Generator has been at the forefront of music development in the region since it was launched in 1991 and has supported artists including North East favourites Maximo Park, and helped to create music businesses. Christopher Knox met up with its chief executive Jim Mawdsley.
FROM its base in Newcastle, Generator is helping to put the region’s musical talent on the map and has become the leading popular music development agency in the UK.
Originally starting out to serve the needs of the North East and Cumbria, the agency has since expanded its role nationally after being asked by Arts Council England to assist other fledgling agencies, organisations and groups in policy, programme development, governance and funding.
It is helping to create businesses and jobs and boost the creative sector when it is struggling to keep going as public funding is cut back.
Last year saw the firm secure £822,000 from the European Regional Development Fund, which it has used to introduce a number of new services creating scores of music businesses as well as move from offices in Black Swan Court on Westgate Road to a new site on top of the Cluny pub in the Ouseburn Valley.
This has seen it double its team from five to 10, including the appointment of two business co-ordinators and a monitoring officer, who will increase the organisation’s level of transparency when it comes to third-party funding.
Previous recipients of support from Generator include successful North East band Maximo Park, who appeared at a showcase gig hosted by the organisation at Manchester’s In The City conference, shortly before being signed.
Not content with heading up a major music support network, chief executive Jim Mawdsley is also festival director of Epic Leisure, the company behind the North East’s biggest music festival, Evolution, which will see the appearance of rockers Iggy and The Stooges and rapper come soul singer Plan B in the summer.
On meeting Mawdsley, it’s hard to imagine him working in anything but the music industry, with the 44-year-old developing a love of music, particularly the live scene, at a very early age.
He says: “I was lucky in that my mother put a lot of trust in me at an early age, which allowed me to see so many great bands. I remember that my first live experience was seeing Black Sabbath when Ozzy Osbourne was with them.”
Growing up just North of Liverpool in the town of Formby, Mawdsley would spend most of his teens meeting up with friends to swap records and going to gigs, with some of his favourite bands growing up including White Snake, ACDC and Judas Priest.
He admits that there were no limits when it came to his love of rock, with a local theatre group providing him with the perfect outlet.
He says: “I used to do a bit of acting with local youth theatre workshops as well as helping out with all the technical stuff such as rigging PAs and fitting the lighting. We used to do musicals such as Godspell and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“I remember that the last thing I did when I was 13 was a rock version of The Wizard of Oz.
“Many of the classic songs remained intact, but I remember that Somewhere Over The Rainbow had this fantastic electric guitar solo in the middle of it.”
Mawdsley left for Newcastle in 1984 to study government and public policy study at Newcastle Polytechnic, now Northumbria University, along with two friends and a taste in music that now included reggae and dance.
It was here that he took his first step into the world of music promotion after putting his name in the hat for entertainments officer at the Student Union on completing his studies.
He says: “Once I was made entertainments officer I realised this was my chance to have a two-year apprenticeship in music promotion.
“The live scene was hugely different from how it is today, with union members left to organise the majority of the gigs, including working out the price of tickets, the cost of putting on the gig, as well as designing and printing promotional material.
“Back then the biggest gigs were being put on at Whitley Bay Ice Rink, which meant that there was a huge amount of concerts that came our way. I have some great memories from that time, including the time when Happy Mondays were playing and I saw Bez writhing around. I asked him what he was playing at and he just said he as warming up.”
“It was a great way into the industry, with one of the definite highlights being the time I played Space Invaders with Joey Ramone. Definitely my rock and roll claim to fame.”
After leaving the union, Mawdsley took on a number of roles, including publisher and promoter at Boiling Point Promotions, which he set up with a group of friends to publish a music and fashion magazine, before returning to the university as entertainments manager.
Meanwhile, he was carving a name for himself on the North East’s club circuit, including acting as director of dance music venue Global Village in Whitley Bay and as a partner of the Shindig club night at The Riverside in Newcastle, which went on to huge success before the club was closed in the mid-noughties.
It was during this time that Mawdsley began to experiment with outdoor events, which included five events for Shindig at Gateshead’s Baltic Square and a 6,000 capacity dance event on Times Square, Newcastle.
After the demise of the Fish Quay Festival at North Shields and with a desire to spearhead a large outdoor event in the North East, Mawdsley teamed up with a group of promoters, including Sue Wilkinson, who was a research assistant at Newcastle University.
She had conducted research showing the North East music scene was suffering from a lack of cohesion and wasn’t being recognised by executives in London.
With mobile phone operator Orange looking for another North East event to sponsor after the passing of the Fish Quay Festival, Newcastle City Council helped the group out by providing cash to help hold the first Evolution.
Mawdsley said: “Evolution started in 2002 as a multi-venue festival, with gigs held at places like the Bigg Market. However, with the support of Orange and the council, we were able to create a one-day event by the Quayside.”