Prompted by… The Guardian

Yes, it’s one of those weeks this week. Too many memories, which is probably just as well given the anniversary that looms at the weekend – and it’s not a wedding anniversary!!!

What it is will be revealed later in the week, but there was a brief mention of it on the comments section after a piece The Guardian ran on their website at the weekend.

This one though was prompted by another piece on the same website that I commented on – that Newcastle was voted Best City here in the UK by readers of The Guardian.

One of my day jobs was working in a couple of branches of a clothes store/tailors in Newcastle for most, but not all of the 1980’s. When a store closed and I started work as an outdoor instructor and writer, I still spent a lot of time in the city as I was reviewing bands, seeing press shows of films and having nights out up there, even in the days when I was at University and living in (dare I say it!), Sunderland.

Newcastle has a lot going for it. It’s a party city, it’s a shoppers paradise, it’s a cultural centre and it’s a place you can just wander around and chill out in. No need for cabs, buses or the Metro if you’re staying in the city centre, but the good mix of public transport ensures that you can get out and explore the locality without any difficulties.

Now I’m not a party animal, so I tended to stay away from The Bigg Market and the Quayside on most nights of the week (ever seen beer glasses flying from one side of a market to another on a Friday night? That was twenty years ago though.) and I’m not overly fond of football, so what is it about Newcastle?

Shoppers can hit Northumberland Street, Eldon Square and Eldon Gardens or High Bridge. There’s a host of stylish bars and eateries either in the city centre or around Jesmond, Gosforth and over the water in Gateshead and there’s traditional drinking dens too.

There’s galleries, museums, and parks. There’s the great views of all the bridges from the Quayside and there’s The Baltic and The Sage just across the Tyne. There’s some fine hotels, there’s backpacker hostels too and then there’s the cultural stuff that doesn’t include the consumption of beer, lager or alcopops.

The Tyneside Cinema used to be a regular haunt, as did The Tyne Theatre, Newcastle Playhouse and The Live Theatre. One memorable place has come and gone though.

The Mayfair Ballroom had a reputation amongst local gig attenders and bands alike – Lemmy from Motorhead allegedly dedicated the song ‘No Class’ to that venue when playing City Hall on the No Sleep ‘Till Hammersmith tour. Finest shows seen there? Nirvana, The Cure, Roger Taylor from Queen and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

Newcastle City Hall is still around and was always one of the finest hall venues in the UK. I was lucky to get tickets for Sting and Dire Straits playing home town gigs, plus tickets for Madness, OMD, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, The Mission, Thunder, Thin Lizzy, Steeleye Span and the original Lindisfarne Christmas shows.

The musical connections at the time also involved managing a trio of bands based in the North East and subsequent roles as one of the live music reviewers on The Northern Echo newspaper and music/film editor of Street Magazine. 160 + bands per year? No problemo!

The mix of music reviewed covered the Harambe Africa Festival, Jason Donovan, Chesney Hawkes, Alice Cooper, Marc Almond, The Rolling Stones, The Chieftains, Manic Street Preachers and others at the main venues in the city, but there was one hotbed of live music that made it’s mark on the local music scene in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

The original Riverside Club had a 400 capacity, perfect for up and coming bands or those who wanted a relatively low-key place to play as a tour warm-up. Local bands were given the chance to do support slots and the mix on offer every month was an eclectic one.

Comedy shows included The Joan Collins Fan Club (a.k.a. Julian Clary and Fanny The Wonder Dog) whilst music over the years came from The Housemartins, Ian Gillan, Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, The Damned, Billy Bragg, Thunder, Fish, Youssou N’Dour, Desmond Dekker, The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Bhundu Boys, Julian Cope, Buzzocks and many, many more.

Such nights out were balanced by walks around Leazes Park, early morning or lunchtime runs down and over The High Level Bridge before making a left turn and running back over The Tyne Bridge or seeing in the New Year with a firework display before heading home in driving snow.

Or watching gritty fodder onscreen. Michael Caine in Get Carter set the cinematic tone and it’s closely followed by Stormy Monday. I never really got into The Likely Lads/Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, When The Boat Comes In or Our Friends In The North.

I did go to see The Lindisfarne Gospels, exchange a bit of banter with Nick Hornby at a screening of High Fidelity and have a night out at a Genesis new album playback party in a posh bar on the Quayside (music, fodder and drinks only – the band were on tape and nowhere near Newcastle!).

It’s a while since I’ve been back – too long in fact. Old haunts such as The Mayfair, Riverside, The Broken Doll and others are long gone. There’s still friends up there, so I guess that a visit in the Spring could be the way of heading back up there to see whether the city had changed much and whether my memory has been playing tricks with me.

Or not as the case may be…

About Keith Rickaby

I’m a writer and photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now based in Yorkshire & back out there working for a travel and outdoor activity based retailer.
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