North East Connected

Musical collaboration to mark railway’s 200th anniversary

ONE of Sunderland’s most prominent musicians is working with a choir and a brass band to deliver a highlight of the celebrations marking 200 years of the Hetton Colliery Railway.

Marty Longstaff (aka The Lake Poets) has been commissioned by The Cultural Spring to produce an original piece of music as part of an exciting cultural programme to mark the Railway’s milestone anniversary. The Cultural Spring is working with Sunderland City Council and other partners on a number of projects to celebrate the Railway and the associated Stephenson Trail.

The railway was the first in the world to use only steam and gravity power and transported coal from Elemore and Hetton pits to the River Wear in Sunderland. The Stephenson Trail traces the route of the railway from Elemore Park (the former Elemore Golf Course).

For his commission, Marty has written a nine-minute piece of music which he is developing with Sunderland Male Voice Choir and Houghton Area Brass Band.

Marty explained: “The song is really a folk song about post industrial decline – about something that was there and then it wasn’t. I wanted it to reflect the experiences of those working in the mines, but also what local people must have thought about the new railway.

“I’ve not often worked with a choir before so it’s an interesting experience and one I’m really enjoying. The flexibility of having so many voices, and the range of the voices, presents plenty of possibilities.

“The song is slow burn, but the voices help build the piece into a crescendo.”

Working with partners including charity partner Hetton Colliery Railway 200 (HCR 200), The Cultural Spring is developing eight strands of a celebration programme.

Emma Horsman, Project Director of The Cultural Spring, explained: “Through Sunderland City Council’s commission we want to ensure local communities, families and children have an opportunity to learn about the history and importance of the 11-mile Stephenson Trail, and feel connected to its heritage.”

It is yet to be decided when and where Marty’s song is to be performed, but he and the choir will be using a local studio to record the piece.

“We’re also hoping to perform it live with the choir and part of the brass band,” Marty added.

The Cultural Spring programme also includes a photography project, a coal mining and oral histories project, a trailmarkers project and a Stephenson Community Exhibition. The exhibition will be developed from different elements of the overall programme, including the photographic project. The exhibition will tour venues along the Stephenson Trail between September and November this year.

For more information about the photography project, go to

Emma added: “We hope that through this varied programme we have something to interest everyone in the communities on and around the Stephenson Trail. This is a milestone anniversary of an iconic railway and we want to make sure the celebrations reflect the importance of it to the local communities.”

Funding for the celebration of the Stephenson Trail has come Neighbourhood Funds from Sunderland City Council’s East, West and Coalfields areas.

The Cultural Spring aims to increase arts participation in areas of Sunderland and South Tyneside that don’t have a tradition of arts engagement. It is funded by Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places project and its sixpartners, the University of Sunderland, the Customs House (South Shields), Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust; Sangini, a women’s health organisation; Young Asian Voices (YAV) and The Cultural Spring Charity.

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