NEWS: VIRGIN MONEY UNITY ARENA | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Anyone who works in the entertainment industry across the world right now are likely to be asking themselves a similar question: where do we go from here? Despite the government declaring the entertainment sector ‘open for business’ from 1st August, many of our region’s spaces are struggling to figure out how to operate safely and profitably. There’s no doubt we’re clamouring for live performance to return, but there are so many caveats as to make it an extremely daunting prospect for all involved.

That is unless you’re SSD Concerts, the Tyneside promoters who over the last decade have brought some of the world’s biggest stars to the region and who have – since April no less – been figuring out how to bring socially distanced live music back to the masses. Unlike the ill fated Live Nation drive-in events scheduled for Teesside Airport, which were cancelled back in July apparently because of the “latest developments due to localised lockdowns”, the Virgin Money Unity Arena will set up camp at Gosforth’s Newcastle Racecourse throughout August, September and potentially beyond, and looks to be a major fixture of the region’s live programme.

At an undoubtedly difficult time for the industry there’s no doubt that events such as these are welcome indeed, particularly when they’re offering local people much-needed work

The line-up at the time of going to press is, I’m afraid to say, a bit of a sausage fest. Although we’re assured more names are being added (including some local representation), it’s a shame that over the course of 20 dates there’s not one female act, and we’re hoping diversity is a key area to be worked on for future announcements. Moaning aside, the line-up is pretty indie-heavy, which is great if that’s your bag. Among the highlights are Irish trio Two Door Cinema Club, who kick proceedings off on Saturday 15th August; followed by everyone’s favourite 90s indie scamps Supergrass on Saturday 22nd; vocal star Tom Grennan performs on Thursday 27th; Carl and Pete stop bickering for long enough to pull a Libertines set out of the bag on Saturday 29th; rock legend Van Morrison performs on Thursday 3rd September; North East indie rock icons Maximo Park will play what’s certain to be a barnstorming set on Saturday 5th; and DJ Craig Charles brings his highly regarded funk and soul show on Wednesday 9th.

Comedy is represented too, with stand-up sets from such household names as Adam Kay (Sunday 16th August), Jason Manford (Sunday 30th), Jimmy Carr (Monday 31st) and Bill Bailey (Tuesday 1stWednesday 2nd September). Elsewhere, there’s family-friendly fun with RuPaul’s Drag Race (Friday 28th August), Boyzone smoothy Ronan Keating (Friday 11th September), inexplicably popular crooner Alfie Boe (Thursday 10th) and plenty of daftness courtesy of Bongo’s Bingo (Saturday 12th). Plus there’s a handful of tribute shows and collaborations too.

So how does it work? The ‘parking to platform’ experience essentially means you’ll park your car and be directed in a safe and socially distanced manner to your very own platform, which you’ll share with members of your own bubble. Food and drinks can be pre-ordered and there’ll be a one-way system in place for the use of facilities. Shows are individually priced, but you’ll need to factor in an additional £20 fee per platform (not per booking).

At an undoubtedly difficult time for the industry, when musicians, sound techs, crew, promoters and the assorted eco-systems that keep the music scene grinding away are facing an uncertain future, there’s no doubt that events such as these are welcome indeed, particularly when they’re offering local people much-needed work. What remains to be seen, and from a wider perspective, is if audiences will embrace this new way of consuming big-name shows and if, frankly, this is as good as it gets.

The Virgin Money Unity Arena is located at Newcastle Racecourse, Gosforth. For full information, tickets and COVID-related info, visit the website

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