This last weekend my wife and I were at a reunion ball in Durham, where we went to university fifty years ago. It happened to be the same weekend as Miners’ Gala, an event that I thought had ended with the closing of the coal mines. But I was mistaken. There they were: members of Unison, carrying banners, eating chicken wraps and drinking cans of lager. The crowd in Elvet was dense and jolly. The banners colourful and still sounding the hopeful messages of worker solidarity. My dad was a miner and I found emotion welling up inside me.
Durham is a friendly place. The desk clerk at the Bannatyne hotel told us of a band that would be leading out the parade from nearby Bowburn. We like bands. What sort of music did this one play?
‘Jazz,’ said our friend. ‘And they’ve come from Philadelphia. They’re playing at Bowburn community centre the night before the Gala.’
Wow! My missus and I like jazz and this promised to be good, with a prospect of dancing. Why they have come from Philadelphia? And why are they playing in Bowburn? God knows.
It happened that we had nothing to do on that Friday evening and so we drove to Bowburn and parked at the community centre and went inside. The stage was set for a band. Some nice people were selling tickets and commemorative mugs. The tickets? One pound! Bingo at the interval – one pound! The raffle – one pound!
‘It’s like an entertainment Poundland in here,’ quoth I, wittily (ho hum).
The band was called Dennis. Nine pieces including four brass. A good rich sound, and the music was rock that I didn’t recognise. The audience was a nice crowd of fat women with tattoos, and children running about the floor, and men in T-shirts drinking out of cans, and me and the wife back after fifty years.
What this band had to do with Philadelphia was beyond me.
And then, of course, I understood. When he mentioned the place, the desk clerk thought it went without saying that he was referring to the famous Philadelphia: the village in County Durham. If there happens to be another one, it’s of no importance. For one thing, it hasn’t sent a band to lead the parade in front of the banner of Bowburn Colliery.
12 July 2016