The Big Minstrel Gig

A man playing a modern version of a Renaissance lute
Renaissance Lute, by David Romero. Reproduced under CC-BY licence.

We’re counting down an ‘advent’ calendar of highlights from the exhibition Plays, Processions and Parchment: Discovering Festive Traditions in the North East of England, which launches on 19th April. This exhibition celebrates some of the forgotten folk traditions, religious rituals, performance history, and plays from the region. With a week to go, music is in the air.

These days when we think of the North East’s music venues, we probably imagine the Metro Arena in Newcastle or the Sage Gateshead. In the medieval period, though, the market town of Beverley was the lively centre for musicians in the region. According to the Ordinances (regulations) of the Beverley Guild of Minstrels, no minstrel could perform in public without becoming a Guild member. Each year, the biggest gig in the North East was the great annual meeting of minstrels at the Cross Fair held in Beverley in May.

The exhibition highlights some of the ways in which minstrels – and waits, or official town bands – were central to the cultural life of the region. They left their mark not only in music, but in some of the architecture of our churches and in precious objects. Come along to find out all about the north-eastern predecessors to likes of The Unthanks or Lindisfarne.

Plays, Processions and Parchment runs from 19th April to 22nd May in the Chapel of Nine Altars, Durham Cathedral. Entry is free. Visit the website for more details, and to see the accompanying programme of weekly talks. The exhibition is curated by Records of Early English Drama North East

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