Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Priory Show Lives to Play Another Day; It's a Far Cry from Running Expeditions in South America but Tony Walton Is Happy to Keep the Music Playing at Brinkburn, as He Tells DAVID WHETSTONE

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Priory Show Lives to Play Another Day; It's a Far Cry from Running Expeditions in South America but Tony Walton Is Happy to Keep the Music Playing at Brinkburn, as He Tells DAVID WHETSTONE

Article excerpt

DEPRESSING rumours last year that the music was about to stop at Brinkburn Priory, the 12th Century gem nestling in a loop of the River Coquet, have proved to be false.

Three cheers for that. Not only is the annual Brinkburn Music Festival to take place in July for the 18th time - albeit over one weekend rather than the customary two - but a full summer programme of music has been organised for the English Heritage property.

It is the season-long Brinkburn Summer Music programme that brings Tony Walton to The Journal armed with a sheaf of papers and a fund of stories.

He's the man who has put it all together, a concert programme beginning with an outfit called The Trio Contraposto on May 7 and ending with the Brinkburn String Quartet on September 4, with plenty of tempting musical attractions in between.

Musicians who have played at Brinkburn over the years have always raved about its acoustic qualities. Audience members have appreciated not only the purity of the sound but the tranquillity of the location, in the heart of rural Northumberland.

Tony is a man who was once charged with giving 150 youngsters in Chile "as near to a life-threatening experience as you can without losing any".

Perhaps this explains his air of bluff bonhomie. Having achieved that, every other obstacle in life is going to seem surmountable.

By nature a can-do kind of guy, he tells me about his nine years running Gibside for the National Trust when he used to boost visitor figures with concerts and special events.

This experience he took with him to English Heritage, which, he says, has tended to run events only at its bigger properties such as Warkworth Castle, Tynemouth Priory and Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens.

"Having run events for the National Trust for a long time, I went to them and said, 'There's a huge possibility for you to run smaller events in the smaller properties. Let me run some concerts during the day at Brinkburn and I'll show you how it can improve your visitor figures.' "In the first year I increased visitor figures by 82%. I did it again last year and, while it wasn't so dramatic, we held our own.

"It showed them what was possible and groups who came along to play absolutely loved it. They said the acoustic was second to none.

"The first year we did 14 events at Brinkburn and this year we are doing 22. Groups have been coming out of the woodwork, saying they want to play there."

Tony, Northumbrian born and bred, has a particular attachment to Brinkburn Priory. "It was where my father popped the question to my mother in 1937," he says. "Our first house was called Brinkburn."

From his 2011 concert programme, Tony singles out Standing Stones, a group of six North East women who sing traditional songs unaccompanied. …

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