WITH Covid having ravaged the country and, in particular, the areas of culture, art and music, the Revive Live Tour, run in partnership with the Music Venue Trust, provides a real boost to local grassroots venues like Stockton's Georgian Theatre.

Since 1994 the National Lottery has been providing support and funding for good causes across the nation.

The Revive Live Tour provides the chance to get free tickets to over 300 gigs by some of the biggest names in British music such as Tom Jones, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man, James Arthur and Sam Fender. Around half of the capacity of the total shows – around 30,000 tickets – are free to anyone accompanying a ticket holder providing they present a National Lottery ticket or scratch card upon entry.

Sir Tom Jones – who is playing the 800-capacity Junction in Cambridge in September – recently stressed the importance of local venues when he said: “Musicians can record in their bedrooms, but they can’t learn to perform in public without a place to play. Without that, there is no way you can communicate directly to people. It’ll be tough to hone your skills and you’ll never have the thrill of feeling their feedback. Without a grassroots music venue, the neighbourhood won’t have a place where people can come together to discover and support a new talent.”

One of the venues involved is the Georgian Theatre based in Green Dragon Yard in Stockton town centre. It is run by the Tees Music Alliance, a local music charity and provides a wide variety of music events and the monthly Shoe Cake Comedy Club.

Last Wednesday, having paid the princely sum of £15 for a ticket and armed with a current Lotto ticket, my wife and I turned up at the Georgian Theatre to witness the amazing sight of one of the country’s brightest stars, Sam Fender, returning to the stage in front of 300 music starved fans who had snapped up all available tickets within four minutes of them going on sale.

Fender’s 2019 debut album ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ hit number one and helped catapult him into arena sized venues, so to see him return to a venue he played in 2014 as a relative unknown force was a rare treat.

Opening strongly with the hit ‘Will We Talk?’ and ‘Dead Boys’, his poignant song about the suicide of a friend, Fender had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the start. ‘All Is On My Side’ was followed by a brooding version of the magnificent ‘The Borders’ which had the crowd singing along in full voice.

A pounding version of ‘Spice’ had the crowd going berserk as they moshed back and forth and to follow this up with the first live performance of the two minute thrash of the magnificently titled ‘Howden Aldi Death Queue’ was an unexpected treat.

Anticipation for the second album, ‘Seventeen Going Under’ which is due in October is sky high with Fender telling the music press the new album is “miles better” than his debut. Fender gave us a preview with two songs from the release, the title track after which he thanked the audience for their singing because “last time we played it live no one had heard it before” and the forthcoming single ‘Get You Down’. Both songs point to the album being an absolute cracker.

Fender took time to thank singer/songwriter Heidi Curtis for her fine opening set and the Music Venues Trust urging the audience to support venues and bands by getting out to shows. ‘Play God’ ended the set before the band quickly returned and encored with ‘Saturday’ and a joyous version of ‘Hypersonic Missiles’.

It was both exciting and a little nervy to be at a live sold out show again but ultimately it wasn’t the unsettling experience I had feared. Credit to the venue for the good ventilation, sanitiser stations and helpful staff for going out of their way to put on a safe show. Special thanks to Fender and his band for providing a triumphant return to live music.

It was the first time I’d seen hundreds of happy, smiling faces since the pandemic began. There really was no better reminder of just what we’ve all been missing during these awful last fifteen months, so check out your local venue and give them your support: georgiantheatre.co.uk/live-events.