GW LIVE: A Toon To Get Us Started With

ON WEDNESDAY 4TH OCTOBER 2023, GENERATION W KICKS OFF OUR FIRST EVER UK TOUR IN NEWCASTLE, AT THE CLUNY, A VENUE WHICH HOSTED OUR FIRST EVER LIVE MUSIC SHOW IN 2021, AS WE RE-OPENED THE VENUE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 18 MONTHS AFTER THE 2020 LOCKDOWN.
THE PRODUCER OF THAT SHOW, NICK DONNELLY, EXPLAINS HOW THAT SHOW WHICH STARTED A SERIES OF SOLD OUT SHOWS IN LONDON, A NEW YORK CITY DEBUT AND A UK WIDE TOUR, WAS A COMPLETE ACCIDENT.

PHOTOS BY VICTORIA WAI

I’ve been working in the music industry for over 15 years now. Like almost everyone in the music industry, my ambitions were never to have a real job, I went to university in Newcastle to follow my dreams, a city that I was told before I went “had the 8th best nightlife in the world”. I quickly found myself going from party to party, and then I met a DJ at a house party, he wanted to stay at the party so gave me ten pounds to leave the party at 2am and flyer outside a music venue for him, and then that was that, I never looked back from that moment, I now was part of ‘the 8th best nightlife in the world’.
My ambitions were always to get into promoting music that meant something to people because music meant so much to me as a kid, but it wasn’t that easy in a city which had a reputation for cheap liquor, in large quantities. Starting my way from promoting one hit wonders with radio singles, I worked with an RnB and Hip-Hop events company and eventually we would put on a lot of famous artists in the city, from Tinie Tempah, Skepta, Giggs, Ms Dynamite, and many more. One night I promoted an afterparty for a Kanye West show, that Ye himself turned up, hit a photographer outside, and I lost my job not too shortly after, because the venue no longer needed to hire a promoter, they had enough publicity. I took my first opportunity of immediate unemployment (with no severance) to go to London and start directing music videos for some of the lesser known artists at the time, and my formula was always the same, see talent before anyone else does. I was still thinking like a promoter, only this time I didn’t have any money for an artist, I didn’t have any money for rent, I was sleeping in £8 a night hostels. I would have to get creative, a challenge which I was more than happy to be part of.
My music videos were an overnight success, I had gone from a couple of people a night at our shows, to my videos being watched by millions of people. In 2021 I was celebrating 10 years of my original production company, something I had been looking forward to for years, but now after 2020 I wasn’t sure it was even happening. All I knew was that I wanted to do a celebration for my production company, up in Newcastle. I wanted to stay clear of the city centre and it’s bass filled music and high volumes of liquor, and instead wanted to do a live show at The Cluny, a venue in the creative area of the city that is a hidden gem that not many celebrities I had worked with over the years knew about, but the place to experience live music in Newcastle – not that I knew that previously. In all my years in Newcastle I had not put on one show with real instruments. I had no idea what I was going to do at The Cluny, all I knew is that I wanted an artist called ABI NYXX to feature.

It had been a long time since I had been back to the city of Newcastle, not because I didn’t love it, but because I was running from my youth. As a promoter I used to think my value was how many people I knew, but unfortunately when I lost my first job, I realised that many people I knew, would try their best to forget I existed. I went to London alone and kept my struggles private, and even many years later, at our first sold out show in London, I only knew about 4 people in the room. Your heart never changes though, and Newcastle is my heart, I learnt so much from my former employers, I learnt so much about people, about passion, and so Newcastle will never leave me, so I would do my best to stay in touch online. Newcastle is known from people within as a small city where everyone knows each other’s business, and while that does create drama, I learnt it can create magic too, because if you have talent in Newcastle, people of the city will know. During lockdown in 2020 I saw a rap freestyle from a bedroom from a young woman, Abi Nyxx. Immediately I was impressed, her cadence was very musical, there was a desire for wordplay, and the beat selections were raw and very true to the foundation of Hip-Hop, so I knew she wasn’t just any artist put together by a management team to try and capitalise on a genre, this truly was a young woman in her bedroom using the internet to express herself at a time where that’s all we could do. I reached out to Abi online and then we made a record together through the pandemic, the record was made within a day, all I said to Abi was ‘I’ve got this idea for a record called ‘RAPunzel ‘which is you rapping about being a woman trapped inside a room dreaming of an escape’ and the day later she sent me this flawless record, and what I didn’t really realise about Abi was that she can truly sing, and I would later find out she was singer before a rapper. As someone who has worked with many, many artists in Hip-Hop on their journey to success, I knew my gut was right, Abi was the full package, and all that was holding her back, was that room. Just like my room was holding me back, back then, just like all our rooms were. I was just grateful to make honest art at that moment and then, we would meet officially in better circumstances when all this was over.

I had tried to sell North-East artists to the city of Newcastle many years previous and lost money, and actually my business partners and closest friends, for doing so. Abi was never supposed to be the headliner of our live music show at The Cluny. It was Abi Nyxx from the North-East, and headlining was an artist from London called Olivia Swann who I had also worked with remotely during the 2020 lockdown. Olivia was a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA which has tutored students who have gone onto win 332 Grammy Awards. Olivia had also graduated from 1500 Sound Academy in Los Angeles but had to return back to the UK in the pandemic. I was getting ready to promote Olivia at The Cluny, we even shot a promotional video at a studio in London to announce her and then Boris Johnson and the UK government announced a three week extension of lockdown, with no good reason to why, and this meant that Olivia, who had already been booking shows after our show at The Cluny, was now double booked to play at an official tribute to Amy Winehouse in London. We now had just over a month before the show and only one artist, the show was still being booked as an Urban Kingdom show, it was chaos but I was just glad to have a show- we were all sitting at home making no money and so venues were being booked up for the next year with 2 years of art trying to fit into a very seasonal live music calendar; something the government never considered. Artists made up a good amount of the millions who had no furlough, my friend who was once, and now is again, a rockstar in LA was a dog walker in Hull, I spoke to a venue manager who had become a postwoman, I had darker calls to friends in the music industry who were suicidal, nobody seemed to care about us as the world online was fuelled by hate and division. All we wanted to do was bring people together once more, the way music does. I was looking for artists in Newcastle, not entirely confident we could even sell a show with just local artists but I had no choice, I reached out to a male hip-hop artist to perform at the show but they quoted me a fee I could not afford, having not worked or earned anything for 18 months previous. I then started looking further into independent artists in Newcastle and I discovered that there were a host of women in the city, all independent, who definitely needed the money, that were pulling out of line ups across the city because of allegations of sexual misconduct by a known promoter in the city. I had been the outcast of the boys club back when I was a promoter, people used to joke I was gay because I was not as promiscuous as several promoters, it was a very male dominated area and questionable in places, so I was glad to see women in the city stand up for themselves, and the bravery wasn’t just telling stories, it was musicians who were all broke after the pandemic, wanting to play live music, but not selling their morals, or other women out to do this. That inspired me straight away creatively, my videos were always successful because they were artists being honest against an industry, I directed the first all female Hip-Hop music video to chart on British television and to reach over 1 million viewers online independently, and that worked because we didn’t sexualise women like people were so used to seeing in Hip-Hop. A lot of women grow up in working class struggles too, they can relate to the themes of Hip-Hop but so seldom saw themselves being represented outside the gaze of an object and accessory. There weren’t 4 women hip-hop artists in Newcastle I was confident in, and Abi did not have enough experience to do a show alone, and so I made this show, all women on a line up, and some of the artists I was looking at putting on, would not fit into our Hip-Hop brand for they were indie, so I made the show, the first ‘Generation W’ live show, a platform inspired by one of our books we made to give voices to a generation that were not represented in other media.

In all my years in promotion I had never seen anything like Generation W live, and still haven’t. There is no live music show quite like it, there isn’t anything even for men like it either, there are so few spaces in a music venue where artists can engage intimately with their audiences and speak about themes we all go through. Live music is not just about dancing and laughing, it’s about being part of a community. Our live shows, they are like cinema, we want you to laugh and cheer at times, we also want you to have a space to feel accepted for being different than the crowd. I’m a filmmaker now, I’m not a promoter in how I think anymore, I don’t book artists based on how many followers they have, it’s about how can they make YOU, the audience feel inspired to feel, and leave with, the same magic I feel every single show we are part of. After Newcastle, we did our first show in London, in Soho, and Olivia Swann got to play that show. The night before we were at Jazz After Dark, talking to the owner who is friends with Olivia, who bought the venue off Bob Marley, a venue Amy Winehouse applied to work at because she loved it so much, a venue she wrote Back to Black at. Not a venue where she was getting hounded by the paparazzi. I’ve changed a lot in who I do business with in venues, and while people might not think my life is as glamorous as it once was, I’m much happier for it. Women at our old venues had to walk around half naked to get attention, now women at our shows, can be themselves and as someone who has always sought truth from art, Generation W live is one of my happiest accidents. I’ve only ever given one quote to a newspaper and it was to the Newcastle University student newspaper The Courier and I mentioned that GW Live was an idea that needed the world to be crazy for us to be crazy enough to truly change the music industry live experience for women.
I gave that quote to the Newcastle University newspaper not to try and sell tickets, but because when I was a first year student at Northumbria University in Newcastle, there were students round my flat, friends of a housemate, and they were from the much higher regarded Newcastle University, and they asked me what I did for a course, and I said “film and television studies” and they openly laughed at me to my face and then treated me like I didn’t exist, while talking to my housemate who was studying law. People ask me why I do so much work on Generation W when I’m not a woman, well it’s because I know what it’s like to be an outcast. Women are not an outcast in society, they are 50% but in music, they are a minority, only 14% of music festival headliners are women, only 4% of music producers are women. I didn’t work with one woman as a promoter on year one. It seems strange for a promoter to call themselves an outcast, our whole business is built on filling rooms, but I like to fill every single space one by one, because every single person at our shows, is an individual. I didn’t even know the name of people who I said hello to in the streets on year one, now I pride myself on the 1000s of incredible women I have got to meet over the years through GW.

In Soho, there was no music being played live anymore, we hired a venue that Oasis, REM, Amy Winehouse and many more had played at but now had new owners and a new name, and a very flashy decor change, and was only playing dance music, so we had to hire in a whole PA system. I remember going into that suave club, and it looked like one of the clubs I used to work at in Newcastle, and I went backstage and it was, just like all those clubs, raw and dirty, but I looked on the wall and there was, hidden from the audience, scribbles from Oasis and so many artists from the past. I thought to myself, why are we trying to gloss the nightlife industry and hide all the music that really matters to people. So with Generation W, it’s not about us doing large crowds, it’s about us bringing you special unforgettable nights with people who really care about the craft of music.

We are back at The Cluny in Newcastle on 4th October and back with Abi Nyxx and some new amazing, all female artists, and if you came to the previous show in 2021, we are so glad to be back, and if you didn’t, then we can’t wait to show you what this night is all about

GET A TICKET FOR GENERATION W IN NEWCASTLE 4TH OCTOBER X THE CLUNY