WHEN I arrived at the door of new Newcastle venue, MusicSlashArt (MSA to its mates), my adrenalin levels began to inexplicably soar.
Swishing past the internationally-renowned artist HUSH’s Geisha Girl installation, which welcomes visitors to the city centre bar, felt like an achievement.
What the heck was going on?
“It used to be Bar 42,” says co-director of MSA, Steven Dunn... and everything falls into place.
Back in the days when I was old enough to drive, but just shy of the age when you get to vote and buy alcohol, me and a friend saw Bar 42 as our night out nemesis. It was what we called a ‘21 bar’, so memorising a date of birth which would make you 18 and a bit, got you nothing more than a shake of the head and swift directions back on to Hood Street.
But, more than 20 years later, I was finally at the bottom of the stairs in Bar 42. True, it was the middle of the day, the bar was closed and the renamed venue has benefited from a recent and much-curated make over. Nevertheless, it felt like I’d finally won the day.
Of course none of this has any relevance to why I was there - to be shown around what has been billed as “the UK’s first evolving arts and music venue”.
It opened in August and represents the realising of a long-held ambition for Steven and his business partner, Danny Hughes.
The pair run the Unit44 gallery in the city’s Hoults Yard, and were looking for an opportunity to bring its artworks to a new audience, as well as offering a stylish place to have a drink. “It was always part of the plan to have somewhere where we could promote the gallery as well as offering artists alternative exhibition space and possibilities, like AV installations,” says Danny.
“The gallery drives people to the venue and vice versa.
“It has completed the circle.”
From wall murals to laser-designed wooden tables and from window light installations to bespoke pool cues from The London Police and a host of hanging art to boot, there’s nothing which hasn’t been purposefully designed.
Meanwhile the expected wear and tear which goes hand in hand with a bar will offer an opportunity, not a headache. “We’ll just get another internationally-renowned artist to come and leave their mark,” says Danny, simply.
All the artists involved, including Remi Rough, Seb Lester, SheOne and Niels Shoe Meulman have the Unit44 stamp of approval.
“We either represent or have a relationship with everyone who’s been involved,” says Steven. None more so than conceptual street artist, Mr Penfold, whose month-long solo show opens at Unit44 tonight, with an aftershow party booked for MSA. Where else?
“It’s the first solo show we’ve had since the bar opened,” says Danny, “So we’re looking forward to bringing both elements together.”
Having spent the week hanging his artwork, the London-based Mr Penfold has also dedicated some time to leaving his inimitable stamp on a handful of locations in Newcastle and Gateshead.
“A roller shutter in Team Valley and Hoults Yard are the legal ones,” says Danny. “But there might be a few hidden gems dotted about elsewhere.”
Mr Penfold’s solo show opens tonight at Unit44, Hoults Yard from 6.30pm to 9pm. Afterwards there’ll be a party at MSA on Hood Street. www.unit-44.com