There’s the famous saying that, “it’s grim up North!” Well, if you had the Summer I had, it could not have been further from the truth, however before it even started one of the big events of the Summer in the North East of England was marred with controversy as the event of the Summer in Newcastle and surrounding areas was the Great Exhibition OF The North. One of the biggest arguments was that more ‘grass root artists should be supported.’ Then there was the controversy of BAE Systems being the corporate takeover of the arts as well as the maker of weapons used to kill families. This resulted in some big names threatening to pull out before it even begun but luckily it was BAE that pulled out and the artists stayed. Whether you supported it or not, from a personal point of view, I had a great Summer in Newcastle-Gateshead and mainly thanks to the Great Exhibition Of The North with their live music events held at The Sage for local music guru, Lauren Laverne’s Great Northern Soundtrack.
The Great Exhibition Of The North kicked off with street entertainment along the Newcastle Quayside on the 22nd June. Depending on where you were depended on how successful the night was for you. I took a stroll before the area was closed off for ticket holders then made my way to the other side of the river to The Sage. Many had tickets to watch the celebrations from The Sage which was somewhat restricted but the atmosphere was just was spectacular.
The bonus of The Sage was the first night of the Great Northern Soundtrack with Nightmares On Wax inside Hall One and not forgetting support act Skimmy Pemble. It was like a party in a very big living room as George Evelyn AKA NOW had a setting of a big leather sofa and guest vocalists Sadie Walker and Leigh Stephen Kenny (LSK) had their armchairs. Evelyn and band made sure they got a selfie with the audience before most ushered out quickly to catch the main part of GEOTN Opening Night celebrations which featured Maximo Park coming along as many dubbed a ‘tug boat’ and performed a song called North By North East which was specially wrote for the event. Front man Paul Smith even got in his famous jump. Following this was Lemn Sissay with a pounding performance of poetry and fireworks trickling from the Millennium Bridge. Rounding off the spectacular night were more fireworks and drones to the East of The Sage which were pretty much covered from those inside the Sage but if you were over in Newcastle you would have had a spectacular view.
More events followed in the week long Great Northern Soundtrack and I was lucky to catch another three shows. These were Nadine Shah (with support from Rafiki Jazz), Roisin Murphy and Kathryn Tickell (with Jim Gedhi supporting with Rachel Unthanks and Paul Smith from Maximo Park teaming up together)
Nadine Shah was probably the most notable artist to voice her opinions against BAE being part of the GEOTN. Like many, I was glad that she stayed on board as the night she played Hall 2 of The Sage was rammed packed. Listening to Shah is an experience. Her vocals are intense and raw but seeing her live is intense. She goes into a zone and has the most hypnotic stare. Definitely up there as one of the powerful performances ever to be witnessed.
Roisin Murphy is probably best known for her hit Sing it Back as part of Moloko but she is every right her own artist. Witnessing her live is very much a spectacle and I lost count of how many costume changes she made as her band played on. If you want a performance, you have got one with added theatricals at a Roisin Murphy show. Born in Ireland and spending the majority of her life in Sheffield with a performance of steel – sorry for the pun but it really was a strong performance.
Ending the Great Northern Soundtrack was a magical night of small pipes and more as Jim Gedhi opened to yet another packed out Hall 2 followed by Rachel Unthank and Paul Smith. It was a relaxed but very excitable night and as Kathryn Tickell and her band The Darkening took to their set you could see why. I am not the most schooled in folk music and the folk I listen to is far from the traditional sounds. I guess you could say I am more familiar with alt-folk but watching Kathryn Tickell live is ‘an experience.’ There’s a lot of audience interaction vocally and with foot stomps and hand claps. It was like one big party with a few mellow moments here and there. Dare I even stereotype it and say it felt like one big barn dance but it really did have that vibe.
Lauren Laverne was the perfect choice to get a Summer of music celebrating the North off to a start and under the perfect location of The Sage as that venue itself is now an icon that celebrates the North in music.