FEATURE: Sage Gateshead 10th Anniversary | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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When Sage Gateshead first opened it made a point of declaring the space was fit for all purposes and genres of music. Naturally a large space such as Hall One would be the perfect fit for a chamber orchestra (enter Royal Northern Sinfonia) and the smaller, more ‘alternative’ space of Hall Two would serve folk and indie bands well, but the ‘all inclusive’ programming is perhaps still perceived by some, as something never quite realised. What’s certain though is that the Sage doesn’t have any defined rules about who can and can’t play there, as Head of Popular & Contemporary Music programming Tamsin Austin, explains: “We’ve always been a venue that’s open to all genres of music, and my role is to ensure we have a holistic, well-rounded and high quality programme.” She challenges my assumption that heavier rock or metal doesn’t fit with the venue and points out that, while it’s all well and good to say ‘we’re open to all genres’, it’s important to fit the right artist to the right space and make it work on a practical level. “We don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole, however when we do promote a band or artist here we really go the extra mile to make everything work for that band sound wise and production wise and for the audience.” Tamsin believes that Hall Two particularly could accommodate more guitar bands and heavier acts however she knows that gaining the trust of booking agents and customers across an even broader spectrum of musical genres is one of her challenges. “We have always done a significant amount of our own promotions at Sage Gateshead and I’ve worked hard to build strong, direct relationships with artists, agents as well as the promoters we work with, but there’s still more work to be done in turning some of the agents onto the space, particularly Hall Two, which really runs the whole gamut of suitability.”

But what of the preconceptions and attitudes people have towards the shiny silver building on the ‘other’ side of the River Tyne? For starters, this isn’t an austere, fancy building – in fact, too much is made of ‘the building’ in the first place – what Sage Gateshead really is, is a series of superbly acoustically treated spaces that suit a huge range of entertainment run by a passionate and dedicated team of people who genuinely love music, and want people to interact with it in wonderful ways. “Until people come into the building and have a positive experience, it’s hard to convince people otherwise. We’re very welcoming and want people to have a great time.” Indeed, this isn’t a place for ‘best behaviour’ or donning your Sunday Best for a gig, the massive range of productions, workshops and interactive events Sage Gateshead programme actively encourage their audiences to enjoy music in any way they can.

sage 2

We’re an independent music organisation, we’re not owned by a big company; what you see coming out of Sage Gateshead is coming from the people who work here, who want to support the regional music scene and are passionate about what they do

While Tamsin’s role as Popular & Contemporary Music Programmer hasn’t altered as such, the venue’s ability to communicate with its audience is changing. Recognising the need to embrace social and independent media alike, the venue is keen to interact with music lovers in a myriad of ways; whether it’s Ben Folds creating a hit list of his favourite classical tracks to be emailed to recent attendees of his performance with Royal Northern Sinfonia or John Grant providing a Spotify playlist, it’s all either being done or in the pipeline, you just might not have heard about it (or bothered listening: damn those preconceptions!). “We’ve always done a lot of underground and alternative stuff,” says Tamsin, “Noise stuff works really well in Hall Two and I love that you can switch from a Steven O’Malley/Sunn O))) gig to something really delicate like A Winged Victory For The Sullen or John Grant doing a solo piano gig with his fabulous baritone voice to more straight ahead indie/rock like Local Natives and Cloud Control in there. But everything, country-rock, performance poetry, hip-hop, soul it all works in there, it’s amazing! I’d really like to see even more guitar bands using Hall Two though as it’s such a great space for intimate standing gigs.” I also bet the naysayers never thought they’d see an all-night EDM super-party taking over the concourse, but that’s happening too thanks to a collaboration with Northern Lights’ for their Winter Edition on Friday 19th December. “Ever since the building opened I’ve wanted to do a massive dance event on the concourse overlooking the river and I’m really happy that we’re making that happen!” Other highlights coming in the Spring include the likes of tUnE-yArDs, The Staves, King Creosote, Underworld, Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan, Warpaint and on the classical front, Royal Northern Sinfonia play Beethoven ‘Nine’ Choral (y’know, the Clockwork Orange theme) and a fabulous New World Cabaret programme featuring pieces by Copland and Stravinsky, demonstrating an eclectic and broad programme.

The venue is often seen as somewhere to host a ‘special’ event for local acts, but that’s not to say it’s beyond the grasp of grassroots performers. “We wouldn’t want any local band to feel alienated from the venue. Supporting regional artists is very much a part of what we do here and if a band really wants to play the Sage I’ll do my damndest to make that a possibility.

“We’re an independent music organisation, we’re not owned by a big company; what you see coming out of Sage Gateshead is coming from the people who work here, who want to support the regional music scene and are passionate about what they do. We’re not beholden to anyone else, it’s up to us what we put on and support.”

Above all, and no matter what you think of their programme, the building or any of the rest of it, Sage Gateshead is a shining example of an objective, inclusive and passionate champion of live music in all its forms, and that’s something we should embrace wholeheartedly.

Sage Gateshead celebrate their 10th anniversary in December with a week-long series of events that aim to showcase the broad variety of entertainment on offer at the venue. From soul superstar Beverley Knight (Tuesday 16th) and last month’s cover stars Peter Brewis and Paul Smith’s collaboration Frozen By Sight (Saturday 20th) to a genre-mashing celebration of music (Wednesday 17th) and Royal Northern Sinfonia performances (Saturday 20th).

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