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BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival 2017


BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking festival will examine "The Speed of Life and returns to Sage Gateshead 17 – 19 March 2017. The popular festival, now in its 12th year, will feature some of the North East's brightest minds and world-class performers.

The festival brings together leading thinkers for a free weekend of provocative debate, new ideas, music and performance.

Speakers include Harriet Harman MP, Damon Hill OBE, Edwina Currie, Terry Waite, Jim Al-Khalili, Simon Armitage, and some of the world’s leading academic thinkers

In Sage Gateshead concourse throughout the weekend, there is a chance to see behind the scenes of Radio 3, as it broadcasts live from a pop-up glass studio.  Visitors can even try their hand at presenting in the portable presenter booth.


Friday 17 March 2017:

4.10pm - 6.30pm -  In Tune

Suzy Klein and guests launch this year’s Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead with Radio 3’s drivetime programme. Come and hear live performances from musicians including pianist Lars Vogt with members of Royal Northern Sinfonia, Newcastle based Diachronicx (the jazz singer and guitar duo Gabriele Heller and Steve Glendinning) and special guest, pianola expert Rex Lawson, who will perform a variety of pieces which revel in notions about music and time.



6.15pm - 7.15pm - BBC Radio 4's Late Night Woman's Hour

BBC Radio 4’s Late Night Woman’s Hour’s presented by Lauren Laverne and recorded in front of an audience for the first time.   Studio guest is Viv Albertine, guitarist in pioneering all-female punk band The Slits whose 1979 album Cut is frequently voted one of the most influential albums of all time.

BOOK TICKETS HERE (Free but ticketed)


7.45pm - 9pm - The Free Thinking Lecture

Professor Russell Foster with Matthew Sweet: Sleep - Freedom to Think. “Take control of your sleep,” says Professor Russell Foster CBE, leading neuroscientist and this year’s opening lecturer on the festival theme of the Speed of Life.



9.30pm - 11.30pm - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: Exposure

Radio 3’s programme which brings listeners gigs from around the UK, exploring the local alternative and underground music scene, comes to Sage Gateshead for the first time. In a rare live show, a performance from Midnight Doctors – a genre-defying mutant big-band featuring some of Newcastle’s finest left field musicians.



Saturday 18 March 2017:

7am - 9am - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: Breakfast on 3

Join Radio 3’s breakfast programme broadcast live from Radio 3’s pop up studio on the concourse. Presenter Martin Handley has worked as a chorus master and conductor with organisations including D’Oyly Carte, English National Opera and the Danish Royal Opera. Doors open at 7am and the cafe will be open for breakfast.

READ MORE - Free event no tickets required.


9am - 12.15pm - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: Record Review

Radio 3’s weekly guide to the best available recorded music comes to Sage Gateshead. Record Review explores the theme of time with a live Building a Library (9.30am – 10.15am) on Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, composed while he was a prisoner at the Nazis’ Stalag VIII-A camp.

READ MORE - Free event and no tickets required.


10.15am - 11.15am - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: How Short Is A Short Story?

Acclaimed American short story writer George Saunders talks to Radio 3 presenter Matthew Sweet about travelling in time to explore Abraham Lincoln’s life during the American Civil War when the President’s beloved young son died. These historical events have inspired Saunder’s first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, whilst his short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeney’s and GQ. He compares notes on the art of fiction long and short with Paul McVeigh, Jenn Ashworth and Kirsty Logan, who’ve been commissioned by New Writing North and the WordFactory to write Flash Fiction on the Festival theme of The Speed of Life.



10.30am - 11.30am - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: Quick Reactions

Radio 3’s Rana Mitter talks to Formula One racing driver Damon Hill and other guests about life and decision-making under pressure – and at speed.

READ MORE and book tickets here


11.35am - 11.55am - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: New Generation Thinker: Edmund Richardson from Durham University

In Afghanistan buried beneath Bagram airbase, a CIA detention site and wrecked Soviet tanks is the lost city of Alexander the Great. For centuries, it was a meeting point of East and West. Then it vanished. Edmund Richardson’s Essay tells the story of the liar and the lost city, of how the unlikeliest people can change history.

READ MORE and book tickets here.


12noon - 1pm - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: The Time Of Your Life

Former MP Edwina Currie, journalist Miranda Sawyer and writer Lola Okolosie join a festival panel to discuss the different times of our lives.

READ MORE and book tickets here.


12.15pm - 1.15pm - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: Politics Fast And Slow

Harriet Harman, who has just written her autobiography A Woman’s Work, was first elected a Labour MP in 1982 and has served as the acting leader of her party twice in her career. She talks to Free Thinking presenter Philip Dodd about championing women’s rights and sustaining a political career in a fast-changing political landscape.

READ MORE and book tickets here.


12.15pm - 1pm - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival 2017: Music Matters: Music in the Time of Our Lives

Tom Service explores our experience and perception of music and time in the routines and activities of daily life. Experts from the University of Newcastle’s Institute of Neuroscience join Tom Service in the Music Matters Lab.

READ MORE. Free event no tickets required.


1pm - 3pm - BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: Saturday Classics




Terry Waite spent five years as a hostage mostly in solitary confinement. Erwin James served 20 years of a life sentence.  They both discuss their experience of isolation with Dr Cleo Van Velsen, a consultant psychiatrist in Forensic Psychotherapy.

West Yorkshire born poet Simon Armitage, explores life against a backdrop where globalisation has made alienation a common experience.

2016 Choir of the Year winners, Newcastle-based, Voices of Hope, perform live for Radio 3 in the Sage foyer.

Philip Dodd and guests discuss how time and the rapid pace of technological change are at the heart of education in the 21st Century.  Can idle curiosity, slow burning passion and a time for reflection find a place in today’s schools?

In Radio 3’s ‘cabaret of the word – The Verb –  ‘Englishness’ and national identity is explored, hosted by journalist, playwright and ‘poet in residence at Barnsley football club’, Ian McMillan. Featuring performances from songwriter and former Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley, Emmy the Great and writer William Fiennes. Other guests include TS Eliot Prize winner, Cumbrian born Jacob Polley, Newcastle comedian Rahul Kohli and the 2015 BBC Slam winner Scott Tyrrell.


Guide Prices

Many tickets are FREE but require pre-booking.



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