Oct 09 2015

BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival 2015, Sage Gateshead


This year BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival of ideas returns to Sage Gateshead from Friday 6 November – Sunday 8 November 2015 for a weekend of provocative debate, new ideas, live music and performance.

Now in its tenth year, the Festival brings together high-profile figures from the worlds of arts, science, politics and literature to discuss and challenge current thinking on a range of topics, this year focusing on a theme of ‘Tearing Up The Rule Book’, exploring why the idea of rule-breaking has become so attractive to business, politics, culture and other areas of public life – and asking which of our rule books need to be kept firmly intact.

World on 3, Sunday Morning, Jazz Records Requests, and the Early Music Show will broadcast from the festival for the first time bringing more music programming at the Festival than ever before, with many of Radio 3’s regular programmes broadcast live from the Radio 3 pop-up studio on the concourse of Sage Gateshead.

This year’s opening Free Thinking Lecture will be given by American poet Claudia Rankine, just announced as winner of the 2015 Forward Poetry Best Collection prize. Winner of the PEN Open Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, her book ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ became an instant classic and New York Times best seller, being hailed as ‘the book of a generation’. On the stage at Sage Gateshead she will talk about the power of language and what it means to be black in the new millennium.

Guests and speakers for this year’s Festival exploring all aspects of rule-breaking and rule-making include scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, Chocolat author Joanne Harris, actresses Sheila Hancock and Juliet Stevenson, novelist and filmmaker Tariq Ali, authors Anne Fine and Pat Barker, journalist Simon Heffer, theatre director and author Neil Bartlett, former tennis table champion and writer Matthew Syed and award winning composer Jocelyn Pook. The Free Thinking Festival will also feature performances at Sage Gateshead from artists including Royal Northern Sinfonia, Peggy Seagar, Sam Robson, The Wilson Family, Camille O’Sullivan, Voices of Hope and The Marian Consort.

The Festival will feature this year’s BBC Radio 3 and Arts and Humanities Research Council New Generation Thinkers, winners of a scheme for young academics, who will be delivering a series of essays on topics including The Moor of Florence; Kilts, Celts and Clearances in World War One; Jews in Occupied France; Beer and the British Empire; The Medieval Scottish Dream State and Sculpture and Seduction in the 18th Century.

All tickets for Free Thinking are free to the public and will be made available on Monday 5 October. Free Thinking is broadcast on Radio 3 over the weekend of 6 – 8 November and in the three weeks following the festival. All the debates and lectures will be available as free downloads via Radio 3’s Arts and Ideas podcast.

The weekend’s highlights include

  • Richard Dawkins In Conversation with Free Thinking presenter Philip Dodd on religion, culture and science
  • Stage Directions: Actress Juliet Stevenson and theatre director Natalie Abrahami, who directed Stevenson in an acclaimed recent revival of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days ask: how easy is it to break rules in the theatre?
  • Rule Making and Rule Breaking for Women and Men: Actress Sheila Hancock, culture editor at BuzzFeed UK Bim Adewunmi theatre director and author Neil Bartlett and Head Teacher of Educating Yorkshire’s head teacher Jonny Mitchell discuss gender difference in attitudes to rule breaking.
  • Books at Breakfast: Making Mischief: Author of Chocolat Joanne Harris and Radio 3 New Generation Thinker Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough discuss the enduring power of Norse mythology


  • Rule Breakers or Rule Makers? Novelist and film maker Tariq Ali, historian and Daily Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer and Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria Vera Baird QC discuss which institutions should consider ripping up their rule books


  • Breathalysing Britain: Free Spirits or a Drain on Society?: expert on addiction Dr Sally Marlow, philosopher and wine columnist Professor Barry Smith, author and Muslim women’s activist Shelina Zahra Janmohamed and former editor of the Sun and Patron of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, David Yelland


  • The Family is Dead! Long Live The Family!: With author and first Children’s Laureate Anne Fine, novelist and communalist Tobias Jones and Co-Director of the Centre for Population Health Studies Professor Sarah Cunningham Burley


  • Landmark – Angela Carter: Novelists Joanna Kavenna and Natasha Pulley join Angela Carter’s literary executor Susannah Clapp and her friend the cultural critic Christopher Frayling to discuss the award-winning author’s writing and influence thirteen years after her early death


  • Old Ways, New Directions: Cumbrian shepherd James Rebanks and cultural anthropologist Professor Veronica Strang explore human interactions with the environment and discuss the value of hard-won traditional knowledge and its challenges to the modern world


  • A live edition of Radio 3’s Words and Music on the theme of “Tearing up the Rule Book” from St Mary’s Church in Gateshead with actors including Stephen Tompkinson accompanied by members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia

More information on the Free Thinking Festival can be found at and


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