Concert borders on the brilliant!

Morpeth  Gathering Fundraising Concert.'Alec Swailes
Morpeth Gathering Fundraising Concert.'Alec Swailes

A SELL-OUT crowd enjoyed a celebration of local and traditional music at Morpeth Town Hall in support of a major annual event.

The Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering’s 34th fundraising concert was an evening of contrasts, with performers in their teens and others approaching 80 years of age, and the music included tunes that had just been composed and pieces going back to the 17th Century.

What was common to all was the excellence of the performances.

The happy mood of the evening was encouraged by the compere — Morpeth Gadgy Alex Swailes. His humour, knowledge and enthusiasm were certainly catching and as for his rendition of the Blaydon Races, his singing, dancing and prancing belied his fast approaching 80th birthday.

The abridged Border Directors, comprising of Kim Bibby-Wilson, John Bibby and Matt Seattle, included in their set a specially composed tune by Matt called The Siege of Morpeth Castle. This reflected the themes for this year’s Gathering in April, Sport and King Charles II granting Morpeth a Coat of Arms.

The new Clock Tower Cloggies included the evening’s youngest performer Deborah Bell, who continues the local clog dancing tradition. The group is always on the look-out for new faces, particularly as numbers are reduced when university beckons ‘older’ members.

Popular dead-pan poet and singer Bob Bolam had the audience in stitches. His updated version of George Formby’s When I’m cleaning windows, now entitled Re-installing Windows, perfectly captured the frustrations of dealing with computers.

Completing the first half of the evening were Rachael Hales and Nathan Armstrong, who are undertaking folk music degrees at Newcastle University. Playing fiddle and viola, they included tunes by local composers Robert Whitehead and Colin Bradford.

Part two of the concert saw two more regulars — Anita James and Ernie Gordon — demonstrate their expertise on guitar, mouth organs, drum and bones.

Included in their repertoire was Will Atkinson’s march Northumberland. Ernie, aged 79, amply showed that age is no barrier for a musician.

Returning to the 17th Century, university lecturer Bennett Hogg had researched the house concert music of that time. This he performed with Rachel Hales, now playing cello, and music student Luke Waterfield. To make the sound more authentic, the cello and two violins were tuned in the manner of that period.

The final act was long-time favourite Alistair Anderson, the local and internationally famous concertina player and Northumbrian piper.

Alistair can boast that he has performed at 33 of the 34 Gathering fundraising concerts held. He is closely followed by Alex Swailes, who has only missed two. Given their many commitments over the years, these are truly magnificent records.

Alistair’s performance included part of the music he wrote for a contemporary dance suite to celebrate the Olympic torch passing through Northumberland this year. Representing the 17th Century were hornpipes and finally a brilliantly haunting new composition Wild Geese that held the audience completely. His reputation is truly deserved.

Congratulations to Kim Bibby-Wilson and her small band of helpers for bringing together such an excellent array of performers and providing much pleasure to all who attended.

SIMON PRINGLE