The QT

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Late Shows artists prepare for a big night

The 16th edition of The Late Shows promises an embarrassment of free, after hours riches across Tyneside. David Whetstone hears about some special commissions
The Late Shows takes place across Newcastle and Gateshead on May 17 and 18

In a rented studio in the Ouseburn, three musicians are pulling on monks’ — or, more correctly, friars’ — black costumes for a photo ahead of a morning’s intense rehearsal.

Elsewhere in Newcastle, another trio of creatives are putting the finishing touches to an audio-visual installation intended to bring a favourite city haunt to life after normal closing time.

It can only mean one thing… The Late Shows are almost upon us.

This is when arts and heritage venues in Newcastle and Gateshead come alive after hours with an array of special — and free — attractions with which to woo and wow visitors.

It’s all over in a flash — just two nights (Friday, May 17 and Saturday, May 18) with the first of them confined to the Ouseburn. Such a lot of work and creative energy invested and you’ll be lucky to experience a fraction of what’s on offer.

The effort, though, is usually amply rewarded, the memories indelible. 

In full voice – Faye MacCalman, Tim Dalling and Jeremy Bradfield in rehearsals

The Late Shows is coordinated, as ever, by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums but sponsored this year by Creative Central NCL, funded by the North East Combined Authority, the creative zone set up to inject vigour into part of Newcastle city centre.

As a result, five commissions were offered by Creative Central NCL to bring some special Late Shows oomph to four venues within the zone.

Project manager Vikki Leaney says: “All of the artists have been heavily inspired by the place in which their work will be hosted and that’s what Creative Central is all about — finding creative ways for people to experience the city in a brand new way.”

Those monastic musicians — Tim Dalling on accordion, Faye MacCalman on sax and Jeremy Bradfield on something complex with bow and springs called a yaybahar — landed one of the commissions at Blackfriars, the medieval friary which now accommodates a fine dining restaurant.

Late Shows venues (clockwise from top left) – Blackfriars, The Common Room, Dance City & Grainger Market

Tim, renowned in the North East for expert musicianship and endearing on-stage daftness, was immediately keen on a Blackfriars commission.

“It’s a very interesting place with a long history but I was also quite excited by other places in the vicinity, such as the Morden Tower and the Chinatown area around Stowell Street.

“I was interested not just in the friars and the main historical figures but also the counter culture figures such as Basil Bunting and Tom Pickard, poets who used to read in the Morden Tower.”

Tim was also inspired by the craft guilds which took over Blackfriars after Henry VIII’s break with Rome.

The result is The Ballad of Blackfriars, a musical story in four parts with accompanying video imagery created by Jeremy.

Jeremy Bradfield rehearsing

Tim and Jeremy have worked a lot together. It’s his first time collaborating with Faye, current musician-in-residence at The Glasshouse, although she has worked with Jeremy and also with John Pope, bass player in Tim’s trio, The aanimals (the double ‘a’ distinguishing them from their near-namesakes who did The House of the Rising Sun).

“We’ve all been having fun doing this,” says Tim. “I wrote it but we’ve all been mucking about with it.”

The idea is that on the night of May 18 the piece will be performed about five times between 6pm and 10.30pm in the King’s Suite above the Blackfriars banqueting hall.

“People will gather outside first and then come up. We’re arranging to have a gazebo in the courtyard because there’s no access for people in wheelchairs.

“We’ll start and finish outside and relay the performance to a screen for those who can’t attend in person.”

Five performances in one evening, albeit of a piece scheduled to last 15 to 20 minutes, sounds taxing.

“We’ll manage,” says Tim. “We’re all old troupers.”

Also at Blackfriars, the artist styled Dearest Haley will be reflecting the history of the place with on-the-spot micro poems, offering hand-written copies as mementoes.

Meanwhile it will all be happening at the Grainger Market after the stallholders have pulled down the shutters and the shoppers departed.

This is where the creative efforts of Jim Bell, Fiona Birkbeck and Deborah Snell will come to fruition in Animated Arcade with music and projections bringing the place to life.

Jim and Fiona, who have a studio at Mushroom Works in Byker, are designers who style themselves Multiminded; Deborah is a Newcastle-based artist and illustrator.

Jim Bell with Fiona Birkbeck of Multiminded. Credit: Clare Bowes

They’re no strangers to The Late Shows. Jim and Deborah collaborated previously on an event at Hoults Yard, bringing — as Jim recalls — one of Deborah’s “fantastical” creatures to life via projections.

On another occasion, he and Fiona staged a “mini music festival” at The Toffee Factory where they used to be based.

The three of them came together to bid successfully for the Grainger Market commission.

“We’re imagining what magical things might happen when everybody leaves the market at night,” says Jim.

Deborah Snell, illustrator, at Hole Editions Studio, Newcastle

He explains that a screen has been made to fit across the Grainger Market’s alley three, reckoned to be the darkest spot, and laser-projected onto it will be digitally generated figures by Jim and animated versions of Deborah’s illustrations.

“They were keen to have my hand drawn illustrations because I don’t do digital at all,” says Deborah.

“I draw on paper with pastels and ink. Fiona is a screenwriter so storyboarded what would happen but we had so many ideas we could have kept it going forever.”

Deborah drew carrots and flowers and mice nibbling cheese (potentially controversial but Deborah says the Grainger Market people were “all right about it”).

Jim, using his digital skills, animated Deborah’s illustrations and added his own computer-generated robots and a soundtrack.

The film doesn’t last forever. It will run on an eight-minute loop on the evening of May 18 with the action beginning as a digital rendition of the Grainger Market’s iconic clock strikes midnight.

Clock artwork by Deborah Snell

It promises to be quite a spectacle.

Multiminded have wide experience of digital artworks, creating a popular piece for Newcastle Cathedral and contributing to the Hadrian 1900 celebrations in 2022. For the band Hector Gannet they animated illustrations by Deborah. 

The other Creative Central NCL commissions are at Dance City, where an installation by artist Theresa Poulton will celebrate the African American dancer, choreographer and activist Pearl Primus, and at The Common Room where multi-media artist Emma Tominey is layering digital artworks over existing portraits to create an augmented reality art trail.

All that sounds like a good evening’s worth — and there are more than 50 other things to see in different locations.

Good luck and happy culture cruising!

For the full programme go to The Late Shows website 


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