History

Why Newcastle needs The Late Shows

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There has been something of a cultural renaissance in Newcastle upon Tyne, and The Late Shows have definitely been part of that. Co-ordinated by Tyne & Wear Museums in association with Museums at Night, the Late Shows aim to get people in Newcastle and Gateshead interested in the culture that’s happening right on their doorstep. Artist studios, museums, galleries, and other interesting places open their doors across a weekend in May, in some cases granting access to spaces not normally accessible throughout the year. They’ve been running since 2007, although I’ve only been to the last three – and I can honestly say that this year’s has been the best.

On Friday I did the Ouseburn Valley with one of my friends – it’s a good idea, since it frees up the Saturday for the non-Ouseburn events. We started off in printmaking studios Northern Print, where I had a go at printing at a thaumatrope – once spun, this gives the effect of an owl sitting on a branch. The thaumatrope actually dates to 1824, and while simple, there’s still something amusing about them. I have assembled mine and I did make a video of it but unfortunately all you can hear in the background is the TV so I decided not to upload!

From there we walked down Stepney Bank and popped into 36 Lime Street, a massive collection of studios and workshops, housed in a grade II listed warehouse designed by John Dobson. If I’m honest, part of the attraction was seeing inside such a mammoth building, especially one designed by such a prominent figure in Newcastle’s architectural history. That said, I ended up being fascinated by the work on display, spread as it was across five floors, particularly the beautiful origami birds around the building.

Down in the basement we found this beautiful glass work, centred around a sea life theme and backlit to produce such a stunning effect, as well as another piece of glass art that I just had to take a photo of (see below). I love glasswork, and these exhibits were beautiful. I think they run classes in different types of glasswork but after the debacle that was my experiment with fusing glass in a microwave, I don’t think I’ll be having a go any time soon!

As well as glassworkers, there were artists, designers, jewellery makers, woodworkers, potters, printers, and many more, all happy to discuss their work, and hopefully make a few sales. They also run workshops and classes so I’ve put my name down to be notified when the next ones might run!

Before the Late Shows, I hadn’t even known that 36 Lime Street existed as an artistic collective – sure, I’m rarely in the Ouseburn Valley as it’s not exactly walking distance from where I live, but I had no idea there was such a thriving art scene in the city, with such a community feel. In a lot of ways, it’s a pity that the Late Shows are only on once a year, but I guess it’s my responsibility to find out what’s happening the rest of the year, and actually make the effort to go along.

Elsewhere in the building, printmaker Theresa Easton had her studio open, and she had some blocks set up to demonstrate letterpress printing. There has definitely been an upswing in interest in traditional techniques within the creative and design industries, possibly as a backlash to the proliferation of digital work now in circulation, and it was interesting to see how tactile traditional printmaking can be.
There’s something satisfying about the squelch of ink under a roller – so far removed from a click of a mouse! Plus I got the chance to have a go, so I made this one! (There was also a choice of two other phrases, but I liked this one the best). I think it’ll be going up in the office at some point. It’s even inspired me to have a go at lino printing, which is obviously a different technique, but it’s a bit more accessible than letterpress.

After 36 Lime Street, it was off to the Ouseburn Farm, where they have all kinds of farm animals to see, and plants to buy. They have an allotment where they grow vegetables, There were a pair of beautiful ponies, pigs, sheep, chickens, and tortoises to see. They also had furniture upcycling going on, as well as face painting for the kids, plus animal handling where you could cuddle rabbits, a guinea pig, or a tortoise. It’s been eleven years since I lost my rabbit and there’s nothing quite as uplifting for the soul as getting a cuddle from a bunny, but sadly I couldn’t get anywhere near due to the number of children and teenagers who just wanted their photos taken with the animals. I was rather concerned about one particular rabbit who looked terrified at being mauled about by so many strangers. Instead, I had to content myself with taking photos of the bunnies in their pen.

After the Ouseburn Farm we had a walk around to Wychcraft Furniture, but there wasn’t a great deal to see around there. Some of the venues seem to be nothing more than glorified sales pitches for local artists, and while I want to support local designers, if I don’t have a dog then I don’t have much use for a handmade leather dog collar.

Here’s the view as sunset crept in – that big building on the right is 36 Lime Street.

Here’s the kooky little boat at the back of Seven Stories, the venue dedicated to children and books. I’ve still never been in there but I’m not sure if it would look weird for a childless woman clearly out of her teens to have a look around..

After that it was off to the Toffee Factory, for their vintage night which was a weird mishmash of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, but didn’t have a specific enough focus beyond letting people have ‘vintage’ makeovers. I didn’t see as many stalls as the brochure had promised, but I have at least now learned about the existence of The Swung Eight, described as “Newcastle’s original juke joint and speakeasy”. Might have to give one of their proper nights a go. We also went down to the Mushroomworks, where they’d given their workshops a fairy-theme to tie in with the 420th birthday of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

That was the Friday, but I also went out again on Saturday with my mum. We started off with the Black Gate, the iconic building which used to stand as a postern gate to the Castle Keep. I’d done ghost hunts in there in late 2011 and I was interested to see what effect its conversion into a heritage centre had had on the atmosphere of the place. This is the view from one of its windows towards Milburn House (the big red building) and Dog Leap Stairs (down the side of the railway bridge). It always used to feel somewhat dilapidated and tired, but now it’s whitewashed and clean…and soulless. There were no exhibits or anything, just empty rooms, and while it will be interesting to see it once its completed, at the moment it’s just a sad reminder that while progress is necessary, and heritage tourism needs to provide facilities to keep the visitors coming in, sometimes that progress is just enough to shatter a fragile historic atmosphere.

Outside the Black Gate, work has been done to make the building accessible, with the addition of ramps across the bridges, and a new lift at the back. A lot of people complained about the idea of this but I think it all looks good, and once the wood has weathered, you won’t be able to tell that none of it is original. That said, the most interesting thing about the location now is this graffiti, spotted in the ‘pit’ beneath the bridge. I’m a big fan of Neverwhere and it’s nice to see vandalism inspired by Magritte, instead of the usual random collection of names and dates. But still, don’t spraypaint on a scheduled ancient monument, y’know?

After the Black Gate it was off to the medieval cloisters of Blackfriars, a twelfth century of oasis of calm in the heart of the city. They had a tea party going on, with live music and storytelling, but I was more interested in the ‘yarnbombing’ courtesy of the Knit Studio.

These are mine! I was really pleased to see my two little ghosts hanging up, and my cat perched in a tree with other little critters. There were lots of other absolutely awesome examples but all of the photos are on my film camera! We popped into the Knit Studio to see the knitters, and then caught the free bus down to the Mushroomworks. We had been intending to visit the Holy Jesus Hospital for their urban garden, but on Friday I’d had my eye on the ‘have a go Raku pottery’, which I hadn’t had time for.

The pottery was being run by Muddy Fingers Pottery, who have a studio there. They also run nightclasses and I’m really tempted to do one as I always used to love pottery at school – but like so many things, it fell by the wayside as the education process forces you into a narrow range of things you’re allowed to do. Marv was on hand to explain the process (and the chemistry behind it) and I chose this pot, and painted it with three different coloured glazes – pale blue on the inside, rose pink on the outside, and dark green around the edges of the petals. I left the pot while it was fired in the kiln, and then quenched, and I’ve now got this little beautiful to keep all of my loose jewellery in instead of leaving it lying around on my dresser!

My mum and I had a great time on the Saturday, and found The Late Shows to be much better organised than last year, with more events to choose from. The only difficulty is deciding what to see! But my blog post title implies an answer – why does Newcastle need the Late Shows? Simple – because it’s too easy to get sucked into the monotony of everyday life, and to get stuck in a rut that becomes a ravine. The Late Shows provide a much-needed cultural shot in the arm, simultaneously providing those who don’t just go to pubs and clubs with something to do on an evening, and providing a hearty dose of inspiration to anyone creative who needs the impetus to get on and try it.

I for one can’t wait for next year!

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