THE first artists who will perform at Sunderland’s new £18m cultural venue have spoken of their excitement about the forthcoming gig.

The Fire Station Auditorium’s first live performance is on Friday, December 10 and will feature Northumbrian musician and composer Kathryn Tickell and her band The Darkening – and hugely popular Sunderland singer songwriter Marty Longstaff, and his band The Lake Poets.

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The gig will kickstart the auditorium’s opening programme, called Firestarters, and bring together some of the region’s most popular musicians in the state-of-the-art venue on High Street West in Sunderland city centre.

The first artist to perform live on stage will be Sunderland’s home-grown singer songwriter Marty Longstaff with his band The Lake Poets. Marty’s reputation and audience soared when his moving and powerful song Shipyards was chosen as the title song for the well-received Netflix documentary Sunderland Til I Die.

The Northern Echo: The Lake PoetsThe Lake Poets

Marty is a well-respected and admired performer among the regional music scene and spends a great deal of time helping to develop the next generation of talent through groups like the Young Musicians Project.

He said: “As a Sunderland lad it is a huge honour for me to be the first performer on stage at The Fire Station. It’s a real privilege.

“Back in 2017 Paul Callaghan, who has been the driving force behind The Fire Station, asked me and singer Rebecca Young to help bury a time capsule under the site for the new building – what was then a car park.

“I’ve watched with fascination as the building has come out of the ground and four years later we’ve come full circle and I’ll actually be performing on the stage. It’s quite incredible.

“I’m also delighted to be playing alongside Kathryn, who I know and admire. She’s unbelievably talented. I remember playing Shipyards together with her and her band at Sage Gateshead and the whole audience fell silent – and then exploded with a standing ovation when we finished.

“I’ve had a sneak preview of The Fire Station Auditorium and it’s going to be incredible. It’s exactly the right-sized venue for the city, just what we need. It will be a venue that young musicians will want to play at – a beacon for aspiration.

“What’s also great about it is that the acoustics will be perfect. Music like mine will come across so well – the acoustics will be warm and beautiful, and the atmosphere amazing.

“So I just can’t wait to sound the first chord and sing the first note.”

Kathryn, the foremost exponent of the Northumbrian pipes as well as a renown singer and fiddle player, said: “I’m just so excited, I can’t wait. It’s a real honour and a privilege to be performing the auditorium’s first gig. We’ve only been back from our Autumn tour for a few days, but we couldn’t say no when we were invited to perform.

“And to play with Marty in his home city is extra special. When Tamsin Austin (Director of The Fire Station) suggested a double bill with Marty we said yes straight away – I love his stuff and we get on well.

“I’m hoping he’ll sing Shipyards, which is just magical, but I might cry. My granddad was a County Durham miner and the song is so poignant and evocative.

“Everything I do is influenced by the North East, so to play the first night at such an important new venue is really special. I’ve watched the Sunderland music scene grow and thrive over the past ten years and been hugely impressed – there is so much going on in the city at the moment, and the music is just great. There’s such a buzz and it’s self-perpetuating because there are so many talented young writers and singers – I’ve been particularly impressed by the young people’s music projects that I know Marty is involved with.

“It’s a really genuine music scene, one that is led by local people and not arts professionals who have been parachuted in.

“So I just can’t wait for December 10 – our band The Darkening is quite dark and rocky, so there won’t be much traditional Northumbrian folk songs. I’m sure we’ll fit a clog dance or two in though.”

Kathryn was also excited at the prospect of Tamsin leading the venue: “She’s a real force to be reckoned with. She is driven by music, which she absolutely lives and breathes and The Fire Station is fortunate to have her – as is the city. She’ll be an asset to what is already such a vibrant music scene.

“I watched what she did at the Sage and she is incredible,” said Kathryn, who is a two-time winner of BBC2’s prestigious Folk Award’s Musician of the Year title.

After the December 10 performance, Royal Northern Sinfonia will deliver a candle-lit Christmas concert on Sunday, December 12, followed by British queen of soul and gospel Mica Paris on Wednesday, December 15.

On Friday, December 17 Mercury Music Prize nominees Field Music will present The Firestarters Revue, with a sensational line-up of guests including rising stars Martha Hill, Reali-T, Faye Fantarrow alongside Sunderland icons Barry Hyde and Ross Millard (The Futureheads) and Frankie Francis. Other performers for this very special housewarming for The Fire Station will be announced.

The Christmas season will come to a close with a party to end all parties with North East funk icons Smoove & Turrell (Sunday, December 19) fresh from their chart-topping seventh studio album, Stratos Bleu. The event will also include special guests the Voices of Virtue Gospel Choir, MC Kay Grayson and the Origin Crew dancers.

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

The Fire Station Auditorium will feature a programme of 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 Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust.  

For more information about events and to buy tickets head to or follow @FireStationSun.

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