Battle of the Somme Cultural Commemoration Programme 2016
Battle of the Somme Cultural Commemoration Programme 2016
Proposal to BBC North 13 October 2015
“Sunderland is an exciting and vibrant place with big cultural and artistic ambitions. I sensed a
buzz around the city about those ambitions…The people who live here deserve to enjoy the very
best art and culture that England has to offer.”
Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, writing in the Sunderland Echo, June 2015
Sunderland is undergoing a remarkable journey of cultural transformation. Recent developments from
partners including Sunderland City Council, University of Sunderland and Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust
are giving a new confidence, drive and energy, reinforced by the launch of Sunderland Cultural Partnership’s
(SCP) new shared vision in October 2014 (see here). This is supported by an Economic Master Plan which firmly
places culture as a key driver for social and economic change. In addition, SCP has recently announced its
intention to create and submit a bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021; further affirmation of the city’s
scale of ambition. It is in this context that the plan for a major cultural programme to commemorate the 100th
anniversary of the Battle of the Somme has been created; utilising the city’s creative strengths, engaging
residents and visitors and affirming perceptions that the city is able to deliver a high quality major commission
of this scale.
14-18 Now
We are very pleased to confirm that this project is the first co-commission with 14-18 Now – DCMS’s official
cultural commemoration programme for the First World War. 14-18 Now has three key programme strands:
outbreak (2014), mid-point and the Somme (2016) and the end of the War (2018). The first programme strand
in 2014 saw major high profile commissions including Weeping Wave and Willow at the Tower of London and
Dazzle Ships with Sir Peter Blake. This co-commission is their first in the North East. The partnership will
guarantee a high profile, visibility and creative quality to the artistic commissions.
Programme Overview
The overall vision for the programme is ambitious and will culminate with a major collaboration between
contemporary musicians, Royal Northern Sinfonia and a film maker, culminating in a large-scale performance
in Sunderland on the 10th July – the performance will take place in the Empire, with several other events taking
place across the City throughout the day. In conjunction with this, the participation programme will see artists
and heritage groups work with communities over the summer term to produce creative responses to themes,
which will be showcased during the same period as the event; making for a truly city-wide project.
Both the event and participation programme will take the Battle of the Somme and 2016 as a moment in time,
and its effect on the city and region as the core theme; exploring personal and unknown stories of individuals
alongside the bigger picture story of local regiments, the region’s industrial role (e.g. ships, munitions, coal,
women), life on the home front and culture at the time. The outcomes will have strong resonance for the
whole region and indeed the UK.
The three core priorities for the programme are:
To bring the story of the Battle of the Somme and the region in 2016 alive for twenty-first century
audiences; creating a lasting and poignant legacy which will insight deep personal responses and
To engage new audiences who would not normally participate in culture, art and heritage – one of the
city’s core ambitions for the future
To build on our creative excellence and introduce new opportunities for collaboration. Whilst music
and film are areas of strength for Sunderland, this programme also offers artists the opportunity to
challenge their creative practice with new ways of working
10th July - Empire event and wrap around programme
This major public showcase event will build on the city’s creative strengths around music and film, through two
exciting new commissions which explore new ways of working and alternative collaborations. Working in
partnership with Sage Gateshead, the music commission will see notable regional contemporary musicians
Field Music and Warm Digits, work in collaboration with Royal Northern Sinfonia to create a piece of music
that is unique, distinctive and can imbue the poignancy and significance of the anniversary. The film
commission with artist and film maker Esther Johnson, will use new and archive material to explore some of
the themes described here. The specially commissioned musical score will be performed live to accompany
this film in a dramatically staged large scale live performance – with the potential of recording for broadcast,
or for live broadcast.
We are working with partners across the region to create a truly immersive experience, providing
opportunities to learn more about 1916 Sunderland, and what life would have been like for those who went to
war, and those left behind.
There will be opportunities for members of the participation programme to be involved on the day, at other
venues across the City.
“My aim is an evocative montage of sound and moving image, and an event that will be talked about for years
to come... The Battle of the Somme was such a pivotal time in the development of 20th century history - for the
British class system, for the beginnings of post-industrial society, for women and families. This combination of
subject and place will be unique… The performance will be alluring, poetic and political; this very special
collective of artists will provide an event that is thought provoking, spectacular and unforgettable. I want
everyone who sees it to take pride in the region's unique history and to feel they can help to build its future.”
Bob Stanley, Creative Producer.
Creative Producer
Bob Stanley is a writer, film producer and curator, and a member of best-selling band Saint Etienne. For more
than 25 years he has been a respected music writer for The Guardian, The Face, NME, The Times and The New
Statesman, and his book 'Yeah YeahYeah: The Story of Modern Pop', published by Faber & Faber in 2013, was
the Sunday Times music book of the year.
In 2005, with director Paul Kelly, he was commissioned by the Barbican to create a documentary set in the
Lower Lea Valley's Olympics site entitled ‘What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?’ and in 2007 was asked to
become an artist-in-residence at London’s Southbank Centre by Jude Kelly. He has curated several film seasons
at the Barbican, ICA and National Film Theatre, and wrote the script for the acclaimed London documentary
'How We Used To Live' in 2013.
Esther Johnson (blanchepictures.com)
Image:It’s Quicker By Hearse: The Tale of the Petitioning Housewife, the Protesting Schoolboy and the Campaign Trail Student:
commissioned by National Railway Museum, York and Science Museum Group to mark 50 years since Dr Beeching’s controversial 1963
report, 'The Reshaping of British Railways'
Esther Johnson is a British artist and filmmaker working with moving image, audio and photography. She has
an MA from RCA and a BA (Hons) at Royal Holloway. In 2008 she was nominated for the UK Northern Art Prize
and in 2012 won the Philip Leverhulme Prize for Visual & Performing Arts for young scholars.Her documentary
portraits focus on marginal worlds to reveal resonant stories that may otherwise remain hidden or
ignored. Recurring themes include personal histories, heritage, tradition, folklore, regeneration and
explorations of architectural vernaculars and the inhabited environment.
She has been exhibited in over 40 countries including BFI London Film Festival; ICA; Tate Britain and Tate
Modern; International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam; Istanbul Biennial; Kassel Documentary Film and
Video Festival, Germany; NASA, California; BBC and C4 television; ABC Australia.
Field Music
Mercury Prize nominees Field Music, brothers Peter and David Brewis, hail from Sunderland. The band's music
draws on influences as wide-ranging as Stravinsky, Stax R&B, Fleetwood Mac, Serge Gainsbourg, Thelonious
Monk and Kate Bush, but has a distinctly North-Eastern tinge. They've become known for a deconstructionist
approach to song writing, playfully twisting compositions into new and odd shapes, with a refreshing disregard
for convention and cliché, most recently releasing - and playing live - a commissioned soundtrack to John
Grierson's seminal silent documentary from 1929, Drifters.
‘When the world weighs too heavy on my mind, the internet feels too fraught, the sky outside too dark and
that Rita Ora and Iggy Azaela track too utterly uninspired for words; I like to crawl into the warm bosom of
the Brewis brothers…Field Music’s David and Peter imbue warmth and comfort into every piece of music that
they so cerebrally craft.’ Harriet Gibsone, Guardian Music News Editor
Warm Digits
Newcastle-based duo Warm Digits duo- Steve Jefferis and Andrew Hodson - are much vaunted and admired on
the electronic music scene, and their work is inspired by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the drive of Can,
Kraftwerk and Neu. They have recorded sessions for Gideon Coe and Marc Riley at BBC 6Music, and appeared
on Radio 3's Late Junction in a collaboration with Field Music. Andrew is also the figurehead of folk-techno act
The Matinee Orchestra, while Steve has recorded minimalist electronica as Cathode. In April they played at the
Sage, Gateshead, with James Holden, and in 2014 played a live soundtrack to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner in
the Great Hall of Newcastle's Discovery Museum.
Royal Northern Sinfonia
Royal Northern Sinfonia, Orchestra of Sage Gateshead, is the UK’s only full-time chamber orchestra and the
leading professional orchestra in the North East. Since its inception in 1958, it has built a distinctive reputation
as a fresh-thinking and versatile orchestra, performing with a trademark zest and stylistic virtuosity. Playing a
wide repertoire of thrilling, diverse orchestral music, RNS works regularly with a roster of globally renowned
artists from all genres. In recent years, these have included Sir Mark Elder, Pierre Laurent-Aimard, Yannick
Nézet-Séguin and Ian Bostridge, as well as leading popular voices such as Sting, The Pet Shop Boys and
Efterklang. The orchestra also contributes to the continuing re-invention of orchestral repertoire with regular
commissions and premieres, most recently from Benedict Mason and David Lang, John Casken and Kathryn
‘There is no better chamber orchestra in Britain’ The Guardian
Participation Programme (April-June/July)
The participation programme will form part of our strategic commitment to drive up engagement in the arts,
heritage and culture for our residents. It will ensure the people of Sunderland have the opportunity to
participate and have a direct creative input into the commemoration activities. Sunderland’s five local areas North, East, West, Washington and Coalfields will be the mechanisms to engage with residents.
The ambition for the participation programme is for it to engage with schools and communities across
Sunderland, delivered through a partnership approach, working with local community, arts and heritage
organisations – supporting organisations to focus programmes around 1916 Sunderland and Battle of the
Somme, add value to existing projects and develop specific creative responses to the period.
Images: Cultural Spring Summer Streets and Great North Passion events
Empire Theatre
Sunderland’s Empire Theatre is the largest theatre building between Edinburgh and Leeds and hosts many
different theatre productions such as musicals, plays, dance, opera and comedy shows. It opened in 1907 and
is known as the ‘West End of the North’ due to the popular theatre events that are shown there. Recently, the
Empire has played host to many well-known and critically acclaimed theatre productions such as The Lion King,
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time, Shrek The Musical, Wicked and many more. The whole
building retains its original Edwardian splendour and ways are being considered to use the space in innovative
ways – extending the performance outside of the theatre space, into the whole building with the event spilling
into the surrounding areas and buildings, becoming an immersive experience for audiences/local communities.
This could include activity in the Dun Cow pub and other period pubs nearby, using the Old Fire Station
hoardings as a canvas and using Keel Sq as an additional performance space for elements of the participation
Current Project Partners