‘The Journal’ has been Newcastle upon Tyne’s daily morning newspaper since its first publication in 1832, and well in excess of 50,000 editions to date. Its readership is predominantly middle-class and professional, and it will come as no surprise that it has had a thriving Culture section – theatre, music and the arts in general – most notably in recent years under David Whetstone as Culture Editor – at least until 2018, when the Culture department was disbanded and those in it made redundant. I’m not sure what this says about newspapers and the North East in particular.
In those halcyon days, only a few years ago, I was asked to join the Culture team as the classical music reviewer, and this is the story of how this came about, and some subsequent highlights.
The reason for the title ‘150 Part 2…’ is that the closure of the Journal’s Culture department came about after I’d had c150 reviews published. It seems a popular number in my recent past. Maybe I’ll live to be 150….
When I had started Classical NE1fm (see the ‘150 Part 1’ post), I had put some posters up in places where classical music fans might see them – Sage Gateshead and the JG Windows music shop in Central Arcade, Newcastle, amongst them.
I received an email from one Robin Seaman, who said that he had seen my flyer on a recent visit up North, and wondered if I would mention an upcoming concert which he was organising. Robin helps run the Hertfordshire Chorus (north of London), and they were coming to perform in Gateshead. He also promised me two tickets for the concert, which would of course in no way influence my decision to mention the concert (really!)
I duly mentioned said concert, went to see it at the Sage, met up with Robin and his wife Rachel, and thoroughly enjoyed it all.
Subsequently, I had another message from him, saying that he was coming up to the North East on a scouting mission for a further concert, and would we like to meet for lunch at the Pitcher and Piano (Newcastle Quayside), and he would be with conductor David Temple (now MBE for services to music in the 2018 New Year’s Honours), and would I mind if David Whetstone (DW) joined us as well, being the Culture Editor of The Journal.
We all met up – DW arriving late due to an overrunning previous meeting – and enjoyed a convivial lunch, with David Temple remarking how unusual it was to talk football at a music meeting, with a glint in his eye.
The conversation moved around, with DW remarking how much he had to do, as he couldn’t find someone ‘suitable’ to write on/review classical music. Robin Seaman said quietly to me after the meeting had concluded, ‘I think he might have been making a play for your services.’
Whilst not being sure if that was the case, I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I thought ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, and I sent DW a short email, expressing my potential interest, and asking what was involved.
He suggested I have a go, and ‘here are two upcoming concerts – either the King’s Singers or a performance of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony – choose one and I shall arrange tickets, and write me c350 words as a review.’ I chose the Mendelssohn on the basis that I could add little to the bible of glowing comments and reviews about the King’s Singers.
I wrote a non-too serious or erudite view on proceedings and sent it in. I had a mail straight back from DW, commenting to the effect that I must have done this sort of thing before, and it was more than fine. Would I like to do more? “No pay but a couple of tickets for each concert, and you can choose what to review. Please submit a monthly list of those you want to cover for an OK. Nothing out of the area, unless there was local relevance for the North East readership.”
So, over 4 years later, and approximately 150 concert reviews published in the Journal and online, I am back to the first paragraph of this little story, when I was told that it was all coming to an end, due to redundancies at the Journal. A huge shame…
I think that I had settled well into the role of reviewer, and ended up covering much more than just classical music along the way, and even writing an occasional article for the Journal as well. I struck up (mostly online) friendships with some of the personalities whose work I covered, such as Gateshead’s conductor par excellence, John Wilson.
Some review highlights from the 150 (mostly at Sage Gateshead, except where noted):
John Wilson Orchestra – any of his Hollywood soundstage tributes to the memorable, such as MGM and Cole Porter
The Simon Bolivar National Youth Choir of Venezuela – sheer class and enthusiasm for singing
James McCarthy’s Codebreaker premiere (at the Barbican), and his 17 Days (at Sage Gateshead)
Rowan Pierce (Teesside-born) soprano walking down the aisle of Durham Cathedral at a stately pace to Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’
Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour – immaculately presented and performed at the Newcastle Arena
Barbara Dickson and her a cappella solo of MacCrimmon’s Lament to end her concert
The Bratislava Hot Serenaders and their evocation of ’20s and ’30s hot jazz and dance band music, including the original jazz band setting of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Newcastle Arena
Voices of Hope – winning National Choir of the Year in Cardiff
Handel’s Theodora – set in 1950s USA, including the messenger cycling on stage at the Sage (Handel would, I am sure, have approved)
The Wipers Times – on stage at Northern Stage
Georgie Fame – at the Gateshead International Jazz Festival with the Guy Barker Big Band
So much music, so much joy, so many great memories…….