Passionate People, Passionate Places: Newcastle City Hall

It’s November 1976, a group of us, fresh into the Lower Sixth at St Aidan’s RC Comp Sunderland, are heading out of the City Tavern and along Northumberland Road.

Our destination is Newcastle City Hall, where we are about to discover the foremost music venue in the North East, with the possible exception of the Mayfair.

I can only describe the significance of the event as being similar to my first match at St James’ Park eight years previously, except what would be on offer here would never send you home sulking, as 90 minutes up the road at Gallowgate often did.

The band was Thin Lizzy, on their Johnny The Fox tour, supported by Graham Parker and the Rumour.

We filed up to give up our tickets at the french window type entrance doors to take up our first unsure steps into the world of live music.

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Newcastle City Hall.

What a start! It’s now 44 years later but I can still hear the twirling Gibson Les Paul syncro of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham’s guitars underpinned by the booming rhythm of Phil Lynott’s bass and Brian Downey’s drums.

We left elated and deafened in equal measure.

The next show the following month was Lindisfarne’s reunion concert – 30 odd years later I spotted myself in the audience in a photo taken by the Evening Chronicle.

Newcastle City Hall. Tim McGuinness, arrowed, in the audience at the first Lindisfarne reunion concert in December 1976

So it followed that me and my peers became disciples of the City Hall, and we saw many, many more great bands, such as Queen, The Police, Frank Zappa, B B King, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Rush, Ted Nugent, Van Halen, Deff Leppard, Family, Jethro Tull, The Ramones, The Undertones, The Runaways, Talking Heads, to name just a few.

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But special mention must go to Bruce Springtseen, in May 1981.

At the time I wasn’t even a fan, but it was the singularly most brilliant performance I have ever seen at the City Hall, and Springsteen himself has been quoted as saying this performance was number three on his list of all time great shows.

Built in 1927 (as part of a development which included the City Baths), the auditorium at the City Hall holds just over 2000; the acoustics are brilliant wherever you sit, and there are very few places where restricted viewing is an issue.

At present the building is going through a renovation but until recently had remained the same since 1927, with the exception of the stage which was replaced in 2008.

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The bands and performers who have trodden on it reads like a Who’s Who of music, from the great tenor Mario Lanza in 1958 to Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, the Stones and David Bowie.

I was lucky enough to get a few planks from the old stage and had them made into a picture frame.

David Bowie at Newcastle City Hall, Ziggy Stardust tour, June, 1973

The only criticism of this venue is that in my time as a regular punter, the Concert Bar in the basement was known as one of the hardest places to get served in the Toon, the place was always six deep at the bar before a show.

That was of course until the bell rang, signalling the act was about to come on and there’d be an almighty rush back upstairs.

You’d fight your way back to your seat just in time for the second bell to go, and then the lights would go out. . . .

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