The sight of the bridges across the Tyne seen from an East Coast train carriage will never fail to impress. The curving green, regimental blue and criss-cross browns stretch out towards a kink in the river for some brief seconds before jackets are pulled on to face the Geordie chill. It’s Newcastle all over really – the sublime quickly succeeded by a firm and familiar slap on the back.
We spent two weeks there with Simon Stephen’s London, and the staff at the Live Theatre treated us very well indeed. Cast and crew spent their free time exploring the town and peripheries, so we thought we’d put a list together of where they went and where they’d have gone given more time.
Just after we left, the news broke that Newcastle City Council will be making some pretty drastic cuts to the arts budget. Paines Plough’s stance will no doubt be obvious (read Lee Hall’s impassioned but ultimately doomed manifesto we re-tweeted). Instead, this is a blog to celebrate what is already great about the city, rather than lamenting an uncertain future.
So here’s where Paines Plough would send you, given half the chance . . .
There will always be a chorus role for stag and hen does in Newcastle. They descend every weekend to spend amounts rivalling even what the capital might take. And though you probably don’t have them on your cultural bucket list, it’s more than likely you’ll experience it all through osmosis. Breathe in the air of the Quayside on a Saturday night and you’ll have effectively sunk four Bacardi’s chased by a generously-measured Jagerbomb before you’ve spotted the next cheesy-chip stained mini-skirt.
Even by day the Quayside is a heady experience. It has undergone some remarkable regeneration over recent years which have slowly erased the few traces that stood from the days of ship-building. Amidst the anodyne high-rise flats that now puncture the horizon, prized possessions of the Newcastle trendies and Geordie Shore ‘actors’, you also have the magnificent Baltic Flower Mill, The Sage and the Millennium Bridge. The first is home to most of town’s contemporary art, the second a wood-panelled acoustic phenomenon, housing world-class concerts every day of the week, and the last a ‘blinking bridge’ – probably the most photographed structure in Newcastle.
There is, of course, the Live Theatre. It’s a theatre whose trajectory charts a building proving itself through quality and determination, rather than nostalgia and Noel Coward. We’ve just played there with London and look forward to returning soon. And whatever you end up seeing on stage, you’d be denser than a Maccum walking alone through central Newcastle on a derby weekend not to try one of the Broad Chare’s scotch eggs afterwards. Pure bliss.
The gay quarter of Newcastle is quite something. With bars as gregarious as the spray-tanned clientele they attract, there are also slightly more demure establishments. Like most bars in Newcastle, they change their name as quickly as pints change hands with the bartenders, but there are plenty worth a visit.
Though not strictly within the Triangle, just over the road there is The Forth. That’s the place to go for a trendy pint and just opposite is the Jazz Café. It looks shut most of the time but push the door open and you’ll more often than not find a friendly crowd. It’s known for the live jazz, but the salsa night has something to say for itself too.
This part of town is also the place to go for late night music – regardless of whether you like boys, girls, or both. Head of Steam often has live gigs, and if your ears are not ringing when you spend a night on the tiles at Digital, you’ve probably been there too often. And for those who can hack it, a final fling on the Powerhouse dancefloor is an experience to be remembered. Like most other superclubs, the building has been handled by many a grubby owner, but the size and fun factor keeps them coming back, whoever is profiteering from the overpriced drinks.
Oh and there’s also the Discovery Museum and the Centre for Life in the same area, which are both museums worth a visit – but take those how you will.
Ask any Geordie residing somewhere other than their home town what they miss, and one of the first things they will mention is the sea. The stretch of coast that is no further than a twenty minute metro ride from the centre is worth the £3 or so it will cost you to get there.
And there’s fierce contest for the bonniest beach. Some might say the forerunner is Tynemouth, but those from south of the river will probably direct you to South Shields or even Marsden. Go there in the summer and you’ve practically saved yourself a flight to Spain (sort of). But whatever the season, combine some a fish & chips with a Minchella’s ice cream, and you’re laughing.
You’ll also be able to spot the numerous ships on the horizon, both recreational and mercantile, reminding you of Newcastle’s recent past. Though few and far between nowadays, the ride to and from the town will whisk you past the remnants of the shipyards that once thrived all along the Tyne.
Night at the dogs
There’s a line in a well-known Geordie play that goes something along the lines of if you’re coming to the region and you’re not into whippets or leeks, then you’re stuffed. Granted, they’re talking about a town outside central Newcastle without libraries or other such distractions, but with the way thing are going perhaps it bears repeating.
Whether the libraries stay or go, dogs will remain a central preoccupation to many. Although televised in the bookies up and down the country, nothing beats the real thing. Pie and ale in hand, for just a few quid you can soak in the atmosphere and howl at your newly sponsored friend for the evening.
It’s probably the smell of the place that is its distinguishing feature. The covered market is far from being reduced to sepia-induced instant nostalgia just yet. That’s probably because of the range of goods (counterfeit or otherwise) that can still be bought there. Whether you’re replacing a smashed phone screen, or you’re in need of a cut – of either the meat or mop variety, Grainger Market will no doubt do it for you. At a decent price too.
If your idea of a night out is sweaty bump-grinding to Rihanna, then this part of town is not for you. We have nothing against her, or her obnoxious base lines, but the Ouseburn valley offers something of a respite to the traditional Newcastle scene.
First and foremost it is the green so near the centre of the city that will keep you coming back for more. The Town Moor offers this too (maybe not for much longer . . .) but there are few other distractions that are found in such abundance as down the Ouseburn. The Cluny’s reputation precedes it and deservedly so. It nurtures local music talent and has a food and drinks menu to cater for everyone. The atmosphere is second to none, as is the ale selection.
Finally, if you’re not taken by what’s on at the multiplex, The Star and Shadow cinema is an arts venue running film, art and music catering for a huge range of tastes. The whole outfit is volunteer run so definitely deserves your support.
So that’s it really . . .
Find an ale of your liking, go to the stadium if that’s your wish, but most of all enjoy Newcastle and send it our regards. Until we return.