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High note as Wylam festival books winning choir


TALK ABOUT luck! Howzat you happen to book the singers that then go on to take the ashes in the national Choir of the Year 2016 competition?

The co-founder of the Wylam Winter Tales festival, singer-songwriter Gareth Davies-Jones, is delighted, but adds ruefully: “We would have booked a bigger venue if we’d known ... “

So it is that the Voices of Hope are set to lift the rafters of the 140-seater Wylam Methodist Church, but suffice to say, the second winter tales festival is shaping up nicely.

By coincidence, the choir’s repertoire just happens to include a generous dash of music by Wylam’s own Percy Lovell.

The late composer, who lived in the village for many years with his wife, Mary, was a lecturer at Newcastle University for 20 years, up to the mid 1980s.

He also conducted several local ensembles, among them the Newcastle Bach Choir and the Tyneside Chamber Orchestra.

Gareth’s comrade in arms, NHS arts therapist Simon Hackett, said: “Two of Percy’s sons are going to come to the concert and there is talk of one member of the family crossing the Atlantic for it.”

A friend of the Lovell family, and a collector of Percy’s music, David Appleton will give a short talk during the evening.

The concert is but one of the highlights of a festival as diverse as they come. In a programme that will run between Friday, January 27 and Friday, February 3, there will be comedy, art, food, history and more music besides.

There will also be a plethora of attractions designed to appeal to youngsters in particular.

One of them, the Lempen Puppet Theatre, drew inspiration from Charles Darwin and the music of Camille Saint-Saëns for its latest production, the Cardboard Carnival.

The husband and wife team behind the highly-regarded touring theatre company, Liz and Daniel Lempen, say their puppets result from a ‘cardboard mashup’.

Reviewers say the magical creations take on a life of their own.

Another is a circus skills workshop for all the family. Juggler Matt Selman once entertained the crowds at Covent Garden. Now he hopes to get the good burghers of Wylam riding unicycles and spinning plates, among other things.

While a third offers a double bill of calligraphy and crafts, the outcome of the latter being a wee beastie christened a Hex bug, something that looks suspiciously like it has been made out of the head of a toothbrush.

Simon said: “There’s a lot of stuff on the programme for children, for example County Durham singer-songwriter Bethany Elen Coyle is going to write a couple of songs with pupils at Wylam First School reflecting the winter tales theme.

“They will then perform them, with the help of the Stocksfield Stompers folk group.

“The main emphasis, though, has been on organising activities children can do together with their brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents.”

Even the comedy club event, starring Tony Vino – the half Spanish, half Scottish comic who was born in Malaga and raised on Lancashire’s Costa Del Preston – is suitable for those aged 10 upwards.

Needless to say, the banquet prepared for adults is equally rich fare.

An evening of 1940s nostalgia will sing with the harmonies and smooth A cappella sounds of The Shoeshop Quartet.

Taking place in the newest must-visit venue in town, the Daniel Farm Tearoom, it will be served up with a hearty pie and peas supper.

New this year is a photography project entitled Hidden Wylam, in which residents are being invited to take – and submit – pictures of nooks and crannies that might well leave fellow villagers scratching their heads.

“It’s an interactive photography event,” said Gareth. “We’re encouraging local people to photograph aspects, views and perspectives of the village that are hardly known or seen.

“To start the ball rolling, we’ve commissioned local photographer Mariya Pigoulevskaya to take some pictures from inside and around a couple of local landmarks that residents normally have no access to – the Wylam Station signal box and St Oswin’s Church tower.

“These images will primarily be exhibited at Daniel Farm, but also make guest appearances in local business premises roundabout.

“The images that we receive from the public will be compiled and shown as a rolling projection at most of our events during festival week.”

One particular event expected to go down well with punters is Stories in Stone, an evening of history and humour with that little-known double act, television presenter John Grundy and medieval architecture expert Peter Ryder.

Candlelit St Oswin’s Church will be the venue, an entertaining and engaging event the promise.

Gareth said: “John Grundy is well- known for his passionate, knowledgeable and humorous delivery of a wide range of television programmes focusing on the landscape, history and characters of the North.

“Meanwhile, Peter Ryder is a buildings specialist, medieval archaeologist, speleologist, fossil hunter and singer-songwriter, and whatever he turns his attention to, he always has a story to tell.

“Together they will take us on a whirlwind tour of the historic churches of the Tyne Valley. It should be a good night!”

The grand finale of Wylam Winter Tales will be a ‘Celebrate Northumberland’ dinner, at the Wylam Institute, boasting nothing but the best of local produce.

Gareth’s neighbour, Mary Bythell, the caterer who founded the eaterie at the Bradley Gardens walled garden on the outskirts of the village, was co-opted onto the festival’s organising committee to both help in general and run this event in particular.

That night, February 3, will end in the warm vocal embrace of Scottish songstress Yvonne Lyon, a favourite of BBC Radio Two’s ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris.

Further information about events and tickets can be found at

09.01.2017 14:04
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