Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Cultural abominations

Lately I've been wondering what the findings of the post-mortem into Newcastle / Gateshead's failure to be named 2008 European City of Culture are. The initial reaction when Liverpool was announced as the winner was "We were robbed". But then what can you expect from Scousers?

Joking aside, what is it that Newcastle and Gateshead lack in terms of culture and the arts? After all, when it comes to art, we can now boast the Baltic, one of the best exhibition spaces outside London, as well as the already well-established Laing Gallery, currently undergoing refurbishment to mark its centenary in April 2004. Next to the Baltic on the south bank of the Tyne, an impressive new concert hall is taking shape. The city is also home to the artily-oriented Tyneside Cinema and highly-respected poetry publishers Bloodaxe Books (well, they're based in Northumberland, but that's near enough...), and the RSC has had a residency in Newcastle at this time of year for the last 27 years. So what is it that's missing?

Simple - a real heritage of quality in the field of popular music. Liverpool, of course, have The Beatles, The Las, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and, more recently, The Coral on their side. By contrast, the dearth of musical talent which Newcastle has foisted upon the rest of the country and indeed the world is absolutely shameful. The list reads like a Who's Who of almost unrelenting crapness: Dire Straits - you might well have a guilty soft spot for 'Money For Nothing', but the name says it all, really; Sting - ah, the irony of The Police releasing criminal records...; Prefab Sprout - bad, bad, bad; Venom - being namechecked in a Beastie Boys song does not a very bad black metal band a very good black metal band make; The Wildhearts - not a word of dissent from you on this one, Leon!; Lindisfarne - the horror! the horror!; and, worst of all, the fucking Lighthouse fucking Family. Add in Michelle Heaton of the predominantly useless Liberty X and Cheryl 'The Bruiser' Tweedy of Girls Aloud and it's enough to make you disown your roots and claim to be from Surrey.

All the more galling, then, that that hellhole down the road can throw up The Futureheads, a band so good they can even instantaneously erase the memory of Kenickie.

Look at other UK cities which have often been sneered at in the past in cultural terms, cities like Glasgow and Birmingham. We have the former to thank for making The Jesus & Mary Chain, Mogwai, The Delgados, Arab Strap and Primal Scream the bands they are / were, and the latter sired the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Dexys Midnight Runners, Duran Duran, The Streets and, erm, UB40.

It's about time Newcastle contributed something positive to the world of music. Let's hope it's sooner rather than later.

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