Like many festivals in 2020, the pandemic cancelled planned bills of fayre, leaving no time to contemplate alternatives! One year on, at the end of the third lockdown, the weekend after Easter’s jamboree at Morpeth took place – virtually. The opening speech of welcome by gadgie Alex Swailes announced all would be “brought to you by the marvels of Zoom, YouTube and Facebook – way beyond the ken of a 14th-century bailiff!”... or words to that effect. And a fine day out it was.
Confined to one day, the bill brought in professional as well as homespun talent, with storytellers, musicians (both young and older), dialect and theatre. The events and schedule were published on Facebook, coupled with slideshows of previous Gatherings and art displayed throughout the day on YouTube. Each event was strictly timetabled on the latter. Following the welcome, footage of the 2016 costumed cavalcade of performers led by Lord and Lady Greystoke from their victory at Otterburn was shown, renowned Novocastrian ‘Balkan’ music band The Baghdaddies stealing the show, with improvisations by Border piper Matt Seattle.
This led into the children’s concert with Jim and Lynette Eldon duetting and clogging, with interludes by marionette Gerald and jig doll Donald. The impressive fiddle and concertina player Mossy Christian followed, with storyteller Taffy Thomas’s biopic shown, finishing with three tales learnt from Cumbrian informants. The Border Ballad, The Laidley Worm, with its wicked stepmother theme, was related with puppetry and folksong. Local storyteller Jim Grant ensued with four yarns, some familiar such as Fill This House, and others less so.
For obvious reasons, the Joiners’ Arms singaround hosted by Dave Minikin couldn’t take place there, so was a live Zoom affair. The afternoon Dialect concert was rather a curate’s egg. Either I’ve become acclimatised to the local brogue, or there was too little – I suspect the latter. That said, excellent contributions came from Eileen Beers, Peter Armstrong and Graham Bell, as well as Johnny Handle singing Follow The Horses from an earlier year’s footage, with poetry from others. The evening music concert was largely enjoyable, with Rob Say leading on Northumbrian pipes and concertina; festival directors Kim Bibby-Wilson and John Bibby on mandolin and mandola respectively; and the fiddling family of Stuart Hardy to finish. Wallace Calvert also played concertina and cello – another name to look out for! There was also young quartet Tonbande’s two fiddles, melodeon and keyboard accompaniment. As a former dance band musician, I’d prefer more attention be given to tempo and bar length, which spoilt their last medley for me. That said, their arrangements showed promise, and especially the step dance interlude. The day ended with a 15-minute monologue by actor, Morpeth resident Pat Dunn, with Tom Kelly’s monologue, Elsie… the story being about a care home spinster’s litany of admirers, and prejudices concerning them; all, perhaps, with a smidgeon of dementia thrown in.
On the whole, this was a satisfying day’s non-excursion. Let’s hope 2022 can show an enhanced ‘normality’!