HEXHAM’S celebrations of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee began in spectacular style on Friday with a memorable concert at Hexham Abbey, arranged by the Rotary Club of Hexham.

Compered by sporting legend Sir Brendan Foster, who lives in Stocksfield, the event took the hundreds of guests packed into the Abbey on a fantastic tour of the Queen’s 70-year reign, via lilting Northumbrian pipes and choral pieces and the exotic rhythms of the South Sea Islands and the Caribbean.

It was a joyous occasion which caused one of the contributors, Tynedale resident and BBC Look North television favourite for a quarter of a century Carol Malia to comment: "I haven't stopped smiling all night!"

It was fitting the Abbey should host the concert, for in 1974 the Queen became the first reigning monarch in 500 years to enter the historic church to mark its 1300th anniversary, and her signature still has pride of place in the Abbey visitors’ book.

The event was given a mellifluous start when the Piper to the Duke of Northumberland, Andrew Davison marched the length of the aisle in his traditional shepherd’s plaid playing “Northumbria Rejoices,” the pipe tune written by his illustrious predecessor as the Duke’s piper  Jack Armstrong to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

After the Jubilee Fanfare performed by Andy Wright, Jason Core, John Weaver, Asim Iqbal and Helen Walker, it was the turn of organist Michael Haynes to put the Abbey’s magnificent Phelps organ  - installed for the 1300th anniversary - through its paces with regal passion.

Hexham Courant: The musical evening took place at Hexham Abbey on Friday evening (May 27).The musical evening took place at Hexham Abbey on Friday evening (May 27).

The mood was lightened when the engaging children of St Joseph’s Middle School choir sang songs from the Lion King and other pieces under the energetic baton of charismatic teacher Phil Rosier.

The Abbey rafters were then rattled by the combination of accordion, fiddle and penny whistle of the Hedgehog’s Skin ceilidh band, under the ageless David Oliver, before the rare treat of hearing exhilarating music from the magnificent Fijian Army Choir, representing the Commonwealth, which the Queen holds in such high esteem. Despite their South Seas heritage, all members of the choir are serving soldiers with the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery based at Albemarle Barracksat Harlow Hill.

Rounding off the first part of the programme were the Hexham Rock Choir – not as the name might suggest a heavy metal outfit, but a choir comprising people of middle years with a liove of fell good music.

The daunting task of opening the second half of the programme fell to 17-year-old Northumbrian folk artist Abbey Tilley, whose three contributions, including the winsome 200-year-old anthem “Water of Tyne”, were amongst the best received performances of the night.

Another local musician, Rebecca Howeel, also delighted on the violin, before the superb Hexham Brass brought the indoor proceedings to a rousing conclusion with a series of patriotic tunes from around the British Isles.

It was left to the wonderful Sunshine Panners Steel Band to bring the occasion to a warm and delightful finale with their Caribbean rhythms in the very chilly Abbey cloister while drinks were served.