Published on October 29th, 2013 | by Alastair Gilmour


Live music – We’re with the band

Live music is beer’s best friend,writes Alastair Gilmour

Pubs and music go together so well that at the height of their stardom, folk-rockers Lindisfarne used a Tap & Spile mock-up as a stage set. Mark Knopfler gigged for years around Leeds pubs and Bruce Springsteen continues to play unannounced in neighbourhood bars to keep in touch with his musical roots.

The Rolling Stones – 50 years on the road – started out in pubs around London, and not that long ago, Sting and Kathryn Tickell staged an impromptu performance at The Central in Gateshead.

The public bar, the lounge and the back room are where pub-goers expect to be entertained – the stage where singers and guitarists develop their skills. Musicians need somewhere to play, once they’ve graduated from the frontman’s bedroom, and the pub is where they hone their material and test their nerve.

The Tyne Bar, the Cumberland Arms, The Cluny and the Free Trade in Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, have such an eclectic programme of music that it’s feasible to flit from one to another to absorb, prog-rock, folk, cover bands, self-penned lyrics and ukulele-strumming senior citizens.

The Brandling Villa in South Gosforth regularly presents crowd-pullers of the calibre of The Happy Cats and The Revolutionnaires, while the Head of Steam in Newcastle has recently refurbished its basement bar and torn up the previous script regarding the music and liquid offer. Its all-new 90-capacity venue has a brand-new in-house PA and lighting system, new welcoming décor, with, among many other attractions, local DJ heroes and former Head of Steam staples Smoove and Tim Shaw playing a selection of funk, soul, hip-hop, electro and R&B every Saturday night – open until 3am. Some of its beers are amazing too.

The Schooner in Gateshead – not yet a year old yet under its present ownership – has quickly built a fine reputation for beer and food regularly washed down with lashings of musical talent.

“Live music can totally make a pub,” says owner Dave Campbell. “It’s not down to any one thing and it doesn’t work the same in every pub, but it can absolutely make the atmosphere in a bar.

“You can be sitting in a corner and suddenly react to a song you’ve heard. It’s not reinventing the wheel but live pub music goes through the likes of R&B, rock and roll, rockabilly and blues. Music will always be there in pubs.”

But it’s more than simply an hour’s entertainment for all concerned – pubs and music have a far greater role to play in society than bashing out a few tunes in return for beer money. Former Undertone Feargal Sharkey, now chief executive of UK Music, the umbrella body for the music industry which campaigned successfully against restrictive music licensing laws, says: “Enabling live music to flourish has potential to drive social cohesion, entrepreneurialism and economic growth.”

Singer, songwriter and poet, Simma

Singer, songwriter and poet, Simma

Singer-songwriter Simma, now heading the Open Mic sessions at The Central in Gateshead on a Sunday afternoon, puts it in a cultural context: “It’s proper art going on in front of you while you’re having a pint,” he says.

The Central has built up a steady offering of live music since it reopened in October 2009 after a major investment, particularly in the first-floor Blue Room, which is fully fitted-out with an improved sound and light system. Some high-quality acts have played there and others – such as the legendary Ray Stubbs – keep on coming back for more.

Simma says: “Performing in pub rooms is at the cutting edge of songwriting and poetry. I often say that Noel Gallagher gets to play Knebworth but nobody says as he comes off stage ‘that was lovely, do you want a pint?’ It makes my night when people say ‘thanks, that was great’ and that’s what you get in pubs.

“All I ever wanted to do was play in bars. There’s also something about being in a pub and people coming up to you having not expected you to be there. Pub audiences can get up and leave whenever they want, so it’s a lot tougher. When you pay to go to a theatre or a film you’ll stay until the end even if you don’t like it. It’s approval, honest approval. It sharpens you like a razor.”

Former Lindisfarne drummer Ray Laidlaw told Cheers: “Pubs and live music go together like salt and pepper, beer and chips. Pubs are community centres. All musicians start off needing somewhere to play, they need to get their act together, and pubs are a great place to do that. Pubs are fantastic; they’ve got a great atmosphere and it’s where you learn your stagecraft.”

And the pub stage set? “It was based on a Tap & Spile who sponsored the tour,” said Ray. “It all packed into three cases. It was great fun, and if you weren’t in a particular song you just sat at the bar and ate a packet of nuts.”



Matfen, Northumberland, NE65 0XB

01661 886330


Station Road, Wylam, Northumberland, NE41 8HR

01661 853431


Haddricks Mill Road,
South Gosforth,
Newcastle, NE3 1QL

0191 284 0490


James Place Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle,

0191 265 6151


St Lawrence Road, Byker, Newcastle, NE6 1AP

0191 265 5764


The Cluny 0191 230 4474,
The Head of Steam
0191 230 4236,
Tilleys Bar 0191 232 0692

Durham: The Head of Steam 0191 383 2173

Gateshead: The Central 0191 478 2543



Silksworth Row,
Sunderland, SR1 30J

0191 514 7684


Camden Street, North Shields, NE30 1NH

0191 257 4831


Claremont Road,
Newcastle, NE2 4AN

0191 232 1448


Sunniside, Gateshead,

NE16 5EE

0191 488 8068


Eastgate, Hexham, Northumberland,
NE46 1BH

01434 602039


Clayton Road,
Jesmond, Newcastle,

0191 281 0067


Neville Street, Newcastle, NE1 5DG

0191 261 6611


South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3AF

0191 477 7404

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