jez lowe on the bridge hotel, newcastle

Mike Harding 20 May 09, 04:17 PM

Jez Lowe writes:

It's lunchtime in The Bridge Hotel, a stone's throw from Newcastle's city centre. The River Tyne slides by below me, the elegant Sage building is looking pleased with itself on the opposite bank, and above me, the High Level Bridge is pointing wearily towards Gateshead, Birtley and the sunny south.

I'm not really a drinking man, but I always pop into The Bridge whenever I'm in town, which is admittedly not very often, as we tend to travel a fair bit. But this is probably my favourite pub in the country. There's been a folk club running here almost continually since 1957, though its status as local folk-central has long been usurped by the majestic Sage, headquarters of the renowned University Folk Degree Course, and by the more grungy Cumberland Arms over in Byker, which will probably be my next stop today.

But The Bridge oozes folk history nevertheless, and it's nice to soak it up once in a while. Long the stomping ground of the much-admired Tyneside group, The High Level Ranters, it was also the place where a young Irishman called Luke Kelly, then a builder's labourer working in town, casually dropped in for a pint of stout one night and heard "folk singers" for the first time.

He went straight back to Ireland and formed a group called The Dubliners.

Fifteen years later, the folk club celebrated its twentieth anniversary, and Pete Seeger came over to help them do it, with a concert at the City Hall, and a floor-spot in the room upstairs here. And I'm obviously not the only one to feel inspired.

Three Christmases ago, I came in to discover Bob Fox and Jed Grimes plotting world domination in the corner, Lindisfarne's Ray Laidlaw discussing drums at the bar, poet Keith Armstrong reading the Guardian on the balcony, my favourite local singer Benny Graham rehearsing his shanty choir in the basement, and a bunch of Northumbrian pipers of my acquaintance doing some secretive deals in reeds and brass chanter-keys over by the mounted photo of Alan Shearer.

It's pretty quiet today though. Only an ex-cast member from Byker Grove and the little man who used to do the weather on Tyne Tees Television register on the thrill-o-meter. There's no folk club tonight either, but the barman thinks that the local chapter of the Bob Dylan fan-club might be meeting here instead. They actually named their Dylan fanzine after this pub, he tells me, and indeed it's rumoured that the Zim himself once came in here, very late one night in the early '60's, and when the building shook as the last train south rattled past on the bridge overhead, even old Bob felt inspired, and penned one of his most celebrated verses!

"The Bridge at midnight trembles," he wrote...

the jingling geordie

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