Opening of the Great Exhibition of the North in pictures

The Great Exhibition of the North 2018 started with a spectacular opening event by the River Tyne, between Newcastle and Gateshead, in north-east England. The festival is billed as a celebration of northern arts, design and innovation, and runs for 80 days — until 9 September. I attended the opening event with my camera and was most impressed by the cleverly choreographed drone performance that lit up the night sky.

Drones form the shape of the Great Exhibition of the North logo in night sky above the Sage Gateshead.
Drones form the shape of the Great Exhibition of the North logo in night sky above the Sage Gateshead.

I squeezed right up against the barriers on Newcastle’s Quayside to maximise my opportunities to record the opening ceremony without crowd figures in the frame. I didn’t want people to get in the way of my photos of that firework display that I knew would be concluding the evening programme, so arrived as early as possible to secure an optimal spot. I ended up next to the BBC camera crew. It’s rumoured that more than 20,000 people gathered along the Quayside to view the event.

Earlier in the day I’d been chatting to several of the people who played a role in organising the event. Look out for material from those interviews over the weeks ahead. I also spoke to people involved in creating installations plus curators of the exhibitions that feature as part of the Great Exhibition of the North.

The Get North Water Sculpture on the River Tyne, on the opening night of the Great Exhibition of the North.
The Get North Water Sculpture on the River Tyne, on the opening night of the Great Exhibition of the North.

Great Exhibition of the North opening event photography

The evening event was an opportunity to leave my notebook and Dictaphone in my pocket and view proceedings with a camera in my hand.

The density of the crowd meant that I simply couldn’t move around freely enough to get photos of the street entertainers. They included a giant chicken that was pecking around on the Quayside like some steroid-pumped sporting mascot. Nor was I able to get close to the group of grannies riding their turbo-powered, outsized shopping bags. I could, though, see all the peformers on the giant screen that was set up by the bank of the River Tyne. That enabled me to hear poet Lemn Sissay recite his Anthem of the North.

A band playing on Newcastle Quayside during the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.
A band playing on Newcastle Quayside during the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.

A group of colourfully clad musicians, like some contemporary version of The Beatles on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover, played a series of upbeat tunes before a cannon fired confetti into the air and fireworks fizzed from the winking Gateshead Millennium Bridge. (Yes, that’s correct, a winking bridge. The pedestrian bridge tips laterally to allow boats to pass below. That movement is known as winking.)

Musical entertainment on Newcastle Quayside during the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.
Musical entertainment on Newcastle Quayside during the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.

Maximo Park playing on the Tyne

The rock group Maximo Park, who are from Newcastle, played a handful of their hits from a stage aboard the Sir Bobby Robson. The boat paused beneath the Sage Gateshead. The riverside performing arts venue, designed by Foster and Partners, is one of three hubs from which experience trails, designed for the Great Exhibition of the North, begin. The other two are the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the Great North Museum: Hancock.

Maximo Park performing on the Sir Bobby Robson at the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.
Maximo Park performing on the Sir Bobby Robson at the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.

As the Sir Bobby Robson pulled away illuminated water jets shot into the air from the 80-metre platform installed in the River Tyne for the Get North Water Sculpture.

Maximo Park during the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.
Maximo Park during the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.

Drone and firework displays

I murmured a quiet wow while photographing the illuminated drones that hovered above the Sage Gateshead, deftly switching position to depict a star, the double helix of DNA, the word ‘GREAT’ and the Great Exhibition of the North logo.

Drones form the shape of the DNA double helix in night sky above the Sage Gateshead during the Great Exhibition of the North opening exhibition.
Drones form the shape of the DNA double helix in night sky above the Sage Gateshead during the Great Exhibition of the North opening exhibition.

The fireworks display that concluded the evening also impressed and was fun to photograph.

I’m looking forward to visiting exhibitions and attending events over the coming 80 days. It looks like there’s plenty to do and see before the Great Exhibition of the North comes to a close.

Fireworks display during the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.
Fireworks display during the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition of the North.

Further information

Take a look at the Great Exhibition of the North website for info about the programme planned until 9 September 2018. Follow the #GETNorth2018 hashtag on social media to check out images and posts about the event.

The Newcastle Gateshead website has information about where to go, what to see and what to do in and around Tyneside.

If you are visiting Newcastle and Gateshead take a look at my Things to do during a walk in Newcastle post. I met up with Heather Cowper on the opening day. See Heather’s post, on the Great Exhibition of the North for ideas on things to visit during the 80-day event.

See the Visit Britain website for ideas about things to do and see elsewhere in northern England.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography which specialises in food, portraiture and travel photography, and is available for commissions in the north of England and beyond.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning journalist. He is based in the north-east of England and available to undertake commissions for newspapers, magazines and websites.

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Drones form a star shape above the Sage Gateshead and Get North Water Sculpture during the Great Exhibition of the North opening ceremony.
Drones form a star shape above the Sage Gateshead and Get North Water Sculpture during the Great Exhibition of the North opening ceremony.

7 Comments

  • Ferne Arfin

    June 24, 2018 at 10:10 Reply

    Wonderful pictures. It looks as good as I imagined it would. Hope they can keep up the buzz all summer.

    • Stuart Forster

      June 25, 2018 at 17:59 Reply

      Thank you, Ferne. The mood seems very upbeat so here’s hoping for a buzz into the autumn!

  • Steve | Big Stevie Cool Blog

    June 25, 2018 at 07:21 Reply

    Looks like a great night- would have loved to have seen the drones but I was stuck on babysitting duties.

    • Stuart Forster

      June 25, 2018 at 17:57 Reply

      It was a lovely evening and my favourite part was the drones. At least you’ve got a few more weeks to get in and take a look at some of the events and installations in Newcastle and Gateshead.

  • indianeagle

    June 27, 2018 at 10:38 Reply

    Beautiful text and wonderful pictures, drone and fire work displays awesome.

    • Stuart Forster

      June 28, 2018 at 10:09 Reply

      I have never previously seen a drone display and was very impressed!

  • Rick Cobden

    June 27, 2018 at 13:46 Reply

    Just booked a train to Newcastle to visit the festival. The pictures are beautiful.

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