Skip to content

June 2, 2011


Les Passages Couverts – English Style

by soundlandscapes

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.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jun 2 2011

    The tune is Lionel Richie’s “Hello”, but I feel that the mystery man in Windows did a great job with it. A nice recording. I look forward to more sounds of the North-East.

  2. Jun 2 2011

    Thanks Roger. Don’t you just love it when musicians just do their own thing. They always look and sound so content with the world.

  3. another perfectly captured, unique, moment…

  4. Jun 3 2011

    Thanks Steve,

    The best sounds are always there … it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and being ready to capture them. It’s partly luck and partly judgement. The skill is to be able to distinguish the one from the other. This recording was pure luck!

  5. Jun 5 2011

    I love the story connected to this clip. It was definitely a “moment”. Do you find it more challenging to record a place which is really familiar to you, compared to a place which is “foreign” to you? I’ve discovered this a little bit with photography.

    • Jun 5 2011

      Thanks for your comment Jay. You pose a very interesting question.

      Familiar places are places that I have probably recorded before so finding a new sound perspective is certainly a challenge. I approach new places with an open mind and finding the distinctive sounds is always a challenge – but an interesting one.

      However, whether it’s a familiar or a new location I always try to revert to the basics – formulating a ‘sound map’ in my head. What is happening and what might happen? I seldom arrive at a location and press the record button. In my experience, time spent surveying the sonic environment and building the ‘sound map’ before you record is time well spent.

      In the case of JG Windows in Newcastle, – a music shop full of pianos, organs, synthesisers and other musical instruments – it was a place where something was likely to happen. I couldn’t have foreseen of course exactly what would happen – but when it did I was ready and waiting.

      As I said in reply to Steve’s comment – the best sounds are always there … it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and being ready to capture them. It’s partly luck and partly judgement. The skill is to be able to distinguish the one from the other. This recording was pure luck – with a little help of course from my “sound map”.

  6. Jun 26 2011

    I love the wonderful story behind this clip, and the fact you captured it and have shared it. Thank you!

    • Jun 26 2011

      Thanks Claire. It was a ‘golden moment’ – they are elusive but they do happen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments

%d bloggers like this: