Sunday, June 10

Oh me lads...

Blaydon Races painted by William Irving, 1903
Yesterday I decided to get into the spirit of Wriggles' acquired Geordie heritage and join in the celebrations for 150 years of the famous Blaydon Races, written by George, or Geordie Ridley. He wrote and performed the song in 1862, first singing it in the music saloon at Balmbras which was also the place where people would congregate before setting off to see a horse fair at Blaydon race course. The ballad tells of a fairly fictional event of a bawdy bus ride along the route, but the characters and places mentioned in it were are real and can be traced today. The Blaydon Road Race, as is more familiar today, has been going since 1981 and happens annually, as the song states "on the 9th of June". The song is often referred to as being the Geordie 'National Anthem' and is one any friends from the North East can recite by heart whether they like it or not!

The amassed crowds
One of the many events scheduled around Newcastle and surrounds, was a day of music and celebration by Grey's Monument organised by the Sage Gateshead, our outstanding centre for music. Amongst performers, the County Durham born Graeme Danby, one of the stars of the English National Opera would be performing both the traditional ballad and a new version for 2012, with lyrics compiled by the listeners of BBC Newcastle to mark the changes that have taken place in the 150 years. It was really quite heart warming to see hundreds of people gathered of all ages out of a warmth and pride in the song and the strength of both community and identity in this area. When Graeme Danby was performing the new song it was such an atmosphere; the hairs on my neck stood up and a lump came to my throat as the crowd bellowed along with the traditional choruses. Everyone clapped and cheered along, and any of the musicians who were not on stage just started up in the crowds making for a truly special performance. A variety of talented Northumbrians played throughout the afternoon, and then at the end of the day, everyone came together again for the traditional and much-loved song. Song sheets were handed out to the crowds, and a sense of anticipation was crackling. It was as if the earlier song was forgotten; this was what it was all about, the history and heritage of these people. At 6pm, the 4000 amassed runners started the race from Bigg Market, Newcastle out to Blaydon and celebrations ran on into the night.

Rather like the Jubilee, I was highly sceptical about the whole affair and put it down quickly as not my kind of thing. I had heard the song bellowed by football fans and although appreciated the painting, was not very keen on it. I thought it would be a good day out for us though, and that Wriggles would enjoy the music and that it would be something to tell her about as she gets older, especially if we stay here and develop a strong sense of place. After all, it is not always 150 years of anything everyday, far less with a concert attached to it. I may have a slight Scrooge-attitude to many mass events, but I am determined not to let that spoil my daughters fun and innocence. If I have to shut up until she can make her own mind up, so be it! But, like the Jubilee street parties, I was pleasantly surprised and swept away in the cheerful and friendly nature of it all. I actually found it slightly emotional; the strength of the celebration in belonging and history. My father has always been fascinated by under-told history, like folklore and things passed orally, particularly song, in communities and families and it is not until I had Wriggles that I appreciated the importance of keeping small fragments alive and treasured, as somewhere down the line if not all the way along, someone will be fiercely proud and engaged in their history.

Race down Collingwood Street
I was born and raised in the South East where no one seems to give two hoots about where they came from. I certainly feel little allegiance to where I grew up. Fond, yes, but unless I specifically believe in something like some of it's services or a place, then I wouldn't go out of my way to stand up for it. Traitor? Who knows. Moving up north, one of the biggest surprises was the fierce pride that people have in the North East. There is really such a sense of people pulling together and celebrating and safeguarding the history, traditions and culture around it which is wonderful especially in an over changing world. Whatever people think about how things are today and the differences between the new 'culture rich' Newcastle compared the the industrial city famed for far more working class fare, they refuse to let the past lie forgotten. Even if much of the city is now unrecognisable to the past, especially for a newcomer like me who has only ever seen the product of a huge regeneration project, it will always be remembered and both the community spirit, independence and sense of place will always linger in families.
My Hinny

Altogether now....
 "I went to Blaydon Races
Twas on the ninth of June
Eighteen Hundred and Sixty Two
On a summer's afternoon
I took the bus from Balmbras
And she was heavy laden
Away we went along Collingwood Street
That's on the Road to Blaydon
Oh me lads, you should've seen us gannin
Passing the folks along the road
And all of them were starin'
All the lads and lasses there
They all had smilin' faces
Gannin along the Scotswood Road
To see the Blaydon Races..."

1 comment:

  1. Good post! Go favourite place to be!