big who’ve recently had airplay on BBC Radio 1 and BBC 6 Music, have had a glut of praise for their early releases including 2020 singles ‘So Bored’ and ‘Milk and Vinegar’ alongside an appearance at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend.

Next in the line-up, iconic, Mercury Music Prize nominated Wearside band Field Music. Fronted by brothers Peter and David Brewis, Field Music will be rocking the theatre fresh from a recent return to Later with Jools Holland where they performed ‘No Pressure’ from their eighth studio album Flat White Moon. Then one to watch on the North East’s burgeoning indie scene is emerging singer Faye Fantarrow who has recently released her second single of 2021, 'Kola Kiss' - a dreamy folk-infused pop banger about breaking away from societal norms.

Last but not least, described as 'Quietly Devastating', 'Accomplished and Intelligent, and 'Spellbinding and Heart-breaking, The Lake Poets, led by singer-songwriter Marty Longstaff, whose song Shipyards featured on the opening sequence to the Sunderland AFC Netflix documentary Sunderland Til I Die, will be making an infectious and gripping appearance.


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