This wasn’t so much a gig as a party to celebrate the 100th issue of NARC a Newcastle based free magazine that has provided all sorts of information on the local arts scene in and around Newcastle for the last few years. The party was one of the very first events to be held in the Biscuit Room, a new annexe to the established Biscuit Factory art gallery in the Shieldfield area of Newcastle.
Doors were a little late opening at about 7:45 and there was a steady stream of people arriving from the publicised opening time of 7:30 who had to hang around the booking office until the late running sound check was finished.
After about 10 minutes or so, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour were the first band on stage to a sparse but steadily increasing crowd, they introduced themselves with “We’re really happy to be here in the biscuit room, but it’s a bit fancy innit, I feel like we should have maybe dressed up a bit” before starting a short set of tracks taken from their CD “New Skin” with the Louis Barabbas cover, ‘Scarecrow’ followed by ‘Peace’ and then ‘Ellie’. A cover of ‘Cry Me A River’ by Justin Timberlake was the only song not taken from the CD and they finished off with ‘We Talked Again’
Over to the smaller performance area now for Nathalie Stern to see her perform some startling hauntingly beautiful solo tracks, starting with deep sleep followed by 3 more unidentified songs. The lack of banter with the audience was probably due to the fact that she was “shittingly nervous” as she hadn’t played live for about two years. The set was stunning and the crowd, which were packed into and spilled out of the small space were absolutely mesmerised with only the occasional clatter of bottles being thrown into a bin at the bar opposite interrupting proceedings.
It was back to the main stage now for Lanterns on the Lake, I’d not seen them before so was interested to see their performance, in the end I wasn’t that impressed, they were Ok but I’ll not be making any special trips to see them another time. Lots of talkers in the crowd again, even down the front and by now the constant background hum of crowd chatter was becoming very loud at times.
Back over to stage 2 to see Barry Hyde who did an entertaining solo set on an electric piano which went down well with the crowd but again the music was not really my cup of tea so it was back to the main stage for the final band, School of Language, the new side project of Jaff from the Futureheads and the Brewis boys from Field Music. With such a distinguished musical pedigree I was hoping for great things from this band and they certainly went down well with the crowd but for me they were a huge anti climax, not my thing at all and with the talking in the crowd reaching an all time annoyingly high volume we called it a day and went back home eventhough the party continued afterwards with a late bar into the early hours.
After School of Language had finished playing their set (they played all the songs they had) it was speech time with a massive thank you for the girl and her team of volunteers behind NARC magazine. Claire eventually got up on stage and made a small speech but her voice didn’t carry well over the PA and most of her speech was lost amongst the general background noise.
This was a good night out, an excellent start with Bridie Jackson and Nathalie Stern being on stunning form but for me the night peaked early and tailed off towards the end.
But what of the venue itself? It was brand new, this being one of the first events to be held there. There was a large lobby which housed the box office and toilets and a glass swing door that led into the main hall itself. Directly ahead was the bar and food area, to the right was the second (small) performance area and in the distance was the main stage. The bar area was very long so there was plenty of space for people to get served, there were masses of people serving so queues were kept down. There were loads of fridges packed with a large range of wines and a selection of bottled and canned beers from the larger breweries so it was very pleasing to see two polypins of Wylam Gold Tankard perched on the end of the bar. They didn’t last very long though so choice was restricted to national brewers beers after a while. The small performance area had no stage and was used for the solo performances while the main stage at the end of the hall was for the bands. Although the main stage was a decent size, it was only a foot or so high so when the venue was filled to it’s 350 capacity it would be hard to see anything on the stage by people towards the back of the hall. The colour scheme was white and glass, the walls in the main hall having a rippled wave effect pattern and the ceiling height was fairly low at about 3 meters. The acoustics were good though, the sound was nice and clear with no overpowering bass that you sometimes get in venues, presumably the acoustics had been considered at the design stage of the venue.
The highlight for me was the set by Nathalie Stern with a seriously off the wall and inventive performance which was all the more remarkable due to the strong case of nerves she was suffering from due to not playing live for the previous two years. I’ve wanted to see her play live for a long time now and the closest I got was turning up at one of her gigs at the Fishtank, Durham which got cancelled at the last minute when a really nasty storm ravaged the north east.
The low point of the gig was the massive amount of crowd chatter over the bands music, this was especially annoying for Bridie Jackson but still bad for Lanterns on the Lake and School of Language. The people who wanted to see the bands and listen to the music were at stage front but there were still people talking right through whole sets from just in front of the stage. I know this was billed as a party and not a gig but for me and a few others the unrelenting talking detracted from the bands performances, people even resorted to saying SSSSSSHHHHHHHHH loudly to try and stop the talking but it was to no avail. Maybe the biscuit factory could commission a local artist to come up with a large mural inside the venue to get the ‘keep the noise down’ message across, something like: “Nobody paid the admission charge to listen to you talking to your mates when the bands are on, if you must talk when the band is playing then go and do it outside”
It has to be said that most of the people who attended were part of Newcastle’s artistic community in one way or another and treated the event as a big networking opportunity and the bands were unfortunately regarded as a bit of a sideline.
The biscuit factory and associated venues have built up a great reputation as being a showcase of local and national artistic talent so it was disappointing to see the range of beers available dominated by national brands from major brewers. Even the two polypins of Gold Tankard from Wylam brewery in Hexham which sold out very quickly were of an average cask beer. The area around Newcastle in general and Byker in particular is packed full of superb innovative small and micro breweries, A cask or keg could have actually been carried to the biscuit room from breweries such as Out There, Tyne Bank and Northern Alchemy (at The Cumberland Arms) with literally dozens of other breweries within a short drive radius. You would not be restricted to Cask beer either, plenty of these breweries do superb craft keg beers. Newcastle in general is awash with quality cask and craft keg beers, Byker being a particular hotspot with The Free trade Inn being one of the best pubs in the whole of the North of England, I’m sure they would be happy to advise on the beers to stock to showcase genuinely adventurous and innovative breweries from both on your very doorstep and from further afield.
Remember, Beer is art too!!