If you really would visit galleries and museums if they didn’t have a habit of closing inconveniently at teatime, then do take advantage of The Late Shows this weekend.
The annual splurge of late opening has proved hugely popular... but not only among those who are pinned down during the day.
Over the past eight years, this has become one of those events that appeals to the child in us all. It’s a little bit of permissable naughtiness, a chance to be one of the mice at play while the cat’s away.
Late Shows regulars will know that after-hours opening is only one aspect of an event which coincides with the national Museums at Night promotion.
It is a chance for venues to lay on something different. They are competing, after all – vying for the attention of the roving, glow stick-wielding hordes to boost attendance figures.
Those venturing out have come to expect the unexpected. But having said that, a glance at the online brochure reveals one or two things that are entirely expected.
One is the sign “Fully Booked!” beside the Victoria Tunnel entry.
This is the dark and probably quite chilly tunnel that runs from the top end of Newcastle down to the Tyne. Originally used for the transportation of coal from mines to river, it was also pressed into service as an air raid shelter during the Second World War.
That tunnel has seen pain and anguish in spades. It was not built for comfort or entertainment. Throw it open to the public, however, and the public throws itself down it like a mouse through a skirting board.
Also fully booked are the evening tours of the Swing Bridge, the 138-year-old Tyne crossing that bears testimony to the genius of an earlier age (William, later Lord Armstrong’s, hydraulic machinery still makes the bridge swing).
Late Shows customers love their history, it seems. But there’s more where that came from.
Why not pop to the Black Gate on Saturday to view an ancient building which is due to open in the summer as the city’s latest visitor attraction?
Situated in Newcastle’s Castle Garth, the Black Gate was built as a defensive structure in the reign of Henry III.
For years it has been run by the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, which is the second oldest society of antiquaries in the country – and to amuse yourself while heading that way, why not try saying that fast 10 times?
The adjacent Castle Keep will also be open on Saturday evening, offering a taste of “medieval mystery” and a band called The Cherry Pickers, “known for its great music and terrible jokes” (quote courtesy of the Late Shows organisers).
Also open on Saturday will be the 700-year-old Holy Jesus Hospital, a miraculous survivor of 1960s town planning atrocities, where you can bet on a snail race, build a sandcastle, bake bread on a campfire or create “wild art” in a hand-drawn urban garden.
From this you get the gist of The Late Shows. It’s a bit special, a bit whacky, a lot of fun.
More than 50 cultural venues will be open. Those in the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, will be open on Friday evening while Saturday will see venues across Newcastle and Gateshead in action.
Late Shows project manager Bill Griffiths says Gateshead venues are getting a ‘happy hour’ (6-7pm on Saturday) to counter complaints from people who say there simply isn’t time to see all they set out to see.
Grab a glow stick, catch a bus and have fun!
Here’s my pick of the bunch...
36 Lime Street, Ouseburn (Friday and Saturday, 7-11pm)
Many accomplished artists and craftspeople have studios on the five floors of this listed building, a pioneer of culture-led regeneration. Taster sessions and demonstrations are promised. There will also be two exhibitions: Collective, a pop-up affair in the entrance gallery; and 30 Years of Making it in the Ouseburn, looking at the history of the studio complex using the members’ words and pictures.
The Biscuit Factory (Friday and Saturday, 7-11pm)
The huge commercial gallery was born at about the same time as Baltic over the river. This weekend they host a pop-up portrait studio inspired by Peter Hallam, a self-taught painter whose distinct style has earned him exhibitions around the world. Make a portrait (materials provided) to hang in a mini Late Shows gallery and Peter will pick a winner. Over the road in The Holy Biscuit, meanwhile, and in conjunction with Northumbria University, you can partake of Toon Nights, billed as “an evening of fun and games” coinciding with the exhibition Urban Fictions, result of an open call to artists and photographers to share their vision of hidden or forgotten corners of Newcastle. On Friday Paper Jam Comic Collective will launch their anthology of Newcastle stories. On Saturday you can meet artist and urban explorer Lucinda Grange and curators Mike Jeffries and Sebastian Messer.
Vane (Saturday, 7-11pm)
Vane (originally Visual Arts North East) has been in Newcastle for 17 years but its current home, at First Floor, Commercial Union House, 39 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, is worth a visit if you enjoy seeing how artists can enliven an office space. On Saturday current exhibitor Stu Herring will bow out in spectacular style, building a circular wall around himself until he is completely enclosed. Herring, according to gallery directors Paul Stone and Chris Yeats, “often puts himself into situations that test the body’s endurance or place restrictions on his movements or are physically isolating”. Herring’s Vane exhibition, Existence Experiments, closes on Saturday. While in the building, also check out Ampersand Inventions on the Fourth Floor.
Mushroom Works (Friday and Saturday, 7-11pm)
The artists and designers who have studios in the white building at the bottom of St Lawrence Road are celebrating the 420th anniversary of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with much talk of fairies, nymphs and sprites. To tempt visitors they are offering fairy cakes and fairy cocktails. There is also talk of fairy dust and fairy-inspired raku pottery. Studio holders will be throwing open their studios and inviting questions or commissions from the public.
Tyne Bridge Tower (Saturday, 7-11pm)
Every now and again the towers of the Tyne Bridge get pressed into service as atmospheric art venues. Having experienced previous ventures by Locus+ (South Tower) and balletLORENT (North Tower), I can recommend a visit. This time it’s Gateshead artist Ed Carter who is taking up residence in the North Tower for an audio-visual work called Inhibitor. It explores PARP inhibitors, a cancer treatment resulting from research undertaken at Newcastle and Harvard universities.
Inhibitor combines fluorescent images of cancer cells with a new musical composition based on the amino acid sequence of PARP. The piece, created by Ed and the Northern Institute of Cancer Research, is supported by Newcastle University and Cancer Research UK.
Cathedral Church of St Nicholas (Saturday, 7-11pm)
The siege of Newcastle took place 350 years ago and you can find out more about it by signing up for tours of the cathedral tower at 7.15pm, 8.15pm and 9.15pm.
Scottish prisoners are believed to have been kept in the tower to save it from destruction by the cannons of their compatriots... so now you know who was laying siege! You have to book for the tours on 0191 2321939 and you must be fit. At 10pm the ancient night service of Compline will be sung by the cathedral choir.
St Mary’s Heritage Centre (Saturday, 6-11pm)
The old church next to Sage Gateshead is going to the movies. As part of a film-themed evening, artist Kate Eccles is to lead a collage workshop using iconic film images (What’s your favourite film? Mine’s All the President’s Men, followed by Groundhog Day). You can make your own artwork to take away. Meanwhile you can enjoy silent films from the Gateshead Libraries archive, listen to the music of Johnny Handle, turn your favourite movie into a mini flipbook or recreate the famous moment from the film Ghost with Shaun from Oblique Ceramics (the mind boggles!).
Sanctuary Artspace (Saturday, 6-11pm)
This sounds a little bizarre and really special at the same time. Get along to St Edmund’s Chapel on Gateshead High Street (NE8 1EP) to experience War Sanctuary. It is billed as a “musical extravaganza” featuring an exclusive VJ performance by one of the country’s most respected DJs, Raj Pannu. It is also an opportunity to see Raj’s audio-visual remix of BBC rock show The Old Grey Whistle Test. Street artists will be at work and you can also see an exhibiton by young people from Newcastle and Gateshead commemorating the First World War.
Gateshead Old Town Hall (Saturday, 6-11pm)
Dave Wood will compère an open mic night, the cafe will be open, East Street Arts will open their studios and The Time Bandits will add “mystery and mayhem” to the proceedings (also catch them in the Ouseburn on Friday). You might also see a new creation by artist Ginny Reed who has been working with art collective Novak. It is a special Late Shows sign which alternately flashes “over here” and “over there” in keeping with the frenetic nature of The Late Shows. Also look out for Ginny’s work at the Castle Keep, Newcastle.
Northern Print (Friday and Saturday, 7-11pm)
Printmaking is a branch of the visual arts that can seem complex and mysterious. This year’s Northern Print Biennale is a chance to get initiated and so are these Late Shows sessions. You can tour the studios on Stepney Bank, Byker, see the presses in action and chat to some of the studio artists. You are invited to make a glow-in-the-dark ‘masterpiece’ and visit an exhibition called Cistern Chapel: Chamber Works which carries a tantalising warning: “Contains profanities, may not be suitable for children.”