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Sage Gateshead Announces digital mini-festival Variations

Posted on 25 October 2021

Variations - WEB

Exclusive new tracks and films from John Grant, Tune-Yards, Moor Mother and new film featuring Anohni and Yoko Ono will feature on Sage Gateshead channels, also acquired by BBC Arts to appear on BBC iPlayer

Variations asked international artists to create new work to connect to audiences in the North East and across the world resulting in works reflecting lockdown, climate crisis and the change that has affected people in the last 18 months

Sage Gateshead, the nationally renowned music centre on the banks of the River Tyne, has announced Variations, its first digital mini-festival featuring four new commissions from a stellar line-up of international contemporary artists. The films will be released online to coincide with COP26.

The four new works, from Anohni and Yoko Ono, John Grant, Moor Mother and Tune-Yards, influenced by themes of climate change and lockdown will be shared on BBC iPlayer from Sunday 31 October.

During lockdown, Sage Gateshead approached international artists to create new work to connect to audiences in the North East and across the world. The artists have responded with compelling work which reflects the isolation experienced during pandemic, the climate crisis, and the changes that have affected so many people over the last 18 months.

New work created as part of Variations includes Spring Again from Moor Mother, John Grant debuts Faintly Positive Lateral Flow, and accompanying film from long-time collaborators Casey & Ewan, his first new release since this year’s Top 10 album ‘The Boy From Michigan’. Tune-Yards premiere new song and film Time No Time.

Anohni and Yoko Ono first recorded their version of Yoko’s I Love You Earth in 2015. As part of Variations a new film has been created by Yoko Ono with The Rainforest Trust.

Wendy Smith, Director, Contemporary Music said: “We are delighted to present four new pieces of work sharing the artists’ experiences and perspectives on climate crisis and the pandemic, keeping in mind what it means to connect and unite people globally in these times. Variations is four songs with accompanying films by four artists that express love for the earth, for nature, all species, and the air we breathe. The songs express grief and loss for the world we had that has gone, an urgent need for justice and equality, a plea to work together, imagine change, choose life and take action now”.

In a first for Sage Gateshead, all four new pieces will premiere on BBC iPlayer on 31 October. The tracks will also be available at

Visit: from 31 October to watch all 4 videos and read more about the artists.



For media enquiries, images and interviews please contact
Susie Gray, 07834 073795
Jackie Thompson,


About Sage Gateshead

  • Sage Gateshead is an international music centre for the North East and wider North. Through music, creative learning and artist development, the organisation shows what music can achieve for communities.
  • Since opening in 2004, Sage Gateshead has worked side by side with partners and the wider community to help address the complex blend of social and economic challenges the region faces.
  • Sage Gateshead continues to be a major employer and has brought investment and tourism into the region, generating c. £500 million contribution to the local economy, a sum six times greater than its combined capital cost.
  • Sage Gateshead has brought social, cultural and educational value to over 10 million people and millions more via digital and broadcast activity. The scale of its artistic, learning and artist development activity places Sage Gateshead amongst the UK’s largest cultural organisations, while reaching a substantially more socially and economically diverse audience.
  • Pre-lockdown Sage Gateshead attracted 2 million visitors; 5,000 people took part in weekly music classes; 17,854 school children experienced live orchestral music and we worked with a further 2,418 vulnerable young people; more than 2,000 adults a week took part in music making designed to tackle social isolation.
  • The North East region is one of the worst affected by Covid-19. The region will be one where the recovery is slow and hard. Arts and culture have a pivotal role to play in regional and nation-wide recovery.
  • Covid-19 presents a major financial challenge to Sage Gateshead, the iconic Foster + Partners designed NE landmark. 80% of its income has been affected, and in 2020/21 £10 million in revenue was lost. The organisation has taken swift action to overcome this crisis. 90% of the workforce was placed on furlough, significant cost savings have been sought and found, and it launched a fundraising campaign to raise £3 million to help secure the organisation during the next three years. Further challenges lie ahead; in 2021/22, Sage Gateshead estimates box office and trading income to be less than half of what would be expected in a normal year.
  • Sage Gateshead temporarily closed to the public on 17 March 2020, five days ahead of the announcement of the National lockdown. Sage Gateshead recommenced performances in October 2020 with a season of socially distanced concerts featuring Royal Northern Sinfonia and artists across genres, made available by live stream; audiences were able to be present in the hall for two weekends of those performances.
  • Sage Gateshead received a grant of £2.8 million from the Culture Recovery Fund to help it through the pandemic and to contribute to the region’s recovery.


About Yoko Ono

Originally from Tokyo, Yoko Ono was the first woman admitted into the philosophy program at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, where she studied for a year before moving to New York, studying writing and music at Sarah Lawrence College. George Macunias, founder of the Fluxus collective, gave Ono her first solo gallery show in 1961. Ono became an influential conceptual and performance artist prior to her marriage and artistic partnership with John Lennon. From the 1970s to the 1990s, Ono worked on music, both solo and in collaboration. The Whitney Museum of American Art presented a retrospective of her work in 1989, as did the Japan Society Gallery in 2000, and the Museum of Modern Art in 2015. She received a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2009 Venice Biennale. Yoko Ono lives and works in New York City.

I Love You Earth
Vocals: Anohni & Yoko Ono
Piano:  Thomas Bartlett
Recorded by Chris Allen at Sear Sound
Mixed by Yuka Honda
Mastered by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound
Written by Yoko Ono
© Ono Music c/o Downtown DMP Songs (BMI)
Film Producer: Yoko Ono
Film Editor: Simon Hilton
© 2021 Yoko Ono


About John Grant

A Top 10 UK chart entry for his new album ‘Boy From Michigan’, which also topped the vinyl charts; across-the-board praise (“One of the great singer-songwriters of our time” … “An expansive and frequently exquisite summation of Grant’s storytelling powers”); a broadsheet front cover in-conversation interview with Sir Elton John; an expanding list of forthcoming sold-out shows across the UK. Pandemic or otherwise, artistically at least, John Grant is having a fantastic 2021.

In fact, the last 11 years have been an astonishing era for Grant, since the boy from Michigan – who currently calls the Icelandic capital Reykjavik home – released his belated debut solo album Queen Of Denmark after a prolonged exile from the music business. After the album was voted MOJO Magazine’s best of 2010, Grant’s profile has risen through a series of rapturously received and chart-bothering albums that entwined acutely melodic chamber-pop with darkly glittering dance music tropes, centred on synth-pop and disco. Against this brooding and inventive backdrop and channelled through his glorious dulcet baritone, Grant unleashed autobiographical laments and diatribes, as painful and intimate as they were caustic and savagely funny.

If Grant’s records are beautiful cut jewels, perhaps his star shines even brighter on stage, typically backed by an empathic band drawn from Icelandic, American and British musicians, where this endearing character’s deeply personal sagas trigger an immediate response from his fanatical following.

In other words, the boy from Michigan has done good, often against the odds, quelling the demons and creating some of the most resonant singing and songwriting of the 21st century.

Faint Positive Lateral Flow
Written by John Grant
Published by BMG Music
Film directed by Casey & Ewan


About Moor Mother

Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother) is a national and international touring musician, poet, visual artist, and workshop facilitator. She is a vocalist in three collaborative performance groups: Irreversible Entanglements, MoorJewelry and 700bliss.

She has released multiple albums every year since 2016’s Fetish Bones. In 2017, CTM X Vinyl Factory commissioned her album The Motionless Present; this was followed by Crime Waves, a collaboration with fellow Philly producer Mental Jewelry, and Clepsydra, “a collection of sounds for writers.” In 2020, she launched a series of releases with Swedish musician Olof Melander. Titled Anthologia, the projects are designed to raise funds for disability justice. She worked again with Melander and Mental Jewelry on Forever Industries, a 2020 release which features two jazz-tinged experimental hip-hop singles that speak of making space, outer space, and industry. Most recently, Ayewa put out BRASS, a collaboration with the rapper billy woods.

In fall 2020, Ayewa presented Circuit City, a futuristic theatrical exploration of public/private ownership. As a soundscape and visual artist, Camae’s work has been featured at Baltic Biennale, Samek Art Museum, Vox Populi, Pearlman Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art Chicago, ICA Philadelphia, Bergen Kunstall, Hirshorn Gallery, and The Kitchen NYC. Camae has been commissioned as a durational performance artist by Moog Festival, Vox Populi Gallery, and the Icebox Gallery. Her collective, Black Quantum Futurism (BQF), has been featured in exhibitions at the Schomburg Center, Rebuild Foundation, Temple Contemporary at Tyler School of Art, and the Serpentine Gallery.

Ayewa is a Pew Fellow (2017), a The Kitchen Inaugural Emerging Artist Awardee (2017), a Leeway Transformation Awardee, a Blade of Grass Fellow as part of Black Quantum Futurism (2016), and Rad Girls Philly Artist of the Year (2017). She has been an Artist-in-Residence at West Philadelphia Neighborhood Time Exchange and WORM! Rotterdam residency, and featured with Black Quantum Futurism at Transmediale Festival in Berlin 2017. In 2021, Black Quantum Futurism was awarded the Knight Foundation’s new art and technology fellowship.

Spring Again
Moor Mother

Spoken vocals, composer, conductor: Camae Ayewa
Bass: Luke Stewart
Violin: C Spencer Yeh
Sung vocals: Wolf Weston
Saxophone: Keir Neuringer
Drums: Tcheser Holmes
Trombone: Zacharia El-magharbel


About Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards was formed by Merrill Garbus in 2006, with their 5th studio album sketchy. released March 2021. Garbus not only has produced all of her records, but has produced notable artists such as mxmtoon, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down and Sonny and the Sunsets.  Garbus is also known for her keen remixes for Remi Wolf, Lucius and I’m With Her. Merrill continues to dive into score work, for notable films including Boots Riley’s 2019 Sorry to Bother You, a documentary about female drummers called Tomboy, and a short score for Google for International Women’s Day. She has done fundraisers for Bay Area Girls Rock and was on board to headline the gala fundraiser for Women’s Audio Mission spring of 2020 before it was postponed due to the pandemic.

Time No Time
Music and lyrics written, performed and recorded by Tune-Yards
(Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner)
Director, DP, Editor: Cinque Mubarak (Qlick)
Assisted By: Arrington West, Gianni Pina, Andrew Kodama, Zuri Mubarak