Great Rock Venues - Newcastle City Hall

October 04, 2015

Great Rock Venues - Newcastle City Hall

For those of us of a rock n roll persuasion who grew up in the northeast of England, Newcastle City Hall is legendary, iconic venue. With a 2,000 capacity, it was the big venue in the area that all the touring bands of any degree of popularity would play. Anyone who was anyone played the city hall.

Built in 1927 and equipped with a state-of-the-art pipe organ, which still occupies pride of place behind the stage, it began hosting rock gigs in the 60s. Famously, in the Dylan movie 'Don't Look Back' Bob and his entourage are backstage at the city hall with Alan Price who had newly left the Animals. Swigging from a bottle of brown ale and sneering at the very mention of the Animals, it is a brief but significant moment in rock history.

As a concert venue, it really came into its own in the 70s when bands would often record their shows. One of the first to do this was ELP who laid down 'Pictures at an Exhibition' there.

Motorhead's 'No Sleep 'til Hammersmith' live album was mostly recorded there, primarily because by then Newcastle was a big heavy metal and heavy rock town, and my god, they were a loud, rowdy crowd to play for. Possibly only Glasgow Apollo rivalled Newcastle City Hall for a riotous venue.

I first witnessed this in 1976 when I saw the Sensational Alex Harvey Band tear the place apart. That year I also saw Uriah Heep on the High and Mighty tour. It was the loudest gig I have ever been to. That year kicked off many trips to see the likes of Bad Company, Camel, Lindisfarne, Sky, Robin Trower, Alvin Lee, Wishbone Ash, The Who, Jeff Beck, Barclay James Harvest, Rush, Yes and many, many more.

The city hall became our place of homage. It was where 2,000 of us went to worship rock n roll. When I met my missus, Dawn, who hails from Newcastle, she'd already made her pilgrimage to the place to see Eric Clapton with Muddy Waters. In 1980 she slept on the pavement overnight to get tickets for Genesis. She met Boston there too. The night we met, she saw Thin Lizzy there. We were, in a real sense, forged together in the white heat of rock n roll.

In fact, it was always easy to meet bands who played there because the stage door was very exposed and all you had to do was hang around after the gig and you'd eventually get to meet them as the roadies loaded the gear into the trucks parked alongside. I remember seeing Van Halen roll up with 6 Edwin Shirley trucks - an unheard of amount of gear in 1980.

But inside it always seemed plush and a lovely civic building. Not a rock n roll place at all. The bar was ornate and seemed more like a 1920s cinema. It felt huge, as a kid though these days, as a 54-year old it seems much smaller and tatty.

When bands walked on stage they appeared as though gods upon high. Bouncers would try and stop kids running down to the front to bang their heads, usually unsuccessfully. When I saw Rush in 1980, they were at the peak of their UK popularity and the crowd went utterly ballistic. I've never seen anything like it before or since. It was wild. Every song greeted with noise so loud and intense, it hurt your ears. People were freaking out everywhere as the band tore through 'Permanent Waves'. Just one of many nights of rock n roll madness within those hallowed walls.

Other memories include people in the balcony jumping up and down so violently during the Who that you could see it bouncing. I swear I thought it would snap clean off.

Someone once told me that the mid to late 70s phenomenon of shouting "Wally!!" very loudly before gigs, originated at Newcastle City Hall. It probably didn't, but it wouldn't be a shock if it did because the crowd was always loud and beery. As a 16-year old, it was very intimidating and scary but by 18, it felt like the very essence of rock n roll.

In recent years I saw Gov't Mule play there to a half empty hall. The glory days felt like they had long gone and the council are reportedly considering closing it or selling it off. It'd be such a shame because the city hall is part of the civic architecture of the town and it is an important historical venue.
The city hall made a rock n roll man of me. And for that I'll always be grateful. It doesn't look much from the outside, but those walls are soaked with sonic history.

Related t-shirts RUSH; ELP; ROBIN TROWER

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