A bespoke seating system, which will enable the quick removal of seats to create space for a part standing audience, has been given the go-ahead at renowned music venue Sage Gateshead.
The major project has been made possible thanks to £1.2m from National Lottery funding through Arts Council England’s capital programme. This has been matched by generous donations of £800,000 from individuals and trusts from the North East and across the country.
The £2 million project will allow the installation of a new seat mechanism, which has never been used anywhere else before, giving the North East venue the flexibility to provide standing space on level one of their main concert hall (Sage One) - beyond the existing standing pit - as well as continuing to offer the option of a fully seated hall. The system will also enable the seats to be put back in again at speed.
Removal of the seats has only been done twice before at Sage Gateshead, once for MS Life Conference and again for BBC 6 Music Festival, taking up hours of labour by a large workforce, but loved by fans of the bands who played there including Maximo Park, Royal Blood, Hot Chip and The Charlatans.
Once the seats are removed, the capacity of the hall will increase from a current maximum of 1650 to 2000, allowing the venue to add to its already diverse programme, including more indie, dance and prom style performances.
In addition to adapting the seating in Sage One, the project will also include a major refurbishment of the building’s iconic concourse – a focal point for many festivals, free events and a place to relax, play and work. The concourse is open to the public seven days a week throughout the day and the aim is to improve facilities so that even more people can use the building each year.
The Arts Council’s capital funding is intended to support organisations to develop their buildings and facilities in order to produce and present outstanding work. Widely regarded as a ‘performers’ venue,’ thanks to the quality of the acoustics, the news of a forthcoming ‘seats out’ option will not only achieve this goal, it has also been met with excitement within artist circles.
Sting commented on the project:
“I'm delighted to hear that Sage Gateshead has been successful in this bid. Sage One is a special room to play and I have some wonderful memories performing there. This new project should provide an even more dynamic live experience for both the artist and audience."
Tyne & Wear rising star of the indie scene, Sam Fender, has also responded to the news with excitement:
“I’ve played some of the smaller rooms a couple of times but to think that Sage One will now offer standing room is amazing. Alongside the acoustics and bigger capacity, the seats out option will make Sage One a dream venue and even more artists will come to the toon.”
Paul Smith from Maximo Park said: “The atmosphere is undoubtedly more lively when people aren’t sitting down, as we found out when we played without the seats. Other large venues simply don’t sound (or look) as good as Sage One, so it will be great to get a broader range of acts (and audiences) into this incredible venue.”
Smoove & Turrell commented with enthusiasm: “We would be buzzing if the seats in Hall One could be removable as this would please all of our fans who have always expressed a preference to dance at our gigs.”
Ross Millard from The Futureheads said: “Sage Gateshead is an amazing venue to perform in, but the option of playing a show to a standing audience would always be preferable for a band like ours. As a musician who has played live shows for almost 20 years, my experience is that for a lot of performers/bands, standing shows generate an energy and line of communication with the audience that you simply can’t achieve in a seated venue.”
Abigail Pogson, Managing Director of Sage Gateshead, said: “We know that musicians and audiences love making and hearing music in Sage Gateshead. In 15 short years, it has become a flagship music venue for the North and is internationally recognised.
“Since opening our doors in 2004, we have been privileged to welcome some of the world’s greatest musicians to our festivals and stages, as well as playing a part in nurturing and supporting the next generation of musicians and running a huge music education programme.
“This capital work will help us to present and support an even wider range of musicians with events and festivals which reach an even wider audience and will also benefit the wider community. Foster + Partners created an iconic building for Tyneside 15 years ago and we can’t wait to complete this work to take our already great facilities to a new level.”
Jane Tarr, Director of Skills and Workforces, Arts Council England said: “Our capital funding is all about helping organisations to develop the buildings and facilities they need to produce and present excellent work. I’m delighted that our funding will help Sage Gateshead to install a seating system that will allow it greater flexibility in its programme and to stage a broader variety of artists and events which will be enjoyed by both the local community and visitors.”
Ahead of delivering the new project, the team at Sage Gateshead are gearing up for two of the largest festivals of the Sage Gateshead year – SummerTyne Americana this weekend (19 – 21 July) and Folk on the Tyne the following weekend (27 July).
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