Get Carter and the Angel of the North
There is so much more to Newcastle-Gateshead than the clichéd image of underdressed men and women enjoying a bawdy night out on The Toon. A discernible air of creativity and Geordie camaraderie sits together with world-class museums, art galleries, dance, theatre and music venues, that far from being hidden away in some elitist cultural quarter happily co-exist melded with Tyneside’s famed nightlife, shops, accommodation and businesses in a refreshingly egalitarian mix.
There was a time when people would have laughed if you had used the words ‘art’ and ‘culture’ in the same sentence when talking about Newcastle-Gateshead. Tyneside was seen as a place of soot blackened buildings, grimy landscapes, crumbling back-to-back terraces, derelict warehouses, seedy, smoked-filled pubs and leaden skies, inhabited by equally dark and brooding characters who spoke an unintelligible language of their own. It was an image that arguably Britain’s greatest ever gangster movie, Get Carter, did little to dispel. Starring Michael Caine and filmed on Tyneside at the start of the 1970s, Get Carter has become notorious not just for its vicious portrayal of corruption, mob justice and the criminal underworld, but for the grim, poverty stricken urban backdrop the story was played out against. It’s a movie where neither the hero of the piece nor Tyneside is shown to have any redeeming features, and which for many reinforced the ‘grim up North’ stereotype.
What was then is most definitely not now, however. Just as Jack Carter brutally swept aside Tyneside’s noxious criminal underbelly, so too have successive politicians, developers, art lovers and philanthropists over the near five decades since the film was shot, brushed away the decaying, filthy, post-industrial environment depicted. Even the famous Gateshead multi-storey car park which played a pivotal role in Get Carter and dominated the skyline on the south bank of the River Tyne for more than 40 years, has been demolished. The Tyneside of today would be unrecognisable to Jack Carter. In its place has emerged a vibrant, creative, booming, Bohemian metropolis full of architectural delights, beautiful streets, a picturesque and hip waterfront, world-class museums and art galleries, outstanding theatres and concert venues, and top-notch restaurants, pubs and clubs. It’s a transformation that has mostly been wrought in the last two decades. And at the heart of this road to renewal has been arts and culture.
It is Gateshead on the south side of the River Tyne that has really led the way. It started in 1998 with Antony Gormley’s now iconic Angel of the North sculpture. Standing 20m tall and with a wingspan of 54m, this stunning contemporary sculpture is now as famous a work of public art as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York. Overlooking the A1 at Low Eighton in Gateshead, the Angel stands on the site of the former Teams Colliery miners’ baths, and is seen by a staggering 33m motorists a year, making it one of the most viewed pieces of art anywhere. Getting up close and personal with the Angel is an experience every first time visitor to the area should make time for, not just because it is a truly breathtaking work of art, but because it helped kick-start a renaissance that has seen Newcastle-Gateshead elevated from a place of disdain to an area that is now regularly cited as a global must-see by the travel industry.
Just as Jack Carter brutally swept aside Tyneside’s noxious criminal underbelly, so too have successive politicians, developers, art lovers and philanthropists over the near five decades since the film was shot
Galleries and landmarks
The arts and culture revolution that has swept Tyneside was initially centred around the uninviting and dilapidated Quayside. Buoyed up by the success of the Angel of the North, it was here that Gateshead Council opened the lyre-like pedestrian Millennium Bridge in 2001, linking both the north and south sides of the River Tyne in a renewed act of friendship with Newcastle. This was followed a year later by the opening of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, which stands just metres from the south side of the Millennium Bridge. Then in December 2004 BALTIC was joined on the Quayside by the eye-catching Sage Gateshead concert venue.
Housed in a landmark former flour mill, BALTIC is the UK’s largest dedicated contemporary art space. The place to view cutting-edge works by world renowned artists, since opening it has presented more than 190 exhibitions over its four art spaces, as well as the 2011 Turner Prize. Here you can experience provocative and innovative new art and fresh ideas, listen to talks, see live performances, have fun with the family with an eclectic programme of holiday and weekend activities, or just relax over a coffee while watching the comings and goings on the Quayside. Equally impressive is the fifth floor viewing box which offers a stunning and ever-changing picture of the Newcastle-Gateshead river side and cityscape.
Baltic 39 is an outpost in Newcastle’s High Bridge, a publicly accessible hub for practising artists, academics and researchers based in a Grade 2-listed former printing warehouse. The Sage Gateshead was rather scathingly described as a ‘giant slug’ by Private Eye when it first opened. But this lithely curvaceous concert venue designed by Norman Foster, long ago won over any critics. Internationally recognised, it is home to the Royal Northern Sinfonia as well as three world-class concert halls renowned for their superb acoustics, which attract the top musicians, bands and orchestras. It is also the base for the Folkworks programme, which aims to develop interest and practical involvement in traditional music, song and dance in all ages through unique performances, weekly and weekend classes and courses, one-day workshops, and a summer school. Thousands of young musicians have been inspired thanks to Folkworks, among them Becky and Rachel Unthank, Nancy Kerr and Robert Harbron, all of whom have gone on to have successful professional performing careers.
A short walk upriver from BALTIC and the Sage is Dunston Staiths. Built in 1893 and believed to be Europe’s largest timber structure, it was used to load coal on to waiting colliers. Once a vandalised and rotting reminder of Gateshead’s industrial past, the Staiths has now been restored and between March and September is open for visitors every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. The surrounding area is an important saltmarsh garden, while the structure itself is a roosting area for lapwings, grey herons and red shanks. Gateshead is also home to the Shipley Art Gallery, the North East’s leading such place for contemporary art and design, and boasting one of the best collections of ceramics, wood, glass, metal, textiles and furniture, outside London.
The arts and culture revolution that has swept Tyneside was initially centred around the uninviting and dilapidated Quayside