It’s almost impossible to pay a visit to Newcastle’s Quayside without catching sight of this gleaming and curvaceous concert hall and music centre.
Sat uphill between the Baltic Art Gallery and the Hilton Hotel, The Sage Gateshead offers a wonderful visual balance to the new Millennium Bridge on one side, and that classic symbol of the region, the Tyne Bridge, on the other.
The architecture of this building is phenomenal, and it's the first venue made by renowned architects Foster and Partners. The Sage Gateshead is decidedly spacey in appearance from the outside, with its large glass front curved over the building like a steel torso on the banks of the Tyne. Halls One and Two are the giant rounded walls inside, and neither the roof nor each other come into contact. The reason for this is to reduce vibration, meaning sound won’t leak from one hall into its neighbour. This clever design also includes an internal concourse to shield visitors from the wind and the extra space is filled by a restaurant/brasserie between the two main venues.
Hall One is the reason the Sage is hailed as one of the top concert halls in the world. It seats around 1,700 people and it's the main performance space for globally acclaimed orchestra The Northern Sinfonia. However, the hall is also the main venue for several mainstream pop and rock acts, and for this reason, there are plans to make the front stall seats removable by the end of 2008, creating a standing room/dancefloor option. Everything about this room, from the light ash woodwork gracing all three tiers of seating circles to the state-of-the-art PA and lighting rig, reinforce that this venue means business, and takes the business of providing world class concerts not only seriously, but very effectively.
Hall Two is a far more intimate venue, with two tiers of seating above the stall with run behind the stage, creating, as the Sage describes it, an ‘in the round feel’. If you see a performance there, you’ll be more than inclined to agree with them. The ground floor seating consists of removable chairs that are not the most comfortable, but this room is used for dance performances occasionally, so being able to alter the seating in this space is rather necessary. Although radically smaller than its sister venue next door, Hall Two is still a wonderful room to hear a performance. It’s designed to achieve an optimum sound for a range of acts, from jazz to world and folk styles, and doesn’t disappoint. Directly outside the hall is a bar, from which you are afforded the most spectacular views of the river Tyne and the bridges that span across her.
The staff, from the ticket vendors to the bar staff, are all excellent and happy to help with anything. It’s truly heartening to find a place full of people so enthusiastic about their role and sweetens the considerable cost of everything here. The clientele depends entirely upon the performer scheduled for whatever night you visit, and the Sage covers every style going. Classical performers, brass bands and world music stars have played Hall One, as well as, Joe Jackson, Goldfrapp, Level 42, Robert Cray and Steve Harley with Cockney Rebel in the more ‘secular’ end of the scale. Hall Two sees everyone from Steve Howe and Tibetan monks to ancient Indian musical theatre style Baithak Thumri.
The Food and Drink
The brasserie and the Sir Michael Straker cafe offer a generous range from main meals to luxurious desserts. It’s not cheap, and even the hot drinks are over £3, but the quality and service are second to none. More plus points are the in-house bakery, which has a changing selection of everything from crumpets to croissants and the coffee is both fair trade and rainforest alliance. Apart from the snack menu, full of cakes, sandwiches and lighter bites, Doddington's Dairy ice cream is available from vendors outside the concert halls. Locally made in Northumberland, the portions are small but tasty.
The cafe here makes great trade in tourists just passing through to marvel at this still relatively new building, and once you’ve set foot inside this airy and modern masterpiece, it’s easy to understand why.
There are five bars altogether in the Sage, though you’re most likely to encounter the main one in the centre (part of the cafe) or the wonderful first floor bar outside Hall Two, which has a nice range of guest ales and the best views – no mean feat for a building that offers stunning panoramas of the river from every aspect. Every bar features a good selection of wines, spirits, beers on tap like wonderfully crisp tasting Grolsch and a bottled selection ranging from Becks to Peroni and beyond.
If you’re lucky enough to go there with the specific purpose of attending a concert, you know that all your needs can be serviced under the one curved roof. Prices, like any other musical venue of this calibre, are very steep throughout but you get good tasting beer, great food and the highest quality musical entertainment available.
The Last Word
It's virtually impossible to visit the Quayside without laying eyes on the Sage, and it would be unthinkable not to have a look while you’re there. An absolute must for all people of all ages.