2005 Brass in Concert Championships - Postcard from Gateshead

25-Nov-2005

A fantastic venue, great organisation but lots of wood and black and white everywhere you look! 4BR enjoyed Brass in Concert.


The Sage, Gateshead
The Sage, Gateshead: Concourse

Brass in Concert has certainly found itself a splendid and inspiring new home at The Sage, Gateshead.

This wonderful creation sits like a beached silver conch on the banks of the Tyne, dominating the skyline and acting as something of an iconic symbol of the regeneration that is going on all around it. It is a truly wonderful building.

It is not alone though. Drive up to Newcastle and you pass Anthony Gormley's magnificent ‘Angel of the North' that stands like a silent sentinel against the cold bleak November sky. Get into the city center itself and close to The Sage and you can gaze down the river and watch the little matchstick figures of people as they walk over the beautifully linear ‘Millennium Bridge.'  You can see why Newcastle is seen as one of the most vibrant city centers in Europe – and that is not just because it has something of a reputation for its lively nightlife.

Millennium Bridge
Millennium Bridge

Just below The Sage is moored the ‘Tuxedo Princess' which appears to be Newcastle's equivalent of HMS Belfast on the Thames – except this lights up and become the biggest floating discotheque in the world.

Alan MorrisonSaturday night saw The Sage host the Brass in Concert Gala Concert, which featured the BAYV and Reg Vardy Bands with Alan Morrison amongst others as guest soloists.

Getting to the hall was easy enough; you either walk over the bridge or get a taxi. You can take one of the all new singing and dancing electric buses that they have on offer too, but as our taxi driver informed us, they were not too popular due to the fact they were yellow, usually full of drunks and cost the city seven million quid for three of them from New Zealand!

Don't take your car though as The Sage has a pricing policy on its car parks that would bankrupt a small eastern European nation in a week. Their policy we were informed was to raise a six figure sum from its parking spaces each year to go towards the running of the hall. That means up to 15 quid for five hours parking at certain times.

The good news is that the organisers of Brass in Concert, the indefatigable Paul and Jacqueline Beere have negotiated a deal that means that it will cost the contest punter a mere four quid for the day. Well done them – shame on the hall for trying to fleece their punters for the rest of the year though.

The Sage itself lights up at night like an alien spacecraft. With a number of the panels in the aluminum exo-skeleton being glass, the lights make it look like someone is having a giant game of Tetris on its side. It is mighty impressive.

Inside the main concourse is massive and leads you neatly up to the main hall that seats around 1500 people. This is where it all gets a little bit surreal though.

Sage - inside the concert hall
The Sage: Inside the concert hall

The hall itself is finished in wall to wall beech wood, so it looks as if you have just walked inside a box of Swan Vesta matches. Everything is beech; from the seats to the floor to the huge amount of top notch tongue and groove paneling on the walls. Acoustically it is bright although not over lively and it gives the bands an ideal stage on which to play – although a number of players told us that it does take a bit of time to get used to at first. It is shaped like a Neurofen lozenge, but offers everyone in the audience a fine view of what is happening on the stage.

The only obvious design fault strikes you only when you wish to leave the hall. The fact that all the walls and doors are finished in tongue and groove and are all of the same wood means that when the doors shut you have no idea where they are in the wall. Unless you manage to get one of the helpful staff to open the door for you, you can stand there like a right lemon trying to search for the part of the wall to press to get out!

The other thing is as The Sage is near Newcastle, even the toilets are in black and white. We don't know if this was deliberate or not, but there was not much sign of Sunderland red and white, let alone Middlesborough anywhere to be seen! 

The contest itself was run with almost military precision and is a joy to attend. As we have said, the organisers deserve a great deal of credit for this and the decision to move the event her has been gloriously justified. It now has a home that fits the status as our leading brass band entertainment contest.

The number of bands may be still one too many – the day started at 9.30am and finished around 7.00pm, bang on time to the minute, but you feel that ten performances are enough. The quality was there from the playing, if not always from the entertainment, but there is scope and ambition to push the standards even higher. The audience enjoyed themselves and it was good to report that even though not sold out, numbers were more than healthy. Next year it will be fuller still we are sure as the event starts to bring in more occasional listeners due to the comfort of the hall, the availability of facilities for food and water (and something stronger) and the breaks on offer between the bands. The flasks of tea and sandwiches may now be a thing of the past – but that isn't a bad thing really is it? 

The slight tweaking of the format and presentation has also worked well too. Most impressive has been the decision to install and utilize the large multi media screen in the hall above the heads of the bands.

During performances live broadcasts (without sound input) were screened so that even if you were sat right at the back of the hall you could see in close up the exertions of the players and MDs as they went about their business. It added a whole new dimension to the event and it made it all the more enjoyable as it doesn't detract in any way from the listening experience.

This should be used at both the Open and Nationals immediately, especially as it gave the audience a feature point in between bands to listen to the highlights of James Morrison in concert with Black Dyke. When he was first screened after BAYV the effect on the audience was startling. Instead of all getting out of the hall to stretch their legs, nearly all sat, watched and listened as the Wizard of Oz went about his unique business. When he finished many burst into applause!

Each time the 8 minute break between bands took place, on went the screen to show the highlights and the hall became like a giant cinema. Suffice say it is also a wonderful marketing ploy too and the World of Brass stand sold out of the DVD in no time. Importantly the screen can be used for many things, and it offers the organisers the chance to bring in extra revenue from potential sponsors tired of just getting their names in the programme. This was one idea that worked splendidly.

Having the judges in the open also works (as we knew it always would do) and it was nice this year to see the organisers opt for some young blood to judge in the form of Simone Rebello and Nick Hudson as well as two thoughtful music judges in Nigel Boddice and Goff Richards. Nice also to see Stan Lippeatt on parade, although he is starting to look worryingly like Joseph Stalin from a certain angle! All did a splendid job.

A final mention too to Frank Renton – on tip top form once more (although I must confess his driving skills when he shot pass me on the motorway were something to be desired!). His is an integral part of making this event enjoyable and entertaining – and he did that in fine style all weekend.

All that was left was to get a taxi back to the hotel (amazingly a couple of quid cheaper on the way back then on the way in – the taxi driver said because it was downhill) and time to wonder how on earth young Newcastle girls don't suffer frostbite on a freezing November night dressed in nothing more than what appeared to be handkerchief sized dresses. 

The slightly surreal night was made complete in the hotel foyer when the bride of a wedding party came out in her dress to say thank you to us for making her day so special. Even here dress was black and white. We didn't have the heart to disappoint her so we headed for the bar. Gateshead and Newcastle offers the warmest welcomes you could ever wish for, even when it is misplaced. We will be back again next year to enjoy ourselves once more.

Iwan Fox.

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