Hello. My name is Isaac, 35 years old from Vancouver, Canada. I have set this blog up to document my journey following Mark Knopfler’s 2013 “Privateering” tour, from April 25 (Bucharest, Romania) to July 31 (Calella de Palafrugell, Spain).

Due to Despite the tour’s obnoxious schedule (thanks, Mark), I cannot be entirely sure that I will attend all concerts. That being said, I will try. You are more than welcome to sit back, relax, read, and comment. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed (see the “Subscribe for Updates” box at the right hand side of the page. For standard RSS readers, select the “Atom” option).

Have fun,

Note: The contents of this blog are also available in hardcover and paperback formats. For more information, click here:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Glasgow to Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (May 18, 2013)

After spending one day and two nights in the lovely city of Glasgow, it was time to bid this favourite city of mine farewell and get back into traveling mode. As the hotel was located close to Glasgow Queen Street station—where the train to Newcastle (through Edinburgh) was scheduled to depart from at 11:00am—it was a rather laid back morning. No rush. Almost felt like a vacation.

Quick walk downstairs to Pret‐A‐Manger for a sandwich and a yogurt (their berries’ yogurt is great—I consume quite a few of those whenever I’m in the UK), then further down West Nile Street to Riverhill Coffee Bar which provided for excellent coffee the morning before and delivered fully this time as well. Back to the hotel, a few final arrangements and off to Queen Street station, an intense 6 minutes walk away.

Glasgow’s Queen Street station has two parts: a lower level and an upper level. Both parts have trains that serve Edinburgh, only that the lower level trains are slower. It only happened that we entered the station through the lower level, which caused quite a confusion as we didn’t see our train on the departures board, 15 minutes to departure. As Jeroen and I set off arguing which one of us is right (Jeroen, who has already lost his navigation privileges twice before has suggested that we take “any train” to Edinburgh because “any train” would just do, neglecting to consider the fact that the lower level trains may be slower and thus cause us to miss the connection to Newcastle), an attendant there decided to put an end to the nonsense and helped us realize that we’re in the wrong part of the station. Up a few more stairs to the upper level, and got it all sorted out.

The EURail pass, offered only to non‐European residents, doesn’t cover UK travel. Therefore, whenever I happen to take trains in the UK, I get confused about their ticketing system. Eventually I get it, but I seem to forget all about it once I leave which leads to another frustrating learning curve the next time I’m around.

(Warning: mathematics follow.)

When you purchase a train ticket in the UK, depending on the type of ticket you purchase, you may get up to X number of printed stubs, where X is the number of connections in your overall journey plus two:

  • The actual ticket displaying your overall journey & fare. You get this ticket once per itinerary.
  • For each connection that requires a seat reservation (or for which you opted to reserve a seat), you get a seat reservation ticket (having paid for travel alone does not guarantee a seat).
  • A receipt.

Therefore, if you have an itinerary with four connections, you may get up to six printed stubs: one displaying your overall journey; one receipt; and four stubs containing one seat reservation each.

Now, the fun part is that all of these stubs look the same: yellow stub with two horizontal margins painted orange. The font is the same, too. In other words, it is impossible to determine which stub is of what type (fare, reservation or receipt) just by glancing at it.

Obviously, the technologically‐inclined individual may ask themselves whether there might be a better way to approach this. I mean, if the city of London got around to implement the Oyster card, then perhaps it’d be better to implement something similar for all train services in the UK (or, better off, the world; but let us take one step at a time).

Turns out that, indeed, transport providers in the UK have already reached the conclusion that printing millions of magnetic tickets might not be just the most efficient way to go about things, as it is both confusing and harming the environment; so, transport providers started working on rolling out smartcard‐based ticketing systems.

Hurray,” you’d say; “it’s just about time,” you’d say; and I’d agree with you. But there’s a problem: instead of coming up with one standard smartcard‐based system, certain providers (or authorities) decided to come up with their own systems. Obviously, those systems are not integrated with each other. That means that if you live your entire life in London and using the Oyster card, then you’re out of luck in Scotland: you’ll have to use the Scottish smartcard instead.

As a large part of my professional career has to do with software systems’ integration, it baffles me to repeatedly find out how clueless organizations can be when it comes to thinking about how one particular solution “fits” within a given domain. I mean, all of these decisions—about which computerized systems to come up with; their functionality; their capabilities—all of these decisions end up being taken by people. Hence, up there in the chain in the UK’s transport authorities, there exist people who initially decided that coming up with different solutions to different parts of the country is a brilliant idea. The very thought that such short‐sightedness exists in my professional field makes me lose faith in humanity a little bit more every time.

In other words: dear UK transport authorities—hire me. I will solve all your problems.

The train ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh was the first crowded train ride in this tour. I’ll be riding trains mostly in 2nd class while in the UK—saved quite a bit of money—so I suppose that over the next week or so I’ll have to let go of my privileged mentality and ride it rough. Train cramped with people. 50 minutes and we arrived at Edinburgh Waverley.

I have never been to Edinburgh before in my life, although I did hear that it’s considered by many to be the prettiest city in Scotland and one of the prettiest cities in Europe. Unfortunately, there’s no concert in Edinburgh this tour around, so my entire experience with Edinburgh took about 10 minutes, until the connecting train left Edinburgh Waverley station towards Newcastle.

Better ride this time. Train was, for the most part, empty. It rained—hard at times—and it was foggy, but the views were breathtaking. Northern England at its best. Here are what it looked like through the eyes of an exceptionally mediocre photographer:


An hour and a half after leaving Edinburgh, the train finally stopped in Newcastle.


Newcastle upon Tyne, often referred to as simply Newcastle, is a city in northeast England. It lies on the banks of the famous River Tyne.

Knopfler, while having been born in Glasgow, actually spent a good part of his life in Newcastle. His connection with north eastern England is evident considering the various references in his lyrics to places and elements related to that part of the country. The term Geordie—appearing more than once or twice in Knopfler’s lyrics repertoire—refers to a person who lives in the Newcastle area, and is also the name of the English dialect spoken in the northeast. Tow Law, mentioned in Hill Farmer’s Blues, is a town in the northeast. River Tyne, the river sorely missed by the English workers migrating to Germany described in Why Aye Man, is the same River Tyne that runs through Newcastle.

River Tyne is also mentioned in Jimmy Nail’s 1995 song, Big River, describing (in wonderful lyrics) the story of the river’s days in the sun and its later decline. Knopfler himself plays guitar there (if you never listened to this song before, then you should: other than the beautiful melody and lyrics, as well as Jimmy Nail’s great voice, you’re going to find one of the greatest Knopfler’s work on a Gibson Les Paul).

The local soccer team, Newcastle United F.C, has Knopfler’s Going Home played through loudspeakers during home games, when the players run to the pitch.

For Knopfler, then, Newcastle is, to some extent, home. He is known to be very comfortable performing here, which is why his concerts in Newcastle have traditionally been considered a treat. Therefore, I was looking forward to visit Newcastle again, both for its beauty and for taking part in a concert happening in Knopfler’s home town.

The problem encountered while arranging travel to Newcastle was that hotels there, at the city center area, are ridiculously expensive. Last tour, Ingrid saved the day when she suggested that we share a twin room there; except for London, I can’t recall hotel room prices being as high as in Newcastle. Even when planning months in advance, the best deal I could come up with was the Ramada Encore which is located on the other side of River Tyne (a place called Gateshead), about 15–20 minutes walk from the city center. Price? close to £100.

It was raining. Not knowing exactly which was the shortest route to the hotel, we ended up walking according to Google Maps’ instructions, resulting in an additional half a mile or so of footwork, including the crossing of Tyne Bridge, offering nice views of River Tyne and its banks. Arrived at the hotel, just to find reception busy arguing with a group of youngsters who seemed to have had a problem with their reservations. Nobody was happy. I started considering paying for everyone’s rooms just so I can get on with my day and check in. Fortunately, that wasn’t needed. Checked in, and up to the hotel room.

From my previous visit here, I remember Newcastle being very pretty. Unfortunately, due to certain commitments (including completing the preceding day’s blog post), I couldn’t allow time for sightseeing so I remained at the hotel stuck in front of my laptop’s screen for a few hours.

At around 4:30pm, we left the hotel room towards the city center. Plans were in place to meet Ingrid in a restaurant called A Taste of Persia close to the venue. Drizzling, foggy weather.


Newcastle’s city center is located a few meters above the banks of River Tyne; found a stairway leading to The Castle. It felt strange walking those stairs: as if you’re stepping into the past.


Finally arrived at the restaurant:


Adjacent to the restaurant there exists a pub, which was exactly where Jeroen decided to enter at first. It looked nothing like a Persian restaurant. The bartender looked at us, we looked at the bartender.


– “Is this a Persian restaurant?”

– “No. It’s next door.”

OK. Mental note: next time, before entering a door, ensure that it’s the right one.

I have been a fan of Persian food for years. An ex of mine came was (well, still is. These things don’t change) of Persian heritage and Friday nights with her family used to be true culinary delights. The secret is in the spices. This particular restaurant delivered well: good service, tasty food. Complaint list is empty.

After an hour and a half of feasting, it was time to head to the venue.



The Metro Radio Arena is a general sports and entertainment arena, located a few minutes walk from Newcastle’s central railway station. It was first opened in 1995 and can seat around 11,000 for concerts.

Outside the arena, there is a line telling smokers exactly what not to do where:


Someone, though, decided to play it risky and live life on the edge:


Julio Bricio from Spain, who, during the last tour, provided me with invaluable help planning the Spanish leg of the tour, made his way from Valencia to Newcastle for the concert (he won’t be attending any shows in Spain as he’ll be very busy doing much, much more important things). Nice chap. Funny how people from all over Europe somehow run into each other in Knopfler concerts.

Tickets collected and, this venue being as dull as it is, no extra time was spent hanging around and I went to my seat.

A straight line view from my seat revealed a perfect view—


—of nothing. “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”, someone said back in 2009. Time was passed meeting and catching up with people who happen to have read the 2010 Get Lucky blog and graciously decided to come by and say hello, as well as catching up with Mikel Camps, who helped out during the last tour’s concluding concert with a few logistics and flew in from Spain for this concert.

Concert started about 20 minutes past schedule to a roar of an exceptionally receptive audience: Knopfler is at home.

Indeed, being seated in one of the worst seats in the house does impede on one’s enjoyment of the show, not because of the lacking visuals but mostly because of the mediocre acoustics in such edges of the stage. Still, I have been to venues with worse sounds.

The concert went very well. Relatively speaking, Mark communicated with the audience more than he has been so far this tour, giving a full explanation for his inspiration for Gator Blood. He did mention it before, but not at length. Gator Blood was inspired by the character of Colonel Tom Parker, who was Elvis Presley’s music manager and fashioned quite the questionable character. Back to Tupelo, according to Mark, was also written about the same person.

The set was similar to the preceding night’s, with the exception of 5:15am and Back to Tupelo replacing Kingdom of Gold and I Dug Up a Diamond. Nigel Hitchcock showed up for the same songs he showed up for in the preceding concert, only this time he appeared to be more involved in the show.

In recent concerts, it became evident that the instructions provided by the band to security personnel aren’t being consistently followed. First in Amsterdam—when security staff started pushing audience back to their seats (I was only informed about it later; I remained seated until later in the encore)—and then in Glasgow, when security staff prevented people from the back rows to approach the stage during the encore. In Newcastle, it seemed like instructions weren’t entirely followed as well. A small group of people gathered in front of the stage during the last pre‐encore performance, and security was sent over to try returning them to their seats. I didn’t see any violence, though. Once Telegraph Road was done, though, the Running of the Bulls took place with people running from all over the venue towards the stage.

No casualties, though. As I have been trying to avoid these things myself, I walked slowly and surely towards the gathering. As the band returned to the stage, I realized that my immense six feet height blocked the view of a nice, shy looking lady behind me, so I urged her to switch places with me.

I’d like to say that I am not intending to preach, but that would be a lie. Please, people, be careful and courteous to one another.

Going Home, quite expectedly, concluded the show with a bombastic performance. The audience went nuts as the performance of this song was truly extraordinary. I don’t think I’ll be able to take the rocking version of this song anymore, unless Nigel Hitchcock is involved in it. Not many songs can gain beauty by adding a saxophone track to them, but Going Home can, and does.


Just a quick reminder: the vast majority of concert‐time pictures here were taken by Jeroen Gerrits (read the disclaimer in my first post for an explanation why), including the following one which I think is fabulous, not because of the subject but because it manages to capture atmosphere brilliantly.


After the concert, I ran into my friend, Laurent Patry, from France, accompanied by his wife Carole. Laurent and I had plans to catch up in the venue before the show, but neither of us could locate the other. As they happened to be staying in a hotel in Gateshead, we decided to walk back to the hotels together.

Took the path along River Tyne. The weather was cold, foggy, misty. Still, the walk along River Tyne provided for some interesting views. This one is called The Sage Gateshead and located in… well… Gateshead:


The following is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, gorgeous at night.


Sat down for drinks with Laurent and Carole. Two hours passed quickly. Wonderful couple, these two are.

Signing off this post while at my hotel room in Liverpool. Annoying travel day, and I’m very tired following last night’s late night sleep.



  1. As always a wonderful read. 2 comments for you:
    1. I see you have learned the proper Canadian attitude and are passing it around :)
    2. Never ever use a spell/grammar checker in your posts. As I read each and every one of these I hear your voice in my head reciting the posts, and if the microscopic grammar errors were ever corrected it would not "sound" like you at all. I love to live vicariously through your eyes by reading these posts.

  2. Thats why we call it "rip off Britain". I can source stuff 14K miles away get it here in 4 days and still save 40% on the cost. In N America they sell stuff at half the price that we make here...hahaha...not sure what all this says about the UK.

  3. This is a delightful blog and reading it literally takes me back to the concert and to Newcastle. Plus it affords me the opportunity I had thought impossible since the concert. You see, I think I may have been the shy lady that you so generously insisted stand in front of you. If so, thank you so much. You have been the hero in my retelling of my fabulous Mark Knopfler concert experience to all my family and friends once I returned home to the US. My husband and I had a goal of seeing Mark Knopfler perform in person. Unfortunately, my Joe died unexpectedly a year ago last May. This trip was a symbolic last journey to England with his memory. Like you, he was tall (6ft 3 in) so he was always letting me stand in front of him when the local band we followed played their encores. Your kind jesture and so many of Mark's songs, especially the encores, gave me the feeling Joe was there in spirit. Thank you, Isaac, and I hope you enjoyed all thd other performances.

    1. Hello,

      I am so sorry to hear about your loss. If I had done anything to make the concert experience any better & more meaningful for you, then my job is done. Thank you very much for your wonderful comment.