Having taken voluntary redundancy from the BBC after 25 years, Sue’s last job was as TV Development Producer, she is now semi-retired and working freelance.
But during the 90s Sue was involved with the North East music scene working at Generator and managing bands in Newcastle.
I guess I’m a bit of a career chameleon.
Originally born in Liverpool, the family then moved to Manchester where her father was a Graphic Artist.
I picked up my creative side from him. At school there was a group of us reading the music press, I went from listening to poppier sounds of Cat Stevens to serious stuff like Led Zeppelin.
When I completed my A levels punk was just on the cusp and we went to see bands like Buzzcocks and The Adverts at sweaty clubs like Eric’s. I was really into the whole punk thing listening to the Pistols and The Clash.
After University I started work as a Graduate Town Planner with North Tyneside Council. I didn’t have long term plans to stay in the North East but I loved the vibe of Newcastle. Now I’m an honorary Geordie!
My patch was North Shields, Whitley Bay and Tynemouth, things have changed dramatically down the riverfront area, it was fascinating working there.
I also worked at Sunderland Civic Centre and Newcastle on the planning team – this is a weird way of starting to talk about the North East music industry. But I wanted to make a difference in terms of helping communities, living in a better environment, helping people make a better life, and hopefully did that through music.
When I left planning, I started work at Newcastle University in the Centre for Urban and Regional Development, a research unit rather than teaching. Northern Arts funded a project there called Cultural Industries Research Unit, helping communities through the arts.
My colleague James Cornford and I were asked to look at a new project and we chose popular music. Sheffield had been flying the flag providing rehearsal space and studios so we thought we could give that a go as James had been in bands and I loved music.
Plus, I had already written a published article around culture in the North East and done a lot of research around the subject.
We spoke to a few hundred musicians and people who ran recording studios and record labels – small or large. I got to know Kitchenware Records quite well. They were interested because it would be useful to them if the next Prefab Sprout was spotted.
We found there wasn’t enough venues or rehearsal space for bands, they couldn’t get out on tour it would cost an arm and a leg and there weren’t any showcase gigs. Investment was needed to support DIY musicians – they needed a leg up.
We put the findings together and put forward a plan called Sound of the City. This was three events across Tyneside, hundreds of people attended which created more ideas. One was for an umbrella organisation to pull it all together, a one stop shop for support, advice and help – that’s how Generator came about.
The name was perfect because the aim was to generate a profile of the North East music scene which had been non- existent up till then – apart from big names like Sting and Mark Knopfler.
Dave Cross and I met once a month at the Riverside live music venue. What came from our meetings was a need for showcase gigs and working with promoters to develop a venue in their area, we covered the North East and Cumbria.
Generator was there to help musicians kick start their career, we wanted to be central in supporting emerging talent and artists, or just be creative and have better facilities to enjoy what they were doing.
The first event billed as Generator Live Music Explosion was at the Riverside in Newcastle on Saturday 25th January 1992 included Candleman Summer from South Shields, The Hangarounds from Gateshead, Procession from Teesside, Greedsville and This Is This from Newcastle.
The event went on all day generating a lot of press, many thanks to all the sponsors who came onboard donating time, money and facilities.
All of the bands were original not tributes, and although some didn’t get record deals the members went on to do other stuff. Dave Denholm from This Is This ended up in Lindisfarne.
Around 1992 Greedsville fell in my lap (interview with guitarist Chris Jackson on 22 Feb 2023). I loved them, very creative in their outfits especially Pete Turner the singer. One outfit was a Chinese mandarin hat and shoes with curly toes.
They had their own way of doing things and were always good on publicity and presentation getting a review in Kerrang and local mag Paint it Red. They also had the idea of slotting their cd album into tiger print bags and sending them to press and media.
By now we had been working on Generator a few years and were based in the Black Swan Arts Centre on Westgate Road. We’d publish regular newsletters promoting bands and events including tips for how to plaster your name across the media, developing a press strategy, even make sure you arrive on time for an interview on radio or TV. Basically, how to get on in the music industry.
Bands would submit demo tapes and we’d choose from them what bands to have on the showcase gig, and we were becoming more ambitious adding art, design, films and music seminars.
The more events we put on the more interest we created with label scouts popping into gigs to see what we had. Rather than a regular weekly gig, we spread out the dates of gigs to make them an event.
Northern Exposure was held 11th-19th June 1994 including Profundo Rosso, Crisis Children, Blyth Power and the wonderfully named Delicate Vomit.
The MPS and Musicians Union were involved in the seminars dealing with publicity, royalties and copyright.
We became good at publicity. North East music journalist Ian Penman who sadly is no longer with us, worked for Sounds and other music papers and magazines, he gave us good advice about publicity and how it needed to be spot on.
Generator were really ramping it up and had demonstrated that we were capable of delivering stuff. In 1998 the peak was Sound City, around then Jim Mawdsley came onboard. A week after it ended we were awarded £250,000 from the National Lottery.
We had spent three years talking to BBC Radio One about bringing an event to Newcastle. We worked with the Council to put a document together which included main stage, a number of venues and a Fringe festival, the BBC accepted it.
After my work at the University on the Cultural Industries project, I got some part time work as a researcher at the BBC which I combined with the Generator work.
Looking back, it was around 1999 when I left Generator, I had just run out of steam. After Sound City I went on to work on various music festivals in Newcastle attracting bigger, signed names and by the 2000’s I was at Evolution sponsored by Orange telecommunications.
Iggy Pop was on a bill, we had Amy Winehouse, Paloma Faith, Maximo Park and one year we had Public Enemy on. I remember for their rider we were sent to KFC for forty boxes of chicken – we weren’t very popular with the rest of the customers.
We ended up with expensive headliners with Generator running alongside with showcase gigs for North East bands and arranging music seminars. Evolution went on for years but then Covid put an end to it. We had a great time seeing the audiences enjoying the event.
Generator still exists today, it embraced the new digital agenda and pushed it really hard. It’s helped create long lasting partnerships and connections across the music sector.
It’s now the UK’s leading music development agency and a beacon for those looking for help with their musical ventures. Something we’re really proud of because it’s made a huge impact on musicians in the region and shone a light on the North East through showcases and events.
It’s been involved in national initiatives, helping influence arts and government policy. Has it been important? You bet.
More information about the work of Generator at the official website:
Generator: Business Support in music, creative, and tech
Alikivi March 2023.