Modern acts to feature at festival

TALENTED musicians from across south east Northumberland and beyond are tuning up for the return of the Wansbeck Music Festival.

The March festival, which celebrated its centenary in 2006, has nurtured thousands of young hopefuls over the decades, including Ashington-born opera singers Janice Cairns and Sheila Armstrong, who both went on to find fame after appearing at the festival as youngsters.

But in a bid to keep the competition fresh and relevant, organisers have added new classes to this year’s event following requests from schools for more modern-day musical challenges.

The new additions, including classes for rock bands and a vocal solo from a film or show, will take their place in the seven-day festival alongside long-established classes such as recorders, woodwind, brass, piano and orchestras.

It will be held from March 7 to 9 for recorders and woodwind, and from March 21 to 24 for other classes at venues in Morpeth and Newbiggin by the Sea.

Secretary Gillian Stewart said that although the festival started in 1906 it has evolved over the years to appeal to a wider cross-section of performers all over the region.

“I don’t want people to think that we are a traditional event,” she said.

“Although we have been going for goodness knows how many years and we have traditional elements, we have changed tremendously with the times.

“This is why we brought in the ukulele and string bands after being asked to by one of the schools.

“Somebody also suggested steel bands, which are quite popular now.”

This year’s festival will feature about 800 performances in 74 different classes.

Adjudicators are Colin Touchin for recorder and woodwind and Steven Roberts for the general festival.

Entry forms can be downloaded online at and the closing date for entries is Friday, January 18.

The opening session for recorders will start at 9.30am on March 7 in St George’s URC Church, Morpeth, and the final brass classes will be held on March 24.

A closing concert, featuring some of the festival prizewinners, will be held on the final Sunday at St George’s Church.