Monday, April 15, 2024

The Curious Case of Tiffany’s Ballroom in Newcastle upon Tyne

When out walking and enjoying the energetic and pulsating city of Newcastle upon Tyne one cloudy yet pleasant Monday afternoon a few months ago, I suddenly found myself in the area surrounding the Laing Art Gallery, more specifically at the intersection of New Bridge Street and John Dobson Street. Now this short and hastily written piece is thankfully not about yours truly perusing the beautiful paintings by British Impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites at the aforementioned art museum but rather the architecturally impressive and smaller building with neoclassical features right next to it, namely the site of the old Oxford Galleries.

The distinct-looking Oxford Galleries once housed a ballroom that existed from 1925 until the sixties and from then on it served primarily as a discotheque, a nightclub, and a live music venue at various points in time. The place sported different monikers and was known under various guises throughout the years including The Ritzy, Ikon, The Studio, Central Park, Diva, Liquid Envy, and Club LQ. However, it was known as Tiffany’s (and often referred to as Tiffany’s Ballroom) from 1971 until 1987 when it underwent a radical change and became The Studio. The rock concerts gained a foothold in the mid-eighties and for a short while there was a wonderful spell of gothic musical splendour there in the shape of The Mission, The Sisters of Mercy, Cocteau Twins, The Southern Death Cult, The Rose of Avalanche, and Killing Joke.

The legendary site of many awe-inspiring shows and performances was eventually demolished in that cursed year of 2015 but as you can see in the photo above, they kept the distinct-looking and aesthetically pleasing Oxford Galleries front, which is rather fortunate to those of us with more than a passing interest in important musical landmarks in the UK. Did I mention that the aforementioned building boasting neoclassical features right next to the art museum formed a part of the Oxford Galleries venue? That evocative construction dates to the year 1823 (some online sources disagree and say 1825, so further research is warranted here) and initially served as the home and dwelling of renowned and famous architect John Dobson and his family. The address is literally steeped in history and atmosphere, which seems to be a prevalent theme with respect to Newcastle Upon Tyne and its rich cultural legacy. In other words, the old home of Dobson remains intact these days, but the main part of the actual Oxford Galleries music venue and dance hall was torn down and consigned to the annals of history. As Daniel Holland wrote in his article for Chronicle Live,

The neoclassical home in New Bridge Street West was built by John Dobson, who designed Central Station and worked with Richard Grainger to transform the centre of Newcastle, in 1823 for himself and his family. But it will be better known to many Geordies for being a part of some of the city’s most famous venues. A huge dance hall built next to the villa saw it joined onto a complex that opened as the Oxford Galleries ballroom in 1925 and was later reborn multiple times as Tiffany’s, The Studio, Ritzy, Ikon, Central Park, Diva, Liquid/Envy and Club LQ.     

Daniel Holland in Chronicle Live

One remarkably cool detail that I need to draw your attention to is the fact that there is a scene in the classic film titled Get Carter (1971) starring the inimitable Sir Michael Caine where they drive past the Oxford Galleries, so the front entrance to the venue does appear in a movie, and a rather legendary one at that. As usual, I digress, but given that I am a movie buff you cannot leave something like that out of an article such as this one, right? On a related note, I love Sir Michael Caine and sincerely hope that the gentleman lives forever. He is as iconic as many of his film roles are.

As stated previously, only the front of the venue remains these days, but it is not difficult to imagine what it must have looked like back in its heyday, nor how some of the gigs by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Cult, Pretty Maids, Ultravox, New Model Army, and Sweet went down and were received by the rapturous Newcastle crowd. A bit of research on the web will quickly tell you that the place was buzzing with energy then. In fact, you can still hear the faint and slowly dying echoes of those immortal and timeless songs that were sung here if you just listen closely. Are you listening? Do you hear them, those faint echoey tones from a bygone era?

Miraculously there’s footage on YouTube of the band Demon performing at Tiffany’s Ballroom in 1982:

Works cited:

Holland, Daniel. “Home of famed North East architect John Dobson and demolished Liquid nightclub set for office revamp.” Chronicle Live, 18 May 2022, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Jens Nepper
Jens Nepper
Born and raised in Denmark, currently living in Norway, and hopelessly addicted to coffee and Black Sabbath.

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