The words of the poet laureate exploring a hidden history of the Durham coalfield is among the highlights of this year’s BRASS Festival

Simon Armitage and his band LYR will premiere new music at Durham Cathedral inspired by the incredible story of Durham’s ‘Category D’ villages.

The work is the result of a commission for the festival in partnership with the Durham Miners Association (DMA) and the Redhills charity. 

In 1951, settlements across County Durham – mostly mining villages – were deemed by the local authority not to have an economically viable future. These ‘category d’ villages would not receive any further public funding in the expectation that people would leave their communities, enabling their demolition. 

Simon and the band have worked closely with the DMA and the Redhills charity to explore the story, visiting some of the communities and people affected by the category d story. 

Based on this, the critically acclaimed three piece  – Richard Walters, Patrick Pearson, and Simon –  have created new music called “Firm As A Rock We Stand: Commemoration and Celebration of County Durham’s ‘Category D’ Villages.”

It will premiere live at Durham Cathedral on Friday 15 July accompanied by Easington Colliery Brass Band. Tickets are on sale now.

More info and tickets

The BRASS festival also features the premiere of new music by North East band Field Music, inspired by the region's coal mining heritage.

The band joined forces with the DMA and the Redhills team for the project, visiting the Miners Hall and researching the rich history of the Durham coalfield to inspire new compositions featuring brass band music. 

Field Music's Dave Brewis said: "I think the original commission was something like ‘can you write us an Eleanor Rigby for the Durham Coalfield’. It’s been a fascinating challenge."

The band will debut ‘Binding Time, Songs and Stories from the Durham Coalfield’ at the Gala Theatre on Sunday 10 July. The band will be accompanied by members of NASUWT Riverside Brass Band. Tickets are on sale now.

The work was originally due to receive its premiere at the 2021 festival, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2021 concert was originally scheduled for Redhills, which is now closed for restoration and renewal.

More info and tickets

Pictured is the Pitman’s Parliament as it has not been seen since Redhills was under construction more than a century ago.

The seats in the famous council chamber have now all been removed and placed in safe storage as part of the multimillion pound restoration and renewal of Durham Miners Hall.

The seats, including their embedded sponsored pit tokens, will all be restored and returned ahead of reopening. 

The removal of the seats is a vital first step in the restoration of the Miners Hall. The floor will then be removed to enable underground structural work including the installation of a new ventilation system. It is also a necessary part of a scheme to install high quality wireless broadband throughout the building. 

Guided by heritage and woodworking experts, local young people from Sacriston-based social enterprise Woodshed Workshop, have spent recent months carefully removing the seats, which had been in place since the Grade II listed Miners Hall opened in 1915.

Elected delegates from communities across the Durham coalfield gathered there for generations, earning the chamber the popular name ‘The Pitman’s Parliament.’ From Redhills the delegates helped create a pioneering social system across County Durham before the advent of the national welfare state.

'Take Your Seat In The Pitman's Parliament', is a sponsorship scheme which enables you to have a pit token engraved with your message embedded in a seat of your choice in the famous council chamber at Redhills. The scheme is now suspended while Redhills is closed for refurbishment.

It will relaunch ahead of reopening in expanded form ensuring that as many coalfield communities as possible are represented at Durham Miners Hall. If you are interested in sponsoring a seat, please fill in our expression of interest form and we will be in touch to make arrangements when the scheme relaunches.
Expression of interest form
Our thanks as always for your support as we work to build the future at Redhills.

Thanks to you , the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Durham County Council and others, the Miners Hall will become a vibrant centre of culture, heritage and education for the Durham coalfield area and beyond.

Redhills will be back, greater than ever, in 2023. 

The past we inherit; the future we build.

The Redhills team

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