Gathering the crowds for a weekend of fun

Fun in the streets at the Morpeth Gathering.
Fun in the streets at the Morpeth Gathering.

FAMILIES made the most of the Bank Holiday weekend to flock to another fantastic Morpeth festival.

The annual Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering again attracted visitors from near and far who called in to enjoy traditional music, art, dance and craft — and even try some of the activities for themselves.

As always, the Saturday morning pageant proved the star attraction, this year featuring Veronica the Dragon and steam roller The Coquet Lass, but the good weather brought out large numbers for all of the outdoor events, including battle re-enactments and dance performances.

Gathering Committee Chairman Kim Bibby-Wilson said: “We are delighted with how it went.

“The weather helped to make the whole weekend go so smoothly. We had a little bit of rain on Friday, but it didn’t deter the participants.

“The outdoor events had good numbers, certainly on a par with previous years and they may even have been better than last year.

“One or two of the indoor events did suffer because it was such an abnormal weekend with the double Bank Holiday and a number of our regulars were away. There were also a few other folk festivals taking place at the same time so the situation was to be expected, but we are pleased that we still had large numbers of people turning up.”

The festival began on Friday, the same day as the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, so visitors took the chance to watch the event on screens in the Town Hall.

Youngsters also had the opportunity to create wedding charms and tiaras in the Barnabas Safe and Sound yurt in the Market Place.

“We were very pleased with the Barnabas yurt,” said Mrs Bibby-Wilson.

“It takes a couple of hours to erect, but it was very well received. It looked good and the activities inside went down very well. The art workshops had a constant flow of people to make lovely wedding charms and you could see youngsters all over the town walking around with crowns and tiaras on that they had made. We would definitely like to use the yurt again.”

About 60 events were organised as part of the festival, including well-attended bone playing workshops, an exhibition and tours of the Council Chamber in Morpeth Town Hall, where visitors were able to see historic treasures such as the old Guild boxes.

Children from Morpeth First School delighted audiences with dances around the maypole and there was also the launch of a new book, The Curious Yards and Alleyways of Morpeth by Bridget Gubbins.

The Chantry Courtyard acted as the stage for dance groups due to a lack of space at Sanderson Aracde, as well as hosting Swedish fiddlers Falu Spelmanslag, who were in the region to perform at The Sage Gateshead.

One of the more unusual performances was a digital sound composition by Trevor Wishart, using local voices to create a musical extravaganza. Morpeth was given a preview of the piece ahead of the premiere at The Sage last night.

The festival was themed around a celebration of railways, writers and reivers, with particular reference to the Wannie Line.

Three choirs — Voicemale, Coquet Singers and the Wannie Liners — came together to perform the 1967 song about the closure of the line, The Track That’ll Never Come Back, and the composer Mark Jones travelled from York to hear it.

Meanwhile, the winners’ concert continues to go from strength to strength.

Stalls in the Market Place and Town Hall were a welcome attraction for many, but the Gathering organisers wish to make it clear that they were not responsible for a trader who set up near the Riverside Leisure Centre without permission.

Mrs Bibby-Wilson wants to thank Northumberland County Council and all volunteers who helped with the event and a special award was presented to Norman Froud for his years of organisational support.

“We wanted to give a very special thank you to Norman for not just coping with all the complexities of different events in different rooms at the Town Hall, but he always goes the extra mile,” she said.

“Everything is always organised and he thinks of things that we don’t. He is an asset to the town. We couldn’t function without him.

“There are so many people to thank. The Gathering has proved to be a real community event. People have helped with all sorts of things, from providing storage to putting up posters and so many different services, both planned and as emergency measures. They have been brilliant.”

Organisers are now preparing for next year’s Gathering, with plans to celebrate the Morpeth Olympics and early offices and government of the town, such as bailiffs, constables, ale tasters, flesh tasters and the court leete.

“Although we have just finished the 2011 Gathering we are already planning for next year,” said Mrs Bibby-Wilson.

“The finances are going to be a major concern, but we are hoping that with the recession and central government cuts stabilising the situation will stabilise overall. We will keep going with grant applications and trying to get patrons and sponsors as soon as we can.

“This year has been very much getting it done by the skin of our teeth and we still don’t know what the ticket receipt total is. We reckoned that we would break even, but that depends on the ticket income achieving our targets.”