Musical pioneers go panning for gold

Rothbury Traditional Music Festival 2013. Alistair Anderson. Ref: JCNG RMF1013 19
Rothbury Traditional Music Festival 2013. Alistair Anderson. Ref: JCNG RMF1013 19

Blending the traditional with Trinidad, youngsters from north Northumberland are taking part in the largest celebration of newly-composed music the UK has seen.

Drawn from Wooler’s Steel Quake and Berwick’s Mango Music Shed, a dozen young steel-pan players, aged nine to 20, are the core musicians in Panning for Gold, a new composition by Northumbrian musician Alistair Anderson.

Steel Quake entertains at Glanton Show 2013. Ref: JWNG Glanton2013 8

Steel Quake entertains at Glanton Show 2013. Ref: JWNG Glanton2013 8

Commissioned by Sage Gateshead, as part of The New Music Biennial, Alistair was asked to create new music that would blend the windswept energy of Northumbrian traditional music with the sunny optimism of Trinidad – home of the steel-pan tradition.

The young pan players are joined by scratch DJ Adam Cogdon, clog-dancer Laura Connolly, composer Alistair Anderson on concertina and Wendy Doyle as pan soloist.

Wendy set up Wooler’s Steel Quake 10 years ago and has taken many youngsters from the area across to Trinidad to play with steel-pan bands there.

Joe Benjamins, one of the first recruits to Steel Quake, who now teaches both the Wooler and Berwick bands, has created a short film of steel bands in Trinidad to accompany the new piece.

The young musicians from Northumberland have already taken Panning for Gold to the New Music Biennial weekend at London’s South Bank on Sunday, July 6.

The next performance will be at the Commonwealth Games celebrations at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday, August 2.

The premiere at Sage Gateshead in June was so well-received that plans are afoot to bring it back as part of the venue’s 10th birthday celebrations in December.

Panning for Gold was one of the 20 new commissions, which were chosen from 150 submitted by major music organisations across the UK to be part of this first New Music Biennial.

They represent music from a very wide range of genres from orchestral to jazz, electronic to folk.

All 20 new pieces will be performed at the two free weekend festivals and there will opportunities for the public to ask the composers questions about the music.

Well-received performance

The first performance took place on London’s South Bank the Sunday before last. Alistair told the Gazette: “It was very well-received and we are really pleased with the way it went. The kids all had a great time so we are really looking forward to Glasgow. I think we managed to get the mix of something which reflected Trinidad and the more windswept energy of Northumberland.”

The New Music Biennial was reviewed in The Observer on Sunday and Panning for Gold was one of three performances mentioned.

It read: “Panning for Gold by Alistair Anderson, commissioned by the Sage Gateshead and featuring a steel band, clog dance and concertina, proved so charming and uplifting it made you want to dance.”