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Les Passages Couverts – English Style

REGULAR FOLLOWERS OF this blog will know that most of my work involves capturing the street sounds of Paris. I do though sometimes venture further afield.

I’ve just spent a long weekend in the north-east of England partly to spend valuable time with family over there, partly to recharge my batteries and partly to record the sights and sounds of that delightful part of the world.

But while I was there, echoes of Paris were never far away. Sometime ago, I wrote a blog piece about Les Passages Couverts, the wonderful early nineteenth-century Parisian arcades that first introduced the notion of primitive ‘shopping malls’ – a group of shops clustered together, inside, under cover. Delightful as these passage couverts are, they are not exclusive to Paris – they are to be found in England too.

I discovered this one, the Central Arcade, whilst visiting Newcastle-upon-Tyne the other day. It’s Edwardian, built in 1906, designed by Oswald and Son of Newcastle and I think equally as elegant as the Passage Verdeau or the Passage Jouffroy in Paris.

What made the Central Arcade particularly special was the completely unexpected surprise I came upon whilst I was exploring it. In the arcade is one the UK’s longest established and largest music stores which goes by the unlikely name of JG Windows. It’s a veritable emporium of all things musical – acoustic and digital pianos, keyboards, synthesizers, electric, acoustic and classical guitars and much, much more.

Stepping inside, I was delighted to find my sound of the day.

Inside JG Windows:

A man walked in off the street and sat down at an £8,000 digital piano. He put his briefcase down beside him, and began playing.  The lower register of the piano was transformed into a string bass for his left hand whilst his right hand caressed the piano sounds in the upper registers. I was transfixed. When he finished playing, he simply picked up his briefcase and left just as quickly as he came without speaking a word to anyone.

I couldn’t help wondering what his story was.  Was he a frustrated musician who couldn’t afford an £8,000 digital piano? Maybe he was road testing it with a view to buying it – or maybe he just needed a musical fix before heading off for his next appointment.  Who knows? Whatever his motivation the sound he made obviously pleased him … and it certainly pleased me.

I will share more sights and sounds from the north-east of England over the coming weeks.