The morning after each of the eight Culture Awards ceremonies which have been and gone so far, the team which organises them have always been faced with the same problem.
Namely, ‘who can we get to perform next year to live up to THAT?’.
Right from the start of the Culture Awards in 2007, the variety of stages on which they have taken place - Northern Stage, the Gala Theatre, Durham Cathedral and Sage Gateshead - have been blessed with a complete feast of North East-grown performers.
Kathryn Williams, The Unthanks, The Futureheads, Phillippa Wilson, The Lindisfarne Story, Sharks Took The Rest, Lesley Roley, Katie Doherty, Bad Taste Cru, The Cornshed Sisters, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Frankie and the Heartstrings, The Lake Poets and balletLorent are among the artists who have entertained the audiences who were lucky enough to bag a ticket.
You can see our problem, can’t you?
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of brilliant performers in the North East.
And we can now reveal the full line-up for The Journal Culture Awards 2014, which are taking place at Sunderland Minster on June 30 thanks to support from See It Do It Sunderland, a Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England, the North East Cultural Partnership and Sunderland Bid.
First up, we are delighted to confirm that award-winning actor and presenter Chris Connel (Wet House, Pitmen Painters, George Gently) will be hosting for the third consecutive year. And so is he.
“I’m genuinely chuffed to make it a hat-trick of Journal Culture Awards,” he says. “It’s a real privilege to get the best seat in the house again. I think now it’s more important than ever to recognise the contribution that the arts and culture make to the region.
“It’s going to be another great evening celebrating the hard work that makes this special part of the world sparkle. I’m a proud Northeastener and feel privileged to make a living working in the arts here. I’m very much looking forward to a fantastic night of entertainment in Sunderland Minster.”
Now, onto the bill proper.
As regular readers will be aware, multi-award-winning children’s author, David Almond has already been announced as our first confirmed performer.
Nominated in the category of Writer of the Year for penning the inspiring tale which underpinned the spectacular Great North Million Opening Ceremony on the banks of the Tyne last September, David will be reading an exclusive extract from the libretto of his Opera For Sunderland, which will be premiered in November.
He will also be revealing the name of the football-inspired opera, while the audience will also be treated to a never-before-heard snippet from the accompanying score from composer Marcos Ferndandez.
But who will be joining him on the bill?
Wonderful (and Whitburn-born) singer songwriter Nadine Shah, burgeoning Sunderland outfit Hyde and Beast and folk music wonder Richard Dawson, that’s who.
Both Nadine and Hyde and Beast have been shortlisted in the category of Performing Artist of the Year, so of course we were hoping they’d come to the awards - but we would never have dreamed we’d get them both on the bill.
Meanwhile Newcastle-based Richard Dawson joins them on the list of those who have released acclaimed albums over the past year. Nothing Important - an album of just four songs, two of which exceed 16 minutes - was given a crowd of praise following its 2014 release. We couldn’t be happier to welcome him to the awards - and onto the stage - for the first time.
London-dwelling Nadine, whose second album, Fast Food came out earlier this year says she’s thrilled to be playing – and nominated - on the night.
“I was thrilled to hear of the nomination,” she says. “Having moved to London over 10 years ago there’s nothing more heart warming than getting recognition from back home! It also gives me a chance to visit my family and have a bit of a jolly. Sunderland Minster is a beautiful venue and I’m really looking forward to performing there.
“It seems a few old faces I’ve not seen in a long time are gonna be there that night, so it’ll be nice to catch up with them and compare who has aged better! Just being in a room full of creative North Easterners is what I’m most looking forward to really.”
Neil Bassett, of Hyde and Beast, who released their debut album Keep Moving last summer, is probably one of the ‘old faces’ (in the nicest sense of the word) Nadine talks about. And he’s just as happy to be involved. He says: “To be recognised for the art that you’ve created and for all your hard work is pretty wild. Our eight piece live band is filled with amazing skilled musicians who have spent years learning their craft. For them all to be recognised for this makes me happy (and not a lot does!)
Of the reception to the album, he adds: “We’ve had great reviews across the board which is really nice and we’ve played to happy smiling crowds across the country.
“We have also been surprised to find we have won fans in other musicians, one being Brit Award winner and gold record artist James Bay who got in touch to say he loved the album and even travelled to Sunderland to come play some songs with us.”
As well as live entertainment on the night, the assembled crowd will also be shown a compilation film, showcasing the highlights of the cultural scene in 2014, which has been put together by media students from Sunderland University.
Meanwhile the before and after show entertainment will be provided by South Shields-based ukulele troupe, The Dam Ukes and Sunderland Blues Hall of Fame singer, George Shovelin respectively.
By golly, we’ve given ourselves an uphill climb for next year’s event, haven’t we?