Effectively, music has always been in Allendale, probably courtesy of the churches, and certainly courtesy of the Silver Bands that were a socially cohesive force in most mining communities throughout the 19th century.
But for some of us, anything prior to 1990 is an unknown land, and I suspect that there wasn’t a great deal of music going on throughout much of the second half of the twentieth century. So where did the current sense of Allendale’s music come from?
In 1990, at about the same time that Jim Semmence and his partner Jacquie Robson had taken ownership of the King’s Head Inn, the eponymous Music in Allendale group formed, co-founded I believe by mover-and-shaker Colin McDermott and Roger and Rowena Wingfield, then members of the Northern Sinfonia orchestra. While Music in Allendale (who I hope shortly to feature in their own diary entry) presented a quarterly programme of finely wrought classical gems, mostly in a chamber music context, in Allendale Village Hall, Jim & Jacquie brought in a barn-storming array of big name, nationally renowned musicians from 1970s Rhythm & Blues, as well as top-notch folk bands, to which, on a whim it seemed, Jim added a Friday night folk music session whenever it suited. The King’s Head became as renowned for its friendly service as for its musical offerings upstairs (always a ticket gig, sometimes quite expensive — the big names didn’t come cheaply!).
It really was a delightful time to be living in or near Allendale, with a great music pub, great schools, friendly church and a social scene that seemed somehow to encompass all of the above. But things changed as ambitions were thwarted: Colin McDermott’s grandiose plans for renovation of the village hall into a superlatively appointed music venue foundered when the grant applications were rejected, and he shortly thereafter left the village for other parts. Jim invested heavily into the Cellar Club in Newcastle upon Tyne, based on the strength of his contacts in the music industry and financed by the King’s Head success, but eventually pulled out of that arrangement and upped sticks for the Newcastle Opera House, if we could believe it (we could, just!). There many more big big names came through the toon, but by this time Allendale was feeling impoverished, though Music in Allendale continued without Colin McDermott.
However, the new owners of the King’s Head, Margaret and Alan Taylor, were not averse to good music upstairs, as long as someone organised it, and with a small seed grant of some £5k from LEADER, the little folk club began to promote professional music again. One of the terms of that grant was that at least 4 concerts a year should be held in the village hall (so as not to favour an obvious commercial establishment). And so the emerging group called Northumbrian Music Nights began to promote ever more extensively, over several years, having caught the excitement bug. The NMN experience actually culminated with an extended five year project called SNAP (Sweden North Pennines and Ploermel, Brittany) which introduced each EU region to the music of the partners through adolescent musicians. It was an exciting project from start to finish, but by the time it was over, the NMN organisers were exhausted with the vagaries of the music business and had begun to move into catering and baking (AllendaleBakery.com).
Phil Ogg’s promotions enterprise Twango began to promote gigs at the Crown in Catton, and up at Sinderhope Community Centre. Of course, Music in Allendale maintained its regular concert schedule, but by this time the group had moved their concerts to St. Cuthbert’s church. And The Golden Lion developed a new formula for live music featuring bands that could be squeezed into a tight corner while crowds of eager drinkers attended for free. Meanwhile, Nigel Baynes’ karaoke machine was making inroads into popularising Allendale as a musical village by going out to pubs throughout Tynedale to drum up support for the annual May Fair, which always featured the grand karaoke finals. It was still looking like music for everybody, especially since the Dale Singers, having gone through transmutations galore over the years since their inception in the early ’90s, are still going strong.
Into this context then, some clever person inserted a £40k budget item for a folk festival celebrating the music of Allendale, into the proposed Landscape Partnership scheme developed between the North Pennines AONB and Fawside, for some £2.4million of Heritage Lottery money, and when that financing was actually granted, it was time for the Allen Valleys Folk Festival to be born. With special local sponsorship, this year, it looks like the AVFF will continue, and with a vibrant young and energetic board of directors, it should, but as with everything associated with music promotions, a nice healthy profit at the end of this year’s festival would not go amiss either!
And we’re blessed to be growing, or contributing members to, what feels like our own local bands too: the rise of Eabhal and Tomorrow is Lost are great indicators of the thriving music scene here in Allendale. Of course, throughout all these years, the 8 bell peal in the tower at St. Cuthbert’s has rung at least twice a week, thanks to the intrepid bell ringers there (about which more in another piece). Even the handbells are ringing, thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth Beardsley and her antique set of bells!
Meanwhile, in a real ‘blast from the past’, Canadian champion fiddler Pierre Schryer, one of the most exciting (and from a promotions standpoint, one of the best collection of gigs ever put on by NMN over the years) made contact recently with the remnants of NMN to see if there was a chance of putting on a concert with his mate on guitar, in early June. As it turned out, the village hall was fully booked over the weekend in question, and besides there was the big surgery to consider. So NMN proposed the gig over to a beloved promoter/agent working as SharperThan and a gig, the only one in England on this tour, was settled for Saturday the 8th of June, at Stocksfield Community Centre.
Incidentally, the Pierre Schryer/Adam Dobres gig will be complemented locally by another concert promoted by SharperThan featuring Alastair Anderson and Ian A. Anderson at Allendale village hall on 23rd June. More on that one probably closer to the time, but meanwhile, the Schryer/Dobres gig is still open for tickets, so local Allendale folks who loved Pierre’s music will want the opportunity to consider this offering, for sure.