The original Bunker was born as a youth project in Borough Road in 1980 before moving to Green Terrace in 1982 and finally settling in its current home in 1983. Housed in the same building which once hosted gigs by The Clash, Bjork, Chumbawumba and Billy Bragg, 29 Stockton Rd has a history synonymous with the creation of music in the North East…
The building morphed from a bakery into a music factory, when the region’s punk rockers flocked to the ramshackle surrounds to see low-key gigs organised by a collective of music enthusiasts, inspiring and laying the groundwork for next generation of post-punk bands.
Amongst these was Leatherface. Led by Frankie Stubbs and Dickie Hammond, the band reached a worldwide audience and stormed the alternative charts in the late 1980s / early 90s. Still hugely influential today, Leatherface’s DIY approach to music making and no-bullshit attitude set the blueprint in many ways for rock bands from Sunderland.
Despite its constant support of grass-roots music and a huge creative output during the 1980’s and ’90’s, the turn of the century almost saw the end of The Bunker as the arts funding which it had ran on was set for withdrawal by government. Protest from the local community was phenomenal, and was joined by the late John Peel, who had taken a personal interest in the Sunderland music scene and donated a large sum of money in an attempt to keep The Bunker open. Despite this, funding was withdrawn in 1998, leaving the city void of a creative heart and leading to the end of the line for many local bands and artists, and music fanzine Pulse which ran from the building.
Enter two lads who’d spent their youth playing in countless bands within The Bunker walls. Kenny Sanger and Adrian Woodland bought the building outright just before it was turned into an apartment block, and The Bunker was re-opened in 2000. In the following years the local scene truly flourished with the emergence of bands like The Futureheads, Field Music, Maximo Park and countless others. As well as rejuvenating the rehearsal and recording facilities, the duo created a record label, BunkerUK Records, which allowed local bands to propel their material to a wider audience. Chris Hair joined the team in 2002 and developed The Bunker Magazine, which supported and promoted this exciting and creative time for Sunderland. The Bunker worked alongside local venues including Bar 36 (which later became Independent) to bring acts including Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party to the city. In 2005 we assisted in bringing Radio 1’s Big Weekend to Sunderland, running the fringe of the event which included performances from Foo Fighters, Gwen Stefani and Interpol.
In recent years The Bunker has redeveloped its community objectives and ran many projects to engage hard to reach learners and run music related projects for people from minority groups or problematic backgrounds, who may otherwise not consider education/training as a route to employment. We aim to provide advice and support to build confidence and help people use music towards a positive outcome, whether this results in a career in the arts or other vocations. In 2010 we received a Creative Industries Award at the Sunderland Echo’s Portfolio Business Awards.
In 2021 The Bunker is going from strength to strength. Operated day-to-day by managing director Kenny Sanger, with assistance from an enthusiastic Board, plus a brilliant team of staff, volunteers and creatives, it continues to provide a base for hundreds of local bands and artists, and works closely with many local organisations including Pop Recs and Independent to continue developing cultural activity in the City of Sunderland.
For more on the early history of The Bunker, with images and testimonials from those who were there at the very start, please visit http://bunkerarchive.wordpress.com.