The grassroots performing arts scene in Durham is alive and well.
One of its key players is Graham Williams who runs Down By The River, which primarily promotes not-for-profit live music events in Durham City.
A venue Graham regularly programmes into as Down By The River is Durham City’s Claypath Deli, along with his side project – Durham Introducing. Durham Introducing is a series of free to access events designed to give a platform to emerging local musicians and spoken word artists. And an aspect of the event Graham is keen to develop is supporting Durham University students and Durham residents to curate their own events with the intention of creating an environment where the student and the local community can connect socially.
Graham is originally from Shotton Colliery and now lives in Peterlee. They may only be a few miles apart but Graham’s story of why he does what he does has taken him on a journey of thousands of miles, having lived and worked in London and Scotland, as well as travelling extensively around the world, before returning home to his native County Durham in 2010.
On the inside
Graham says, “When I’ve lived in other places I’ve always felt like an outsider. At home in Durham, I’m on the inside. It’s where my roots are and wherever
I’ve found myself, the feeling of home always draws me back. I trained as a social worker in London and worked in Fife and Durham with individuals and families who have experienced tremendous difficulties. However, I’ve been involved with the music scene wherever I’ve lived and it’s helped me cope with the stress of my day job; helping to promote artists often at the beginning of their journey provided me with a release from work and I was always grateful for that. I’ve now retired from social work and have put all of my energy into producing and promoting events.”
Musicians Graham has worked with include American artist Chris Chavez, originally from New Mexico who was based in London during the mid 1990s. Graham worked with Chris in creating ZAMBRA; an independent record label which released music throughout the 1990s.
One Down By The River event George took part in was ‘I saw Nick Drake’ – a celebration of singer-songwriter Nick Drake, who sadly died in 1973 aged just 26. In October 2021 Graham co-ordinated three sold-out North East events, including one in Durham, the performances brought together the afore-mentioned Boomsma, alongside critically acclaimed artists; Katherine Priddy, Luke James Williams, Ceitidh Mac and Aaron Duff (aka Hector Gannet) all of whom cite Drake as a major influence. Down By The River’s Spring 2022 programme featured Durham musician Benjamin Amos and blues/folk musicians Jack Blackman and Steve Pledger. And later in 2022, Down By The River events hosted by Claypath Deli will feature Luke James Williams, Jacob & Drinkwater and Henry Parker.
A powerful partnership
Another Durham City project Graham has played a part in is the development of RTProjects based in Gilesgate – a mental health charity that uses art as a tool to save lives and help people build resilience. By chance, Graham met
Beano and Emma Beattie, the co- founders of RTProjects over coffee in Claypath Deli. This led to Graham working with Beano and Emma on a project called ‘What If’, where RTProjects and its service users, worked in partnership with Music Durham, the arm of Durham University that steers all extra-curricular musical activity across the University. ‘What If’ took place at Dunelm House, the Durham University Student Union building on New Elvet in 2019. During March 2022 RTProjects worked with Music Durham, local musicians, and its service users on an event at Durham University’s Assembly Rooms in the city centre called ‘Never Give Up’, a variety show style event raising awareness of suicide. The show addressed serious issues through an uplifting event full of hope and laughter.
Supporting emerging artists
So what is next for Graham? ‘More of the same’, he says. ‘I want to help the live music scene in the North East thrive, continue to give support to emerging artists and make sure they get paid for what they do. I love working with venue owners who share my vision of nurturing artists and at the same time providing audiences with an intimate live-music experience they don’t necessarily find elsewhere. For example, Rory and Angela Handy and the staff at Claypath Deli are amazing in terms of the support they have given me. The gigs do play a part in helping the Deli extend its opening hours and I do hope that in doing so it helps develop their customer base. My goal is that venues, musicians and audience all benefit culturally from DBTR but perhaps for me, the most important ingredient is that talent is given an opportunity to develop within a supportive environment.’
Backing Durham’s bid
Graham sees a successful countywide City of Culture bid as an opportunity to shine a light on the wonderful things that Durham does. Most importantly he would like it to lever long term investment into the county, bringing hope and supporting its regeneration.