I am not much of an alcohol consumer; and whenever I do decide to challenge my blood cells with poison, I generally avoid beer (I just never came across a tasty beer; there are some acceptable ones), cocktails and such—and stick to wines instead.
A consequence of that is that my alcohol tolerance level is pretty low. After finishing writing the blog entry for Glasgow, I went to bed and I can’t even recall any attempt to fall asleep as it happened so instantly.
Glasgow of a (beautiful, sunny) Saturday morning is much less interesting than that of a Friday afternoon / evening. Hardly a soul in the streets; most businesses remained closed, however Pret‐A‐Porter right beside my hotel was open and I was glad to consume one of their tasty sandwiches and another one of their fabulous yogurts. Joy in the morning; Isaac’s ready for the ride.
It’s an easy walk down West Nile street to get to the Glasgow Central train station, where I was going to depart an East Coast train to Newcastle. James, who works at sea but could have made millions providing travel advice, clued me into the fact that East Coast Trains offer free Wi‐Fi on board (both first and second class cars).
By the way, before I forget, here’s a travel tip for whoever of you who is planning on buying a BritRail pass for free train travel in Europe: Get the First Class pass rather than the Second Class. I bought the second class pass, 8 days consecutive, for $395 CDN; the first class pass would have cost me $525 CDN, but, granted, by what I could see, it’s worth it. Skimp elsewhere if you can. Of course, if you know your travel schedule in advance, you should verify that trains with first‐class service are indeed offered on your route (main routes usually offer first‐class cars).
I had to arrive early to the train station because I was going to activate my BritRail pass and didn’t exactly know how much time it’s going to take; so I allowed 30 minutes. It ended up taking about 20 seconds when the attendee in the ticketing office (right as you enter the station) simply took a seal and stamped my pass with today’s date. So I had 30 minutes to waste around the station.
Train departed right on time, and as I boarded, I learned yet another lesson for train travel. A lot of seats were actually reserved, especially table‐side seats—which is what I really wanted, so I could work on my laptop with comfort. So, if you prefer a table‐side seat, make sure you reserve it ahead of time. The only two disadvantages of that are:
- It costs money (very little, though. Very few pounds), even if you have a train pass; and
- The reservation holds for one particular train and the fee is non‐refundable, so if you later decide to take an earlier / later train, you have to go through the reservation again.
Some of the reserved seats that you see on trains are reserved for only a part of the ride, in which case that fact will be clearly noted and you’re more than welcome to occupy the seat for its “available” part of the journey.
I managed, however, to find a table‐side seat that was available. I parked my ass on it, extracted the laptop out of the backpack and immensely enjoyed the ability to move from point A to point B in full speed without needing to concentrate on the road ahead.
Third travel tip: if you are going to take many trains, and can afford to, then buy yourself a pair of noise‐cancelling headphones. While you might think that you can withstand the loud roar of airplane / train engines, what most people fail to realize is that, for the human brain, coping with continuous noise is a very tiring task. You probably experienced the feeling of “getting used to background noise so it doesn’t bother me anymore” feeling; that “getting used to” process is actually your brain continuously working to filter background noises for you. Over time, this makes one tired and agitated.
There are many brands out there, offering varying noise‐cancelation levels. Research I had done before showed that Bose’s “QuietComfort” series—although the most expensive of them all—offer the best value as their noise‐cancelation level is amazing. In North America, Bose also offers a trial period (30 days) so you can return the headphones to them if you’re not satisfied; you won’t, though. Trust me on that one.
The train ride was smooth, often offering breathtaking views of rolling hills, red‐roofed houses, some lakes and rivers… pretty sights on sunny days. After a couple of hours, I arrived at Newcastle‐Upon‐Tyne, also known as simply Newcastle.
I didn’t know squat about Newcastle other than the fact that they have a (rather failing) soccer team (sorry, Mark) and that it is the city where Mark’s family moved to, from Glasgow, when he was a child. Imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the train station, looked around and saw beautiful old buildings, winding streets and very strong character.
I attribute it to my immense ignorance, not knowing how pretty and travel‐worthy the UK is. I feel ashamed that, during my 32 years of living, my first time ever to the UK was less than a year ago (the Hurlingham Club concert) and this, now, is my second visit. A cross‐UK trip is in order. When I was young, my best friend (then and now) mentioned something about crossing the UK horseback riding. That doesn’t sound like a silly idea anymore.
My first task was to find the hotel. Ingrid, an avid Knopfler fan from The Netherlands, had agreed that we share a hotel room in Newcastle as hotel occupancy is really high this time of the year and prices tend to be ridiculous. The hotel of choice was the Grey Street Hotel, on Grey & Mosley streets—right at the city centre, about 5 minutes walk from the train station.
Was fun to meet with Ingrid—a warm, nice and entertaining individual. We caught up over lunch at Portafino—an Italian restaurant right across the street from the hotel, offering delicious lunch choices for just about 8 pounds including drinks. I suggest you pay a visit.
As I was still tired from the day before, I decided to return to the hotel for a nap, as Ingrid was set out to explore the city centre; at around 5:00pm, we met at the hotel room and started making our way towards the venue, hoping to locate a worthy cafe to sip some coffee at.
Well, Newcastle may be fantastic for its character, architecture and gazillions of pubs, but decent espresso was nowhere to be found on our route, except for a Starbucks that I insisted to skip. I ended up going to the venue somewhat thirsty and on the verge of developing a potentially annoying hunger.
Finally, after an outrageously long walk (the 10 minutes required to walk from the hotel to the venue turned into 35–40 minutes due to the search for coffee), we arrived at the Metro Radio Arena.
The Metro Radio Arena, located a few minutes away from the central train station, is considered a respectable venue in Newcastle and the area. World‐class artists perform here (A‐Ha, whom I was lucky enough to watch live in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, will perform here in November). It is conveniently located at the top of a hill, so walking around it you can get some nice views.
(Nicer than this last picture, for sure)
Picked up our tickets; turned out we were seated net to each other, at the front row, pretty much as centre as it can be. We then separated as Ingrid went for a smoke outside and I was determined to find something to drink.
Typical venue offerings, though. My advice is that, if you have an event to attend in this venue, don’t come hungry unless you’re willing to eat garbage; same goes for drinks. Beer, however, flows here smoother and easier than water (Jordan, Mike and Steve, my American friends, later entered the hall with amazingly large glasses of beer… one of those huge plastic cups that 7–11 in the USA serves Slurpees in). Had to suffice with some (100% natural) juice and water; skipped the garbage, I honestly prefer staying hungry over eating such “food”.
Back outside the venue, I met Ingrid again, this time accompanied by a fan named Mark and his girlfriend (sorry, the name escaped me) from New‐Zealand for whom it was the first MK concert ever. Steve, a particularly nice fellow who recognized Ingrid from the various fan forums, showed‐up shortly after. We all had a nice chat, some pictures were taken as well (Mark, if you read this, mind emailing the pictures to me? Thanks).
Show was going to start at 7:30pm so I entered the concert hall a few minutes ahead of time, to take some pictures for y’all.
The band entered the stage at 8:00pm or so—more than half an hour past the scheduled time. A short while before that, a fan I was talking to spotted Steve Phillips making his way to the front row, asking people to excuse him while he was attempting to reach to some friends of his who were seated there.
The trend of Mark feeling “at home” has been gaining momentum ever since the tour hit Europe (in Dublin), with last night’s concert in Newcastle being the best case in point, so far, demonstrating that concerts are generally better when Mark is comfortable. The audience certainly made him feel at home, roaring outrageous welcome greetings and often singing whole verses along (during the first few songs). It was fun hearing the audience behind me call “Why Aye Man” at the appropriate times during that song (during the second verse).
This was the first concert this tour to not feature What It Is—in fact, it’s the first concert in a while to not feature that song (if I recall right, it has been played in every concert since at least June 24, 2008, when the USA part of the Kill to Get Crimson tour kicked off).
I also knew that Wild Theme is Newcastle’s soccer team’s “anthem” as it is played before every game; so I predicted that Wild Theme will be played at the concert.
Prior to the concert, I was informed (from several sources) that, traditionally, Knopfler concerts in Newcastle have been “special” in one way or another—often featuring new songs on the setlist. As we were far enough from the Clyde already, I was hoping that… maybe… you know. But no, it never happened. Perhaps we have to travel further from the Clyde in order to justify it, who knows.
So the only “special” thing I could point at, at this concert, was really the sense of the crowd giving a “you’re at home” feeling to Mark and the band, and Mark behaving appropriately—appearing to be happy, often dancing in his chair.
At the last minute of Speedway at Nazareth, Mark got up from his chair to end the violent solo on a high note—and as he stood up, the audience went berserk as if to thank him for taking the effort.
As I wrote above, I didn’t know much about Newcastle to begin with but I did know that Newcastle’s soccer team plays Wild Theme at the beginning of each game. Therefore, the fact that Wild Theme was played at the encore didn’t really shock anyone. Beautiful performance featuring Guy, John and Mark—very similar to the one played the night before in Glasgow, only this time there was no Paul Cunningham to amaze us with accordion work. Still, it was lovely.
The concert ended at around 10:20pm to the roaring sound of extremely happy audience.
Making my way out, I noticed a group of about 30 people (maybe more) with a sticker on their shirts reading “After Show”, waiting by the stage and then making their way somewhere behind it. An after‐show party with the band, I presume; well, it was a Saturday night in Newcastle where Mark grew up. Anyway, having no such sticker on my shirt, I exited the venue to catch up with Ingrid and Steve.
Together, we went towards the city centre area, where we split—I went to the hotel and Ingrid and Steve went for a drink somewhere. Got some take‐away food with me; late‐night dinner and I went to bed.
P.S. Tonight’s show was the 32nd show of the “Get Lucky” tour featuring neither “Before Gas & TV” nor “So Far from the Clyde”. This is my blog… and this is my own tiny, meaningless, private protest. :-)