Sounding out the spirit of Copshaw

Newcastleton Music Festival
Newcastleton Music Festival

Sunshine without showers. Music without madness. And loads of fun. That was my Friday to Monday under canvas at Newcastleton – the village’s annual traditional music festival, a weekend of concerts, competitions and workshops, and a time of open sessions inside and outside bars, on grass verges, park benches, campsites and along the river bank.

This 18th-century village alongside the Liddel Water has a resident population of approximately 852 which, at the time of the festival, soars to thousands. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Newcastleton is known as Copshaw or the Holm, and a few years ago a number of local worthies decided that the village had been absent too long from the calender of Border common ridings, gatherings and civic weeks. And so the Copshaw Common Riding was born.

Grey Matter has already told how the principal is the Tub (think cornet and ice cream) and their sidekick, the Flake, and how the riders are on bikes and dress in yellow (think Tour de France). Sexual equality has never been a problem with Copshaw Common Riding. There have been a number of female Tubs and an equal number of male Flakes. Gillian McGimsey was this year’s choice for Tub, elected by a public vote, and a fine job she did.

Because this is Copshaw, the common riding is different from all else, although there is more than a clear indication that its founding fathers toured the Border towns to obtain a few ideas on which to base their festival which has surely found a place in the calender of the aye beens.

I was privileged this year to be asked to sing (?) in the Shed and I happily joined the queue at The Monument where the Sod was cut and snogged and the Tequila supped. I sampled the Kipper and the Fadge, but missed the ceremonies of the Holm Brig Toblerone and Whisky, the Touching of the Cloth and the Twa Posh Chickens because I was tuning my washboard to do battle in the festival’s Miscellaneous Instrument Competition in the village hall

This was my third attempt at securing the trophy and again I failed. But my failure was an improvement. I wasn’t last. I was fourth equal out of five. So, really I shared last place with a saxophonist who must improve and is vastly better on the pipes. We commiserated our defeat by performing a duet (see right) in Douglas Square.

My failure did not end on the musical stage. A niece, Kathryn, and boyfriend Blair arrived, and at the sports field – nourished by a 99 cone – Blair and I entered the adult sprint. I was kindly given a start of 30 yards and two inches, but finished second last.

There’s a part in the proceedings where I address the haggis. I forgot the words and my only solace was that when I asked Bonchester’s Henry Douglas for help, he forgot too. I was chuffed again to be able play my washboard with Jedburgh Royal British Legion Pipe Band – my years in the BB ensuring I kept in step.

Someone said to me towards the end of the week that Copshaw was out of this world. No – because without Copshaw, the world would be a poorer place.