Venue Spotlight: The Forum Music Centre, Darlington

This week, we find out more about The Forum Music Centre in Darlington.

We spoke to founder and Managing Director, Allison Mckay, who tells us about keeping the venue alive, Darlington's strong cultural community, and things that go 'bump' in the venue at night...

See full listings for The Forum Music Centre here.

Vital stats

  • The Forum Music Centre, Borough Road, Darlington, DL1 1SG
  • Established: 2004
  • Capacity: 350

Tell us a little about the venue and your role there.

The venue is the Forum Music Centre in Darlington, it has a 200 performance capacity and 350 venue in total. We house 5 fully-equipped band rehearsal rooms, a digital recording studio and bar area. The Forum is operated as a not for profit Community Interest Company, and I am the Director.

The venue was first established in 2004 by a local business owner, unfortunately he struggled financially after investing a lot in the renovations, and in 2010 it was deemed for closure. I was a founder/Director that worked with the previous owner on a business plan that would result in the Forum being taken over in 2011, and operated as a CIC.

Has the venue gone through any major changes since it opened (location, renovation, style of music, etc)?

The greatest change was the transformation to a CIC, and the development of the Forum Music School.

How many gigs or club nights a week do you host?

We run a weekly Film Club and host two or three live music nights every week, as well as monthly open mic nights and a comedy club.

Which band that's played your venue has gone on to be the best known?

Hayley McKay is making a big name for herself, she has supported Tom Jones, Martha Reeves, Scouting for Girls and has performed at Glastonbury and many other festivals. She has also worked with Bob Harris 'Under the Apple Tree', as well as her tracks being played in Café Nero Worldwide.

Which band that played your venue deserved/deserves to be better known than they are?

James Gray Robson & The Lovely Burn, Stone Foundation, The Circus Villains, The Jar Family (amazing band from Hartlepool) to name but a few.

Do you host events besides gigs and club nights?

Yes, as mentioned before we run a film club, comedy nights as well as private parties, summer rock school programmes, and we host student performance nights.

If you could change one thing about the live music industry, what would it be?

The Music Venue Trust are making great moves to address the needs and credibility of our Grassroots venues, along with organisations like yourself (Ents24). I dislike the way live music is not credited with as much cultural importance as theatre, by some organisations (such as Arts Council England).

Has your venue ever been threatened with closure? If so, what could have been done to prevent it/support you?

Yes, it was in 2010, but the community made a big noise against this, which helped force the Local Authority and other institutions to work with us on a solution to transfer it over to community ownership.

What's been your proudest moment working at your venue?

Many moments, especially after a great gig. I am always so proud of the team we have here at the Forum - friendly, hard working bar staff, to quality sound engineers and stage production. We won an award for the Best of Darlington Contribution to the Arts, and I suppose saving it from closure was also quite an achievement.

What's the best show you've put on recently?

I didn't attend any this last week (Sept 18th), but June, who deals with the band bookings, said she had a great night with The Prince Experience UK, and our customers who attended Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band, have told us that the gig was fantastic.

Are there any interesting facts/stories about the venue that people might not know, but should?!

Not sure people should know this, or want to know, but the building used to be a Victorian Board School, and it is reported that the Headmaster was killed after being run over by a carriage. We often hear what we think is his long cane, which he also used as a walking stick, banging on the floor. Glasses rattle, and sometimes inexplicably shatter. I, plus others, have often felt cold breath at the back of our necks...


Track The Forum Music Centre here to keep up to date with all forthcoming events. You can also catch them on their official website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts.