We have Fires, Fools and Fuddling aplenty

A special Knights' Tournament will be staged in front of Morpeth Castle on the Saturday and Sunday.
A special Knights' Tournament will be staged in front of Morpeth Castle on the Saturday and Sunday.

Morpeth Gathering preview: Three days of traditional fun from Friday, April 1, to Sunday, April 3

Saturday, April 2 is the Muckle Day – the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering’s busiest day.

Visitors and townsfolk will mingle for the 49th annual festival of the area’s traditional music and culture. This year’s theme is Fires, Fools and Fuddling!

The day 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 hoafy, or tall tale – and even some bell-ringing.

A free park and ride will operate from the County Hall front car park from 9.30am, operated by vintage buses that are a popular attraction in themselves during the festival.

Even before the traffic comes to a halt for the grand procession at 11am, there’ll be plenty going on across the town with puppets, miners’ rapper dancing, the monthly Farmers’ Market with market stalls, indoor workshops for clog dance and Medieval song and story-telling at the library.

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.

While the road closure operates for just an hour and a quarter, from 10.30am to 11.45am, there will be diversions around the main streets so that the traffic will still flow.

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

The Gadgy, dressed in the 18th century costume seen on the two stone figures on the Clock Tower, represents the people of Morpeth and he will invite the performers and crowds to ‘hoist the hippin on a muckle fligarishon’ (raise the curtain on a huge celebration).

Heading the parade will be Gathering vice chairman Rev Ron Forster as Lord Greystoke, baron of Morpeth returning from the 1388 battle of Otterburn, accompanied by local army cadets and scouts dressed as Medieval soldiers and monks carrying banners and flags.

Lady Greystoke, alias Shirley Forster, will later take on a different role at a lunchtime performance alongside the other Morpeth Waites early music group.

Among the bands, dance teams and entertainers in the procession will be the exciting Baghdaddies street band.

Mixing the traditional music of the Northumbrian pipes with the lively rhythms of brass and percussion instruments, its members will perform a special new piece by Ziad Zabero. The premiere of his composition will take place on the Market Place roadway after the procession has ended.

Shortly afterwards, the Baghdaddies and Friends will present a longer version at the Chantry Bagpipe Museum, where the bagpipe collections provided Ziad’s inspiration. The show will be repeated at 4pm.

Unless the weather is unkind, the music will be aired outside in the courtyard area. There will be a full programme of street entertainment during the Saturday in Carlisle Park, Sanderson Arcade, and the Market Place. The Old Bakehouse Millennium Green will see story-telling and woodcraft activities and there will be guided tours of the Clock Tower.

This year, Morpeth Castle will also be open to visitors. This was the town’s second castle, built in stone on the ridge overlooking the modern park.

All that remains now is the gatehouse and perimeter wall, but the building has been sensitively restored by the Landmark Trust as a holiday let.

On the Saturday and Sunday, the castle building and grounds will host living history displays – including early medieval re-enactment group Dawn of Chivalry, costumes and food with Rent a Peasant on the Saturday and tales from local historian John Sadler on the Sunday.

Live music will be presented by Trouvėre (and on Sunday lunchtime, Morpeth Waites).

At 3pm on both the Saturday and Sunday, armed combat displays and a special Knights’ Tournament will be staged in front of the castle, with a short display again on the Sunday morning.

As well as outdoor activities, indoor events will take place in the town’s central halls and a number of pubs and cafes, with competitions for musicians, writers, reciters and dancers, music sessions and a family concert – since earlier publicity this event at 2pm on the Saturday has now moved to St James’ Community Centre.

One busy performer over the weekend will be Tristan Selden, a former King Edward VI School pupil who now is making a name for himself in the music world.

After running the Saturday morning Medieval song workshop, he will host a music session at Bin 21 and be heard again in the Sunday afternoon family show.

The early Saturday evening Town Hall concert always gives a chance for many of last year’s competition winners to show their musical skills, joined this year by the brilliant Andy May Trio. Andy is a master of the Northumbrian pipes and his fellow musicians Sophy Ball (fiddle) and Ian Stephenson (guitar) are equally talented and enthusiastic performers, composers and arrangers.

The other competition winners set to appear at this event include poet Nick Short.

Saturday night ends with story-telling at the Peppermint Tearoom and a Northumbrian Barn Dance at St George’s Church Hall, with old friends Fiddler’s Elbow band, led by Robin Dunn.

Before that, Stuart Terry (alias Astral Circus) in keeping with the fire theme will be giving a short fire-eating show in the town centre at 8pm.

The venue is likely to be the Market Place, but look out on noticeboards or social media for any changes. Stuart will be on walkabout over the weekend and giving circus skill displays.

As well as the outdoor stalls and shows, the Sunday morning sees orienteering in Carlisle Park, a special church service and a fascinating presentation at 11.30am in the Town Hall Ballroom by Sedayne on the Green Man, who can be seen in medieval carvings in churches throughout the country, including Embleton, Newcastle and Hexham.

An hour later there’s maypole dancing outside, weather permitting, another survival of pagan times.

During the Sunday, the Town Hall hosts the last day of the crafts exhibition and a family concert by performers including singer Ann Wilkinson, Tristan Selden and young fiddlers Scott Martin and Peter Sloan.

The Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour will open to the public on the Sunday afternoon. This will be a rare chance to see some of the town’s civic silver and historic artefacts, including the Medieval iron-bound oak chest that is the Town Hutch with its seven locks, one for each of the craft guilds.

To round off the festivities, the Sunday evening sees A Night on the Tiles with Barry Mead, Frank Robinson and Jim Mageean.

Barry presents a chance to try Medieval tile-making at 6pm, then at 7.30pm Frank has some fascinating tales of the town’s historic pubs.

Jim Mageean ends this year’s Gathering with rousing songs of Tyneside fires and local fuddlers.

Fuddlers? They’re drinkers, as in the song Dance ti thy Daddy, which says: ‘Wor Tommy’s aalways fuddling, He’s sae fond of ale.’

For more information about the programme, visit www.northumbriana.org.uk/gathering