There’s a number of reasons why the High Level Bridge is the site of chosen for this project. The High Level Bridge is my favourite of the Newcastle bridges. I like I how it looks. I like the frailty of it. It has an air of mystery about it, because you’re not allowed to drive over it. It makes it seem like something special. It’s a pathway over the river that I’ve often used – and importantly for me, it’s a bridge I’ve crossed almost exclusively for musical reasons. The other side holds the Sage Gateshead, a large music venue in which I spent a lot of time during my Undergraduate Studies, and also Swinburne Street, the rehearsal venue for my ceilidh band. So for me, the bridge is a pathway to music, and is heavily associated with sound.
I also have a few important memories of the High Level Bridge. Shortly after arriving in Newcastle to study, I had to travel to the Sage Gateshead for a fiddle lesson. I planned to cross the river using the Swing Bridge, but got lost on the way, and ended up (by accident!!) on the High Level Bridge. I remember being in a complete panic because I didn’t know where I was, and I had no idea how to get to the Sage from there. I did eventually find my way, but turned up to my lesson half an hour late, and very upset! Therefore my first experience of the High Level Bridge was quite traumatic.
The next experience that stands out was cycling over the High Level Bridge, a couple of years later. It’s probably my favourite place in Newcastle to cycle. I think it’s a combination of the view, and the feeling of being so high up, and the architecture – there’s just something about it that I love.
The third experience was last year, when Newcastle experienced a few hours of very extreme, torrential rain – I’d never seen anything like it in my life. When the downpour started, I was on my way to Swinburne Street for a practice with my ceilidh band, and was a couple of minutes walk away from the High Level Bridge. I crossed the bridge in the middle of the storm, and it was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. The rain was so heavy that I was soaked through to the skin in seconds (as was my fiddle – oops!!), and the sound of the thunder was so loud that it made me scream in fright. The middle of a bridge, over a river, is quite a scary place to be in the middle of such a storm! It’s an experience I won’t forget in a hurry (I wish I’d been able to record it!! Although it would’ve required a hydrophone!).
The High Level Bridge therefore holds a good deal of personal significance for me – far more so than any of the other bridges, which I don’t think I’d be able to tell you a single interesting story about! And that’s partly why I want to work there.
It’s also partly because of music. One of the things I really want to explore in this project is the relationship between tunes named after places, and the places themselves. ‘The High Level Bridge Hornpipe’, attributed to James Hill, was one of the first hornpipes I learnt upon coming to Newcastle, and is one of my favourites. If I’m going to spend the next month working fairly extensively with one tune, it might as well be one I like!
Before settling on the High Level Bridge, I experimented with working in 3 different places in Newcastle – The High Level Bridge, the Dog Leap Stairs, and the Quayside. I felt that the High Level Bridge worked best, both sonically and practically. The Quayside is much too big an area to work with on a project that has fairly limited scope – I don’t feel that I could do it justice, or that I’d be able to produce a coherent portfolio of work. The Dog Leap Stairs are tricky to navigate – especially whilst playing a fiddle!! – and the main sound I got out of them was the sound of my footsteps going up and down, which I think I’d quickly loose interest in! The High Level Bridge seemed like a very practical place to work – there is an area off to the side which is easily accessible, but off the main walkway so that equipment can be set up, and it’s a place that I can work in which I will encounter, and most likely interact with, other people, but I won’t be getting in their way and inconveniencing them. And it affords many possibilities in terms of working with it – as you’ll hopefully see over the next month.