Before they were big…

As the Arctic Monkeys prepare to play at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, there will be lucky music fans out there who can recall seeing them in much smaller venues on local soil, before they went on to bigger things.

Long before they headlined at Glastonbury or sold out international venues, Alex Turner and his Sheffield bandmates graced the stage at several much more humble places across our region.

This will be the first time they’ve performed in the area since the ‘secret gig’ back in 2007 – when hordes of fans queued overnight for tickets to see them at Middlesbrough Town Hall.

One of the Talking Teessider’s other halves even recalls slying off work to get himself tickets (totally worth it).

Maybe you were also lucky enough to see them back in 2005 when they played at Stockton’s KU Bar with a setlist that included I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, Mardy Bum and When the Sun Goes Down.

Other local venues, such The Empire and The Arena in Middlesbrough, along with the Georgian Theatre in Stockton, also played host to the band back in the early to mid-noughties.

And it’s got us at Talking Teesside thinking about our local venues – and how many hosted top musicians who were just starting out in their careers.

So, as the excitement builds for the next gig, join us for a meander down musical memory lane to reminisce about some of the venues and the bands who played locally before they really hit the big time!

The Empire

The Empire exterior

One of Middlesbrough town centre’s most recognisable buildings, The Empire is among the region’s oldest entertainment venues. It dates back to 1897, with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and escapologist Harry Houdini providing the entertainment back in the day. Around 125 years on, the venue is still drawing in big names and crowds.

As well as hosting the Arctic Monkeys, music fans have seen the likes of Johnny Marr, Ellie Goulding, Bullet for my Valentine and You Me At Six in this glorious building. These days, clubbers might need to travel to Ibiza or nab tickets for a major festival to see big name DJs such as Fatboy Slim and Calvin Harris, but they are among the long list of DJs who have graced the decks at The Empire in the past.

The Arena

Pavilion Theatre (Arena) Middlesbrough

Image by Chris on Flickr

Currently standing empty, this building has had several incarnations over the years. Depending on your age and music of choice, you’ll remember it as a mecca for rock, punk, indie or dance music DJs.

Once known as the Rock Garden, it hosted the likes of the Sex Pistols, Siouxie and the Banshees, The Stranglers and The Damned.

Later reopening as The Arena, based over two floors with a cavernous main area, it became a hugely popular venue among clubbers and dance music DJs, along with the ‘90s indie-scene, hosting bands like The Libertines and Elastica. Back in 1994, there was an appearance by a fresh-faced Oasis, around the time they released Supersonic.

The Cornerhouse

Middlesbrough Cornerhouse

Image by Chris on Flickr 

Razed to the ground at the start of this year as part of major work to revamp Middlesbrough’s railway station, The Cornerhouse previously stood empty for around a decade. Back in its infancy, it was a smallish venue, which expanded over the years as it opened further back underneath the train station.

Famed for its 69p Thursdays and Brighton Beach indie night Fridays, it was one of those venues that catered for different music genres on different nights. Among the bands you might have seen at The Cornerhouse are Coldplay and Muse, long before they could sell out stadiums or headline major festivals.

KU Bar

One of those venues which can boast that it was among the first in the region to ever welcome Arctic Monkeys. The venue has also hosted performances by the likes of Arcade Fire, The 1975, Wolf Alice and Blossoms.

As well as continuing to champion local talent, the venue also regularly  pulls in the crowds with an array of tribute bands, from Antarctic Monkeys to Fleetingwood Mac. More recently, KU hosted a performance by indie legend Pete Doherty!

Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough

There has to be mention of this unassuming little venue, known for its support of grassroots musical talent. While most local bands and musicians will have played there at some point, the club over the years hosted gigs by the likes of Wolf Alice, The Vaccines and Catfish and the Bottlemen.

The Georgian Theatre

This listed building which dates back to 1766 is located amongst Stockton’s thriving microbar scene. Along with the now almost obligatory visit by Arctic Monkeys, they have also hosted bands ranging from The Cribs, The Charlatans and The Wonder Stuff to Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, with much of the focus now on celebrating and providing a platform for local artists.

Globe Theatre

We can’t go without mentioning too that some of you might have older relatives who can recall when famous fab foursome The Beatles played at Stockton’s Globe Theatre back in 1963.

This Grade II listed art deco theatre, which has since been restored back to its former glory, has over the years welcomed the likes of The Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly, Cilla Black and Chuck Berry during its earlier heyday.

There’s bound to be loads I’ve missed, so let me know if there are any concerts you might have hazy memories of attending “…before they were big”.


Author: Michelle

Michelle is a former regional newspaper journalist now working as a Communications Co-ordinator at Teesside University. She’s happiest when listening to music and has a soft spot for indie-rock, house and 90s rave.

One thought on “Before they were big…”

  1. How about Middlesbrough Town Hall and Town Hall Crypt. Remember seeing Motorhead in the Crypt around 1984… Couldn’t hear properly for 3 days after.

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