Both myself and my partner have always much preferred the outdoors to say the delights of the cinema, theatre or art galleries. A nice drive around followed by a walk on the beach or a hike in the hills has been our first choice with indoor pasttimes reserved for the more inclement weather. However the advancing years meant occasional ill health necessitated the walks getting shorter and more infrequent. Even the wind and rain seemed more of a challenge at times. We finally realised we needed to find a better balance between indoor and outdoor activities.
A friend recommended concerts, something I must admit I’d not previously given a lot of thought to. I’d been to the odd one while at college and my memories were not happy ones. Hulking great male students blocking the entire view of the stage, horrible loos full of people who’d had a little too much to drink and awful, awful sound quality. Either too little, as in equipment malfunction or way too much to the degree my (ear) drums were pounding as much as the artists.
My friend chuckled and reassured me the venues had moved on considerably. No longer were you disadvantaged if you were less than 6’3”, facilities were clean and well managed and the acoustics were perfected by computers and highly expensive sound equipment and well trained engineers.
Still a little hesitant but encouraged by my partner’s enthusiasm to risk something new, we decided to give our first concert in years a try. We opted for the Sage in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Not only is it relatively near by and easily accessible, but it’s a very modern concert hall and therefore should have had the advantages my friend described. The Sage was built in 2004 and it’s always been a building I’ve admired when in Newcastle on the opposite bank of the river.
What a fantastic experience and one I would heartily endorse to those struggling to fill cold Winter evenings. The first concert we attended was Howard Jones in Hall One. Now one thing immediately apparent being slightly older than the average concert-goer is price. My son and daughter regularly pay well over £100 a ticket to see world superstars like Coldplay and Elton John. These people fill stadiums with ease and can basically charge what they like. Those performers in the Autumn of their careers, just like their audience, play what is known as ‘venues’ as opposed to stadia and price themselves accordingly. Our tickets cost around £40 each which turned out to be outstanding value for a great night’s entertainment.
Hall one is a compact, ten sided room with towering sides. Apparently it’s likened to Shakespeare’s Globe. It holds only 600 patrons and Mr Jones was able to speak quite intimately with his fans. The acoustics were excellent, the view terrific and there wasn’t a single detail I could fault about the evening. Access and egress was superfast, the carpark was huge, cheap and very near by, the refreshments were reasonably priced and the views from the panoramic windows over the Tyne were gorgeous.
Indeed we enjoyed ourselves so much we were back at the Sage just days later to see a performance of Rogers and Hammerstein songs by the Royal Northern Sinfonia. The RNS is resident at the Sage and well worth seeing. We were in the larger Hall Two this time but the acoustics and atmosphere were every bit as good. The arena holds 1,640 patrons and screens and curtains moderate the sound quality as required. Although more than twice the size of Hall One we again had a superb view and didn’t miss a beat. Prices were once again excellent for a lengthy evening’s entertainment. Next up is Jason Donovan this weekend (£30) followed by Andy Fairweather Low in three weeks time, an absolute bargain at £23. I’m sure many will remember Andy’s group singing memorable hits like “Bend me, shape me” and “If Paradise is Half as Nice”.
Needless to say Newcastle is a large thriving city and Gateshead is fairly big in its own right. All of the leading hotel groups like Jurys and Hilton are nearby and you wont struggle for accommodation if you decide to stop over. Likewise the Quayside has a host of pubs and eateries and Newcastle city centre is within fairly easy walking distance of the Sage. A special word for the Sage itself FROM THE OUTSIDE. Dare I say it’s a poor mans Guggenheim and I don’t mean that disrespectfully. The building is beautiful and destined to become an icon. Huge, glistening, aesthetic, colourful by night, a photographers dream. And with the famous Tyne Bridge as a backdrop, it makes for a very impressive skyline. As an added extra, the regenerated Baltic Flour Mill is also nearby and this is now a popular host of contemporary art.A corner of Gateshead that can give much higher profile big cities a run for their money. Add in the minimalistic Millennium Bridge which, like the Sage, looks hypnotic at night, lit up and reflected in the placid Tyne, and you have a sophisticated collection of entertainment where you might possibly not venture to look.