The creative Burnley hub that wants to light a fire under town's 'neglected' arts scene

A Burnley couple who are ‘pouring their heart and soul’ into reigniting the town’s art and original live music scene believe hard work and perseverance is starting to pay off.

By John Deehan
Friday, 13th March 2020, 12:06 pm
Updated Friday, 13th March 2020, 12:08 pm
The Gallery at Creative Arts Burnley in lower St James' Street. Photo: Beki Hughes (RH Photomania)
The Gallery at Creative Arts Burnley in lower St James' Street. Photo: Beki Hughes (RH Photomania)

Since Natalie George and Cain Bramley opened ‘The Gallery’, at the back of their tattoo studio in lower St James’ Street last year, the pair have been left speechless by the support they have received from not just artists looking to showcase talent, but a general public hungry for a more eclectic experience.

Their burgeoning artistic hub has already established a name for itself as a haven for original virtuosity, having hosted a number of well-attended events the latest of which was a free DJ workshop featuring internationally renowned DJs Paul Taylor and Mark XTC.

Run in conjunction with the Marcus Intalex Foundation, Natalie said witnessing first hand the inspiration the workshop’s 15 lucky applicants took from the day left her beaming from ear to ear.

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Cain Bramley and Natalie George. Photo: Beki Hughes (RH Photomania)

“It made me feel like a proud mum. The Marcus Intalex Foundation is very passionate about Burnley and delivering these workshops. They have the same ethos as us in that they want to enrich the community.

“They were blown away and they said they could not wait to do another workshop here. We’re looking at having another three to four and these, like the first one, will be funded through Scott Cunliffe’s RunAway Foundation.

“Everybody enjoyed the day. All the applicants who were selected said they loved the day, and they were asking for more workshops like this in town.”

And DJ workshops are just the tip of a very large musical iceberg.

The entrance to The Gallery can be found in Gas Street off Brown Street. Photo: Beki Hughes (RH Photomania)

The Gallery’s flagship event – The Platform Project – held its inaugural showcase in November, boasting a vast array of live music, spoken word and open mic performances combined with art and photographic exhibitions.

The next Platform Project will take place on Saturday, March 28th, and Natalie said the Gallery is also looking at holding a monthly jazz night, as well as a ‘Choir-Off’, pitting the region’s best choral stars against each other.

A fortnightly choir class has already been lined up. The Impossible Choir starts on Thursday, March 26th, and will be led by music teacher and jazz aficionado, Chris Bridges, a regular performer with The Night Creatures, 52 Skidoo and Baked a la Ska.

The Impossible Choir aims to bring together people “who love to sing any song, in their own way” with sessions covering breathing, posture, diction, voice projection and most importantly, having fun.

“It’s all gone a lot further than I thought it would,” said Natalie. “We’ve only been open for three months but the venue is so hot – people keep asking us to put events on.

“We’re open to all suggestions. The good thing about the Platform Project is that we are reaching different audiences; so say you’ve got someone coming down to watch a rock band, they’ll end up watching a jazz band at the same time. That’s why we try and keep it really eclectic, so we can really mix things up. It’s opening up people’s eyes.

“It’s what it’s all about. We want to mix genres and art forms. Stephen ‘Sage’ Hartley, former member of the Notsensibles came to watch his son’s band – Bulbeater – play at the first Platform Project. On the back of that he saw rapper MeLeon performing and asked him to be the frontman of his new punk band. Now, they’re going to be performing here at the next Platform event. It’s that kind of creative networking that we’re really trying to get at.”

Natalie wants the Platform Project to run quarterly for the next three years, but needs funding to make this a reality.

“We’re hoping to get some funding through the Arts Council, so then we can start to pay the acts because that’s what we want to do. We want to be able to get the right sound equipment too because we are really struggling at the minute with what we have had to beg, steal and borrow. We hired equipment for the last event but we can’t keep doing that.

“We have to have good quality sound. If we’re putting on bands, getting them exposure, and filming them; they have to sound right.

“The application for the funding has now gone in and we should find out within 12 weeks whether or not we have been successful. Because we are in the heritage action zone I think we stand a good chance.”

If the application is granted it will go some way to establishing the Gallery as a sustainable business, with a strong emphasis on providing jobs. The recent recruiting of two apprentices – Leon Akbar and Beki Hughes – mark a positive step in this direction.

“They were coming down and helping as volunteers,” said Natalie. “The job centre basically told them that they needed to get a job; that they were not able to volunteer.

“They had come down for the Platform Project event. Leon performed and Beki took some incredible pics. They were so great, and so creative, we thought ‘how can we keep them on?’

They both have degrees in art and they were looking for jobs. And that’s what we are trying to do here – create jobs. So we rang Burnley College to see if there was anything we could do.

“With the help of the college and +24 Marketing, we were able to get them on a part-time digital marketing apprenticeship. They spend one day a week training at +24 Marketing, and then they are here for 16 hours a week. It’s a fantastic opportunity.”

It has been a demanding few months for Natalie and Cain. The stresses of setting up and running a new cultural enterprise are all too real, but what spurs them on is a relentless desire to offer those in the background of society a platform to perform.

“Arts has been neglected in Burnley – that’s why we are so passionate about it. Arts is something that is normally accessible to people who have more money – you will get sent to drama or music classes.

“There are a lot of children in Burnley who are living in poverty, living with families with addictions. There is no funding for them. We want to bridge that and fight for funding that will help these kids discover an outlet.

“There is so much talent in and around Burnley. They deserve the chance to perform and be heard. That is what we want to do.”