Sage Gateshead looking towards the Tyne Bridge on BBC Proms Festival weekend

The Proms Head to Gateshead - And The North East puts itself firmly on the cultural map.

Self Esteem, Divorce, Royal Northern Sinfonia and Robert Ames deliver on the Quayside
July 22, 2023

Well, this was the BBC Proms - but not as you know it.

The Royal Albert Hall passed the Proms baton to Sage Gateshead and the North East venue took it with both hands and raised its distinctive roof with its opening performance of the weekend.

Rebecca Lucy Taylor, aka Self Esteem, put the pop into the Proms collaborating with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, conducted by Robert Ames.

The coup that is Sage Gateshead hosting the BBC Proms cannot be underestimated. It is the first ever BBC Proms festival weekend outside of London. The North East putting itself firmly on the cultural map.

Speaking just before Self Esteem took to the stage, Sage Managing Director, Abigail Pogson, said: “This weekend has been the result of an ongoing partnership between the BBC and Sage. It will showcase the talent and versatility of our musicians as they push themselves as artists. We will have 5,000 people coming into Sage over the festival weekend allowing as broad an audience as possible to see amazing artists making world class music.”

The Sage concourses buzzed with excitement and anticipation for this sell-out concert. Looking out across the river with the Tyne Bridge dominating the landscape, you really do feel you are part of something special.

Sage Gateshead

Supported by Nottingham four-piece, Divorce (more of which later), the main event gets underway with an introduction from BBC 3 presenter Elizabeth Alker. Knowing the evening is being recorded to go out across the BBC, the crowd ensures it plays its part in putting on a good show. When she says we are almost as noisy as the Albert Hall crowd, the challenge is accepted and the cheers and applause deafening as the musicians and Ames take to the stage. This is amplified when Self Esteem walks on to the stage. We’re in for a cracker!

“I’m quite nervous,” she tells the crowd. “I’m just going to imagine I am singing in front of my friends.”

Rotherham's Incredible Self Esteem

With that she opens the show with ‘I’m fine’ - a song talking about sexual assault and street harassment. She ends by barking and howling like a dog - a self-protection tactic used by women to deter groups of men when out.

The Rotherham-born singer is known for her big catchy choruses and honest and witty lyrics. Most of the set comes from her albums, Prioritise Pleasure and Compliments Please with a curve ball here and there.

The title track from Prioritise Pleasure comes early in the set with the crowd joining her in singing “So I'm breathing in, one, two, three, prioritise pleasuring me, no need to wait for bended knee, I'm free, I'm free.”

Being backed by the talent that is Royal Northern Sinfonia takes Self Esteem’s performance up another level. She has obviously loved the whole experience telling the audience she has told her manager she can’t do any more gigs without an orchestra.

She rightly name checks conductor Robert Ames several times during the gig. Ames is a conductor, curator and arranger who has worked with artists such as Radiohead and Frank Ocean.

This unique collaboration at Sage created one of the most anticipated events in the whole programme and will be available to listen to on BBC Sounds - something Self Esteem is aware of as she apologises for the swearing before launching into ‘Fucking Wizardry’.

The four female singers joining Self Esteem deserve a particular mention. Their vocals were sublime, particularly on the track ‘Elton John’ towards the end of the show.

Announcing it will be the last song of the show (we know it won’t be) Self Esteem says “Please don’t boo, we’re on Radio 3,” before bringing the house down with ‘The Best’ from Compliments Please.

Returning to the stage after the briefest of time away, the encore opens with a cover of George Michael’s ‘Praying for Time’ before what is the last song ‘I Do This All The Time’. And what a finish! The sisterhood is strong as Self Esteem and the four vocalists end the show, arm in arm with the crowd knowing they have been part of something special.

Divorce were a popular support band for the main event. They were understandably proud to play their part in the Festival, showcasing some of their older hits as well as their new single ‘Bird’.

But it will be Self Esteem who is remembered from the night. She told the Sage audience that her first performance at the venue had been one of her favourites. This gig must have certainly surpassed that.

Thanks to everyone at Sage for working to be at the heart of the BBC Proms. You did the North East proud.

Sage Images: Emma Chesworth