LIVE REVIEW: BBC Radio 3 After Dark @ Sage Gateshead (19/20.03.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Royal Northern Sinfonia by Barry Pells, courtesy of BBC

Given the station’s undeserved reputation as being a little safe and middle England (a cursory listen to some of their remarkable late-night programming will dispel such notions), the idea of going to a Radio 3 all-nighter at Sage Gateshead felt deliciously counter-intuitive, especially since I can’t remember the last all-nighter I’ve attempted, of any kind. But the event had such a fascinating line-up, it was impossible to resist.

Running from 6pm until 6.45am across pretty much the entirety of the riverside behemoth and with much being recorded for subsequent broadcast, After Dark was an ambitious and wonderfully constructed affair, which for me kicked off with a little poetry in the Northern Rock Hall, Ian McMillan and a strong line-up of poets contributing to Poems Of Change. McMillan was charming as ever and local poet Rowan McCabe was a lot of fun. But the main event of the early part of the evening was RNS Immersion in Hall One and, reader, it broke me.

In a beautifully-lit hall and with half the audience sprawled on beanbags, the Royal Northern Sinfonia presented an hour-long programme of contemporary classical music alongside some subtle but engaging visuals from Sonia Killman. The first two pieces were involving enough and it’s rare I get to see any kind of classical music live. But the third and final piece was a performance of Gavin Bryars’ acclaimed 1971 piece Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which marries a heartbreaking looped recording of an unknown homeless man singing a hymn to Bryars’ luminous, overwhelming arrangements for strings and brass. This piece has been close to my heart for thirty years or more and I never thought I’d get to see it performed live. It was quietly devastating and I feel no shame in admitting I sobbed. A lot.

After this, seeing BBC continuity announcer Viji Alles performing an ambient version of The Shipping Forecast – recast as The Sleeping Forecast – was a surreal relief, his sonorous tones accompanied by some tasteful ambient recordings. Alles was definitely enjoying being able to use facial expressions for once – a raised eyebrow greeted a potential storm – and I’ll always picture him with a pint from now on. I felt sorry for Darkstar, stuck out on the concourse and seeming like a fairly inconsequential soundtrack for people milling about, queuing for coffee and chatting. They needed to be in Hall Two, and loud. Over the next couple of hours I caught a recording of Freethinking with Matthew Sweet, where the likes of Vera writer Ann Cleeves and deep sea expert Jake Morris-Campbell chatted about the meaning and language of darkness (I came away with a new found respect for the blob fish) and then Vashti Bunyan – in conversation with Jennifer Lucy Allan – was shy and careful but radiated warmth and kindness.

Then to Hall 2 for Late Night Improv. Bristol breakbeat jazz outfit Run Logan Run – boisterous, inventive drums and treated saxophone – were raucous fun after a sedate few hours, although drummer Matt Brown (probably best known for his time in Phantom Limb) seemed more comfortable with the improv format than sax player Andrew Hayes and at times Hayes’ playing seemed to lack the focus and attack needed to properly connect with Brown’s superb drumming. Mariam Rezaei appeared with them towards the end and, as usual, tore everyone a new one, live remixing/scratching the duo’s sounds to brilliant effect.

Then it was back to Hall One for Deep Night Tracks, a really lovely few hours back on the beanbags with Manchester Collective, Memotone, Xenia Pestova Bennett and Ed Bennett and our very own Me Lost Me performing in rotation on the vast stage. With softly intoned links and introductions from Radio 3 presenters Hannah Peel and Sara Mohr-Pietsch, the various performances (and some sympatico recordings from artists like Benjamin Britten and Ivor Cutler) flowed beautifully. Manchester Collective brought rich, hypnotic chamber strings with pieces from the likes of Hildegard Von Bingen while Memotone provided crepuscular soundscapes, at times backing readings from his father. The Bennetts varied from powerful piano pieces to something more experimental, prepared pianos and laptop whispers. Call me biased but Me Lost Me was the highlight here, her clear voice ringing through the hall as she wrought beautiful melodies and gently distorted folk from her table of devices. An a capella take on A Brisk Lad was absolutely spellbinding and – tiredness catching up at last – we headed out on the riverside with the buzz and hum of her machines ringing in our ears.


Image: Me Lost Me by Barry Pells, courtesy of BBC

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