War and Peace – with a touch of music hall

Over three days this weekend, Morpeth will once again showcase just what it is that makes Northumberland special.

Visitors and townsfolk will mingle for the lively annual festival of the area’s traditional music and culture at the 48th Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering.

People will be able to learn to play a tune on the mouth organ, raise a cheer for Judy when she gets the better of Mr Punch, be moved by tales of heroes from legends or genuine conflicts, or have a knees-up to the chorus of a Geordie music hall song.

The programme includes concerts, the Border Cavalcade and Pageant and other street events, a barn dance, crafts demonstrations, dialect poetry, storytelling – including a prize for the most convincing teller of tall tales – and even orienteering and bellringing.

The spotlight this year is on the theme of War and Peace.

Everything starts on Friday, April 10, with market stalls, have-a-go workshops, the crafts exhibition, and music and stories from the First World War era.

Popular music duo Hautbois, dressed in the fashions of 100 years ago, will play music of the First World War period and the music hall era from their covered cart on the Market Place among the craft and produce stalls.

The large Yurt tent, loaned by local charity Barnabas Safe and Sound, is the venue for Friday’s family art workshops.

In the morning artist Elaine Porter will help youngsters make doves or mini War Horse puppets, while in the afternoon local group SNAP! will help folk make flags on an international theme.

It is hoped that the makers will wish to carry the finished items in Saturday morning’s spectacular parade during the Border Cavalcade and Community Pageant.

More art will be on view in the Town Hall Corn Exchange which will be transformed into something resembling a village show.

Here the Crafts Exhibition features stalls and demonstrations.

Anyone interested in taking part can take their entries to the Town Hall on the evening of Thursday, April 9.

Events are also taking place in the Town Hall Ballroom and Chantry Bagpipe Museum.

Also at the Chantry, during the afternoon, acclaimed storyteller Simon Heywood will be arriving from his home town of Sheffield to present, for adults and children aged 12 and over, his evocative show Out of the Silence.

Making a welcome return to Morpeth will be Shonaleigh, the town’s Storyteller in Residence some years back.

Friday’s activities end with a friendly pub musicians’ session in the Tap and Spile and a gala concert at the Methodist Church.

Dance teams, musicians, artists, poets and First World War re-enactment soldiers will throng the streets, indoor halls and park to bring a buzz to the Gathering’s busiest day, Saturday – the Muckle Day.

A free Park and Ride will operate from the County Hall front car park from 9.30am, operated by vintage buses.

There is plenty going on before the traffic comes to a halt for the grand procession at 11am – puppets, miners’ rapper dancing, market stalls, dance and music workshops. And Ernie Gordon’s 9.45am mouth organ workshop is in the Town Hall.

After a celebratory ringing of bells from the historic Clock Tower, the Border Cavalcade and Community Pageant will set off from St James’ Church archways and parade down Newgate Street.

At the Market Place the parade will be greeted by civic VIPs and a speech of welcome by The Morpeth Gadgy (the indefatigable Alex Swales MBE).

Among the bands, dance teams and entertainers in the procession will be the magnificent Sheffield City Giants.

In Carlisle Park, Sanderson Arcade, Millennium Green and Market Place, there will be a full programme of street entertainment during Saturday.

Appearing at special events over the weekend is Jim Bainbridge, one of the original Marsden Rattlers who attended the very first Gathering in 1968.

Now living in Ireland, Jim will take part in various concerts and workshops featuring music hall and Irish songs.

After the Saturday concert there’s a Northumbrian Barn Dance across the town at St George’s Church Hall with popular Hexham-based band The Hedgehog’s Skin led by David Oliver.

The Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour will open to the public on Sunday afternoon, a rare chance to see some of the civic silver and historic artefacts which reflect the three hundred years of the Town Hall’s history.

Sunday also sees the last day of the Crafts Exhibition and a family concert. To round off the festivities, Sunday evening sees Ray Stephenson with Geordies on Wax, a presentation of early local sound recordings. Full details of the programme on leaflets and noticeboards around the town during the weekend, or at www.northumbriana.org.uk