A warm evening brought crowds out on the town as museums, galleries and more unusual cultural hot-spots opened their doors after-dark on Saturday to welcome back The Late Shows.
Taking advantage of the better weather, families made the most of the annual opportunity to visit for free places they wouldn’t usually reach as the popular culture crawl, part of the UK-wide Museums at Night initiative, returned for the eighth year.
After a Friday night Late Shows opener, focused on the Ouseburn, the main event on Saturday saw up to 50 venues around Newcastle and Gateshead lay on a packed programme, with a free open-top bus linking key points to help everyone squeeze in as much as possible.
Venues in Gateshead, which opened an hour earlier than previous years at 6pm – such as Shipley Art Gallery which welcomed its first visit from ¡VAMOS! festival bringing Peruvian music and street food – gave visitors orange glowsticks while those in Newcastle, which opened at 7pm, gave out the trademark yellow ones so fellow Late Show followers could be easily spotted about town.
Then it was all go until 11pm and the night had the feel of a summer celebration about it – in contrast to the mist and cold of last year’s event when there were also rumours that the 2014 Late Shows might not happen due to financial pressures.
But Bill Griffiths, The Late Shows project manager, said the launch of its online Be A Late Shows Angel appeal for £5 donations had made all the difference.
“This year was successful with funding bids and Be A Late Shows Angel helped give us a really good figure to go for match funding.
“It showed people value The Late Shows and we are hoping to raise even more this time.”
He added: “The venues did feel busier than last year and we’re hoping that translates into a higher visitor figure overall.
“The atmosphere felt magical. Everyone was very chilled out, enjoying themselves and getting into the spirit of it.
“I feel it’s really found its stride now. People are trying something new, enforcing the idea of The Late Shows as a cultural tapas.”
Many venues set up mini bars and a few extra surprises, such as street entertainment outside The Mining Institute and the chance to win an artwork with a £2 raffle ticket which also covered the cost of a drink at Globe Gallery, the former bank turned art space which had three exhibitions on show.
Some pre-booking had been necessary: for the always-popular Victoria Tunnel tours for instance and, new this year, the chance to climb the tower at St Nicholas Cathedral – believed to once house Scottish prisoners as a human shield to protect it from Scottish cannon; see the belfry and enjoy stunning views from beneath its upper arch.
Others up for a climb and keen to see the city on a summer evening from a different perspective enjoyed fantastic views from the top of the Castle Keep which was also hosting artwork, a projection and live music on the night, while first-come, first-served tours of the newly-refurbished interior of the adjacent Black Gate proved so popular that staff were busy arranging more than planned.
As those out and about tweeted pictures throughout the evening, the Old Newcastle Project community organisation reported “a record-breaking night” with 400 people on the Black Gate tours and more than 1,600 at the Keep.
And Vane Gallery at Commercial Union House reported beating last year’s total with almost 1,600 visitors.
Besides well-known venues, lesser-known ones proved popular such as Lawnmowers Theatre Company and Sanctuary Artspace in Gateshead.
Attractions ranged from a tea party in Blackfriars secret garden and bread-making outdoors at the 700-year-old Holy Jesus Hospital to an audiovisual display at Tyne Bridge Tower and a chance to make “space junk” at Laing Art Gallery.
And for those still not ready to go home after all that, The Late Late Shows offered a chance to party on after 11pm at venues such as Live Theatre, World Headquarters and the revamped Jazz Cafe.
The funding issue will again raise its head next year, says Bill Griffiths. “It will depend on Arts Council support for next year and a grant bid.” See www.thelateshows.org.uk/donate for details of the appeal.