Morpeth is all set for a golden Gathering

A snapshot of the Border Cavalcade and Pageant parade at a previous Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering. Picture by Paul Harris.
A snapshot of the Border Cavalcade and Pageant parade at a previous Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering. Picture by Paul Harris.

Hand over your gold! That’s not a threat, but the message of this year’s Northumbrian Gathering in Morpeth.

The annual event invites musicians, artists and a wealth of entertainers and experts to the town to share their enjoyment of the treasures of local music, craft and heritage.

The Brothers Gillespie will headline the Sunday afternoon family concert in the Town Hall.

The Brothers Gillespie will headline the Sunday afternoon family concert in the Town Hall.

Visitors will gather for the town’s 50th festival of Northumberland’s traditions – the Golden Gathering – between April 21 and 23.

The aim is to present 50 singers, 50 pipers, 50 dancers, 50 poets and so on.

Organisers hope shops will display the red and golden yellow colours of the county flag (or the black and white Northumberland Tartan) and the spectators of the Saturday morning procession are invited to turn out sporting clothes including those colours.

There is a special prize for the best dressed shop window and the best costumed female and male spotted over the weekend will receive the Cushie and Cuddy Butterfield awards.

Look out for a highwayman during the festival. He will be in a similar costume to the trio pictured at a previous Gathering.

Look out for a highwayman during the festival. He will be in a similar costume to the trio pictured at a previous Gathering.

The event coincides with Iain McNicol’s 50th birthday and you might well be challenged by him to hand over your valuables.

He is just one of many old friends from the event’s half-century who will be present, but there will be plenty of younger performers who will showcase their talents.

These include the Brothers Gillespie, who will headline the Sunday afternoon family concert in the Town Hall.

Musician David Oliver, a member of the winning student folk group at one of the very first Gatherings, has composed a tune to commemorate Gannie’s Gansey – the venerable woolly jumper that he wore on that distant occasion.

He performs during the Friday evening Golden Gala concert along with his son Joey, who wore the very same sweater at the 40th festival.

The golden treasure theme has inspired family art workshops, which will help participants produce items such as crowns and a treasure chest to be displayed during the Saturday morning procession.

Those keen on dancing have a choice of different dance workshops on the Friday and Saturday in the Town Hall including clog, Maypole, early dance and rapper dance.

Rapper isn’t a modern hip-hop or breakdance style, but the traditional sword dance developed by North East miners and performed in a fast and furious fashion.

This workshop will be led by Newcastle Kingsmen, just one of several teams that will dance around the town as part of the Saturday outdoor shows in the Market Place, Carlisle Park, William Turner Herb Garden and Sanderson Arcade.

The Saturday parade, known as the Border Cavalcade and Pageant, is a central event of the Gathering’s programme.

A procession of performers and costumed groups is led by Lord and Lady Greystoke – recreating the return of the Lord of the Manor after the Battle of Otterburn in 1388.

The pageant is greeted at the Town Hall by civic VIPs and a speech of welcome by The Morpeth Gadgy, Alex Swailes.

The Gadgy, dressed in the 18th century costume seen on the two stone figures on the Clock Tower, represents the people of Morpeth.

A free vintage bus park and ride will operate on the Saturday from the County Hall front car park from 9am to 4pm. While the road closure operates from 10.30am to 11.45am, there will be diversions around the main streets so that the traffic will still flow.

Another new addition to the programme, on the Friday afternoon, is a musical show bin the Town Hall by Jim Eldon with the title Family Songs, Family Tunes.

His wife Lynette will be there with a clog step or two, after running the clog dance workshop earlier in the day.

The Town Hall is also the venue for an event aimed at budding songwriters or those just interested in hearing how composers put songs together, on the Saturday morning.

It will be led by Tom Patterson, originally from Ponteland, who has won the Gathering songwriting competition several times.

At the same time, there is a family singing workshop for children, parents and guardians of all ages at St Robert’s Church Hall, led by Jane Harland of Werca’s Folk.

While outdoor events are free, the indoor workshops have a very low charge to help meet costs, with no charge for accompanied children under five.

There are still a couple of places left at the pre-booked Play In A Day led by master pipe maker Dave Shaw at the Chantry international Bagpipe Museum on Gathering Friday.

This Northumbrian smallpipes workshop is targeted at adults and students over 16, but younger musicians have their own drop-in session at Bin 21 where Northumbrian Pipers’ Society experts will help novices try out the pipes, or join in a general tunes session.

Further music sessions especially for young musicians take place during the Saturday, led by David and Joey Oliver.

Events across the weekend will reflect many of the other themes showcased over the years – mining, Border battles, the Town Hall’s history, rural life, and so on.

With Gathering Sunday falling this year on St George’s Day, also William Shakespeare’s birthday, the festival will celebrate Englishness and Morpeth’s Tudor links.

Darlington Mummers will pop up around town on the Sunday to act out the traditional mummers’ play involving St George and patriotic songs will be sung by early music duo Hautbois from their covered cart in the Market Place on the Friday.

On both the Saturday and Sunday, the William Turner Herb Garden is the venue for Rent a Peasant and Archaeosoup to present interactive living history displays.

The York Waits will perform Tudor music during the Saturday and on the Sunday morning, the Friends of William Turner will lead guided tours of the herb garden.

Overlooking the park is the surviving stone gatehouse of Morpeth Castle, which will be open to the public on the Saturday and Sunday. The castle and grounds will host storytellers Sedayne and Rapunzel, musicians Paul Martin and Iain Gelston and the Time Bandits group.

Further along the park, by the riverside play area, a later era will be showcased by the soldiers of the Sealed Knot and, at 3pm on the Saturday and Sunday, a set piece re-enactment of a skirmish from the Civil War.

A varied programme of events in the park includes music and dance, orienteering, traditional children’s games and special circus tent shows by Astral Circus.

Throughout the Gathering, storytellers Taffy Thomas and Jim Grant will present sessions at a variety of venues. Musical headliners during Friday’s opening evening concert include the Bottle Bank Band with fiddler Stewart Hardy and his community band.

Leading traditional band 422 will play at the Saturday barn dance and earlier on that day at the Bagpipe Museum, there will be a special concert by the celebrated Highland bagpiper Dougie Pincock and the York Waits.

Saturday’s Winners Concert showcases last year’s champions of the music and reciting competitions, with guest singer Carolyn Robson accompanied by piper Andy May.

Sunday’s final concert will present new Northumbrian super-group Alistair Anderson and Northlands, along with choir Werca’s Folk.

The whole event can only take place with a huge effort from the voluntary Gathering committee and a large number of supporters and partners.

Funding support has come from the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund, Northumberland County Council’s Community Fund, Active Northumberland, Morpeth Boundary Ride trustees, Morpeth Town Council and many others.

The costs cannot be met by ticket income and so sincere thanks are due to all who have helped the Gathering reach its half century.